Stay Dead by Steve Wands review

It’s always nice to see a comics creator add another string to their bow, and here’s crack letterer Steve Wands sticking to a single font for a stab at original fiction. His 14-bite short story, Stay Dead, is a zombie tale, though the word is never used. The young heroes simply refer to ‘dead things’, but Steve never tries to hide where the shambling, twisted, flesh-eaters fit into the horror genre.

We don’t learn just how Keith, Connor and Kayla’s town has fallen to darkness, but as they used to say on Police Squad, ‘that’s not important right now’. What is important is the struggle of two brothers and their neighbour to survive in a world in which every new day is an occasion for equal parts celebration and despair. With the adults mostly turned into slavering monsters, the only rules are the ones you make, and follow the wrong one and it’s death.

While there isn’t a great deal of individuation between the boys’ personalities, there are encouraging moments of insight into how a kid might feel if life became a horror movie. And Kayla is a great creation, believably self-conscious about the state she’s in after days trapped in her room, zombie Mom scratching at the door, while never seeming too much the Soppy Girlie Person. Besides, she’s very handy with a penknife.

There are some smart lines, such as ‘Keith pulled the blinds up and began waving like a lunatic on a sugar rush’ and ‘The man didn’t like ‘maybe,’ the world was run on yes and no, and nothing else.’ Yes, there’s occasional tautology and a few literals, but given that I don’t usually enjoy zombie fiction it’s a tribute to Steve’s imagination that my attention was held from beginning to end. I especially liked a sequence in which we find that zombies ain’t the scariest thing out there. And the bad guy featured here is very well-characterised.

All in all, Stay Dead is a fun read, with flashes of great promise – a cameo for something that, revised and enlarged, could prove a terrific portrait of fear.

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