In my review of John Dies at the End, by Cracked’s pseudonymous senior editor David Wong, talked briefly about how the resurrected humor magazine’s new online format works surprisingly well. I find it consistently funnier than, say, The Onion, whose satire is more biting but which I find terribly formulaic.
The relative success of the new website and its list-based articles eventually spurred the editors to do what most successful humor websites eventually do: take their existing content, add a couple of new pieces, and attempt to sell it to fans that have already read the material online. See Stuff White People Like and Maddox’s The Alphabet of Manliness for just two examples.
As an admitted (casual) fan of the website, my critique of You Might Be a Zombie‘s contents will obviously not be negative: if you’re familiar with the contents of the website, then you’ve already read 90% of the book.
I can say that I am disappointed but not surprised that Cracked‘s use of stock images and witty captions was excised—since, of course, grabbing stuff from a Google Image search might fly on a website, but doesn’t quite pass muster in the publishing industry. Though the writing at Cracked tends to be good anyway, one of the best parts is this sort of contrapuntal style. Though the writing is the same, the transition to book format simply isn’t lossless.
You’ll notice, too, the crass (but, we’re talking about a humor website, so who cares about crass?) way in which Cracked names the book from a single article about zombies, I suppose hoping to tap into the current zombie zeitgeist that Max Brooks unleashed on the world with The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. The whole enterprise just seems a little half-assed and unfortunate; I can’t blame them for trying to make money with a book, but I say rather firmly that you’re much better off just reading the website.
For those unfamiliar with the website, however, a typical Cracked article follows the format “[Number] [Thing]s [Shocking Qualifier]”. For instance, “Five Awesome Things You Didn’t Know Were Making You Sick”1. It doesn’t pull the same sort of shenanigans that the nightly news does, where, e.g., they’ll warn you to tune in at 11 to find out how your washing machine might kill your children, and then it turns out to be that putting a child in a washing machine and running it through a cycle can be fatal—who knew?—and you feel cheated and stupid for ever thinking that your local news has anything interesting to say.
No, the writers in this book have a little more dignity than that, though of course one should take everything with a grain of salt. You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News has no citations for any of its information; the website, at least, is littered with hyperlinks, though they tend to be to obscure references in Google Books or etc., so often the [Shocking Qualifier] about [Thing] is a bit dubious. As I mentioned, the allure of Cracked is its irreverence, well-timed and well-put captions, and laugh-out-loud humor; if you want sterling factual content, go read Snopes or The Straight Dope, or arm yourself with a grain and salt and go down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia.
For fans of Cracked, I would encourage you to seek out new content by bespoke writers. Robert Brockway, for instance, who is represented in this collection, has an existing book (Everything is Going to Kill Everybody) and is currently self-publishing a sci-fi novel in episodes (Rx). David Wong, author of the zombie article for which this omnibus is named, wrote John Dies at the End (the sequel for which is coming out later this year). These are likely to be a better use of your time that the You Might Be a Zombie itself.
- Hint: Art, Mary Hart’s Voice, Hula Hoops, Staying Safely Indoors, and The Internet[↩]