Have I ever mentioned that one of my favourite all time trilogies ever made is “Toy Story”?
As far as stories go, the trilogy is a hilarious and heart-warming tale that stuck with me throughout my childhood years. As I grew older, I began to realize why the trilogy still resonates with me and many other adults. In sum, the films expertly crafted themes of growing up, rejection and learning to move on.
So, with that in mind, you can understand why I have always been hugely interested in the premise behind Black Wing Comics first ever release, “Toy Z: The Ballad of Mr Huggles”. Back in June, I interviewed Black Wing Comics co-creative director Cliff Hughes where we discussed the debut of Toy Z, which he described as a blend of ‘Toy Story meets The Walking Dead”. After a successful kickstarter campaign, the first issue, ‘Toy Z: The Ballad of Mr Huggles’, has just recently been released. Check out my full review of the first issue below;
Co-written by Cliff Hughes and Nicci Thompson, the story is set in a world that is similar to Pixar’s Toy Story (hence my enthusiasm), except in Toy Z, a zombie apocalypse has wiped out nearly all of humanity. This interesting premise and first issue set the scene for an interesting continuation within the series. As the first in the series, this issue is essentially an introduction to the Toy Z world, where the main characters are introduced to the reader.
As the story begins, we meet two of the central characters, Kitty Kat and Robert the Robot, as they stumble across the title character Mr Huggles. Let me tell you something now, if the inclusion of zombies into the story didn’t make you realize that this was a story for adults, then the first few pages will do that for you. A quick but gut wrenching flashback details that the title character has been left with his deceased owner since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, and therefore has no idea that his owner is dead and that the world outside has completely changed.
At the heart of Toy Z, is the three central characters journey into a harsh alien environment that has no use for them anymore. The story itself is a powerful metaphor for trying to move on when suffering a huge loss, which is prevalent throughout this first issue, as well as a flashback that details the backstory of Mr Huggles. Ultimately, although the main character are toys, their journey is something that mostly all adults can relate to and empathize with. We have all felt a major loss in our lives, and as adults we have all had to accept when something is over and move on, a theme that is prevalent particularly in the character of Mr Huggles. One scene in particular highlights this, where Kitty and Robert force Mr Huggles to face the situation that he is in, and the body of his dead owner. There are times in life where we would rather not face the tragedy of a situation and would rather pretend that everything is fine, but ultimately we must move on. This scene expertly deals with this idea.
The ability to make the reader emotionally connect with the characters of toys, speaks volumes about the writers ability to build the characters, and how they can be built upon in future issues. I say this, because a slight drawback is that the backstories of Kitty Kat and Robert the Robot are not explored within this issue, and I look forward to seeing how the writers present and explore the characters in future issues. Something, which I have no doubt will ultimately happen.
As I have mentioned above, the story is a harrowing read, yet there is a slight glimmer of hope near the end. After certain events lead to Mr Huggles being separated from Kitty and Robert, there is a sense of anguish at the inability to change what is happening to them. As both Kitty and Robert try to come to terms with the way the world has become, Robert sadly details that “We are only toys”. This scene again highlights the emotional depth to the story, allowing a connection to be built with the characters, and once again highlighting the theme of trying to move on, even when it seems as though it is impossible. Despite the characters anguish, they find a note that details a safe space for toys, and although it is a brief scene, there is that slight glimmer of hope for the two toys, and ultimately allows them to push forward with their journey to finding safety and stability in a chaotic environment.
As the story has been described as “Toy Story meets The Walking Dead”, it is easy to see the influence both franchises have had on this story, yet Toy Z has it’s own unique vibe going on.
The artwork is top notch here as well. Coming from Ammar Al-Chalabi, with the wonderful cover art being provided by Charlotte Herbert, the art of Toy Z provides an interesting juxtaposition. Mostly rendered in sharp and vivid bright colours, the art compliments the main characters, whilst also providing an interesting backdrop for the darker tone of the story. In a sense, the art is reminiscent of a kids comic, and I cannot commend Ammar enough for being able to contract childlike visuals with the darker and tragic tone of the story.
Overall, Toy Z is a refreshing new take on the almost overdone zombie genre. A visually stunning yet harrowing debut that deals with themes that will resonate with older readers. This first issue has managed to separate itself from the many other zombie/horror comics out there, by telling the story through the eyes of toys, which offers a unique and sometimes childlike perspective to an adult story. By the end of the issue there is a tease for a continuation within the series, as well as a touching tribute to horror legend George A Romero. I am incredibly excited for the future of the Toy Z series, as it has endless possibilities to continually grow with further issues.