Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson come together to bring you the Eisner Award winner for Best Publication for Teens and Best Short Story, Beasts of Burden. This compilation of short stories (subtitled Neighborhood Watch), originally printed in Dark Horse Presents, features a canine and feline team who investigate different paranormal events that occur in their small and seemingly peaceful neighborhood of Burden Hill.
If you’re unfamiliar with Evan Dorkin’s previous projects, it’s alright. However, he is a veteran of comics among other media, and it’s not unlikely you’ve already enjoyed works he’s had his hands in. The projects he’s worked on span all across the spectrum of subject matter from comics like Predator: Big Game and Rom: Space Knight, to animation like the English adaption of Shin Chan and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.
That’s not to say that Jill Thompson is a newbie when it comes to the world of entertainment; she certainly isn’t. She’s been around the proverbial block with multiple awards to prove it. Her illustration work can be found in many comic books and graphic novels like Spiderman: Shadows and Light and Death: At Death’s Door as well as in children’s books like the Magic Trixie series and Mick Foley’s Halloween Hijinx.
The track records of these two suggest a lot of diversity within subject matter and illustrative storytelling, and the short stories within this book do reflect that. Dorkin does a great job of bringing this band of characters through different levels of seriousness, suspense and humor in each short story that makes for a great read for adolescents and young adults alike. True, the idea of animals communicating with one another like people do isn’t anything ground breaking, but to take that and make something original is a feat within itself. It’s an even greater feat to use that to create something with appeal to both genders and the pre-teen to young adult age range, which Dorkin does successfully.
What really gives this one shot worth is Thompson’s illustrative work. Her watercolors are so crisp and clean with great color control successfully setting the tone for each scene. It’s tactfully goes hand and hand with the dynamic composition that’s intelligently set up for dramatic effect, but nowhere near to the point where it becomes unreadable. On top of that, it’s very well rendered but still stylized in a way that would appeal to youth. Each animal is successfully given anthropomorphic attributes without becoming silly looney tune-esque characters who carry on like people with animal traits, but they still give off a lot of personality through facial expression and body language.
Jill Thompson is telling a story here. The story she’s illustrating is so clear, this book would make sense without any words, but Jason Arthur does a great job of providing lettering overall; especially lettering that doesn’t step on Thompson’s work. In most cases, it’s the artist work that compliments the writer’s story. In this case, it really feels as though it’s the story that compliments the artist’s work, and the nearly half dozen awards Beasts of Burden has won just for its artwork reflects that.
Beasts of Burden makes for a good read for anyone over the age of twelve who may be a fan of suspenseful, action or horror reading, and its especially a great buy for any teenager or pre-teen with a visually artistic side to them. It’s a good story with even better artwork which makes it worth the $3.50 for the purchase. Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch can be found at your comic book store on August 1st, or you can just as easily pre-order it on Dark Horse Comic’s website right now if there isn’t a comic shop close by for you to get a hold of it.
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