Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

Beasts of Burden is a high concept book, part Ghostbusters, part The Exorcist, and part The Incredible Journey. Rex, Ace, Red, Jack, Pugsley, and Orphan are pets, all dogs except for Orphan who is a cat, and they deal with supernatural threats to their neighborhood. Each animal has a distinct personality and much of the joy and humor comes from their interactions. They deal with a number of precarious situations, including a haunted doghouse, an unnatural giant frog, witches, and a sadistic animal abuser. Although they evoke imagery from classic children's book paintings and include snappy dialogue, the stories are rather dark and often horrific. More details about the series and its background can be found in this article by Shaun Manning.

The book's creators, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, are both veterans of the comics industry. Dorkin is famous as the writer/artist of Dork and Milk and Cheese and is a multiple Eisner Award winner. He has also done a bunch of television work with his wife Sarah Dyer, including scripts for Superman Adventures and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Thompson is an accomplished comics artist and painter well known for her work on Neil Gaiman's Sandman and her own Scary Godmother.

Beasts of Burden has received a number of professional accolades, among them Thompson's Eisner Award for Best Painter in 2004 for “Stray” and Dorkin and Thompson's joint win of the 2005 Eisner for Best Short Story for “Unfamiliar.”
It has also received many positive reviews. Newsarama's Sarah Jaffe wrote that the mix of cuteness and horror "sucks you in and leaves you waiting for more." Reviewer Steve Kanaras simply called it "wonderful." A more detailed review from Tom Spurgeon gets at many of the creator's strengths.

This collection is of a 4-issue series and two short stories. A preview of the first issue is available from the book's publisher Dark Horse. The complete short story "Stray" is available here.

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