Words tend to have certain connotations. I’m going to ask that you suspend this extra context when I give you my brief review of Dead Meat:
Dead Meat is, potentially, the messiest comic I have ever read.
The plot is one that we are fairly familiar with, albeit tweaked with new flavor; society has fallen for an undisclosed reason, and we don’t meet many characters too interested with getting to the bottom of it. Dead Meat does supply a cast of characters who have the dual purpose of showing off the world and keeping the story nimble. Even the now-well-tread trope of zombies rears its rotting head, but effectively. All together, the story is an unsettling one, in a setting we have all flirted with before but in a new direction. We’ve seen apocalypse stories, and we’ve seen survivalist stories; Dead Meat takes place after the dust settles, after a new order is restored, and after humans get back to being humans.
They get back to being messy.
Enough dodging my opinion of it; the art by Clay McCormack is phenomenal. It’s jubilantly grotesque, it is expertly unclean. The pages (which I can only imagine are hand-painted, potentially with oil or dry blood) drip with an unsettling gore built into the art, and you can almost see the raised ink that has been unceremoniously splattered on the page. The art is textured with an almost sandpaper roughness. There are panels that almost take up an abstract quality, as shadows cast by characters fade into the background, giving us the angular outlines of things we only briefly recognize as human. I don’t feel comfortable looking at the art, and I think it plays well. It works best during the action scenes, of which there are many. You really get a sense for the weight put into each action, and the kinetic energy flowing out of the panel. There is some fault to be found in the word balloons, which are far too clean, likely the work of a computer program. While I completely understand the reasons with going this route, the word balloons (and boxes, and the typeface used in them ) when juxtaposed against the delirious background art can give off a sense of sterility that takes away from the panel as a whole, which is a shame.
The writing is not terrible, and at its best when casual. I think McCormack makes some mistake with his emphasizing of words with BOLD and italics (One example: earlier on in the book one character taunting another: “oh no…She gave me EVERYTHING I wanted!” ) but it did not become noticeable as I continued. This was largely due to the pacing of the story and the dialog, which I found to be phenomenal. The writing of each individual character gave a conversational tone, which was a great help to the world-building and character-building of the story. I would have liked a little bit more of the latter, but I understand that these chapters were meant to set up a larger story down the line, and the pace of the book would have been interrupted by lengthy back stories.
Interestingly enough, McCormack does more than just draw the comic. Despite the fact that he has embraced with world of ink and paper, his comic is freely available online. Not only that, but there are a supplemental series of videos that McCormack produces, in-universe (though not necessarily focusing on the characters we see in the book) that provide an extra dimension to the storytelling. It’s very worthwhile to note that McCormack seemingly orchestrates this himself; he writes the scripts, draws, inks, and finalizes the comic himself, as well as manages the website *and* produce these extra videos. I am shocked this kind of energy and talent hasn’t resulted in either burnout or a book deal. What the hell, publishers?
Taken as a whole, you might see it as contradictory; this is a comic that reads fantastically laid out in traditional book format, and is drawn on paper with ink. Despite this, it is published online, with video content to back it up. McCormack beautifully sums up his impetus in the afterword of this first collection.
Finally, after all this time, I’m going to produce the book myself because in this era of the internet and digital media I CAN do it myself. It will be a long, hard, process, but it can be done. I’m jumping out of the airplane, and whether or not I have a parachute has yet to be seen.
Amen to that, brother.
TL;DR: Dead Meat is an independent horror/survivalist comic that is deserving of your money based solely on the art. The compelling dialog and additional media only makes that purchase that much more valuable.
A copy of Dead Meat was graciously given to Spandexless for review by the creator.
In the interest of Full Disclosure: Clay McCormack is a member of the Boston Comics Roundtable, as is Spandexless Editor-in-Chief (and reviewer), Alex Jarvis. (Though it’s not like Alex has ever had trouble being overly honest. -Beth)