There are certain expectations a reader brings to a comic book with a title like Roadkill Zoo. One assumes there will be a fair amount of gore involved, and that the story will probably not take itself seriously. And here, for good or ill, Roadkill Zoo surprises us already, for it is in fact utterly straight-faced. A plot summary, courtesy writer/creator Nicole Jones: “The spirit of an evil voodoo priest haunts the back roads of southern Louisiana, resurrecting roadkill and turning them into blood-thirsty zombies.”
Permit me, dear reader, a moment’s repetition: Roadkill Zoo, concerning vengeful zombie roadkill, is earnest.
This surprisingly sober approach required a considerable adjustment on my part, after which I still had to navigate the cluttered and uninviting artwork. And here it should be noted that, having finished reading my black and white copy of Roadkill Zoo, I then discovered finished images at the Roadkill Zoo website, and so I am now uniquely qualified to attest to the fact that Roadkill Zoo‘s most valuable contributor is unquestionably its colorist, one Julio Iglesias Lopez. Budi “Buddy” Setiawan’s pencil work, samples of which also appear at the Roadkill Zoo website, has a warm and intriguing quality. Alas, it is so overwhelmed by Derek Fridolfs’ inking that it becomes difficult to decipher the narrative in a black and white format; shadows look contrived and artificial when they should appear organic, and characters have a distracting and frustrating tendency to blend into the background. My skills as a reader of comic books are clearly still limited, for I took this to mean that Setiawan and Fridolfs were incompetent illustrators. Thanks to Lopez’ coloring, I now see just how mistaken I was; it is only in its inked-but-not-yet-colored state that the artwork in Roadkill Zoo is off-putting. I can only assume, then, as a layman, that there are separate approaches to inking, one for work which will remain black and white, another for work which will be colored.
With the art issue resolved, you are left to decide whether a competently illustrated tale of voodoo priests and dead raccoons is worthy of your time or money. Personally, I found Roadkill Zoo‘s unintended inking/coloring lesson far more fascinating than its story, but while the Zoo contributes nothing new or particularly noteworthy to the horror genre (or the extremely en vogue zombie sub-genre), and while its characters are mostly interchangeable (the closest the dialogue comes to being memorable is when someone says “We are lost in the middle of B.F.E.” or “My bladder’s about ready to explode”), I have no doubt that a Roadkill Zoo movie would find an enthusiastic audience among the horror faithful. More interesting by far, however, would be a documentary detailing the comic’s arduous creation. From the Roadkill Zoo press release: “The project was first announced at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2004… the wait has been a bit longer than expected, as all of the original artwork was lost during the terrible tsunami that devastated Indonesia in December 2004.”
What must it have been like for Budi “Buddy” Setiawan to find himself starting at page one all over again? Had his talent increased since the original production, making the work come easier the second time? Or was he so disheartened at the loss that the second attempt was merely painful and difficult? More importantly, how can Roadkill Zoo hope to find success when none of the questions its narrative raises are anywhere near this compelling?
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