I was set, even before cracking this issue open on starting my review with a prison/animal pun. I was thinking "The Pawshank Redemption", "The Green Maul", or perhaps even “Birddog of Alcatraz" for you Clint Eastwood fans. Then I read the issue and realized that it was less straight up jail story and more crazy anthropomorphic animal, musical, cartoon fever dream, and those puns weren't really all that fitting. Then again, when a book is this unwilling to settle into any easily describable form, perhaps puns are as good an entry point as any (so here's one more: "Orange is the new Black Lab"). "Kennel Block Blues” is the new BOOM! mini-series (four issues) from Ryan Ferrier, whose 'D4VE' was an off-beat hit last year. This new story follows Oliver, an anthropomorphic dog entering the Jackson Kennel (I.E. maximum security prison). His crime is not immediately apparent, but his loose grip on reality is, as he sees his increasingly violent surroundings as candy-colored Disney musical numbers (replete with Mickey Mouse style gloves and shorts). Oliver's habit of bursting into song and dance, makes him an immediate target and ostracizes him from the other prisoners including his intense roommate Sugar and the hulking but kind Cosmo.
The concept of a prison story with talking animals is not hugely high concept, but Ferrier keeps things off kilter by never quite establishing what the rules of the world are (we are not shown the guards and there is some implication they may be human or even supernatural in some way). Further the imagery jumps frenetically between a stylish and polished realistic look and the surreal imagery of Oliver's imagination, giving the book an air of insanity. It's a great asset to this visual schizophrenia that Daniel Bayliss' art is uniformly fantastic, filled with evocative and energetic designs (inked with a pleasantly chunky brush stroke).
There's not really a lot of story to this issue beyond a turf war brewing between the prison dogs and the prison cats (take your pick of which real world division this parallels). It's not clear from a single issue what the focus of the story will be going forwards, but a number of interesting threads are presented. As far as the characters go, Oliver's insanity is fascinating, but his motivations remain obscure, and the rest of the supporting cast remain little more than prison caricatures. This is not a huge problem for a first issue, especially one as bursting with energy as 'Kennel Block Blues', but it would be nice to know what part of the madness is intended as the focal point.
All of the strangeness could be a turnoff in 'Kennel Block Blues', but Ferrier's sharp dialogue and a general sense of creativity turns it into a fascinating first issue. It remains quite possible that the series will become too wrapped up in its own madness and fall apart, but one issue in, it seems just as likely to be a manic masterpiece.
Kennel Block Blues #1 Writer: Ryan Ferrier Artist: Daniel Bayliss Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/3/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital