Mar 05 2012

Five Brilliant Graphic Novels that Just Happen to Star Talking Animals

Published by at 11:00 am under Columns,Comics,Lists

Once you reach adulthood, you’ve been subjected to a constant onslaught of talking animals through most of your life. As such, it can be hard to fathom that some of the greatest and most mature comic books ever written have starred anthropomorphic animals. Whether they’re war machines built by the government to cause unwitting destruction, or a pride of lions that lose their sanctuary, and in the process, their shackles, these books are some of the best reads you will find in comic books, hands down. But be forewarned, Disney animals these are not.

We3

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Frank Quitely

This book takes the idea of testing on animals to a whole new level. The government gets their hands on a group of animals (through various nefarious methods) and turns them in to cyborgs that are deemed “Biorgs”. They are made with the intention of completing covert missions and assignments with high risk of human causalities. The idea is replacing the humans with animals will cost less human lives, and that the animals won’t be weighed down with the moral standings that a human would be met with in such situations.

The worst part is you could hand this to be Michael Bay and he would still f**k it up.

The thing is, the animals talk. And they’re still portrayed to have the baseline instincts of an animal and to not necessarily have what we would call high intellect. But we get to hear all their exchanges. The animals names are actually numbers, so one the name for the dog, two is the name of the cat, and three is the rabbit. So what we have here are talking animal, robot-war-machines. Nothing could go wrong there, right?

Of course, things don’t go according to plan and the animals are going to be put down as a result. The creator of the program disagrees with this and lets the animals free before they can be executed. Did I mention that the animals are suited with enough firepower to make Tony Stark get a three day erection, and that, when presented with fight or flight, these things become ruthless killing machines?

Well, they are and they do. And it is awesome. But more than just awesome, it is a well-written story about three animals, lost, figuratively and literally, in a world that is no longer welcoming to them. There is a subplot about how 1, the dog, was initially a pet and, in his words, just wants to be a “Gud Dog” again for the humans. It is incredibly moving, and heart breaking, all at once. Oh, and this comic is incredibly violent. The cat is a ruthless, killing machine when the moment calls for it, and it is a sight to behold.

They based the cat on my Grandmothers old cat, who would greet me this way.

Frank Quitely gets some much deserved credit here as well. His art breathes life into this world and these characters, and the violence, amid the pastels and perfect art, is realistic and staggering.

It is like that movie Homeward Bound, except instead of lost animals, it is lost cyborg animals being hunted by the Government. Yeah, that sums it up and also sums up how f***ing amazing it is, all at once.

Maus

Written and Illustarted by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman wanted to tell the story of his father, Vladek, and his experiences as a Polish-Jewish holocaust survivor. He had heard a quote from Hitler that stuck with him, haunting him deeply,” The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human” and that sent him off with enough inspiration to write Maus. A heartbreaking journey through the holocaust, as experienced by one man. As a mouse.

Disney bought the rights and are making it an animated musical.

He decided to tell that story of the holocaust in a decidedly different light, though, with the Jews represented as mice, and the Nazis represented by cats. It may seem a simple enough idea, but why had no one thought of it before? Perhaps, in tone, it sounds like it could make light of the whole situation, but with the stark, black and white art, it does anything but. You feel the bleak sadness in every panel, and whether or not they are animals or human matters little here.

Why does Hitler look so accurate as a cat?

It’s somber and surprisingly powerful, and also stands as the only comic book ever to have won a Pultizer prize. It’s the type of book that will sit with you long after you’ve read it, and to this day still stands up as one of the greatest comic books of all time. Even Alan Moore sings it praises, citing Spiegelman as one of his favorite creators in comic books, and that guy NEVER has anything nice to say about anyone, so that speaks tomes about the power and longevity of the piece as a whole.

Pride of Baghdad

Written by Brian K Vaughan

Illustrated by Nike Henrichon

During one of the first American air raids in Iraq, post 9/11, the Baghdad zoo was bombed. Many animals were killed, but as a result, many were set free to roam the war ravaged land.  Around this time, the news was inundated with images of a group of lions, wandering the streets. These images inspired Vaughan to make this book, with the help of Nike Henrichon’s indescribably lush artwork. The end result is a book so gripping, you will read through it twice in a row just to let it all sink in.

A comic book that makes you hate humans? Did PETA distribute this?

In this tale, we follow Zill, the alpha male, and his pride, as they deal with the brutality of war and a landscape all but unfamiliar to them. He has his lover with him, Noor, and her cub, Ali. Also with them is Safa, his ex-love who he had since moved on from for reasons we will not ruin here. The story seems like it would be simple enough to tell, alas, it has more layers than you would expect.

The revelation that there are other animals who have escaped, the soldiers who now would just as soon see them dead as freed, and the lack of food paired with a foreign sense of newfound freedom all tie together to make one hell of a Shepard’s pie of storytelling.

Also, the art is amazing. Each panel comes to life, bursting with color. Henrichon’s art style lends an almost Pixar feel to the story, but then the violence reminds you that this is clearly NOT The Lion King. When you think about art, it is hard enough thinking about drawing people who all look differently, imagine trying to make animals that all look different and distinct? Henrichon pulls it off here, and we give him a lot of credit for it. Story and art are meshed so well here, you can feel the humidity of the desert as you flip each page. Oh, and again, the violence is quite realistic.

Excuse me Mr Giraffe. Do you know the way to the…OMFG!

Is there someone in your life who doesn’t respect the medium of comic books because they find it immature and lacking depth? Buy them this graphic novel and then sit back and watch as they sink into the sofa while they are reading it, slowly realizing how wrong they were. Easily one of the best graphic novels of the last five years, you owe it to yourself to read this book.





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23 responses so far

  • Jadis

    I’ve read some of Mouse Guard and it’s pretty good. Besides, who doesn’t like talking animals?
    We have grown up with it not only through Disney but with shows like My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. MLP wasn’t so bad, but have you ever read the TMNT comics?
    Anyway, making talking animal comics ect. for adults doesn’t seem so far fetched. It’s just the next step. If there’s more adult themed material beyond language and gore… well, haters gonna hate. I would go so far as to say that they can’t claim they never thought Gadget from Rescue Rangers was hot without lying their asses off.

  • Dzuksi

    No Blacksad?! Blacksad is awesome!

  • wevs

    I’ve read Pride of Baghdad and I can say it’s a pretty good graphic novel, albeit it does get a little preachy, liberal and even a little misguided by the end. It’s still a good read.

  • Remy Carreiro

    @ Dzuksi: Who is this Blacksad you speak of? I will claim ignorance, and rather than Google it, I will ask you to inform me. Name intrigues me but I honestly know nothing of the character.

  • Diva D

    Alright, I’m bookmarking this post for the next time I get in the mood to buy a graphic novel. We3 in particular sounds great to me.

  • Mulltalica

    I second the fact that Blacksad needs to be on this list. Anthropomorphic animals set in a detective noir setting. An amazing read for sure. Volumes 1-3 are out so far in the US, with volume 4 out in France and Spain (I think) and no word on the US release.

  • Dzuksi

    Well Remy, like Mulltalica said it’s noir setting with animals as characters. It deals with some pretty heavy subject like murders, kidnapings, racial tensions – hell even nuclear problems. All that is followed with heavy emphasis on detective style of telling the story. You should really check it.

    Main character, John Blacksad is really badass, just look at him:

    http://fc05.deviantart.net/fs51/f/2009/289/b/1/John_Blacksad_by_thorcx.jpg

    Also this is great article. I actually read 3/5 of them. Will definietly check We3 and Pride of Baghdad.

    Also feel free to sugest some great indie comics (or some especially worthy moments from DC and marvel)

    I always have time for good comic book/graphic novel.

  • Mulltalica

    Another great one is Beasts of Burden. It’s not as heavy in its topics of choice like some of the stories mentioned before, but that’s part of the charm. Basically, it’s a group of normal dog and cats who try to keep the paranormal under control in their neighborhood. Fun, easy read with some great characters. Kind of reminds me of something similar to Buffy, except if everyone from Sunnydale is a house pet.

    The other one I wanted to add is Mush!: Sled Dogs. I haven’t gotten to read any more than a couple pages put up as a preview before its release, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I read. Again, it’s another comic portraying what normal animals talk and think about in everyday life (in this case, sled dogs). Great humor and just another all around good story.

  • banko

    There’s a couple I know that might make the bottom of the list. Sweet Tooth is a post apocalyptic comic where these half human-half animal babies are born and are the only people unaffected by the plague that is slowly killing off humanity. The other is called Elephantmen but it releases so sporadically I would need to reread to give a decent synopsis.

  • skrolnik

    Little known fact: Maus creator Art Speigelman also invented Garbage Pail Kids.

  • Vonter

    Only an opinion, but I think Pride of Baghdad had good art, ambitious story, but heavily lacked on the character development, the ending lets just say that felt flat to me. Or I just didn0t get it, could be.

  • Benc

    As others have mention Blacksad deserves some notice. Also The Mice Templar series is fantastic.

  • Remy Carreiro

    @Dzuksi, Yes, that premise does sound particularly remarkable. I won’t lie. @ Skrolnik, That fact just blew my mind. I am looking at a pack of them right now and had no idea. @ Benc, was divided between the Mice Templar and Mouse Guard, but went with MG for the shallow reasoning that I prefer the artwork, though MT has a stronger story.

  • Lima Zulu

    No mention of the Redwall graphic novel? Those books were off the fucking chain.

  • Prieto

    Kind of surprised Cerebus by David Sims is not on here pleasantly surprised Boris the Bear is. Great choices. Already added the two I haven’t read to my wish list. Maus and Pride. Thanks again.

  • Reynaldo K. Cruz

    No Fables? Your argument is invalid.

  • Joe Lewis

    What about Elephantmen??

  • Remy Carreiro

    Fables had too many awesome books for me to choose which one to best recommend.

  • Brian137

    Duncan the Wonder Dog is pretty amazing. It is most definitely worth checking out. It is currently out of print as the first two printings sold out, but they are doing a 3rd printing this month, according to their website.

    http://www.adhousebooks.com/books/duncan.html

  • MetFanMac

    “Watership Down is a book about rabbits and their politics that was made into a traumatizing animated movie for no solid reason”

    Uh, no, the movie was actually a pretty faithful adaptation of what actually happened in the book. Maybe you should reread it. Definitely not for children.

  • petroq

    Blacksad should defo be on the list, and Uagi Yojimbo obvioulsy…

  • darksynthesis

    I am a graphic novelist and ive created numerous charaters many are talking animals but its a sci fi so as a research question how do people feel about talking animals explained though science ?

  • joe the poor speller

    I may be a little late for the discussion, but would like to recommend the graphic novel nordguard.

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