Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 220 (9/11) -- Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Dorkin and Thompson

Stories about animals are always in grave danger of falling into the bottomless Pit of Twee, or of simply excluding readers who don't love that particular kind of animal quite as much as the creators do. Luckily, Beasts of Burden was written by Evan Dorkin, who has a bone-deep sarcasm and loathing for Twee that sees these stories -- even though they are about talking animals that battle supernatural menaces in a Rockwell-esque suburbia -- stay well on this side of that fatal Pit.

Animal Rites collects all of the stories about this group of animals -- in an afterword, Dorkin admits that they didn't have a group name until he had to come with one for the four-issue miniseries that takes up most of the pages here, and they're still not called "Beasts of Burden," or anything like it, in the pages of the stories themselves -- from several Dark Horse anthologies over the past decade, and that aforementioned miniseries. There will almost certainly be more stories coming, of course -- comics is always willing to do more of something that's even moderately popular and successful -- but we're still at the point where these stories are fun, fresh, and exciting, so it's something to look forward to.

The premise gives you a sense of the book -- there's a bunch of dogs in this neighborhood (named Burden Hill about half-way through), and one stray cat that hangs out with them, something like an honorary dog. As is the usual case with stories like this, they can talk amongst themselves, since all animals share a language, but humans (of course) can't understand them, except in very rare, special cases. And there are supernatural events and problem -- unquiet spirits, an infestation of witches, an aggregated frog, zombie dogs, a wolf-boy, and several other flavors of undead -- that only a wise dog (or a team of deputy wise dogs, like our heroes) can deal with.

The secret weapon here is Jill Thompson's subtle, almost purely naturalistic watercolors -- these aren't cartoony animals in any sense, but real-looking animals, painted as if on a canvas your grandmother would hang on her living-room wall. Except that they're fighting zombies, giant frogs, and so on -- but, all the time, they're only un-doglike in the very humanish facial expressions that they get when faced with yet another supernatural threat.

Beasts of Burden is a lovable set of supernatural-detective stories, with a form that will probably sustain it for another five or ten years comfortably. At this point, the mythology and armature of the series doesn't look complex enough for it to grow to Hellboy-esque proportions, but Dorkin and Thompson may yet surprise us. And it will definitely be enjoyable to see what these mutts do next.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Chris said...

It's funny that you should mention Hellboy as there is a one shot crossover between them coming up shortly.

Chris McClelland

Post a Comment