Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
From creators Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson comes Beasts of Burden, a fantastic horror series from Dark Horse Comics. Sporting just the right balance of comedy, adventure and horror elements Dorkin and Thompson deliver an incredibly amusing, gripping and moving read as they detail the exploits of a group of supernatural investigators with a twist… they’re all animals.
Beasts of Burden is quite possibly one of the best American comics of the last few years. It’s a series that is able to shift between incredibly cute and adorable to deeply disturbing and horrific in almost no time at all and does so in a way that feels completely natural. Dorkin and Thompson craft lovable anthropomorphized dogs and cats but do so without ever letting us forget that they’re not human. They do this through a variety of methods ranging from cute nervous tics such as butt sniffing, to dialogue full of animal related slang and insults and more. The interaction between the various pets that make up the cast is wonderful to read and will undoubtably elicit some laughs as you read it. But it’s not just dialogue and scripts that are fantastic but the setting and situations as well. Throughout the series, without huge info dumps, Dorkin paints a picture of an animal world that’s fully developed with it’s own beliefs, magic and protectors. Hints of a Council of Wise Dogs, mentions of the Great Dog and the Black Dog feel completely natural and need little explanation when they appear in scenes and help give the sense of a world that’s larger than the town of Burden and decades, if not centuries, of history behind it. Add in reoccurring characters in minor roles and you get the sense that things are happening outside of the main characters circle, that there are other groups of dogs and cats having their own adventures and conflicts. Dorkin also gives us several twists on conventional horror tropes, including the opening story which is a fun take on the haunted house tale and in a later chapter a ghost story that’s absolutely chilling and haunting as it touches upon real life animal issues.
It’s hard to imagine Beasts of Burden without the absolutely gorgeous, water color artwork from Jill Thompson. Under her talented hands the series is quite possibly the best looking American comic on the market. She manages to capture the body language of the dogs and cats perfectly, imbuing them with just enough humanity to make expressions recognizable while still looking completely natural on the faces of dogs or cats. Whether it’s the cowering before a ghost or leaping in joy as they chase frogs, all the characters physically move and behave like the animals they are and body language plays a large part in conveying the individual animals characters and personalities. Thompson also gets a chance to display her range as she renders the lighter and more disturbing moments with equal skill. Much like Dorkin’s writing, her artwork lures you in with the cute and adorable animals, only to slam you in the face with a truly horrific and disturbing scene when you turn the page, some of which may stick with you for days after having put the book down.
Honestly, I don’t think I can sing the praises of this collection enough. For $20 you get an oversized, full color hardcover collecting the five short stories and the four issue mini-series, plus a sketch book section and a cover gallery. It’s a fantastic price tag for an equally fantastic series that gets more enjoyable with each new reading. If there’s any negative about Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, it’s that it’s not enough. After reading this collection you’ll be left wanting more and sadly, outside of a one shot cross over with Hellboy, there isn’t a whole lot more out there.
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is available from Dark Horse Comics.