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“Can I Eat You, Please?” The Absurdity Of Zombo

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This is part of 45 Year Of Thrills, How to Love Comics’ celebration of 2000 AD’s 45th anniversary throughout 2022. Find out more and read other posts in the series here.

As mentioned above, How To Love Comics has celebrated 2000 AD’s 45th anniversary all year. There have been heaps of reading recommendations, extensive guides, and more that highlight the anthology’s eclectic (and sometimes eccentric) catalogue. As it’s the 31st of December, this celebration is coming to a close. However, I’m going to squeeze in one more series – Al Ewing and Henry Flint’s truly absurd Zombo.

In the comics’ world, humanity has begun to colonise alien worlds. If the planet is uninhabited and not claimed by someone else, it’s up for grabs. However, what was soon discovered is that these planets fight back. Dubbed Deathworlds, these planets are sentient, hostile, and will do anything to kill those who step foot on them and turn them into zombies. The passengers and crew of Flight 303 have just crash-landed on one of these worlds, and their only hope is a top-secret government experiment.

Zombo page by Henry Flint.
Zombo page by Henry Flint.

Here’s where the title character, Zombo, enters the equation. Part human, part zombie, the government developed him to fight the ghoulish forces of the Deathworlds. Ewing writes him as a confluence of contradictions. On one side, he has a hunger for human flesh. On the other, he’s incredibly polite. While a conventional zombie would eat a human without hesitation, Zombo asks, “can I eat you, please?” When his request is turned down, he obliges – albeit feeling deflated or mildly irritated at the answer. The question is often scripted as part of a gag, usually asked at an inappropriate time or offered as an unhelpful solution to a problem.

This politeness blends well with his child-like innocence. Zombo uses a simple vocabulary and addresses people as “Mister So-And-So” or “Missus Such-And-Such” – even if he has been told their name several times before. Like a child, Zombo goes through most situations unable to fully grasp what’s happening. (Although to be fair, he is surrounded by a lot of absurdity.) Again, this works in the comic’s favour as he ends up being the straight man surrounded by eccentric characters.

The introductory story arc is relatively straightforward. Ewing and Flint blend science fictionhorror, and comedy to introduce Zombo and his world. It’s a tale of survival in a harsh environment full of wild ways of killing its victims. While it has many crazy ideas, its scale is contained.

Zombo panel by Henry Flint.
Zombo panel by Henry Flint.

However, the absurdity gets cranked up to 11 with subsequent stories. After a transitionary Christmas tale, the second arc, “Zombo’s Eleven”, shows off how crazy the series can get. It’s jam-packed with parodies, with Pop Idol, the original Ocean’s Eleven, and Walt Disney all coming to mind. This is mixed in with a group of teens who want to make their suicide a viral sensation and the horde of bees, and you have the recipe for some delightful weirdness. With this many balls in the air, it could be a mess. Ewing makes it work in the limited space available (2000 AD stories are serialised in approx 5-page increments) with tight plotting.

Other stories offer other strange goodies. There’s Obmoz, the evil reverse Zombo; a nasty parody of The Beatles; hammy supervillains; unethical scientists; the brain of a male stripper; and flesh-eating nanotechnology, just to name a few. It also predicted Donald Trump as president – five years before it happened in real life. While he’s only ever referred to as “Mr President”, it’s clearly Trump in his The Apprentice persona – firing everyone he doesn’t like and making dozens of bad decisions.

Zombo pages by Henry Flint.
Zombo pages by Henry Flint.

Henry Flint’s art brings all of this absurdity to life. While his inking is on the heavier die, with thick lines and the occasional spot blacks, it has a lot of expressions. That’s important because the weird ideas and larger-than-life characters need to be expressive to work. Otherwise, it would be a collection of ideas that don’t work together. Take Mr Synde, the Simon Cowell parody, who’s constantly bouncing between frustration and anger. Flint captures these feelings through gritted teeth, sputtering saliva during outbursts, and his head in his hands when he cannot take it anymore.

Zombo panels by Henry Flint.
Zombo panels by Henry Flint.

While it might not come as a complete surprise, considering that the main character is a zombie, Zombo contains a lot of gore and ultraviolence. Here, it’s not uncommon to see faces eaten and flesh rapidly stripped off the bone. It’s often used to shock readers, showing a surprising demise of a character. Other times it’s used as comedy, such as Zombo accidentally blowing a hole in his head. Flint rarely shies from it, opting to show the reader the ripped flesh or bloody skeleton. While it’s not going to be every cup of tea, it works within the absurd framework of the comic by giving the readers larger-than-life violence in a larger-than-life world.

2000 AD has published many weird comics over its 45-year history. However, few are as absurd as Zombo. It’s a menagerie of strange ideas and silly parodies that shouldn’t work, but they do due to tight plotting and art that captures its farcical world. Zombo is the deodorant you need if you find comics too tame and sensible.

Zombo was serialised in 2000 AD Prog 1632-1639, 1675-1684, 1740-1749, 1825-1834 and Prog 2010. The two trade paperback collections can be found in all good comic book shops, online retailers, Amazon/Kindle, eBay, and the 2000 AD Webshop.

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