Episode 255: Turning the Tables

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Zombie Cliche Lookout: Soft, Supple Zombie Skulls

One thing that annoys me in a lot of zombie flicks is the notion that zombie skulls would be a pretty malleable thing. Punching through a human skull, zombified or otherwise, wouldn’t be a piece of cake. The skull is specifically designed to protect the brain; having it be anything but tough would be a pretty major design flaw. The biggest offender? Easily The Walking Dead, where characters were dispatching zombies with folding pocket knives. Crazy.

However, some people posit that zombie skulls would naturally be softer on account of the decay. So I did what any curious person would do: I talked to a mortician (my sister, as it happens, is a funeral director and undertaker) to find out how long it would take for a skull to get soft. The answer? A hell of a long time. According to her, the skull is pretty much the last thing to fall apart on a body.

I also asked if the skull would get softer after a time, enough so that a person could jam a knife through it with relative little trouble. The answer? No way; that skull is going to stay extremely dense until long after the rest of the body has fallen into a pile of goo. In fact, due to the natural curvature of the skull, stabbing someone in the head would be extremely difficult. Not only would the bone be very hard to punch through, the chances of a glancing blow would be extremely high.

About this Episode

I don’t generally use a lot of overhead shots in the comic, because I think giving a birds eye view of the action can rob a scene of it’s immediacy. However, every now and again I think it’s useful to illustrate the layout of the action: where the zombies are, where are characters are, and what they’re trying to get to.

Discussion Question: Why Do You Love Zombies?

So yeah, right there in the headline: why do you love zombies? What is it about them that gets you excited. Is it the scariness? Do you like the survival aspect of zombie stories? How about the ways zombies can be stand-in for any number of different things (e.g. consumerism, racism)?

There’s no single answer to this question, and many of you might have several reasons for loving our favorite ambulatory corpses.

55 thoughts on “Episode 255: Turning the Tables”

  1. I knew that Clark had some sort of knife around, by the way, whens the comic coming back for 3 times a week again? Wasnt it like in October or something?

    • This week for two times a week I believe and after a few weeks back into three times a week.

      • Yep, pretty much.

        This week and the next two weeks will be Mondays and Wednesdays. Once I’m comfortable, it’ll be back to three per week.

        • okay. Im fien waiting… *sigh*

        • May I suggest that it is Mondays and Fridays? That way we can wait full two( well three in the week), days per comic. Like the idea?

        • Well, I’ve got another guest strip or two for the next couple of Fridays, which is why I went with Mondays and Wednesdays instead.

  2. The survival aspect of all of zombies is what I really love. The thought of needing to rough it out through scraps we once thought use less as now priceless, and that all of the items we collected over the years are then worthless. The adrenaline rush that it would give. The constant exercise and knowledge one would acquire from fleeing for your life would be fantastic.

    Well, this is all what I wished it would be, but in reality I would face starvation, sorrow and grief for the loss of the loved ones, tired for scavenging the minimum food I need for a day, wishing that it would all come back to reality. Dreaming of a comfy bed with an AC on and giving me nice cold air, warm meals and nice times with family and friends. Playing around with a dog and seeing the hilarious TV shows we all love and enjoy… Crap, screw it! I don’t want this zombie thing to happen! Lets stick to The Last Stand: Union City for now, shall we?

    • Awesome feedback Phantom, you pretty much summarized my thoughts. It is strange the fascination so many people have for the zombie theme (me included) because if you strip it down from all the cool factor clichés.. there is absolutely nothing to look forward to. I think that one of the reasons why this theme became so popular is because a lot of people are just unhappy with the world today and it is a way for them to express their wish for something different.

      • Thank you for the response Greg, it is highly appreciated.

        • Like Greg said, extremely well said here Phantom. You really think things through and separate the fantasy from the reality, which is something you don’t often see in zombie survival discussion.

  3. The zombie cliche lookout reminds me of the animated cartoon with the huge cleaver that pops out of a tiny folding pocket knife at the press of a button! 😀

    As for zombie skulls, since they’re technically living undead, I find it partially believable that they could be more easily penetrated by a knife or other object, however, since we have a lack of actual understanding of how a real life zombie would work, anything is really theory until some real life zombie case comes along! 😀

    • Hah, I always love those weird spatial anomalies in cartoons.

      See, since they’re living undead, I would say that the decay process would be retarded, thus a tougher skull for longer.

      • I was thinking more along the lines more brittle skulls, therefore easier to cave in because of the fact that dead bones do in fact dry out and go brittle. Plus zombies have the fact that they’re walking undead that means to me that bodily fluid buildup in areas next to bones and critical areas would soften the skulls somewhat, along with the natural forces of decay like bacteria or mold. Like I said, though, until an actual zombie apocalypse happens and someone has a chance to examine an undead corpse after it’s been stopped, it’s all theory atm. 😀

        • It’s not just the impermeability of the skull that poses difficulty. As I have written before, the skull is a non-homogenous barrier. It’s layers of tissue, bone, air,and fluid. These tend to slow and deflect bullets, especially light, relatively slow .22lr bullets. I would not trust it to perforate a skull, regardless of how spongy the skull, and certainly not to deliver enough energy to dispatch said undead.

        • Saying ‘It’s all theory’ doesn’t mean you can just say anything you know. You have to justify it. Bones dry out if they’re left in a dry environment, for example. There’s no way they’re going to do the same inside a body.

          …Honestly, this one just leaves me shaking my head. You would think that anyone with more brains than a zombie would know that the skeleton is typically the last thing to go. Why anyone would think that the soft tissues would remain fresh while the skull goes weaker than one decades old, I have no idea.

  4. Getting a stab into a skull would be difficult, though you should look up some of the skeletal remains from Wisby, Roman, Celtic, and other battle-sites/burials. It’s kind of scary when you look at a skull with a nice clean chunk taken off the top and realize somebody just whacked it off with a sword or perhaps an axe. At any rate, I wouldn’t try to stab a zombie with a knife, too risky. (Not that Clark has a great deal of weapons laying about, apparently.)

    • A sword would make the job easier for sure, as would stabbing in the right places: eye sockets, temples, etc. In The Walking Dead though, it was right through the forehead.

  5. When I was a kid I had a near-phobic fear of zombies, and when I realized zombie-related media were becoming more and more abundant, it came down to face my fear or live the rest of my life hiding from it. So I rented Resident Evil 2 for my N64, spent a few nights slaying the undead hordes and ended up having so much fun that my fear turned into love.
    I still have the occassional zombie nightmare, but they’re far fewer and further in between than when I was a kid.

    • Awesome story, Darg.

      The wife is terrified of zombies as well, but she’ll suck it up and go with me to zombie walks, and watch the occasional zombie movie.

  6. For me, Zombies is just one answer to the set problems I have with the world at hand. Something that completely changes civilization into nothing is something I have always found to be a eye widening experience. It would bring adventure, passion, reason to live. Perhaps finding food will be a pain in the ass for those that don’t know what they should be looking for, and the comforts of every day life in my opinion would all be trade-able.. TO just be able to adventure in a world that was made sooo small by others before us.

    So.. The reasons I love zombies? It brings me the thought of adventure and a youthful life filled with action, passion, and Intense moments. Helping those who need it, looking for an item of value for some one, clearing a way, being the hero.

    • Discovery new civilizations, and space exploration would also sate this need for adventure. Science needs to go faster.

      • Science does need to go faster.

    • That sounds like the beginning of a zombie-themed travelogue, Calicade.

      • That it does Dave… That it does.

        • It’d probably make for a pretty excellent short story.

        • I’ve actually written a few short stories, perhaps I should turn that into one.

        • It’s got potential.

  7. I do not love zombies. I started paying attention to and watching zombie movies as a result of the fact that I love Post-Apocalyptic.

    Many zombie movies will show the start of the Apocalypse and civilizations down fall or after, where the survivors are trying to get by.

    To me, Zombie flicks are an off shoot and part of another genre that I do love.

    • Excellent point, Fox. Zombies flicks are sort of a subgenre of two genres: horror and post-apocalyptic.

  8. i wish that i could stab something with a knife

    • So grab a knife and start stabbing some vegetables.

  9. On the subject of the pen knife to the brain, I have a similar problem with some of the weapons used on The Walking Dead, and to a degree, zombie movies in general.

    I’ve noticed that they seem to use low calibre weapons, like 22s, and the one character uses a bow. Now the bow sounds useful from a reusable ammo point of view, but an arrow, unless it severs the spinal cord, just isn’t going to do enough damage to drop a zombie. And getting back to the 22, they’re likely to just leave a tiny whole that again, wouldn’t do enough damage to drop a zombie.

    Isn’t the idea to destroy the brain?

    And to play devil’s advocate for a moment, is it possible that something in the zombification process makes the zombie, for lack of a better word, more mushy? Then again, if the fans have to come up with a reason for something in a show, the writers are dropping the ball a little, aren’t they?

    • Here’s my justification for arrows and .22s.

      Provided you have a broadhead, and it pierces the skull, I think that’s going to do a significant amount of damage to a zed. It’s going to spin through the brain, tearing up everything in its way.

      The .22 would only work at extremely close range, since it doesn’t have a ton of penetration power. If it did make it through the skull, however, it would likely bounce around inside the brainpan, causing no end of damage.

      • I hadn’t considered arrowhead type, so yeah, I can see that making a difference. And a bouncing 22 in the brain pan might work, if it bounces enough.

        This would make for an interesting study, which weapons might and might not kill a zombie.

        • I recommend a website called theboxoftruth dot com. It has a lot of real-world weapons testing.

          FWIW, I am not interested in “might and might not”. I make it simple: no pistol calibers smaller than 9mm/.38sp, no rifle rounds smaller than 5.56NATO, and everyone gets at least a double tap, if not a “zipper”. Alternative weapons are just that- alternative; and if you need to carry a gun, may as well carry two.

          Leave the suppressed .22’s to the stories of the OSS and MI-5, not that cans aren’t great. As soon as I claw my way out of debt I will have a few. It’s more that between carrying a 10/22 and an M14S is a WCS, I’ve already made my choice.

  10. Arrows transfer much more energy into a target than a mouse caliber.

    Fact is, a lot of people don’t drop like a stone when shot in the head, even assuming CNS penetration. Zombies would be worse, since they don’t really use their brains, assuming they have only drives, and not higher order thinking. In fact, one could argue that a zombie has no survival drive, no desire to preserve self. In that case, their only desire is to destroy people, since they don’t seem to kill each other (with the exception of I am Legend.

    To me there is nothing particularly romantic about a post-apocalyptic world. The aftermath scares me much, much more than the even itself. For instance, did any of you see the pilot for JJ Abrams new show, Revolution? Something kills all electronic tech (maybe pole reversal), and the warlords take over. Same goes for The Road and The Walking Dead. People don’t live in a vacuum. As much as I subscribe to anarchy, I know it means perpetually fighting off the criminal element.

    I use zombies as a tool to get my message across. As a mad prophet of preparedness my eternal message is to get your shit together. We have been too long without a paradigm-shifting even; and we’re due. Get your life squared away for anything to a weekend power outage, to a loss of your job, long-term illness, plague, pandemic, or war, up to and including a zombie apocalypse.

    To me, it represents the ultimate reset button. It’s as far as you can take survivalism. My goal is to avoid the disheveled survivalist archetype at all costs. Why wander around living like a refugee when you can watch DVDs of The Dick van Dyke Show on your inverter battery bank-powered HDTV, eating microwaved popcorn, and sucking up some air conditioning? You can, if you’re sufficiently ready.

    I’m trying to get folks there, one step at a time, and starting from the beginning.

    • I have a question for you then.. An opinion on a certain subject.

      • You can email me, or post it up here.

      • How are your feeling towards some one like me or my other 2 friends? People who want to do daring things, use the apocalypse for a venturous life style. Be scavengers, fighters, heroes.. I know it sounds like a long shot, but I think it can be done.. We’re all trained properly, and still learning quite a bit how to survive, we all have great and versatile skills, and our team work is amazing.

        • Well, my group is about 1/2 ex-military, and 1/2 professional civilians; and our goal is to get to our predetermined bugout location and hunker down for the duration.

          The problem with heroics is what if they’re not wanted? Will you become vigilantes or marauders? What will you do when you run into a town that tells you to shove off?

          I think it’s better to stay put, if you can. If you want to be a hero, be a hero to your family. The world doesn’t need them or want them, I don’t think.

        • What if you won’t have family? All of my family is old and dying as is.

          Don’t plan on becoming marauders.. Vigilante would imply that there is a set law for the land, and I really doubt that. I pointed out that it wasn’t just heroics though, what about the actual adventuring? The searching of the old world? Gathering/scavenging and selling them? Do you think that’d be a profession of the more adventurous? Or do you think trade will even exist with out violence?

          Now I could imagine myself having to settle down and protect or help in a settlement.. I have a large set of skills and I could very well be a large asset, but it just doesn’t seem as fulfilling..

        • Or perhaps being the scavenger for a settled group? Or would that be too dangerous for the group over all? I know self sufficiency will surely come.. The use of farming, trapping, and berry picking will be big things.

        • Well, “adventuring” could begin again in earnest. Scavenging could become the new prospecting; but we don’t know what the world will look like when it all falls apart. What will bring the collapse? Financial ruin? Polar reversal? EMP weapons? Yellowstone Caldera? New Madrid Fault? Nuclear exchange with the Russians or Chinese? Pandemic? Who knows?

          To me this isn’t escapism. To me it’s about keeping my family safe. Like I wrote earlier, when I was twenty-five all I had was a .45, an AR-15, and 12 gauge. That’s about it. I am so glad I am not that kid any more. It’s not that I couldn’t run-and-gun better now than then, for the most part; but now I know that I don’t want the attention. I just want to live my life.

          If you want to go about is a post apocalyptic world, that’s one thing; but consider the possibility of getting shot out of hand for getting too close to somebody’s vegetable patch or still. In a WCS, how do you tell the good guys from the bad guys? In this situation those lines may blur; and there may just be “folks” protecting what piece of world they have.

          If you still think you can make a go of it, do it.

        • Yeah I know about all those draw backs.. Kinda hard to say what kind of life style one would have to live to full fill it in one that involves survival.. Stress starts to become less and less..

          I have concerned myself with being shot at, and determining the good from the bad.. Me and my friends have actually both been shot at, and I’ve been put in the situation of deciding exactly who was the jack ass and who was the good guy.

          These are all concerns that I’ve been faced with, but I do know one thing. People will always be classifying me into something, no matter what, either if it’s fact or false.

          I’m lucky to not even come close to that same mentality. As well as I already said, I could possibly be good for a community.

        • Awesome discussion going here fellas.

        • The capitalist in me says find something that other people want, and provide it for them. That’s true now; and it will still be true in a societal collapse. If you think folks will want enforcers, or mercenaries, or adventurers or whatever you want to call it, explore the options. Real life is not like an AD&D campaign, though. There isn’t a pub where bands of misfits take quests from the local lord of the manor. Drawing attention might not be the best idea. I’d say be prepared to hunker down and take care of business as needed.

          One point I definitely agree with you on is to have a group. The lone wolf will quickly find himself at room temperature, if you get my meaning. We need groups, and the balance is between size and preparedness. At some point a group becomes a herd; and that has more to do with mindset, training, and preparedness than anything else. Survivalism is not like a PTA group, and the HOA-Nazis aren’t welcome in the group of people with whom I associate.

          I’d say learn a set of skills, whether professional, occupational, or avocational that will do you and your group some good in a WCS. Start gathering equipment to further that end. Then move someplace where you are likely to ride it out when it hits. Right now I live near one high-profile military base, and one secondary target. My goal is to be out of here inside six years, far into the country and away from both urban centers and military installations. I don’t think they’ll be safe in the next decade.

          Learn to garden. Learn to raise small game, goats, rabbits, chickens, guinea fowl, etc. Then you will be more prepared for “adventuring”.

        • Because there’s a new comic up, and I didn’t quite get to this in time.. I just have to say.. Never much thought of life like a D&D campaign, and never expected the world to be like that.

        • Real life is icky and gross. I don’t know if anyone has captured the essence of a post-collapse world accurately, because I don’t think anyone will know what it will look like. Take JJ Abrams new TV series, Revolution. All electricity stops. People kill each other because there’s no power for industrial farming. I get that; but fourteen years later there is no technology at all, completely throwing everyone back to the stone age? What about steam power, for crying out loud? In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries steam was a major competitor to electricity. There were even steam-powered cars. There are many industrial applications, including machining and fabricating, for steam power. Instead Mr. Abrams wants us to believe that our society and morality are entirely dependent upon our technology. It may not be like that. We may be peaceable and more liberty-minded than now, without the distraction of an IPad. What I am saying is that life will probably be more Little House on the Prairie and less The Road. We just don’t know.

    • I’m going to apologize up front for my sudden bout of nitpickyness, sorry.

      I believe in I am Legend they were vampires, as in the original story, and as shown in the first adaptation Last Man on Earth. Otherwise, why did they have a problem with sunlight?

      • My point is that zombies have no ecology. They have no feeding and mating patters, no habitat, no instincts or drives, and certainly no thoughts. They just are; so if you shoot one in the head, how do you know that you’ll do enough damage to “kill” it? Do you have to kit its brain stem? They obviously don’t bleed. They don’t breathe. How do you kill something like that?

        It’s like folks don’t think about that. Are zombies magical? Does penetrating their skull cause the voodoo to leak out? What about “plague zombies”? It seems to me that one should be able to kill them by traditional means. If someone has Dengue fever or Ebola you don’t need to shoot them in the head to put them down. How are “zombie plagues” any different.

        Sorry for interjecting real life into the conversation. /sarcasm

  11. i got 2 other people to join the site, can i get a special zombie in the comic?

    • Would you like a brownie button?

  12. im back again

  13. i like zombies because they scare me and i like being scared

  14. They may overplay how easy it is to penetrate a skull to some extent in films, but if you can thrust with it hard enough, the skull will fail before just about anything made from steel will. A bigger problem would probably be just how much damage you need to do to stop a zombie once you’ve got past the skull. Last I checked, my pocket knife only had a 2.5″ blade; would an inch-deep wound channel be enough to kill a zombie? If you went through the face, you wouldn’t even get that.