Review by Karl Verhoven
Brian Ralph’s take on the zombie apocalypse stands well to the side of any other version by concentrating almost exclusively on a very restricted selection of people. He ensures an immersive experience by having everyone he meets address the nameless character through whose eyes we see the world Ralph creates. By extension, this person is us. It’s a world after disaster, in which the few surviving humans scrabble about scavenging supplies, always alert for the danger of predators. These are zombies, but they’re never explicitly seen beyond grasping hands and shadows, and in the manner of the classic zombie, they lack wits and are easily fooled.
A leisurely approach is the order of the day, characterised by a simultaneously chilling and amusing opening scene. It’s written as if welcoming someone who’s just popped round from down the street: “It’s been some time since I’ve had a visitor. Where are my manners? You must be thirsty. Please make yourself at home”, yet the wrecked surroundings and precautions taken fly in the face of the gentility. That contrast identifies Daybreak throughout. This isn’t a story of desperate survivors banding together to overcome the odds, but one of gradual attrition. Ralph assumes we’re all up on our zombie folklore, and despite the genial tone, this is a bleak unfolding to the point where we come to understand the significance of the title.
Thick lines, scratchy shading and blocky figures are the artistic order of the day, perfect for supplying an enclosed and dying civilisation. He’s fond of silence setting a mood. The person whose view we follow is never heard to comment, and is very much a passive observer to most events, some of which they spend alone. A clever device to counteract the lack of human emotion is the use of a dog, which Ralph has capering around oblivious to the desperate situation, behaving as a dog always does. It’s the only infusion of the normal in a desperate world.
Ralph shares some sensibilities with Josh Simmons, who takes a similarly individual view of what constitutes a horror story. Daybreak is comprehensively engaging, but also a mere passing glimpse. We learn what’s what, but never how it came about, and can draw our own conclusions about how nigh the end is. Clever and dispassionate, Daybreak is a memorable swerve around zombie society.