« Luckily, there are ideas. Ideas. When too many things go astray, stop or turn against you, the mind engenders favorable phantasms, worlds made to order, happy endings, golden images of yourself, utopias and holy readers (one is enough) capable of forgiving any affront and of remaining loyal beyond the limits of the reasonable. Ideas. Useful to keep going. » — Silvestre
Several years ago, during a visit to a favourite bédé store, I picked up, at random, an intriguing book, whose appeal largely lay in that it didn’t seem to be vying for my attention at all. If you’ve a certain bent of mind, the understated article will often exert a stronger pull than all the hard sell screamers in the world.
I read and enjoyed it, then the book faded deep into the collection, only to bob to the surface after our recent move.
For a long time, I couldn’t find out more about it, and I still know precious little. It didn’t make much of a ripple in the pond, and its wake seems to have dimmed even further in the intervening years.
There’s little sense in my translating the dialogue (with one exception), but here’s the setup: our protagonist, Silvestre, sits in a corner and has exchanges with his demons and other monsters of the id. But they’re eloquent and visually arresting apparitions.
I love that, while seeming identical at a casual glance, each Silvestre figure is individual. The artist may have employed a stencil or a rubber stamp… at least that’s what I would have done.
Incidentally, Silvestre is a pseudonym of Spanish cartoonist-graphic designer-poet (et cetera) Federico Del Barrio (1957 –), which he reserved for his more explorative work.
Somehow, after yesterday’s rather epic (or at least time-consuming) post, I thought I’d breathe a little easier today, but no… these things have a way of imposing themselves, complications and all.
When I was a young collector, say under the age of fifteen, when I still gave a hoot about what comics were ‘worth’, financially speaking, I enjoyed leafing through the Overstreet Price Guide. Not so much out of greed, but rather of curiosity about the past. One title that piqued my imagination was Pines’ The Unseen. I mostly saw tiny, tantalising postage-stamp-size reproductions of its covers, but they lived up to my expectations. Lots and lots of talented folks toiling on the insides, too!
So I thought I’d collect them for your viewing pleasure, with two exceptions: the initial one, by Ross Andru, is kind of lame, so I’ll skip it; the final one, number fifteen, was featured in last year’s countdown.
Our heatwave is nowhere as bad as the one afflicting Europe right now, but it’s a heatwave nevertheless, and to cool off I felt like traipsing down the icy corridors of horror. Evan Dorkin‘s series Beasts of Burden, the tale of a (predominantly) canine crew who fight the supernatural to keep their small town community safe, fits the bill: though including elements of adventure, mystery, and humour, it’s genuinely tense in places (and features enough blood and grue to keep the average gorehound satisfied). One expects a comic in which all protagonists are animals to evoke baby-talk sounds of endearment, not send chills down the spine of the more sensitive reader, and yet…
However, I’ll warn you that a fondness for animals is a prerequisite for enjoying this comic, lest you miss the emotional punch to the gut of moments like a dog searching for her lost puppies, or animals mourning the loss of their friend. Despite the paranormal threats these pooches (and cat!) have to deal with, I would say that it’s that emotional horror that makes these stories memorable, especially to a modern reader well-versed in zombies, werewolves, and witchcraft (yawn, how cliché…) I am quite allergic to animals getting hurt in stories, but Beasts of Burden never feels manipulative in that regard: shit definitely happens, but is overcome through teamwork and courage.
This comic also features loving watercolours by Jill Thompson (according to the DC Comics website, ‘most well-known female comic book artist‘… not sure how they measured that), who’s not only great at evocative woodsy landscapes in all seasons, but also a deft hand at convincing portraits of animals. I have seen too many comic artists who cannot draw a convincing cat or dog (let alone a horse, a true test of artistry…) to take that for granted. This post only spotlights material from the collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (2010, Dark Horse), as Thompson was later on replaced by Benjamin Dewey, whose art I suppose I could bear… if only the standard desaturated colouring job wasn’t the final nail in that coffin. It’s a bitter pill to swallow after Thompson’s bright, organic art.
All stories featured in this post are written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson.
Beasts of Burden is still ongoing, with the latest installment, Occupied Territory (illustrated by Benjamin Dewey, alas), published in July 2021.
It stands to reason that there are tons of spiffy-yet-unheralded material out there, most of it slowly mouldering away in obscurity. You may count on us to do some foraging and to showcase some of the spoils here… with proper attribution.
Our image: Artwork by Ed Robbins, from Cemetery Scene, writer unknown (The Twilight Zone no. 36, March 1971, Gold Key).