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Beasts Of Burden #1-4
posted February 2, 2010
Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson
Dark Horse, four comic books likely to be collected sooner rather than later, 32 pages, 2009, $2.99
Beasts of Burden
-- a full-blown, old-fashioned comic book mini-series continuing an award-winning run of short stories in various anthologies -- is everything one hope for in a time in comics publishing that's not on the best of terms with such projects. It features an easy to grasp high concept: a group of animals bound together to protect their neighborhood against various supernatural threats. It pairs a fine dialogue man, Evan Dorkin, with one of comics' most-liked and most-lauded painted-page artists, Jill Thompson. Both creators are highly skilled at sympathetic characterization of the kind necessary for an audience to imprint on a series' main characters. The comic features a setting that offers up a variety of weird corners for exploration but is mostly reminiscent of the suburbs in which a significant portion of its audience likely makes its home. There is on display a limited world against we can establish a context for the characters' deeds, and a wider world suggested upon which the story can draw for an increased sense of mystery and danger. Even the now mostly-outdated comic book format flatters Beasts Of Burden
: it's four opportunities for Thompson to impress with a single cover image; the work itself is relatively dense and content-driven in a way that makes each comic book issue a satisfying buy; it even provides multiple opportunities to put its appealing and articulate creators out there to press on the book's behalf.
I like both creators and enjoyed this comic book a lot. I can even imagine a younger reader -- or several thousand -- developing a secret crush on this project the way younger readers can; it reminds me of kids' literature I've read more than the vast majority of comics that more explicitly label themselves as such. It has mainstream values, to be sure. There's no window into some higher thematic concern. Jill Thompson's art pushes for dramatic effect through individual images and a general handsomeness more than it always does clarity and a strong sense of narrative progression. I hope that if they do more of these they do slightly less with the various group dynamics and action and more with individual characters supported by the group, as in issue #3's "Something Whiskered This Way Comes," which I thought the strongest of the four stories by a wide margin. With fewer characters fighting for space within the panels, there ended up being a greater focus on the strange atmospherics of life underground in that one. Dorkin also deftly mixes within that story the outright mysticism of the high-concept with the more general folk story-style possibilities that one attributes to animals, in this case embodied in a side character called The Getaway Kid. The best fantasy worlds mix a second look at things we know with a first at things we don't, and I think this has a chance to be a solid entry into that realm of storytelling. I hope there's still light out there for this project to step into.