The artist’s guide to the zombie apocalypse

Read at thespec.com.

Last night, I was plagued by zombie dreams. I don’t know how much of my all-night undead-a-thon was influenced by reading coronavirus updates, and how much was just my everyday tendency to dream about zombies, but I woke with a clear purpose. Rather than focusing on the real-world threat of COVID-19, I’ve decided to lighten the mood a little with another artist’s guide — to the zombie apocalypse!

I watch a lot of zombie movies, basically anything that isn’t too cringingly B-quality. (Side note: I’m wary of anyone who claims to love B movies. Who knows what else they’ll lie about?)

When I dream about zombies, the dreams generally aren’t scary — rather, they usually consist of totally unrelated social situations, and the zombies are just sort of there, milling around. Sometimes they try to attack, and I vanquish them like it’s regular, or I problem-solve to contain them or shut them out. On the rare occasion, there’s a pulse-spiking moment, as happened last night when Zombie Lois Griffin tried to bite me from behind, and the in-dream sensation of someone (albeit a cartoon someone) leaning in and breathing on the back of my neck was so realistic that it shocked me awake with a gentle snort.

Anyway, I’ve spent my share of time thinking strategically about the zombie apocalypse, and never more than during real-world viral outbreaks.

How would an artist approach a zombie world?

I wouldn’t call myself a survivalist. To survive a zombie apocalypse, I would have to get creative.

Strategy 1: Think like a plot master.

I think if you asked an average group of people what their first goal would be immediately following a zombie outbreak, many would cleverly state gathering supplies would top their lists.

Any writer with a grasp on plot lines will tell you that these people are eaten first. The character who secures reliable shelter while others panic and run around like zombie fodder will still find plenty of food and tools after the initial chaos has died down (literally). I mean, think about it. The mass of people looting frantically while the first wave of zombies is at its freshest and most spry is going to be thinned out pretty quickly, leaving most of the supplies untouched.

Strategy 2: Think outside the boards.

I don’t know where everyone’s getting all these wooden planks with which to board up their windows, but let’s be real. If zombies can break a window, they can probably break through a barrier of nailed-together wooden boards. What does this tell you? The wood isn’t really for strength, but for visual concealment.

Instead, my painter’s mind goes to — yes, exactly. Slap a few coats of black acrylic paint onto the insides of your windows, and you’ll have much more opaque window coverings than a bunch of planks with cracks between them.

What if you don’t have paint either, you ask? Well, you’re on your own.

Strategy 3: Think like a method actor.

Now, I’m not an actor by profession, but the arts tend to commingle quite a bit, and in this case, I can think of a pretty solid hybrid technique to combine painting skills with my first foray into serious method acting.

Start by painting yourself up like a zombie. Think, your best, prizewinning Halloween costume. Then, wander around your shelter moaning and tripping over things until you’re sufficiently confident that you’ve assimilated the thoughts, emotions and behaviours of a zombie. When you’re fully in character, go outside and join a zombie horde.

Best case scenario, you are then able to move about unharmed, giving you much greater access to supplies and the option of migrating. Worst case scenario, you get turned into a zombie.

At least you’ll already have gotten some practice.

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