Though the title of Arthur de Pina’s graphic novel series Zombillenium (NBM) reads as if it’s part of the walking dead zeitgeist, in actuality the comic horror series provides a wider range of traditional monstrous types. Set around an amusement park run entirely by monsters (“The Family Amusement Park for Chills and Thrills”), the series centers on a hapless guy named Aurelian Zahner who is accidentally killed when he’s struck by a car containing three of park’s employees – a mummy, a talking skeleton and a vampire.
The latter “revives” Aurelian by putting the bite on him, but once he’s been transformed the only place left in the world for him is Zombillenium. To make matters even more bizarre for our hero, when he’s bought to the park offices, he is repeatedly bitten in a pissing contest between vampire park director Francis Von Bloodt and the werewolf inhuman resources manager Andrew. As a result, no one knows for certain what type of beastie Aurelian will become once he starts to transmogrify.
To be sure, our hero is not an innocent: his accident came in the aftermath of an ill-thought attempt to rob a local bar that was foiled by Gretchen, a young witch with mysterious ties to Zombillenium and its unseen overseer. Gretchen (whose face graces the cover to first volume in this series) claims to be an intern at the park, though her connection proves to be more complicated. Emotionally attached to the park’s freshest recruit, she comes to Aurelian’s rescue twice when the newbie creature runs afoul of the park’s stringent rules.
Our multiply bitten hero turns out to be a singular sensation once he’s fully transformed, arousing the jealousy of other park performers, including a troupe of dancing zombies (there they are!) whose choreographed recreation of Michael Jackson routines is no longer drawing in the crowds. They plot to set up Aurelian – who’d been driven to his original act of criminality when he learned his wife was cheating on him with her Tai Chi instructor – so he’ll go berserk in the park and get canned. When you’re fired from Zombillenium, it’s for keeps.
Drawn in Adobe illustrator with a lovingly muted color palette, De Pins’ cartoony art captures both the sinister and silly with equal facility. The French artist’s title setting – with its spires, gargoyles and ferris wheel – is brightly realized, and his monster figures are amusingly expressive. Unlike mainstream American attempts at placing old style monsters in a comic book setting, De Pins doesn’t underplay the darker parts of their behavior. “We all want to massacre people . . . that’s how this job is,” Andrea and Von Bloodt console Aurelian after he has nearly killed a customer during a moment of rage. All part of working in the service industry, right?
Zombillenium does for cartoon monsters what Sfar and Trondheim’s Dungeon albums do for funny animals.