The thought of following a group of domesticated animals around all day seems like a real bore. There, I said it. Let the hate mail roll in. But first, take for instance my two cats, Aussie and Valley. They eat, they sleep, they shit. They want outside, they want back inside. Repeat in no specific order (add random vomiting of partially digested grass) and you have the day to day lowdown on my two orange felines. Why can't my lame eating-sleeping-pooping pets be as cool as the ones living in Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Burden Hill? Well, for one, my cats cannot talk to each other in a sassy, snarky humor. And secondly, my cats don't encounter and fight zombie pets, giant frogs, and armies of rats, with an occasional infiltration of witches' covens and golem seances, like the pets in Beasts of Burden do.
If you can't tell, I have a small shred of skepticism about comics or movies starring domesticated animals. Don't worry, don't worry. That skepticism has been washed away thanks to last year's graphic novel collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, written by Evan Dorkin (Milk and Cheese, Space Ghost Coast to Coast) with art by Jill Thompson (Sandman, Scary Godmother). Dark Horse Comics recently announced that Beasts will be turned into a CGI-major motion picture produced by Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2, Chronicles of Narnia) and like a cat, my curiosity got the better of me and I just had to read what all the hubbub was about. Good thing I did, too. Otherwise I may not have found a brand-new series I can gloat over in my Wednesday pile.
The story so far is amazingly small. With Beasts public debut in 2003, a grand total of nine stories have been told to date (including four complete issues, as well as a Beasts of Burden/Hellboy one-shot). These numbers compared to The Goon's movie announcement after a successive thirty-three complete issues (not including separate one-shots) is quite the shocker. Albeit the date-to-print numbers of Beasts is rather low, Dorkin's story-telling and Thompson's art skills make this title a fierce contender for anyone challenging its importance in the paneled world.
Beasts is a beautifully rendered project that uses every ounce of talent Dorkin and Thompson can give. Dorkin invites readers into the small rural town through the eyes of man's best friends and ventures into their world with a paranormal twist. The beasts of Burden Hill slowly recognize and confront strange apparitions in their neck of the woods with an ever-growing suspicion this is only the beginning to something much, much larger at hand. The Animal Rites collection compiles eight of the nine published stories, each a stand-alone story, gradually revealing character aspects and introduces new questions and new characters.
Don't be fooled by the cute puppies and kittens that appear in the featured pictures, it's difficult to list Beasts as an all age title. Some of the stories are down right horrifying and morbid beyond belief. Thompson's monsters are vividly executed and in all due respect, gut-cringingly dark. Rarely do horror comics get to me, and in this collection, all but a few stories had me wide-eyed in terror. Thompson is a complete master with her artwork and her steady use of watercolor adds a haunting dimension to the series that would be complete ruination if conducted by anyone other than she.
If these pictures look as corny to you as they first did to me, I urge you to pick up a copy of Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites and be surprised by its content today. You will awe. You will laugh. You will wonder and rejoice. But most of all, you will wish your little whiskered friends at home were as cool as the paranormal investigators of Burden Hill. For more information and previews of Beasts of Burden click here.