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Cowboys and zombies: Destabilizing patriarchal discourse in The Walking Dead

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The serialized comic book The Walking Dead, written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard, has been published by Image Comics from October 2003, and is still being released in monthly instalments as of this writing. It has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series in 2010, and has recently been adapted as a successful TV series by AMC. A videogame is forthcoming in late 2011, the television series has been extended for a second, longer season, and there is even an official Walking Dead board game in the works. While indicative of the more general popularity of zombie fiction in contemporary mainstream culture, the Walking Dead phenomenon points towards interesting questions that are raised by its intersection of genres, as well as by its unique combination of an apocalyptic narrative and seemingly endlessly ongoing serialization. In this article, the intersection of seemingly incompatible genres will be my main focus, using Lacanian theory to engage with the ways in which The Walking Dead conflates the western with the zombie genre. This combination of genres is all the more thoughtprovoking as the western genre traditionally stages the Grand Narrative of patriarchal power from within the historical context of colonialist imperialism, whereas the zombie genre is associated with the destabilization of such forms of power. I will also engage with the serialized form in which this narrative is presented, arguing that the series' systematic lack of formal closure is fundamental to its larger decentering effect.

Keywords: Lacanian theory; apocalypse; comics; genre studies; postmodernism; poststructuralism; western; zombie studies

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Amsterdam

Publication date: January 5, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work. 
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