There is a great tradition of indie comics featuring anthropomorphic animals from Scurry to MULP to Mice Templar and more. The latest to join this pantheon is Animal Castle from newscomers Ablaze Comics. But will this tale of a literal animal kingdom reign supreme or just be another one of the peasants.
Animal Castle sets the scene brilliantly (which may seem obvious but is an under-rated thing in indie comics sometimes!), as we learn we are in a castle where humans have disappeared either through war or disease (very prophetic!). The animals have formed their own society as a result but it poses the questions: are they better off without their human masters? Especially when under the rule of the tyrannical President Sylvio! After evidence to the contrary involving a chicken called Adelaide we meet Miss B a hard working single mum cat who must make ends meet on the construction site while her two young kittens are at home. When she gets caught up in a protest against Sylvio and co, things change for the worst.
As you can see from that synopsis, Animal Castle takes familiar elements and concepts from other anthropomorphic tales. It has the drama of a classic like Watership Down mixed with the political undertones of Animal Farm and the post apocalyptic elements of Scurry. Yet it adds in 21st century details (like Miss B being a single mum) to help make it feel contemporary. Balancing cutesy animals and heavyweight story telling is not easy, but Dorison does this really well, and manages to get a nice mix of cultural commentary, ‘human’ drama and even a dash of horror to brilliant effect.
This is helped by some truly spectacular artwork from Felix Delep. From the minute we saw the painted cover we knew this book was going to be special, but the interiors are just sublime. From the opening landscape of the castle through the distorted face of Adelaide the chicken it is a visual tour de force. And that is all on the first page!! As with the story, it sets out its stall early and gets your attention from the outset. Delep has some of finest line work we’ve seen – which may have just been the size we read it on – but this could easily be a large format book and it wouldn’t lose an ounce of detail.
As is always the key in a book like this, the animals are rendered in a beautiful realistic style but there is still plenty of expression and personality on their faces and actions throughout. Miss B is both an elegant cat, but also ragged and tired from work on the construction site. While the superb landscapes and detail in the settings make every page into a truly sumptuous experience. It also has a real lightness of touch and the whole thing feels quite animation like in places, as well as having an almost European feel to it – especially in the lettering which chaotically fills the panels and reminded us a lot of Albert Uderzo’s work. He also has the ability to balance lightweight moments (such as the randy rabbit!) with moments of genuine horror which are on a par with things we have seen by Alex Cormack (Sink, Road of Bones) or even Greg Capullo for the detail of the gruesomeness. However, this is never gratuitous and never done at the expense of the story.
Based on this first issue, Animal Castle has the potential to be something very special indeed. If the intriguing story and high class artwork can continue, then this could end up being a future indie classic – so be sure to say you read about it here first!