Literal Manifestations

Something Animal (Fanboy Comics): Take one look at the new book from writers Sam Rhodes and Bryant Dillon and artist Robert Burrows, based on an original story by Ben Rhodes, and it’s hard not to be immediately captivated by Burrows’ painterly aesthetic. If you’re a fan of artists with styles rooted in Fine Art, which lean into comics, people like Kent Williams, Ashley Wood, Bill Sinkiewicz, or the amazing Jason Shawn Alexander, then you might be drawn to this weighty composition. Burrows isn’t quite as refined or controlled here, more of a blocky and rigid representational quality than the fluidity of those artists I rattled off, but the art is certainly on that same spectrum of canvas density. It can easily be said that this project has luxurious production values, including the slick paper quality. It’s so pristine that I was almost afraid to touch those stark black pages, in fear of marring their glassy surface with thumb prints.

I enjoy the thematic heart of this story, which adheres to the old adage; if you take a visceral look into the abyss, it takes a proverbial look back that invariably imprints upon you. It’s about man’s inner nature, the hidden primal tendencies lurking just below the surface. It’s something dark, something forbidden, something uncontrollable… Something Animal. On rare occasion, some of the panel transitions are a little unclear. The sequences are drowning in ink (which I love), but when you blur the line between the literal and the figurative, it can be difficult to determine what’s really happening. For example, when Jack reaches into his box, it appears a tree sprouts forth. I’m thinking this is symbolism for a beast being unleashed, but I’m not sure. There’s also a scene later in the book that involves Jack dreaming(?) an action in front of some schoolyard kids. I enjoy the projection of ethereal fantasy counterpointing realistic nightmare, even if a little clarity is sacrificed in the process. What this book does so well is feature so many panels (it feels like half?) without any dialogue or text, relying on the visuals to carry the story. The creators avoid the trap of using too much exposition as a verbal crutch in a visual medium. At times, the pacing is very decompressed too. For example, the first 6 pages could have easily been condensed down to just 1, essentially depicting a detective calling our protagonist. But, I believe this languid pace was a deliberate effort to show how recent events have worn on the very soul and physicality of poor Jack. He witnessed his sister’s brutal murder and has become embroiled in the fallout in so many compelling ways.

The blacks, grays, and whites contrast with violent bursts of red, which seem to punctuate Jack’s survivor’s guilt. The creative team pulls off a sinister little trick, in which they juxtapose this vicious crime with a Daredevil movie reference, placing it firmly in the “real” world. This isn’t a world where superheroes or uber-competent cops will swoop in deus ex machina style and save the day, which makes it all the more chilling. The trauma Jack experiences tends to permeate all angles of his life. As a person who lost someone in a traumatic event early in life, I can tell you this rings true. He can’t eat. It’s all he thinks about. He thinks he sees the assailant in the crowd. He has misdirected anger that manifests itself at odd times. Everything is a constant reminder, the food, the pet, and even his wound. Oh, his wound. That’s something important. Once again, the team plays with our perception of the figurative vs. the literal. The literal interpretation is that there’s some type of bloodborne pathogen transmitted in the wound. The figurative spin is that it’s merely a catalyst to unleash the horrible potential that lurks in all of us. It’s a rather Kafka-esque transformation that has you tracking both possibilities, unable to reconcile them because neither are very reassuring.

For Jack himself, well, he loses himself, unable to wash away the sins even in the shower, physical and emotional scars which never heal. Another aspect of this is the ever-so-slightly sexual undercurrent, which pops out (pun intended) in a more pronounced fashion later in the book with a protruding nipple. The book’s fascination with blood harkens back to one of the psychosexual traits that makes vampirism stories so robust for the general appetite of reading audiences. There’s that, the brother and sister relationship, which seems to at least insinuate the possibility of something incestuous, the placement of young female children and the brinksmanship of that taboo, and while these things all seem to play very subtly in the background, never calling attention to themselves, the sexuality literally manifests (like so much else in this book) with that single nipple exposure later on. It’s a small little period on the end of a very long and delicious sentence. See, I can’t help but continue to make pun-filled double entendres. Anyway, the sad tragedy of this book is that it forms a clever closed loop, the final pages informing the initial ones with new meaning, positioning Jack as becoming the very type of thing that hurts him. It’s the scariest realization of all, that man has the capacity to cause his own downfall. At just a $9.99 price point for this graphic novel, it’s a tremendous deal from a creative team and publisher I’d gladly read more from. Grade A.


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