I'm probably about to blaspheme and draw the ire of zombie fans everywhere, but I have to say it: The television show is much better than the comic. Now, of course, I realize Mr. Kirkman is also writer and producer of the show itself, so it's probably better to say that the television show offered Kirkman the opportunity to refine the ideas he pioneered in his comic series. The adjustments made between the two mediums serve, in my opinion, to enhance the dramatic tension between the characters to brilliant levels. For example: in the comic storyline, Shane and Rick's wife have a kind of one night stand on their way to Atlanta and then Shane dies within a week or so of Rick returning. He flips out and can't take Rick as a romantic rival and tries to shoot him in the forest while hunting and Carl comes to his dad's rescue by shooting Shane. Essentially the tension between them and Lori, trying to keep her indiscretions secret from Rick while seeing a visible reminder in Shane every single day, is gone after issue 4 or 5. Kirkman kept Shane alive straight through to the second season in the television show and I think it made the group dynamic much more awkward, unstable and dramatic. I felt uncomfortable from the whole situation, you revile Shane and Lori for their behavior, which is much more subtle, nuanced and long-term than the comic.
The characters in this storyline are incredibly flat and predictable: the teacher, the ex-lawyer, the former cop, the farmer and they never really expand out of those shells except to do horrific and inexplicable things that are written off with the mantra: "Well, this world has changed us all," which works once or twice, but you start getting the feeling that Kirkman just wanted to get rid of people, either for plot reasons or shock value, and couldn't think of better ways. Speaking of introducing characters, there are a boatload more of them in the comic than at its equivalent point in the television series. Again, though, I feel like these people are introduced, stick around for two to three issues and then are killed off in more and more gruesome fashion (and I mean seriously gruesome). You learn not to get attached or take an interest in anyone after the first 10 issues or so and just expect them to die, which would be brilliant if Kirkman's intention was for you to embrace that inevitable nihilistic feeling which would accompany a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, in escapist literature, you want to identify with someone
in the longer term, otherwise it reads more like a history. Enter Rick, around whom the story revolves, but I think you'd attract more readers with a greater diversity of survivors you could count on being a little longer term.
What Kirkman does do really well and where he breaks ground in an otherwise incredibly stale genre (how many different spins are there to a zombie apocalypse?) is world building. There are some ingenious angles to survival and societal underpinnings that have somehow been missed by the hundreds of other works in the zombie category that are all approached with a maturity that goes beyond firing guns at bodies in some video game-like orgy of violence. Violence abounds, to be sure, human on human and human on zombie alike, but it always serves a purpose in Kirkman's world. The focus on the long-term practicalities of survival and the clear distinctions made between the mentality of surviving versus the mentality of living are handled with competence that lends a strong degree of realism to the storyline itself. I also like the fact that Kirkman makes it clear that other people are much
scarier to run into than zombies. There are some really screwy people in this storyline and Kirkman does nuts pretty damn well.
I'm glad this existed as a testing ground for new ideas and I'm also glad for the existence of the TV show as a medium for the refinement. The end product is fantastic and my recommendation would be: if you only have time for one, watch the show. If you love the show and want to see the story and characters in their infancy, pick up the compendium. At around $30 for nearly 50 issues, it's a bargain and you'll certainly love it more than if you had no attachment to the characters before starting. One thing the show is missing that I wish it had from the comic is Tyrese, but then again, there is Daryl. And Daryl is a bad ass.