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Review: Zombillenium, Vol. 1: Gretchen

Zombillenium, Vol. 1: Gretchen.
Written and Illustrated by Arthur de Pins
NMB Publishing, 2013
48 pp. 978-1-56163-734-8, hardcover

Looking for an amusement part with real bite? Welcome to Zombillenium – a horror-inspired theme park managed by family man (and vampire) Francis von Bloodt and staffed by actual monsters, including mummies, vampires, werewolves, witches, skeletons, zombies, and more. Admittedly, revenue isn’t what it used to be. Customers who visit the park just aren’t getting scared anymore of the classic monsters, and besides – they think the workers there are just special effects and actors in costumes. Something needs to be done to bring back revenue into the park.

Enter Aurelian Zahner, a human who’s had the worst morning of his life. His wife cheated on him and he just made it worse by trying to rob a local pub where a Goth Girl witch named Gretchen is trying to buy cigarettes for the monsters at the theme park. She uses her powers of magic to convince Aurelian he’s not really holding a gun but a banana and sends him out the door in confusion… where he’s accidentally struck by Francis’s car. Seeing the opportunity to add another cast member to the monster park, since they don’t hire humans, Francis bites Aurelian. Now Aurelian is turned into a vampire, and then he’s hired for the worst job in the park: running the cotton candy stand. After being bitten yet again by Andrew, the werewolf Human Resources Department director, Aurelian is now some new kind of monster – a hybrid vampire/werewolf demon who may be just what the theme park needs to bring some scare some life back into it. Disney World’s Haunted Mansion has nothing on this place.

Originally published in France, where it was given the prestigious Angouleme Fauve Award for best youth comic in France in 2012, the first volume is just outstanding and a treat. Creator Arthur de Pins works as an animator as well as in comics, and it’s really evident that his background work in animation helps give Zombillenium a lot of its charm. The book has loads of comically-timed well-paced humor such as when Aurelian is hit by the car and we see the reactions of the people who see it, to even several simple panels where the recently-turned Aureilan is stuck in an elevator with a mummy named Aton and still thinks that all the monsters are fake. You get a really good feel what it must be like for Aurelian to be stuck in this frightening new world of strange, shocking, and actually quite normal monsters that it’s a joy to see.

The monster supporting casts in the book are also really fun to see. Aton the mummy wants to go to Egypt; a skeleton named Sirius was a black activist who was unjustly executed; and Gretchen is a hip young witch from England who is infiltrating the theme park on a special assignment. Plus, there’s many many more monsters that make appearances that are just hilarious including a cameo by the King of Pop. ‘Nuff said.

Some may compare the series a little with the animated comedy Hotel Transylvania – and that’s not an entirely a bad comparison. Instead of monsters working at a hotel, they work at a theme park – but think of it as a PG-13 version of it. In the book there are a few panels where Gretchen swears “fkn’ell” in the book (it’s never spelled the full on swear word) and the occasional word like “dumb-ass.” When Gretchen tells Aurelian of her origin, there’s one panel of her naked in bed from her witchcraft college days in a one panel gag involving a presumed Harry Potter that hilariously puns impotence – but nothing is shown. For those reasons, I think it would be best for slightly older audiences and would be fine for a teen or adult graphic novel collection.

So come on in and meet the funny and monstrous of Zombillenium. You’ll be glad that you did.

Mike Pawuk About Mike Pawuk

Mike Pawuk has been a teen services public librarian for the Cuyahoga County Public Library for over 15 years. A lifelong fan of comic books and graphic novels, he was chair for the 2002 YALSA all-day preconference on graphic novels, served as a judge for the Will Eisner Awards in 2009, as well as helped to create the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee for YALSA. He is the author of Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More, published by Libraries Unlimited in 2006 and is working on a followup to his book.

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