WARNING. THE FOLLOWING BLOG POST IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK.
If there’s one thing that really annoys me about the Zombie Handbook, it’s how goddamn lazy the whole thing is.
I mean, if you’re going to be puerile, gross, juvenile, and stupid, at least put some effort into it. Maybe that would have generated some goodwill – if Rob Sacchetto was trying his gosh-darned hardest to make the best gosh-darned zombie book in the world, and fell short on that promise not for lack of trying, I’d be more inclined to sympathize with him, rather than immediately set my critical phasers to “destroy.” Hell, maybe with more effort, he could’ve pulled it off – just because something is puerile, gross, juvenile, and stupid, doesn’t always make it bad. Gross-out humour is kind of the big thing nowadays – you’ll see it in almost every new Hollywood comedy out recently – and it’s not unfunny, if approached with talent and commitment. Look at things like Harold and Kumar, or The Inbetweeners, or Bridesmaids – gross-out humour can be subversive! I’m not opposed to it, in principle!
Of course, the fact that most Hollywood comedies are 1) shit and 2) of the “gross-out” genre is not a coincidence. Gross-out humour is hard to do right, but very easy to just do, which makes it the go-to standby for the lazy comedian. Just throw in a couple of jokes about farts and poop and sex and penises and call it a day. Admittedly, Sacchetto’s a bit of a weird case – his philosophy seems to be “just throw in some jokes about farts and poop and intestines and Jewish people” – but it’s basically the same. And it all comes from that fundamental core of laziness that is one of the things that grates me most about the Zombie Handbook.
This thing, according to the back cover, costs $17. For that amount of money, I’d want more than under a hundred pages of lazy, god-awful writing that serve as little more than an excuse to shill some mediocre zombie art. But Sacchetto can’t even live up to the low standards he sets himself – the book is intended to be little more than a showcase for his gore art, but he apparently sometimes forgets to put in the art at all:
I suppose it’s unfair to call the Zombie Handbook “lazy” when clearly a lot of effort went into drawing the illustrations, but the images are clearly the only area where any level of talent, effort or investment can be found. The book itself is a poorly-designed mess, with the images thrown onto the page seemingly at random with no real overall aesthetic effect in mind, and the writing is truly unforgivably shoddy. There are some strange pretensions, however, to be found in amongst all this. The Zombie Handbook is lazy, but also curiously self-important – in a book that elsewhere reads like it knows that it’s silly fluff nonsense, it will occasionally embark on a ham-fisted attempt at satire which comes across as oddly earnest. It is also, of course, very badly-done:
Yes, amongst a list of different “zombie types,” Sacchetto sees fit to include the “Apathy Zombie,” who are “most heavily concentrated in the United States and Canada.” It’s apparently an attack on lazy, socially-maladjusted nerds, nerds who “are quite adept at repelling the opposite sex,” which begs one, significant question – who the hell does Sacchetto think is reading his book??? Does Sacchetto really think that his zombie book full of full-page shots of intestines and eyeballs and gore is being bought only by social success stories who are the pillars of their various local communities? Or party animals, who love to invite people back to their place to view the new piece of Sacchetto art they have on the mantle, a tasteful depiction of a zombie eating its own guts?
I’m not saying all nerds are basement-dwellers like Sacchetto describes. We live in a post-nerd culture, to be honest – with The Hobbit raking it in at the box office and Game of Thrones one of the most popular TV shows in the US, nerdy is the new cool, which is absolutely fine by me (hint: I’m blogging about a zombie book and I write fantasy fiction in my spare time, if I’m not a nerd, no-one is). But I’m just saying that I can only imagine the most socially-maladjusted of people would actually get a kick out of Sacchetto’s work – the gross gore isn’t the half of it, as you’ll see later on in this post.
Yet there’s no hint of self-deprecation in the “Apathy Zombie” – it’s a joke that goes on too long, lasting several pages, and seems to exclusively (and scathingly) target the exact kind of people I imagine when I try to imagine who, exactly, would be buying this book or Sacchetto’s art to begin with.
See, this is what I don’t get. Sacchetto has been drawing zombies for years. Surely he must understand that zombies are not only already a satirical creation, they’re already a satire on the exact same target that he’s trying to satirize with the “new” Apathy Zombie. Except, unlike the Apathy Zombie, the satire represented by actual zombies is subtle, which is probably why it shot approximately sixty miles over Sacchetto’s head. Night of the Living Dead was a 1968 film which basically invented the modern idea of zombies, but zombies were turned into a bona fide cultural phenomenon by the sequel – the 1978 Dawn of the Dead, by the same director, George A. Romero. NotL is pretty much straight horror, but the idea of zombies as a satire on consumerism and on the “brain-dead” (heh-heh) apathy of the public is codified by Dawn of the Dead – where the zombies are drawn by instinct to the shopping mall where the movie takes place. Given that Dawn of the Dead is one of the most influential zombie movies ever made, you’d think Sacchetto would be passingly familiar with it, but if he is, he apparently didn’t understand it. The Apathy Zombie takes the satire which zombies already embody, makes this satire incredibly, glaringly obvious, and thinks it’s being very clever for doing so. The only reason zombies lend themselves so easily to your hard-hitting “subversion,” Sacchetto, is because THIS WAS THE WHOLE IDEA BEHIND THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE, YOU’RE *30 YEARS LATE.*
Ahem. But the satire doesn’t stop there. The less said about this, the better:
Yep. Hard-hitting stuff. I don’t know if Sacchetto is trying very hard to show us how much he rebels against “the Man,” or whether he just really really hates Obama in particular. To be honest, I don’t want to know.
Oh God, I’ve run out of things to say about satire. Which means… we get to the Worst Thing.
I’m tempted just to put up images of the Worst Thing and let the images speak for themselves. But… that would be a let-down, if you’ve read this far. And I can’t do that to you. If you’ve put up with everything so far, you’re probably thinking you can handle the Worst Thing, but you can’t. You can’t. You’re going to need my gentle guidance. You’re going to need a voice telling you that yes, the Worst Thing is bad – in fact, it is The Worst – but at least now that you’ve seen it, you’ll have a metric against which all other Bad Things can be measured, and found to be actually pretty okay in comparison.
Two words… *sigh.* Zombie rape.
WARNING: HORRIBLE IMAGES TO FOLLOW.
Yes. That is a page titled “Zombie Mating Habits.” At the top, a picture of a screaming woman being attacked by a zombie “for mating purposes.”
For me, this is where the book goes from “incredibly stupid, but essentially harmless,” to “genuinely upsetting.” I could handle the gore, the inane satire, the laziness. I could just about handle the anti-semitism, although believe me, only because it’s over quickly and doesn’t crop up anywhere else. This, though… This is why I hate this book.
Rob Sacchetto, I get it. You market yourself solely through gross-out art. By now, you’re probably bored of drawing intestines, but you have to keep going, have to keep occupying the weird, revolting niche you seem to have trapped yourself in. And yet you are at the point in your book where your “tastelessly depict horrible things for laughs” shtick will have worn thin even for a diehard fan. And you tried to up the ante, I suppose – to out-do yourself by breaking more and more taboos. You were trying really, really hard to gross out your target market of Apathy Zombies who think that your tacky gross-out shit is cool and funny. Thing is, Rob, I don’t understand why you – or anyone – would think that going in this direction is a good idea. I mean, it’s offensive to women, but it’s almost more offensive just in how God-damn-fucking-stupid it is. I mean, really? Zombies can impregnate living people, and other zombies?
Thing is, it’s more offensive because it’s so stupidly out of the ordinary for zombie fiction. Because since it’s not something that any zombie fiction has ever included or even considered, it just gives the impression that Rob desperately wanted to draw a zombie raping a woman, and decided to make any old shit up in order to justify it. If this was a vampire book, it’d still be tasteless and grossly offensive to show a vampire assaulting a screaming woman while biting her neck, and to caption it with something that makes it clear that this is a depiction of rape, but at least vampires have always existed in culture as seductive sexual predators, so the author/illustrator would have the excuse that they were mining from existing lore. Here, Rob is blatantly going against zombie canon, scientific fact, and common sense, because he so badly wants to show the reader a zombie rape. Well, thanks, Rob. I didn’t buy your stupid fucking book, but you’ve shown me this anyway. Congrats.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Remember the seductively-posing bikini zombie from Part 2? There’s an overall trend in the Zombie Handbook to really overtly sexualize zombies – who are, explicitly, walking, rotting corpses. Don’t believe me?
That first image, by the way, is a warning to all the readers (this book assumes that its readers are male, which I guess is a self-fulfilling prophecy) to avoid getting so turned on by a scantily-clad female zombie that you can’t bring yourself to kill it.
WHAT. THE. FUCK. IS. THIS. SHIT. There’s something just so, so mysogynist about the fact that this book is talking exclusively to men and telling them not to be tempted by sexy dead women. Like Sacchetto thinks a woman, even a dead woman, can only be viewed sexually. Or maybe he just likes reducing a woman into a sex object, even if that object is a lifeless corpse. It’s just – this is – THIS IS A BOOK FOR SERIAL KILLERS.
I would never have bought this book, given that it’s a book of illustrations where the cover is badly drawn, but if I had, I’d have expected something like the Zombie Survival Guide. Something silly and maybe gross, but crucially, something NOT AIMED TOWARDS SERIAL KILLERS. Something that at the least – at the very fucking least – looked at zombies while conforming to basic zombie rules, the kind established in almost all zombie fiction, like – for example – that zombies don’t have sex with each other and don’t have sex with people and aren’t fucking sex objects themselves. WHY INTRODUCE SEX INTO THE EQUATION AT ALL. UNLESS YOU ARE CATERING TO YOUR OWN GROSS FETISH.
Oh God. Maybe it is a fetish. I think… I think I just worked out why Sacchetto spends so much time drawing zombies. This is his version of porn. And that means that all his readers, that “target market” I’ve been wondering about…. groouruuhghgh
This book is brain poison. It is the worst thing Amazon could have sent me by accident apart from possibly a bomb or anthrax spores.
But the thing is… By having this reaction, I’m falling into Sacchetto’s trap. He wants this. He wants his book, full of gross sexualized zombies and mysogyny and anti-semitism and stupidity, to be viewed as “weird” and “alternative” and “outside the mainstream.” He wants it because it’s the only thing that can lend him some legitimacy – the idea that he, and all his fans, are “subversive,” and that therefore they’re cool and interesting.
When the reality is, the fact that the Zombie Handbook and Rob Sacchetto’s artwork are outside the mainstream only goes to show one thing; that there’s hope for the mainstream yet.
Next post, I’ll talk about something I actually like, because doing this has infused my blog with a whole lot of ambient negativity. Let us never, ever mention the Zombie Handbook ever again.