SMALL BLACK FLOWERS THAT GROW IN THE SKY
A Review of BEAST WAGON #1 & 2
The ancient prophecy of a drugged up tortoise who may, or may not, have dementia…the bong induced visions of a sage like baboon and the stalled, chaotic revolutionary jihad by an army of hominidae … Welcome to Whipsnarl Zoo, the setting for Changeling Studios extraordinary comic book Beast Wagon.
My first thoughts on a book about talking animals were, well…unprintable, but on reading the first issue of this title my thoughts and opinions rapidly changed.
Intelligent, sharp, darkly funny and, for a book that is heavy on dialogue, very fast paced, ‘Beast Wagon’ borders on revolutionary and revelatory.
The idea of animals as humans, and vice versa, is not new in art and literature. Indeed, there are referential nods toward H.G Wells’ Island of Dr Moreau and, more obviously, the philosophy of animalism brutally made flesh in George Orwell’s’ Animal Farm, but Beast Wagon is most definitely a creation of the 21st century, a postmodern Disneyian nightmare if you wish, think Madagascar with razor blades and written by Bill Hicks and you just may get close to the feel of this book. Just.
It is rare to find a comic book that combines great story with great art, so to come across a book that has both, and that 100% complements each other is even more rewarding. Artist John Pearson grounds the book in reality with a muted palette of colours…browns, deep reds, greys and off whites, and yet black is the first and last colour in the scheme of writer Owen Michael Johnson who offsets Pearson’s realism with a truly thought provoking study of the human/animal condition where it is difficult to discern whether the fences and cages are there to keep the animals from the humans or vice versa.
Beast Wagon exists in a world where the human characters are all caged in to an extent by their own guilt, prejudices, (nasty) habits and perversions. It is a place where, in the most powerful episode of this first issue, we read the thoughts of a female Hippopotamus who, in desperation for the love and affection of her keeper, mistakes his medical examination for a bizarre form of bestial foreplay. That this blackly comedic episode ends with her brutally abused at the hooves (?) of the mate chosen by her keeper who has now become her pimp, only further blurs the lines as to who are the real ‘animals’ here, indeed what is the definition of the very word and how do we, as a ‘civilised’ species relate to the very concept of ‘being an animal’?
Having read the first two issues, I can honestly say that Beast Wagon is a book I can highly recommend; it is out there and different, insanely so maybe, but brilliantly written and stunningly illustrated.
I will leave you to ponder the lyrics of Richey Edwards, from his song Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky, which as I read the book, kept on coming into my head, from the Manic Street Preachers’ album Everything Must Go …
They drag sticks along your walls,
Harvest your ovaries dead mothers crawl
Here comes warden, Christ, temple, elders
Environment not yours, you see through it all
Wanna get out…
Bonus: A preview of issue #3 coming out at the end of the month and available at Changeling Studios.