Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
What if there were a world of magic and terror surrounding us, but humans were too wrapped up in their busy little lives to notice? Who would protect us? Well, in Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden series, our protectors are our best friends: a pack of neighborhood dogs (and one tag-along cat).
It's a great concept. Dorkin (best known for writing and drawing Milk & Cheese) fills his scripts with wonderful characters, intriguing situations, humor, pathos and more than a few scares. Thompson (Scary Godmother) paints the stories, bringing them to life (and/or un-life) in gorgeous watercolors. Together, the two creators have turned in some of the most inspired work of their careers.
This oversized, affordable hardcover collects eight of the nine Beasts of Burden stories to date (a ninth—teaming the characters up with Mike Mignola's Hellboy—was published in pamphlet form in October 2010), including four short stories from anthologies and the four-part comic series from 2009 and 2010. Just in terms of production values, it's a good-looking book, both nicely designed and beautifully printed. And only twenty bucks? A bargain.
But what about the stories? The book kicks off with "Stray," an eight-page story first published in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings back in 2003. Here we meet the main characters—including the enigmatic Wise Dog, who leads our characters into their lives of magic and mystery. "Stray" is a neat little ghost story, and it's a nice hint at what's to come later in the book. The lettering is a little rough here, but that's the only criticism I have of this smart little introduction.
Dorkin and Thompson got 12 pages for their second Beasts story, "The Unfamiliar" (from 2004's The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft), which sets up a theme of human witches that will come back to haunt our characters. Things get worse in the third story, "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie," where a witch's familiar is responsible for some very bad voodoo.
Rex, Pugs, and other dogs finally get some real human interaction in the fourth story, "A Dog and His Boy," when the pack encounters a boy who really does not deserve to be a werewolf. Dorkin and Thompson take us in some really tragic territory here, and the ending will bring a tear to your eye.
The four short stories set things in motion for the rest of the book, which gives us four longer stories that each stand on their own but continue to grow to a satisfying and powerful conclusion. We get demonic frogs, vengeful ghosts, killer rats, and a witch who just won't stay dead. The monsters in the final story are a bit over the top, but all four stories maintain a high level of mystery, fear, magic, and wonder.
All told, Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is comics at its best. We can only hope for more volumes of this great series in the future.
Reviewed by John R. Platt on July 12, 2012
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
- Publication Date: July 6, 2010
- Genres: Graphic Novel
- Hardcover: 184 pages
- Publisher: Dark Horse
- ISBN-10: 1595825134
- ISBN-13: 9781595825131