Every once in a while, a comic book comes along that takes my preconceived aesthetic notions and totally twists them inside out. Beasts of Burden is one of those books.
Even though I like plenty of things that involve talking animals (Mouse Guard, Bone to an extent), it is a gimmick I approach with a fair amount of skepticism (just look at Bryan Talbot’s creepy in a bad way Grandville, a book that is closer to Furry fan fiction than the compelling mystery it purports to be). Meanwhile Jill Thompson is definitely a fantastic artist but her art has never really been in my personal taste range. And who would believe that Evan Dorkin – hilarious, foul mouthed, neurotic, over the top Evan Dorkin – could submerge his own in-your-faceness long enough to make a book about a bunch of dogs (and one cat) investigating the supernatural anything more than ridiculous.
But once in a while, lightning gets caught in a bottle and everything comes together unexpectedly and perfectly.
Beasts of Burden is beautiful, poignant, upsetting, exciting and a dozen other adjectives and more. I finally understand Thompson’s watercolors the way her cheerleaders have for years. Her work is simultaneously welcoming and spooky, expressive and detailed, all in perfect service to the story. That story is capably handled by Dorkin who seems to delight in subverting the expectations of the reader and using the inherent cuteness of his characters as a weapon to bring out a very real sense of dread and danger.
The hardcover collects all the adventures of the dogs (and one cat) of Burden Hill, enlarging the art of the earlier digest-size stories and reproducing them all with the level quality readers have come to expect from Dark Horse’s collection, all for twenty bucks. A steal considering I can say, without reservation, that Beasts of Burden is one of the very best comic books out there today.
To really do it justice, you’ll just have to go buy it and read it.