Abandoned, The (Book)
Written by Ross Campbell
Published by TokyoPop
In the oppressive heat of summer a young woman sleeps in the cooling breeze of a small electric can. Her dark smooth skin exposed in the sweaty air, we get to know a lot about this young woman before her eyes even open. The shock of red hair atop her head, the dual piercing in her bottom lip; add to this the ashtrays scattered all about her and the picture begins to complete itself. The young woman pictured in the opening panels of Ross Campbell's The Abandoned is someone who rejects the social norms of the world. Rylie, as we come to learn her name is, is a mirror of the modern youth of the nation. Her looks detail the carelessness of the world she lives in. For Riley, all she has to worry about is the minor details of life.
Rylie works at the local ice cream stand and then volunteers at an old folks home. This latter selfless act points a clear finger at Rylie’s break from the stereotype that most accept with the gothic counterculture, that being that they are moody, sullen, and selfish. Rylie is a juxtaposition of everything that goes against these ignorant assumptions. She is vivacious, loving, and deeply full of life.
Her life is full of similar people who have a great meager existence, but have not the need to see past it and wallow in empty dreams and complaint. Rylie’s home is not a mansion. Her father sets on an old chair on the porch staring out of one good eye. Yet in this life, however humble we may see it as, Rylie is looking for the positive. As a hurricane is broadcast on the news, Rylie sees nothing in it excepting the coolness of the fact it bears her name.
The living population of Rylie’s inner circle is a wide array of personalities. Black and white is never an issue. Racial lines are never the point of discussion. The Abandoned is not here to make the same old political statements, it is not going to stand on a soapbox and preach about any sort of subtext. This would mire down the tires of the machine, slow its progress. No, The Abandoned is not about socio-commentary, even as its inhabitants are a sampling of the fringe from modern accepted culture.
Rylie is gay. She has her eyes firmly fixed on the thin supple body of a waif named Naomi. Naomi may or may not be keen to Rylie’s advances, and there is no pressure to make a decision. Rylie seems to be elated to just be with Naomi in any regards, enjoying the time they get as it comes. This is a simple yet deeply rich and complex relationship, the nuance of which is expertly written and drawn. The images of black and white, of skin on skin, and of the small densely meaningful touches that happen suddenly, all come to paint a most developed portrait of young idealistic love.
Besides Naomi there are other woman in Rylie’s world. At the Ice Cream shack she works for, a place called "I SCREAM", two sisters Cam and Nicole keep the last vestige of their late parent’s world barely afloat. Something bad happened which took their parents, hinted at but never drawn out completely, it looms over them as a sadness, but never comes in to bury them in depression. The wounds are healed to the point where we get the background, but not the pretension.
Females are not the only denizens of this small community, Ben is the key male figure here, but again Campbell keeps him firmly in the cloak of alternative culture. Ben is gay, but unlike Rylie’s spunk and verve, he has a soft spoken quality that complements and counteracts the physicality of his statue. Ben is a very well built, large black male. He is imposing, but his demeanor lets us know that he is a gentle soul. He is more upset over a phone break up with his boyfriend than anything else, and the gals in his life are more than happy to be supportive.
Thrown in to complete the picture are Mae, a girl of few words with a permanent pout. Peg, a young woman who works with Rylie at the old folks home, and John, Ben’s ex. I begin by detailing the 8 character here because they are key to the amazing success of Campbell’s work. The Abandoned is a tale unlike few others in the medium of either comics, manga, or other written works. In a time where I find the latest Stephen King novel to be an obtuse work that does little to entice my tenacity, The Abandoned is what that experience should have been.
Zombies. The easiest and yet most difficult of all the horror monsters to construct in a functional narrative. When done properly, Zombies have the potential to give a horror fan every thing that they want. They are monsters. They are gross. They have the ability to be everywhere. Zombies can be easily defeated or indestructible. The undead are mirrors of us all, stumbling bumbling babes in the world. Their ignorance should be humorous, but it is in the quietness of their gaze, that broken stare that was once human, we see the ultimate in horror: that we are one step away from being the monster ourselves.
This is why it is so very important that when you deal with the subject of the humanoid ghoul you have to work with a base material that is not only malleable but dynamic. A cast that allows the creator of the story to examine the horror of the subject at hand. Zombies have been earmarked as fun. Their innate abilities to create gratuitous gore have seen them transformed into killing machines for stories with characters who are simply body fodder. Instead of wanting the characters to live, instead of seeing ourselves and having a connection to the characters, we spend our time awaiting the good kill. Horror works best when you give a damn about the people captive within the terror’s threat, and for too long we have been hungry for the flesh of the sweet meat quality horror has to offer.
The Abandoned is not anything fancy. There is no lines of iambic pentameter, there is not the deep social commentary, the story itself is a bare knuckle fight for survival. Rylie’s strength is hidden within her love of life. There is a fire within her eyes that burns for the protection of each person who falls within her world. It is not as if she was only interested in those who she cares about, but she is only given a chance to be concerned for them. The fate which she falls into is a swift one, and the current never relents enough to let her or the reader a moment to rest.
When the storm hit’s the home where Rylie and Peg work, they lose power and soon are trying to keep tabs on all of the inhabitants of each of the many rooms. As they search for each person, it's soon revealed that something has happened, and now the dark is filled with gnashing teeth populating hungry mouths. Peg is dispatched in a horribly messy manner right before Rylie’s eyes, and it is in this moment where Rylie learns that the world she loves, is so very fond of, and has never had to be concerned for; has now evolved into a predator which seeks to destroy her and all she cares about.
Peg’s death brings to a forefront the amazing use of color within the pages of The Abandoned. Ross Campbell has chosen to keep the bulk of the work in monotone, but he allows a single drawing color to pull the eye to certain facets of each page. He allows the color red to be the single hue to inhabit the world that The Abandoned takes place in. From Rylie’s hair, Mae’s lips, and Nicole’s arm tattoo each additional detail allows the character to have a single identifiable trait that comes to define them. Yet even more gruesome is the sanguine warning for each splash of red on each page. The red serves as a definition and a warning for each character. The crimson color reminds us that at any moment any of these people could fall victim to the red that awaits within their own bodies.
The manner in which Campbell draws each of the characters throws all conventional comic art out of the window. Botticelli has nothing on Campbell. The woman who inhabit this world are not the sticks with tits we are so used to seeing. The conventions of beauty are expanded here. Angles are replaced with soft and inviting curves. The suppleness of the female form is presented in full breasts and rounded stomachs that peek just a bit over the top of the pants. The level of realism this adds to each of the characters only goes to further bolster their already well developed stance in Ross’s world. Even Ben has a softened look to him. The muscled body gives way to a face with soft edges and baby fat. Mae’s lips glare as strong as any gaze, and the volumes they speak with the smallest of shifts let a character of few words gain volumes.
The horrible thing is that these characters are people we instantly can care about, and this allows Ross Campbell to take our emotions and hitch them to a bumper and then slam the truck into 5th gear. We are pulled through a series of heart wrenching incidents as the remaining survivors try to make their way through the world of the undead. The plan is never clear. They attach to any opportunity to make their chances for survival better. The outcome is bleak, and hope is dearly sparse.
The human animal reacts in differing manners, and in such situations we always get to see a cross section of the best and worst that lurks deep within all of us. While reading The Abandoned we get to see people panic and do stupid things, but they are things that are not either evil or intended to be of malice. In any corner an animal will fight. Pushed to the limit we all have our breaking point, and when the state of the world comes to operate under a different set of rules, we all may have to change the way we act. I found myself feeling for each character, despite their actions. I could find no blame in persons who may have been meant to be a heavy or the bad guy in any of the situations. I only saw people trying to survive, and none of them knowing what to do.
The result is a draining experience, a haunting trip through a landscape that envelops you and takes you straight into the bowels of hell. Each death is devastating. I found myself riveted to this book, and was so breathless at the end that I went back to revisit it directly afterwards. Reading The Abandoned I laughed, cried, and stood up in aghast horror. My deepest complements for Ross Campbell for this exercise in perfect horror. Cheers to TokyoPop for releasing it. I just want more. It can’t end there. There is too much to be answered. We got the intimate, now I want to know why and how. Please Mr. Campbell return to the world of The Abandoned soon. I will be waiting.
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