It’s rare, if ever, that I’m swayed enough by a publisher’s advert on a comics website to actually then find myself looking out for the book on the stands – AdBlockPlus notwithstanding, it’s the sort of thing that my brain usually just tunes out. But something about Dark Horse’s ads (on a site we’ll call… Blomic Blook Blesources) for Beasts of Burden caught my eye – well, two things, actually: the names of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Dorkin is a name I hear a lot about, and while I haven’t read as much of his work as I suspect I should have, I do love his Bill & Ted series; and while Thompson, with the very notable exception of Sandman, doesn’t usually work in genres that I’m all that interested in reading, she’s nevertheless a singular talent. Plus, of course, it’s about adorable widdle dogs and cats. Awwww.
Ahem. Anyway, as it happens, it’s actually Thompson that proves to be the bigger draw here. Employing a watercolour painting style, every page is absolutely gorgeous – and she nails the look of the canine and feline characters perfectly (of course, she’s got form in this department, having been the first artist to draw Barnabas; and at one point, one of the cats is Bast, only coloured ginger). The contrast between the “ordinary” lives of the animals around their gardens and the surreal, supernatural elements in the forest is spot on, and the downright weirdness of the main threat is effectively portrayed.
As for the story, well, there’s an obvious comics comparison to be made immediately, of course – but, while I suspect it’s going to get rather more tragic as it goes on, We3 isn’t really on the mind here, even though Thompson accomplishes a similar feat to Quitely in (irrespective of Dorkin’s dialogue) effectively characterising the animals based on facial expression alone (and not anthropomorphised facial expression, either – never do these animals not look like animals). But no, this is really more like a supernatural, suburban version of Animals of Farthing Wood than anything. There’s a lot of mystery about the place in the opening issue, but Dorkin does a fairly decent job of introducing everything for those of us who haven’t read these characters’ earlier anthology-based appearances – although it’s a little difficult to follow who all the characters are on a first read, and it’d be nice if there was more than just allusion to previous events, as the way they’re talked about makes it feel like something quite significant’s been missed.
But this is nice. The nature of its protagonists allows for a quite charming, innocent outlook – and it comes off as a very retro sort of monster-hunter story (even down to the logo on the cover). The story’s hardly the most gripping – it’s a fairly straightforward, done-in-one “threat shows up, investigate threat, dispatch threat” introductory episode – but there’s enough that’s simply likeable about this to keep me interested in watching the rest of the miniseries unfold.