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Sunday September 27, 2009 10:02 am

Beasts of Burden #1: Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson




Posted by Tom Mason Categories: Reviews, Dark Horse Comics

beastsofburden

Evan Dorkin is one of my favorite comic book creators. If he didn’t exist, the industry would have had to invent him. In a different era, he’d be a Renaissance Man for all his mad skills: writer, artist, cartoonist, blogger. His work has appeared in comic books, magazines, and on TV.

Now he’s at it again, this time with a four-issue mini-series he wrote and artist Jill Thompson (Sandman; Scary Godmother) painted - Beasts of Burden. It’s the story of the animals of picturesque Burden Hill who discover that there’s a supernatural element to their town they must stop. Without giving too much away, they are soon enlisted by a mysterious organization to fight an even greater evil. 

Dorkin’s script draws from classic horror and supernatural elements; you might find the influences of The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the talking animal parts of the movie Cats And Dogs floating through the story. But it’s all mixed together with Evan’s own Dorkinesque sensibilities. There’s comedy here, but it’s not jokes; it’s all character-driven. There are also horrific action sequences and consequences to go along with the overall mystery. And the best giant frog since Garko. Scooby-Doo this isn’t.

There are a lot of characters in the issue (though fewer by the time the issue ends) and Dorkin does a great job of giving each a personality in just a few lines. Despite the fact that they speak (to each other; not to humans), they are still cats and dogs with all their pet strengths and weaknesses. And, oh yeah, one of them was bitten by a werewolf.

Thompson painted the series and it’s not just beautiful stuff to look it, it’s a solid example of excellent storytelling. She’s adept at visualizing each pet and keeping them from blurring into each other. The dogs and cats (and frogs) are realistically rendered and retain their animal-ness. They haven’t been cuted up or Disney-fied. Even the lettering by Jason Arthur adds to the overall visual appeal of the pages. Dorkin and Thompson have created a compelling set-up and interesting characters and successfully made it so I can’t be a trade-waiter. I need to get the subsequent issues as they come out because I want to know what’s going to happen.

The characters in Beasts of Burden previously appeared in four short installments that ran in four different Dark Horse anthologies dating back to 2003. One of the stories, “Stray,” got Thompson an Eisner Award for Best Painter; another won for Best Short Story. After reading Beasts of Burden #1, it’s easy to see why. Dark Horse has smartly posted three of the previous installments on its website so you can follow along with the earlier adventures. They’re free-reading, but you don’t need them to follow along with the new series. However, it’s a great way to kill time between issues of the printed comic.

[Artwork: Cover to Beasts Of Burden #1 by Jill Thompson]

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