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Beasts of Burden

Beasts Of Burden – Animal Rites
Evan Dorkin
Jill Thompson
Jason Arthur and Jill Thompson lettering
Dark Horse
$19.99 HC

On one of my recent trips to my library I was looking through the new books section — creature of habit and all that — when I turned around from browsing cookbooks to find a copy of Beasts Of Burden practically in front of me. I’m familiar to a degree with Dorkin’s and Thompson’s work separatetly, and had seen the mini series solicited in Previews. Despite my love for dogs and cats I don’t have any furry companions, and in my mind I’d reduced the Beasts story to a comic filled with cutesy animals without having taken a look. My presumption was wrong as looking at Thompson’s art while leafing through it in the library drew me in with its lush colors. The only thing I’d lose was a little time reading it if I didn’t like the story.

My pre-conceptions quickly proved unfounded once I started reading “Stray”, the first story in which the gang of regulars (Pugsley, Whitey, Ace, Rex, Jack) conduct a ritual to summon a wise dog to help them rid Jack’s doghouse of a canine ghost. That’s the other thing about Beasts. There’s a supernatural grounding to the stories which would’ve been another obstacle had I known about it beforehand. Dorkin and Thompson give it all a fresh slant because everything is from the animals’ points of view. On the writer side, Dorkin makes the animals’ world interesting by creating phrases (You’re both eating out of the same bowl) and cultural rites (burying a stray dog killed on the road complete with a prayer of sorts). Thompson’s consummate at making all the individual personalities shine through and both creators skillfully balance the different emotions at play throughout the stories. The coloring, as I said, is lush. Thompson having fully painted it with watercolors, giving it a lively sense and a very different feel from Photoshop coloring. Not to disparage work done that way, but something different and “old Fashioned” can be really beautiful.

And about “Burden” in the title…. Burden is the name of the fictional town where the animals live, not a reference to them being used for labor. I wondered about it myself.

Of particular note is the binding itself. Here, as with other Dark Horse hardcovers I own, the pages are sewn together before being attached to the covers. This may seem an irrelevant point, but it isn’t. Books with sewn bindings will stand up better to wear and tear to last longer and pages lay flat on a surface so you won’t have to hold the book open. Less tangibly, it also means the publisher cares about the product.

Instead of feeling like I’d wasted time reading Beasts, I found myself really engaged in the stories and felt a little let down once the book was finished. Space in my book cases is very limited right now (nothing new comes in without something going out to make room) but I’ll put this one on my wish list while keeping an eye out for future mini series.

Amazon sells this book for $13.59 though it seems to be on back order or check out some preview pages first. Please also consider supporting your local comics shop or independent bookstore. If money and space are tight, see if your library has it or can get it for you through inter-library loan.

December 8, 2010
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