The Golden Age of the Iberian Zombie

At first almost nobody paid attention, perhaps because they arrived one by one, without making too much noise. But when the alarms finally sounded it was already too late. Suddenly, the undead were everywhere, especially in bookstores, but in this case, unlike what normally happens in the stories they use to star in, zombies were the ones who ended up eaten by humans, specifically by millions of fans of a genre that, around five years ago, experienced a veritable golden age that still now it could not be said it is completely over.

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A new batch of young Spanish writers filled the libraries with zombies taking the most of the worldwide success this sub-genre of terror experienced at the beginning of the 2010’s.

It is an undeniable truth that, for a few years, public has “gobbled” everything that had to do with zombies, be it books, movies, comics, series or video games. And it is truth too that Spain, like many other countries, did not remain alien to this phenomenon. Here, however, the peak of the undead was particularly evident in literature, and not just because in a few years an avalanche of dozens of titles in which zombies had the leading role appeared in the Spanish bookstores (at some point there were around 55 titles available on the shelves), but because most of those books belonged to a new generation of young local writers that mostly relied on this sub-genre boom to publish their first works.

With these new talents emerging on the zombie’s shoulders, a genuine Spanish literature about the undead also raised, which in just a couple of years had written more about it than what had never been written before in Spain, giving in addition a strong boost to the national horror novel market, mostly doldrums hitherto.

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The native Zombie

If something characterizes this newborn Iberian zombie is, above all, that its stories were mainly set in the peninsula, in cities in which its authors and readers used to live, which supposed a great novelty because traditionally zombie disasters almost always took place in the USA. This being the case, we witnessed for the first time a zombie invasion in familiar places like Barcelona, ​​Andalucia, Malaga or Madrid.

This invasion followed though the main guide-lines of this sub-genre of horror literature, as well as its great diversity in approach, plots, locations, genres and situations, where the only common and fundamental element in every story is the presence of the undead. Thus comedy could be found here, as Alberto Ortiz Bermúdez did with Zoombi, El Apocalipsis Zombi con Denominación de Origen (Zoombi, The Zombie Apocalypse with Designation of Origin), a hilarious diary written by a resistance group fighting the undead in a small Spanish village. And from comedy it went without hesitation to tragedy, as in Naturaleza Muerta (Still Life), by Victor Conde, which tells the bitter struggle for survival in a world devastated by undead, same as in La Guerra de la Doble Muerte Z, (The War of the Double Z Death), by Alejandro Castro Guerrero, where the story is told not only from the point of view of puzzled and scared human but also from the zombie’s too, sadly and fatally aware of their imminent annihilation.

And if it was not enough incentive to find the undead invading the Rambla de Barcelona, attending the bombing of a Granada infested of creatures or seeing Cadiz becoming a huge internment camp for zombies, the point of view of the stories were also surprisingly varied: in some of them survivors are trying very hard to rebuild a world completely devastated, as in Apocalypse Island (same as original), by Vicente García. There are also human characters who are allied with zombies obeying a particular Messianic cult, as Father Isidro in Los Caminantes (The Walkers), by Carlos Sisi. There are zombies who have preserved their humanity intact and who are trying to cope with their new condition with some dignity, as in Diario de un Zombi (Diary of a Zombie), by Sergi Llauger. And there are even stories carried out by children-zombie, as in Su Majestad El Rey de Los Niños Zombis (His Majesty the King of the Zombies Kids), by Pedro Pablo Picazo.

The bravery of the Iberian zombie when exploring the most varied fields went so far as to publishing remakes inspired by classics of Spanish literature Golden Age or even international classic literature, such as Hazael G. González with his Quijote Z, Lázaro González-Pérez de Tormes and his LaZarillo Z. Matar Zombies Nunca fue Pan Comido (LaZarillo Z. Killing Zombies never was a piece of cake), or Alberto López Aroca with his book Sherlock Holmes and The Zombies of Camford.

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The success of the pest in Spain

Either by making the reader laughing or shaking the truth is that an epidemic of zombies devastated Spain since 2008-2009 without a single clear reason for such a success, a fever that has not been eradicated yet, even if it looks like worst is already gone.

One thing we do know, however, is that Spain was first ‘infected’ by zombies coming from the United States. It was from there the first broadside came and reached the peninsula during the 90’s and especially since 2000, and it is also from there Max Brook came eventually, the writer who in 2006 marked a milestone with World War Z, a bestseller made into a very famous movie in 2013 (which cannot be compared with the book nor in the approach, structure or even quality). The book reflects the current apocalyptic tone of the genre while endowing a good dose of quality and realism, telling the story of an alleged UN researcher conducting dozens of interviews around the world with some of the survivors of a global plague of zombies that is supposed to be going to decimate humanity within a couple of decades from now.

It was precisely Brooks’s novel success which made various Spanish publishers seek for local authors who could write about zombies and exploit the goose that lays the golden eggs. David González Romero, editor in Almuzara (the publishing house that brought Brook’s work into Spain) considers as ‘essential’ that North American influence: “This is the most important author both because of his quality and the intelligence with which he had approached the genre. Can not you imagine a viral debacle? Can not you imagine it occurring in China (as in the novel) and expanding worldwide because of a political covering up? This is exactly how World War Z begins.”

In addition to US influence there are also other reasons to suggest that zombie is a genre that apparently was ready for its success. So says Vicente Garcia, founder and director of Dolmen, the publishing house that probably made some of the strongest bets for the zombie sub-genre in Spain, to the point of creating the “Linea Z“, a section with 58 titles so far that gathered most of these new writers. Vicente, who is also author of Apocalipsis Island, one of the first published books about undead in Spain, believes that the reason for this success is due “to have posted very good works and to the fact that post-apocalyptic genre has always been widely liked. It’s something, “he adds,” that was there, and that has finally exploded.”

Another reason for this success points to the appeal the zombie intrinsically possesses as a literary character. For David González Romero “today we need credible heroes, and for those credible heroes we need to create a credible and attractive fiction, something zombies can achieve.” Sergi Llauger, father of Diario de un Zombi (Diary of a Zombie), also emphasizes this: “Zombie is an irrational, impersonal mob, which has a single objective it will never renounce to, a monster you can not negotiate with, that acquires its strength from its simplicity. The protagonist who confronts them is always the image of the rebel who opposes mainstream.”

Some also pointed out the characteristics of this newborn Iberian zombie as one of the causes of its literary success. According to Vicente Garcia this new trend involves, when compared with Anglo-Saxon’s, “a more ‘real’, less confined, more imaginative and less topical literature.”

There are even some who attributed the success of zombies to the current socioeconomic crisis situation that, do not forget, still is going on in Spain. So does the author of La Guerra de la Doble Muerte Z, (The War of the Double Z Death), Alejandro Castro Guerrero: “We are in times of crisis and widespread fear. The mainstream, the globalization, the nations’ loss of identity, the fear of unemployment and therefore the hunger, everything is fertile ground for this zombie mob that, in the end, is ourselves. ”

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The future of the horde

Although all these writers and editors owed their initial bonanza to the undead they were also realistic and could not do but watching their success as a literary fad. Many of them even argued it would have been finished within two or three years from then. Many more good titles were about to be released but, according to them, in the end everything would end with their creatures starved and rotting, as it happens in many of their own tales.

Yet many also agreed too that, once they had gone out of fashion, the undead will no longer fall into the ostracism they were once, but that after this golden age they will finally earn a deserved place of honor in horror literature.

Well, nowadays it looks as if the zombie bubble had certainly exploded, but just after taking a single look into many Spanish libraries you will realize soon that there are still plenty of titles with the words ‘undead’, ‘zombie’ or ‘Z’ on their cover. Whoever arrives or comes back now (fallen angels, vampires again?) still there are apparently many zombies to fight, both in Spain and in the rest of the world, for better or for worse. And it has been like that for around 10 years already.

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(click here to read the second part of this article)

(lee este artículo en español aquí)

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3 responses to “The Golden Age of the Iberian Zombie

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