If there’s one thing I’ve learned from supporting and talking about Kickstarter projects, you just never know how the finished product will actually turn out until you read it yourself. When we presented Beast Wagon many moons back, it sounded great, looked great and I was looking forward to it. That said I went into Beast Wagon still wondering… what will I get? It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this comic.
I can tell you the exact page actually because while the opening hooked me and I knew I was in for a treat, it was the ninth page that did. “Screamer Drive” in which we see a car on a “safari” being attacked by monkeys and apes. The thing about Beast Wagon is that we get to hear/read the dialogue from the animals in addition to the humans. In fact more so the animals since they’re the focus. It’s on page nine though that a baboon is calling for the death of the humans and their car, but an ape named Jeff ruins everything. It’s so fucking funny that I can’t even look at the page without laughing though I will reprint a line from that page here:
“Jesus fucking Christ, Jeff! How are these furless fucks going to take the uprising seriously when you’re speaking in tongues…”
Maybe that part of the line is only funny when you see the intense visuals being produced by John Pearson, but I kind of think it works on its own. That’s kind of the charm of Beast Wagon. While the story is funny and dark due to the fact that it’s dialogue attached to photorealistic animals in a zoo, I could also see it working with people just dressed up like animals in a zoo. Good comedy can be mapped onto many skins and Beast Wagon is good comedy. It’s also dark, though I’m immune to dark comedy so it wasn’t until I read it described as “dark comedy” that I realized that. To me it’s just fucking funny.
I know you’re probably like, “what the hell is it about asshole.” And to that I say: Rude. Second I say, it’s basically iconic imagery of animals in a zoo and dialogue attached to them. Most of the dialogue is about a prophesied animal up rising and how humans suck and most act like animals on their own. That’s basically it. There are three human characters followed, but what they mean for the overall story is yet to be seen.
That’s all surface level stuff because when you actually look at the story Owen Michael Johnson is making social commentary, religious commentary and it’s all spot on. People often feel that commentary means that there’s some slanted opinion attached to the commentary, but when you do commentary right it presents ideas that maybe others haven’t considered and can further conversations. I’m not going to breakdown all the commentary because that’s really something you should digest yourself rather than having my opinion of it guide you. It’s food for thought, but really I think the books trying to be humorous more than anything and it succeeds on that front.
As I’ve already said the artwork is very impressive. John Pearson produces photorealistic images and they could be photo-referenced, but by the time he’s done coloring and creating the panel/page it’s a work of art. As I said I think the comedy is strong enough that it could be anything delivering the lines, but when it’s paired with Pearson’s animals it does make it very funny. The page I talked about before has a great bit of visual humor as the monkey’s go silent after Jeff’s ridiculous burst and Jeff too goes quite giving the monkey equivalent of “what?”
It’s not just the linework that makes the art so great either. It’s the overall presentation of each page and panel. The coloring plays a role in this as it brings about a controlled chaos to the page. There are a lot of pages that have zero white space as Pearson maximizes the art and design. All of this might sound a bit much, a bit cluttered or off putting, but it’s not. It’s actually the opposite as I found it to be aesthetically pleasing to look at. Also a quick shout out to Colin Bell for his great lettering. He helps in the delivery of the jokes and frankly good lettering should always be celebrated.
I was more than a little surprised by Beast Wagon. On paper it sounded great, but reading it for myself… it’s so much better. I haven’t read a lot of indie comics that have really grabbed me this year. Granted I have a lot of indie comics sitting on me “eDesk”, but Beast Wagon is an early front runner for my break out indie of the year. The next issue drops in November and this furless fuck will be waiting to join the uprising until then.