Punk rock and zombies come together in harmony in the horrifically humorous and surprisingly endearing first issue of “Toe Tag Riot”. Writer Matt Miner and artist Sean Von Gorman proudly embrace the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church has called them “insincere pervs”. If what they’re peddling is perversion, then serve me up some more healthy helpings of zombie brains.
Written by Matt Miner
Illustrated by Sean Von Gorman
A hilarious and gory tongue-in-cheek story, Toe Tag Riot is about a punk rock band cursed to become zombies whenever they perform their music! The band goes on a last cross-country tour in search of the cure to their affliction, but being the ethical sometimes-zombie punks that they are, Toe Tag Riot uses their zombie superpowers to rid the world of racists, homophobes, misogynists and all kinds of other nasty people. Read the LGBT-positive book that the Westboro Baptist Church themselves accidentally endorsed and then felt really stupid about doing! Guest appearance by Andy Hurley from Fall Out Boy!
Miner and Von Gorman have created a book that is brought to the page with obvious love and a clear mission in mind. By means of a zombie story, Miner and Von Gorman attempt to battle racism, misogyny, and homophobia without a hint of the sententious. The book simply speaks the truth, but through the prism of humor, horror, and a punk rock sensibility. “Toe Tag Riot” #1 features a diverse batch of characters that come alive through excellent characterization, natural dialogue, and art that is bursting with kinetic energy. We sympathize with these characters, whether we see ourselves in them or have people like them in our lives.
This first issue introduces the reader to the members of Toe Tag Riot and how their band came into existence. Lead singer Dickie Tagz, guitarist Paulie Propylene, drummer Evie Vee, and bassist Annie Maul represent a wide spectrum of human diversity. It’s refreshing to read a book where characters of wide ranging sexualities, races, and disabilities can coexist and battle stereotypes with a dose of fun and zombie shenanigans. Many examples of real world situations are dealt head on with constant humor and intelligence.
Some of that hilarity ensues when Dickie, who is straight, assumes Paulie is hitting on him. Paulie is simply buying Dickie drinks in an attempt to persuade Dickie to help him form a band. Dickie is humbled in a funny, yet appropriate, way. Although Paulie is bisexual, it doesn’t mean that he’s attracted to or will go after just any man. There are a few scenes like this that place a spotlight on stereotypes in order to prove their ridiculous nature. Humor is just one method used to fight ignorance in this book. The other one is through the mouthpiece of zombie dialogue and action.
Miner sustains the reader’s intrigue by not answering the mystery behind Toe Tag Riot’s transformation into zombies. This won’t cause frustration in this issue because the book is witty and fast-paced. We care about these characters instantly and want to discover the reason behind their affliction (or blessing?) along with them. Each member of the band transforms into a zombie when they play a gig, with the audience believing it’s because of the magic of makeup. It’s a pretty ingenious idea to bestow courage on the band when they transform into zombies. They are able to bravely confront the evils of ignorance and hate without repercussions. Hiding behind the powers of a zombie is great protection against Aryans, the Westboro Baptist Church, and other virulently hateful members of society.
The personality that Miner gives to the each character wouldn’t be as strong if it wasn’t for Von Gorman’s expressive, watercolor-style art. The book has an unearthly and grimy atmosphere that highlights the mixture of humor and horror in the story. In a gorgeous splash page toward the beginning of the book, the band is singing in all their zombie punk rock glamour. The physically off-kilter slant of the scene and the band members’ zombie appearances are indicative of that contrast between the horrific and the ridiculous that permeate this compelling and unique story.Continued below
Von Gorman’s detailed facial expressions are extremely effective at conveying character and highlighting the humor and zombie horror that make “Toe Tag Riot” #1 so effective. In the bar scene between Dickie and Paulie, the faces that Dickie makes are priceless. The realization that Paulie is not straight is evident in Dickie’s wide-open eyes and hand placed on his head in distress. He then looks away, wondering what he should do next, while a few panels later he downs a beer with eyes that betray a man scrambling for a way to get out of an awkward situation. There’s so much thought behind Von Gorman’s art and he is simpatico with Miner when it comes to matching art to story.
Von Gorman is not only at ease when it comes to the humanity of the book, but can also draw some pretty intense zombies. Horror is definitely one of his fortes and the zombified members of Toe Tag Riot are pretty intense. Whether they are drooling, acting scary, or making funny faces, Von Gorman’s zombies have as much personality as their “normal” human selves. The issue takes its most horrific turn toward the end, with faces peeling and blank eyes bugging out in anger. Unlike most zombie books, these particular undead characters are powerfully alive and on a clear mission.
John Rauch adds a rich color palette to the book, including the contrast of dark and bright hues that add an air of fun that matches Von Gorman’s art. At the beginning of the issue, the watercolor sky is dark and ominous, with the gray, black, and blue colors imbuing the night with a sense of both the ominous and the exciting. When the zombified band begin their set, the bright lights that illuminate them is an example of appropriate color choice. The audience believes the zombie “get-ups” are costumes meant to entertain the audience, while the band must live with the horror of bodies they cannot control. Rauch is able, like Miner does with his writing and Von Gorman does with his art, to blend the horror and the humor through his coloring.
It’s a shame more books like this don’t have a well-deserved spotlight. Miner and Von Gorman have released a fun book with a vital message that is cleverly written and gorgeously illustrated. I look forward to seeing the band members fleshed out (pun intended) in the remaining issues of “Toe Tag Riot” and seeing the paragons of hate brought down to the lowest peg.
Final Verdict: 8.9 – Matt Miner and Sean Von Gorman are definitely a team that should continue to collaborate on other projects. After “Toe Tag Riot”, I’ll be waiting patiently for another book with their names emblazoned on it. Until then, consider me a disciple of this zombie book and the insincere pervs who created it.