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Clementine: an Overlooked, Rough-Hewn Set of Zombie Graphic Novels from the Walking Dead Universe

Clementine began as a character in Telltale Games’ Walking Dead video games, and somehow wound up in a series of charming, eccentric zombie graphic novels by Tillie Walden. Not at all what you would expect from a Walking Dead spin-off, but well worth a look.

It hardly needs to be said, but: The Walking Dead is everywhere. Not just the original comics series,  now as complete as Robert Kirkman intends to make, and not just the AMC series and its apparently endless spin-offsFear the Walking Dead, The World Beyond, Tales of the Walking Dead, Dead City, Daryl Dixon, with more to come. Beyond that, there is a wide range of video games as well, and a few frankly very good novels, especially the “Governor” series by Jay Bonansinga that mines one of the best arcs in the original series’ run. And don’t get me started on the merch.

But look here: a surprisingly charming series of comics, now pulled into a set of graphic novel compilations, starring a unique character who didn’t come from the original comics or appear in any of the live action spin-offs: Clementine, by Tillie Walden. Clementine (and briefly her parents) were first seen in Telltale’s story-based games; a girl at that point barely into her teens who was no more than a toddler when the outbreak began. She is very bright, plain-spoken, resilient beyond reason, and over the course of a number of stories became one of the most popular aspects of the games themselves by far.

For a variety of reasons too numerous to mention, Telltale Games collapsed some time ago and took continuing publication and/or further development of the games with it. It’s back now in a significantly different form, but the Walking Dead franchise, sadly, isn’t part of the reboot. Then Tillie Walden and Skybound Books came along. Walden, already the young Eisner Award winner ever for Spinning, and the creator of an ongoing webcomic, as well as the creator of a wealth of charming children’s books and graphic novels to her name, acquired the rights for Clementine and began telling her story in 2022, picking up shortly after Clementine leaves the school that sheltered her in her earlier years.

The graphic novel version of Clementine builds on the earlier Telltale stories and stays well within the Walking Dead universe, but takes the odd and awesome young woman in an entirely new direction, plot-wise and geographically. There are no returning characters, nor even any reference to the larger world of TWD. A reader needs to know nothing about that particular mythology beyond the basic Romero Rules for slow zombies. But what a reader will find is one of the most truly enjoyable, one-of-a-kind characters in TWD’s shared world. Bisexual, quietly certain, traumatized like every living human even years after the end of the world, and – for reasons that remain a little obscure – an Orthodox Jew, Clementine still cares about the world around her, like it or not, and in Volume 1 finds a friend and possibly a partner (one who looks remarkably like Tillie Walden herself) in the bleak and blizzardy mountains of the north, while struggling to re-establish an outpost there, nearly dying any number of times, and ultimately showing just what an amazing young woman she is, despite her brutal personal past and no real memory of The World Before.

The style of Walden’s artwork has been a point of contention for many people. Though Kirkman’s own draftsmanship, back in the days of the monthly comic, was (to put it charitably) rather rustic and simple, especially in the early days, the live-action series and other iterations have given the series a professional ‘gloss’ that made a return to simple, sketchy, rough-hewn artwork of Tillie Walden a bit of a shock. Even in the context of an adventure in the snow-storming mountains, this is not the cool, polished ‘look’ that many expected; still, in the end, it serves this one-of-a-kind story by providing equally unique art.

If you’re a Walking Dead fan, you’ll enjoy this moderately paced but relentless series; if you’re a zombie fan but not so much a TWD aficionado, you’ll most likely appreciate this unusual “deep cold” take on zombie mythology. And even if you simply like effective, unexpected graphic storytelling, as far away from the land of space lasers and superheroes as you can get in comics, you most likely won’t be disappointed.

Clementine as a character has, rather inexplicably, remained outside the AMC universe (with the possible exception of one brief “easter egg” mention on FTWD, years ago), but we can hope she will continue to thrive in her own corner of the world after the end of the world.


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