Pete and Maria Hoey’s Coin Op Tales was one of our highlights from Thought Bubble 2019 and so we were super excited to learnt they have a new graphic novel, Animal Stories, a collection of stories about how animals and human’s co-exist that are told in their truly unique style.
Publisher: Top Shelf Comix
Writer: Peter and Maria Hoey
Artist: Peter and Maria Hoey
Price: £15.99 from Amazon
The Hoey’s have this beautiful meticulous and methodical style to their story telling which we just adore, but we admit it is a bit of an acquired taste – and one which we struggle with at times. On the surface, Animal Stories is a collection of 6 tales all with animal themes, that are very loosely connected. One is about a woman trying to find the owner of a pigeon that appears on her roof, another is about a dog found at sea by some sailors, another is an Adam and Eve allegory set in a local park, while another sees a parrot plot a revolution.
But describing the stories like this out of context doesn’t do them justice. Each one is set in this distinctive Hoey created world, which a mix of modern day and this idealistic Truman Show meets Pleasantville style location which is immaculately conceived and carefully constructed. The stories claim to show how the human and animal world and interact, and it does to an extent, but not in the way you think. This is no anthropomorphic tale of daring dos, or sugar coated feel good story, but rather a series of snapshots and events with animals at the core. The Hoey’s, and their animals leads, like to play with your conception of where a story is going and just when you think you have a handle on it, take you off in a new direction – but all in a very deliberate and carefully realised way.
This sense of careful construction is a theme of this review (and their work as a whole) and is in a large part a result of their incredible artwork. It has this beautiful geometry and structure to it. It has a quite retro feel to, but not in a ‘add a half tone and make it look like newsprint’ style – although it does have this sublime wavy texture on every page. It feels more like it has come from a 1960s advertising design studio with it’s clean line and isometric design to every page and also reminded us a lot of Daniel Clowes work Eight Ball or David Boring. It’s simple yet detailed, stylised but not faddy and inventive without being avant garde or pretentious.
Yet it also has this originality to it. The Hoey’s experiment with unconventional layouts including angled panels stretching across double page spreads and these beautifully constructed pages which you just have to let yourself study in depth to get the most out of. We saw a lot of this in Coin Op Comic, but here it feels much more controlled as if the experimentation they have learnt from smaller stories are being used in a more controlled way to get something which feels both very unique but also very considered and carefully curated.
The stories themselves are very slowly and deliberately told. A bit like Dan Christensen’s Paranomormal this is a story where the pace is deliberately reduced and the action is told at a very precise rhythm. For those looking for an instant hit of action and dialogue you won’t find it here, and this is here the Hoey’s books can feel a challenge. You almost have to deprogram your traditional way of reading and take time to digest the book. There are not the same peaks of troughs we expect from a traditional comic, but that is not to say there isn’t moments of drama and intrigue. However they are more moments that make you go ‘Hmmmm’ rather than Holy S#!t!. But it is these moments which reward the pace of the story telling. The moment the penny drops and you see where you have been taken is like being taken on a long walk to see a gorgeous view, one which you don’t necessarily understand on the way there, but really appreciate once you get there.
If you like that Fantagraphics or Drawn and Quarterly style of graphic novel where sublime artwork meets unconventional story telling and characters then this is definitely the book for you. It is sublime to look at with every page packed with invention and originality. While first impression may make you think there is an element of Emperors new Clothes about a book like this, for those who enjoy that style of book then this is something very special indeed.