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REVIEW: Image Comics’ Clementine

While a spin-off, new readers can jump right into Tillie Walden’s Clementine, as it is a simple but engaging survival story.

Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead has quite the legacy. Along with a 193-issue run, the comic has also inspired a fan-favorite television show and multiple video games. The Telltale Game games introduced fans of the series to new characters, including Clementine. Now audiences have a chance to catch up with Clementine’s adventures in Tillie Walden’s latest graphic novel, Clementine, an engaging yet simple survival story.

Clementine is about the titular character making her way through the apocalypse. After receiving some help from an Amish community, she reluctantly pairs up with Amos, who is making his first trip into the wider world. Together, they meet other survivors who are attempting to build their own Walker-free community, but safety and security are tough to come by in this frightening version of the world.

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As a spin-off comic, Clementine truly is a stand-out because readers don’t need to know anything about the video games, television shows, or even the original comics. While fans of The Walking Dead will certainly enjoy Clementine because they get to explore this apocalypse further, new readers can ease into this world without the stress of needing to know everything. There are details about Clementine’s past that are not fully explored here, but they don’t need to be. Readers are given just enough information about Clementine’s history to spark intrigue.

There are plenty of zombie stories out there, and many authors fall into the pitfalls of trying to revolutionize the genre. Walden, on the other hand, works with the basics of a classic zombie apocalypse and focuses on the characters and their perspectives. Amos, in particular, brings a unique perspective to Clementine. He lived a sheltered life prior to the apocalypse and throughout most of the apocalypse, so seeing his view of the world is a breath of fresh air. It’s easy to focus on grizzled, cynical protagonists in apocalyptic narratives. So the addition of someone so innocent and hopeful about the future is refreshing and a pleasant reminder that we should not lose hope, even in the grimmest of situations. That, paired with the survival instincts of Clementine, helps Walden deliver a beautiful balance of realism and optimism.

This is not an action-oriented zombie apocalypse. Walden pays more attention to the humans, which works in her favor. The few moments of action and thrills pay off more because the audience is attached to these characters and because Walden has lulled the reader into a false sense of security. The reader’s shock mirrors the characters, making it even easier to empathize with the heroes in Clementine. There is always the underlying notion that nothing is truly safe in the world of The Walking Dead. Walden’s writing is incredibly effective in creating tension, shock, and the illusion of security.

Related: Fear the Walking Dead: PADRE Can Bring the Show Back to Glory

Of course, it would be a shame not to mention Walden’s artwork. Consistently, Walden is able to create characters and worlds that thrive on simplicity. In doing so, there is an innocence to Walden’s work, which heightens the emotions her characters express. Along with that, this makes the horror of The Walking Dead more frightening, as the zombies are still a menace, and the human threats break any comfort the audience took in the peaceful, tender art. It’s heartbreaking to see sentimental characters pushed to the edge and hurt, so readers feel more empathy for them because of Walden’s art.

Walden’s decision to render the comic in black and white leads to some captivating uses of light and shadow. Where the characters are drawn simply, the environment feels lived in. The use of monochromatic colors, shadows, and linework makes a world that can feel expansive one moment and claustrophobic the next. There are layers to the environment, and the use of light, in particular, helps convey the feelings the characters are going through in the scenes — whether that be impending doom, built-up anger, or a glimmer of hope.

Walden is a remarkable storyteller, both as a writer and an artist. There is a simplicity to her work that fosters character-driven pieces that readers can fully invest in. We’ve seen that in her creator-owned work, and it’s just as exciting to see her play in someone else’s world. It brings a breath of fresh air to a major franchise that has been going on for years, and it reminds readers how fun it can be to explore an established world through new eyes. Clementine Book One has us excited for Book Two and for whatever Walden has in store next — whether that be an original story or her exploration of another popular franchise.

Caitlin Sinclair Chappell is a writer turned editor at CBR. What started as a love for comics, film and television turned into a career after graduating with honors from Lewis & Clark College. Along with her work for CBR, she edits the in-development comic series Half-Dragon, and she read her short story, “The Kabbalist and the Golem,” at the 2021 National Queer Arts Festival. Beyond writing and editing, she was the Film School Director at River Way Ranch Camp and the Assistant Director on the play Famous. She can be contacted at caitlin.c@cbr.com, and her social is @comiccookbook.

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