There was a time when the living dead were relegated entirely to the realm of terror. The idea of a walking, hungry corpse would terrify and nauseate, and fleeing its sticky, bony grasp would be the thing of nightmares — not family board games, dolls and t-shirts. Now, you’ll find ‘zombie family’ stickers on the back of white SUVs, and it doesn’t tale much Googling to find an image of just about any pop culture character recreated, poorly and with no understanding of what actually goes on inside of a human body, as a zombie. DeviantArt, I’m looking at you. You are a circlejerk of developmentally arrested human beings and you should be ashamed of being an enabler.
The passage of an idea from being a simple, unadorned concept into becoming a culturally pervasive meme has many landmarks, but one of the most visible and discernible signifiers of meme status is when someone takes an object or idea and transforms it into something “cute” (or some other interchangeable, simple adjective), and it remains contextually acceptable and recognizable as its core concept. That original concept has enough of a cultural cache and a universal familiarity that when it’s changed it into an adjective-d version of itself, it remains recognizable. You’ll be able to identify a fat Batman, or a sexy piece of bacon. You might not as easily understand a fat Crazy Quilt, or a sexy plate of bulgogi.
And this is why we have cute zombies. You know what they are and what they represent on a deep enough level that altering them into their cute forms doesn’t alienate the experience of the meaning of zombies.
Zombie Zity is a world of cute, big-headed zombies, made by Dracco. Unlike most zombie narratives in which all zombies are evil or destructive and fighting against the human race, Zombie Zity is an all-zombie world split between good and evil zombies. While the evil faction, headed up by the local government apparently, is attempting to control the minds of the entire zombie populace, the good zombies fight for the right to retain their autonomy. This story plays out across trading cards, two scales of figures, and an online game. Rather than a genre of zombies with bloody skulls and broken-off limbs, the goriest these guys get is bloated, discolored faces, occasional green drool, and torn clothing.
An interesting, zombie-atypical aspect of this line is the idea that zombies have individualized personalities. Zombies, as a theme, generally deal with the idea of a loss of human identity; once you’ve died and returned to life, you’re a hungering animal version of yourself, without intellect or personality. You’re a mindless element of a horde, relatively useless by yourself, but powerful in a shambling mass. Like the Borg collective, or any of the Walking Dead swarms, individuality is a weakness. If you have any identifying features at all, your name is reduced to what you’re wearing or whatever object near which you were first discovered: riot gear zombie, fat zombie, bicycle zombie, organic restaurant waitress zombie, glasses zombie, Home Depot zombie, and so forth. Zombie Zity’s zombies have names, and much of the struggle in the narrative is these zombies’ ability to maintain their identities in a city (or Zity) that wants to dehumanize them even further. This is perhaps the first fictional double-zombie, and that makes for a potentially interesting concept.
Zombie Zity Bouncerz are 1″ tall, rubbery figures depicting 48 diverse zombie characters from this zombie universe; half are good, and half are evil, and all have some kind of role in the local workforce: chefs, garbage collectors, barbers, mechanics, security guards, and even a local hobo. These are packaged in blind bags, and because of their rubbery nature, it’s especially difficult to tell which zombie you’ll be getting inside. Each comes with a card describing their particular skillset and story, and they’re just weird enough to be pretty awesome. And the bluegreen skin tone that dominates each paint scheme is weirdly beautiful, not suggesting the asphyxiation of death as much as a fun and friendly monster.
The accompanying instructions suggest a few games, which are the equivalent of beer pong, marbles, and whatever game it is where you throw something at the ground and see how high that thing can bounce. “Lonely Playground”? “Ostracized by Your Peers”? “Safely Directed Rage”? Whatever it is, I’m sure I played it a lot.
Each one of these is fully-painted, with rarer versions appearing in silver, gold, or the always awesome glow-in-the-dark. There’s really nothing better than things that glow in the dark, and there’s something about solid colors that really emphasize the richness of a sculpt.
Zombie Zity Swobblerz, which consume an ungodly amount of the alphabet in inappropriate ways, are 3″ tall bobbleheads depicting 12 important Zity citizens. These come with interchangeable heads, and a card with a unique code that unlocks aspects of the online Zombie Zity game. For every character you buy, you can play that character’s game, and eventually, you can earn enough brain-points with play the ultimate game against the mayor, all for a chance to head up the online leaderboard.The games are divided between simple mazes and a fruit ninja clone, but they’re certainly fun enough to entertain as you grind for brain points. (Tragically, my Mayor Miserly figure was missing its code card. They’re very small and easy to miss in the figures’ packaging, so be alert!)
‘Swobblerz’ implies some kind of wobble action, but most heads are plugged in too tight to really move on their own – and that’s okay. I’m good with non-jiggly zombies, and I don’t live in an earthquake-prone area, so these guys would be still most of the time anyhow. Really, the only people who can truly appreciate bobbleheads are in California and Japan. The increasing popularity of bobbleheads over the past ten years has altered the application of the word ‘bobblehead’ from ‘a figure with a large head at the end of a spring’ to any figure with a large head, spring-powered motion or not.
I imagine these as fun gifts for the professionals in your life; the genuinely disturbing fireman Billie Fry for the desk of a firefighter, or a Diesel Dan for the local car repair joint. I have a special affection for Reeky Tarts, as he fits into an unusual set of action figures destined for the kitchen, including a few chefs from Ratatouille, Nightmare on Elm Street 5‘s Chef Freddy Krueger from Mezco, and Yum Yum’s proud designer Hot Dog. Coincidentally, they also made a great zombie figure.
These haven’t reached the US just yet, which is why all of these packaging photos appear in German and Spanish, but they’re completely on target for the same demographic as those who collect Trash Pack and Garbage Pail Kids figures; those who appreciate the gross and small, or just those who can’t resist an impulse buy when they’re out buying deodorant.
[Zombies graciously provided by Dracco.]
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.