In the last few years, the post-apocalyptic genre seems to have really exploded – with children, and road warriors, and zombies (oh my!) all dominating our current popular media. Steve and Jason’s review of Weapon Brown last week got me thinking about the genre and just how it’s come to be such a big part of the media all around us whether that be film and television, literature, gaming or webcomics – and I was surprised to find how long and how often we have, in our stories, been living beyond the end.
Tales of living in post-apocalyptia are, as it turns out, literally as old as stories themselves. At one point in The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian tale recorded shortly after the advent of writing (around 4,000 years ago), the titular adventurer comes across an old man who tells him an incredible story: of the time he survived the flooding of the world by building for himself, an ark. This tale, of course, is also given in other major works of literature from the early historical era: if you’re reading this, then chances are you originally learned it through a religious text of Abrahamic faith. The story of a catastrophic event wiping out humanity but for a small band of survivors who are faced with a new world repeats itself throughout classical history, turning up in the mythologies of the Greeks, the Norse, the Celts and finally, in the Christian book of Revelations (which made its way into the standard canon of the christian church around the fifth century AD).
One thing these early iterations of the post-apocalyptic tale have in common is, you may have noticed, the religious subtext. In these stories, the apocalypse was the work of God(s), not man – this all changed in 1895 when a certain author by the name of H. G. Wells published a little book he called The Time Machine. Although this tale was not the first story to explore the idea of apocalypse without the requirement of God’s intervention (those stories began to be written during the Enlightenment, in the 18th Century), the rampant popularity and enduring success of this book brought the concept into the zeitgeist in an unprecedented way. Wells’ book, written when the industrial revolution of Europe had well and truly worked its scars into society, used the creatures and setting of post-apocalyptia as an allegorical warning about the dangers of rampant, unconstrained commercial industry and in turn opened the floodgates for other writers to take up the setting for their own stories.
The setting of ‘post-apocalyptia’ quickly began to diversify into a handful of its own sub-genres, each defined by the nature of the apocalypse itself. The ‘alien invasion’ apocalypse could also be said to have started with Wells when he published his famed The War of the Worlds in 1897, where all but a handful of humanity are destroyed by invading Martians. In 1954, Richard Matheson introduced us to the idea of apocalypse by supernatural (or mundane) pandemic when he wrote I am Legend, a story of vampires taking over the earth which in turn has been credited by George Romero as a major influence on his own work with Night of the Living Dead, where Romero birthed the zombie-apocalypse sub-genre.
Wells’ Alien invasion sub-genre also touched on, and partially inspired, other cosmic world-ending sub-genres such as the world-ending meteor (which gained a surge of popularity in the 80’s, following the Alvarez hypothesis on the dinosaur’s extinction) and, somewhat relatedly, the environmental apocalypse which has gained its own momentum over the past couple of decades. Which segues nicely into what has been, beginning with Wells and continuing in proud tradition with Weapon Brown, the most enduring of all modern post-apocalyptia genres: where we have brought the apocalypse down upon ourselves.
Examples of the post-apocalyptic war setting are too numerous to count here (thanks in part to the proliferation of fantasy and science fiction writing throughout the Cold War and the very real threat of nuclear destruction that accompanied daily life), but given the historical context of our fascination with the post-apocalyptic genre we shouldn’t be surprised to find how the genre has expanded to encompass webcomics as well. In fact, post-apocalyptia has been a part of the webcomic scene for well over a decade at least, and more comics are being added in this genre all the time. It’s a fertile field, and one that the exceptional artwork and unique storytelling of Jason Yungbluth’s Weapon Brown is able to thrive in.
What do you think of the post-apocalyptic genre? Do you like it, or has it been overplayed? Also, I couldn’t find any good examples of another sub-genre I’m sure must be out there: magical post-apocalyptia, where the apocalypse event was a magical event rather than a technological/war-related/environmental one – if you know of any good examples of this be sure to pop them in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter: I’d love to read them!
And as always, remember: don’t eat the clickbait!