Zine Rigor Mortis explores what we talk about when we talk about zombies
Published: October 27, 2010
“I think because they scared me,” zine publisher Davida Gypsy Breier says, explaining an interest in zombies that turned into her collaborative zombie zine Rigor Mortis two years back. “They’re still scary and it was good to be scared by something that wasn’t real. There’s almost something cathartic to let all of that anxiety out in something that—hey, cut-rate therapy, whatever you want to call it—but it was something that was very scary but it wasn’t actually dealing with the real-life stuff.”
Vampires may have sunk their teeth into popular culture, but in the quotidian world of politics, zombie references are rife. Reanimation of the dead is an easy metaphor for dealing with a reality that sometimes feels like it’s at the edge of apocalypse. In an Oct. 15 blog post at foreignpolicy.com, Australian economist John Quiggin, author of the recently published Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us, noted that the financial institutions behind the 2007 economic collapse “bailed out on such a massive scale by governments (and ultimately the citizens who must pay higher taxes for reduced services) have returned, in zombie form,” and that “[t]he same reanimation process has taken place in the realm of ideas.” In the July/August issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Tufts University international politics professor Daniel W. Drezner suggested an international relations theory for zombies, noting the zombie presence in a global entertainment culture: “If it is true that ‘popular culture makes world politics what it currently is,’ as a recent article in Politics argued, then the international relations community needs to think about armies of the undead in a more urgent manner” (italics his).
In 2007, Breier collided with a concentrated series of urgent matters. Her then partner—and now husband—was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Their son was about 1 year old. And the company she worked at was sold. Nothing like being a mother perhaps losing her job with a partner facing a life-threatening illness to make you want to seek an alternate reality.
Like, well, zombies. “It wasn’t actually dealing with the real-life stuff, the ‘Oh my god, what would happen if he doesn’t make it through treatment?’” Breier says, sitting at a Charles Village coffee shop. The petite brunette recounts all of this with an impressive calm and unguarded candor. “There was a lot of panic and anxiety—someone who goes through chemo for six months, it got almost more dangerous toward the end, when cancer was no longer a threat but the threat of infection, the threat of . . . just slogging through all that.”
Fortunately, Breier had a friend in California who had gone through something similar in his personal life—and just happened to be really into zombies too. “When all that came about, he was the only person I knew comparable to my age that had had a partner with a life-threatening illness,” Breier says. “So we would talk, but instead of actually talking about the real shit, it would be about whatever zombie stuff we were currently reading or watching. And this went on for a couple of months. And it was very odd and organic that these calls about zombies were happening once a week. And I’m like, ‘You know, we really need to do something with this.’”
Enter Rigor Mortis, the zine devoted to all things zombie and horror. Chiefly the work of DeadVida (Breier) and Dread Sockett (her California friend), the zine also includes contributors Colin Cthulhu (a Chicago-based comic book store owner), and Grim Pickens (another Baltimore-based zinester). Rigor is a mix of reviews—of zombie books, graphic novels, movies—well-informed articles (such as Dread Sockett’s consideration of George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead with the 1990 remake in issue No. 2), and various ephemera (a great comic-book appreciation of movie special-effects man Tom Savini in issue No. 1).
With the recently released No. 3, Rigor finds a thematic focus in, well, anger. “This issue, in particular, went from the panic to really focused anger about a lot of different things that we were experiencing,” Breier says. “From the minutiae to the larger scale, and instead of being anxious, with this issue, again, organic creation of just frustration and anger of lots of different things coming together, and I think that gave this issue more focus than we’ve ever had. It’s very hard to focus when you’re anxious, but when you’re angry sometimes those laser sights lock on.”
As the editors admit in the intro, “We find ourselves growing angry and frustrated at everything from oil spills to sugar ants.” They express shock and anger over the death of Morningstar Strain author Z.A. Recht, who passed away last December at 26. Colin Cthulhu runs through a list of monsters and the societies that spawned them. And Dread Sockett pens an outrageously well-researched exploration into the Nazi zombie subgenre.
It’s an issue that recognizes that monsters and horror ideas are often projections of a culture’s own fears. “I think that’s always been the case,” Breier says. “I think we saw that with the atomic bomb and the rise of related science fiction and horror to that. I think that we have kind of looked at and seen, ‘Wow, things can go bad for the planet really fast.’ I think, too, the difference in early zombie, where it’s government-related but very vague, to definitely some type of biological weapon, some type of virus, some type of man-made creation way—I think that has to be part of the political climate we’re dealing with. It’s like zombies are where we look because we don’t actually look at what could happen. We kind of look off to the side because looking directly would be too scary—kind of like looking directly at cancer is too scary.”
A zine creator since the mid-1990s, Breier maintains a small independent publishing hub at Leeking, Inc. (leekinginc.com). And while she reports that Rigor will always have some zombie content, she and Dread Sockett are opening its content up enough to their own psyches to branch out a little bit. She thinks the next issue might deal with obsessions and phobias. Sockett has a thing about animals attacking. And Breier? “I’m probably doing a piece on caves, because the thought of going underground into pitch blackness seems like absolute insanity to me,” she says.
Has she ever done that? “No,” she says firmly and immediately. “And I never will. I will swim with sharks. I will go sit with alligators. I am the house spider-remover. But go into a cave—not going to happen.” ■
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