Five Brilliant Graphic Novels that Just Happen to Star Talking Animals

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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