Drawn & Quarterly’s hardcover edition collecting Brian Ralph’s “Daybreak” is gorgeous from a production standpoint, as expected. The content itself manages to be a completely engrossing zombie tale even though it doesn’t have the “all-new” spin that these stories often feel like they need.
While “Daybreak” doesn’t have a new spin on zombie stories the way stories like “28 Days Later” or “The New Deadwardians” did, what it does have is an exceptional take on the execution of its story. Ralph ignores the fourth wall, treating the reader as a character within his book. His characters speak directly to readers and all the art is drawn to be consistent with the reader’s POV.
Ralph doesn’t stop there. Not only are readers drawn into the story via their own POV, but the story actually engages the reader as a real character, giving them things to do that have huge ramifications on the story. The idea is bold, and more than a little bit risky, but the risk pays off huge dividends. It’s honestly shocking how much more engaged you feel as you read. The fear and anticipation are drastically heightened from the average horror story, thanks to the approach Ralph has taken.
The writing itself is uncomplicated and ranges from deliberately sparse to delightfully chatty. Our main character, a one-armed zombie survivor is excited to have company, and he makes it known as he chatters along. It is legitimately scary to feel your fate tied inexorably to wherever Ralph chooses to go. The art style is simple and effective, both clean and easy to follow, but scratchy and dense enough to feel right for the matter-of-fact darkness of the tale. Ralph makes particularly great use of his lights and darks, occasionally really pushing the limits of black in the panel, and giving his zombies a simple but truly terrifying look. The ending is particularly gruesome and upsetting, given where you are abandoned in the story as a reader, quite literally trapped, alone, and with unfortunate decisions ahead of you.
Surprisingly effective and emotionally engaging, Ralph’s “Daybreak” is bold and scary in all the best ways. Though at heart it’s a horror story, it’s also just about people, and survival, and loneliness, like all the best zombie stories are.