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Tag Archive: Beasts of Burden


 

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a comic book nearly two years in the making.  Or maybe 27 years.  And it may be the best single comic book issue of the year.  But as strange as the tale between the covers, the story of its creators is stranger still.  What you probably know is this:  In 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published a single issue comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Intended as a spoof-parody-mash-up concoction of Marvel’s Daredevil and The New Mutants, Frank Miller’s Ronin, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus, the book sparked something much bigger for readers, becoming one of the most popular franchises for a few generations of readers and cartoon watchers (not to mention the impact it had via toys and movie tie-ins).  A couple unrelated–short-lived–parody spin-offs of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came and went unrelated to Eastman and Laird, including Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.

What you don’t know is that eight years after the Turtles saw their first comic–in 1992–comic creators Shane Bookman and his brother Paul released their scrappy indie creation on the unsuspecting comic book universe: Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls Like Eastman and Laird, the Bookmans had their own share of ups and downs, tales of fame and fortune (evidently Eastman sold off his rights to the Turtles some 20 years ago, etc.).  So in 2017 Eastman and writer David Avallone and artist Ben Bishop (with Troy Little, Brittany Peer, Tomi Varga, and Taylor Esposito) took the Bookmans’ story to Kickstarter, and nearly 1,200 backers brought in more than $100,000.  Now it’s all done, first to tell the Bookmans’ story in a new monthly comic beginning this past week called Drawing Blood, and at the same time with a companion comic they created and discussed in their comic industry exploits, Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, Issue #1.

 

The result?  Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is an idea as good as any Turtles tale you’ve read, and as finely crafted an origin story, full of action, top-notch writing, beautiful layouts, and exciting new characters: referred to as the Ragdolls (from the cat breed), they are three female cats who encounter gamma rays, cosmic rays, genetic mutagens, and who knows what other comic book superpower trigger was tapped, to become Tezuka, Otomo, and Miyazaki.  Speaking, Ronin-trained, defender cats.  Otomo is the most fearsome, Miyazaki speaks in Haiku poems, and Tezuka is a master tactician.

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In the coming mini-series Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others, Part One, writer Evan Dorkin and artist Jill Thompson are back again with their wonderfully realized Burden Hill gang, the canine paranormal investigators and a feline familiar that earned them a Harvey Award and multiple Eisner Awards.  We’ve discussed previous Beasts of Burden stories before here at borg and the animal stories are among the best of the outgrowth of shorts from Dark Horse Presents, the best anthology series around.

Dorkin and Thompson first introduced their animal sleuths in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings and they made regular appearances throughout the “Dark Horse Book of” series (all collected now in the affordable The Dark Horse Book of Horrors), earning them Eisners for Best Short Story and Best Painter.  In 2009 the beasts of Burden Hill received their own miniseries, Animal Rites, and in 2010, they met up with Hellboy.  In 2012, the gang was back in Neighborhood Watch.  And Beasts of Burden: Hunters and Gatherers won the Best Single Issue Eisner in 2015.   In 2016 the Burden Hill gang returned with the one-shot issue Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In followed-up last year with Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men.

This time we find the team defending Burden Hill again, but with the help of humans.  A team of paranormal investigators poking around Burden Hill disturb the graveyard where the ”Master” lies, setting off a chain of events that will have serious consequences for the animal defenders of the haunted town.  Dorkin’s animal stories coupled with Thompson’s watercolor painted artwork simply can’t be beat.

Take a look at some preview pages from Dark Horse Comics:

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Named for legendary comics creator Will Eisner, the Eisner Awards saw their 29th presentation last night.  Celebrities including Community star Danny Pudi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Heroes’ star Greg Grunberg, and game show host Wayne Brady among several comic books greats were on hand to present awards for the past year’s best works in comics at San Diego Comic-Con 2017.

We previewed the nominees earlier this year here at borg.com.  One of our favorites, artist Jill Thompson, took all three categories she was nominated in this year–for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist for her Wonder Woman: The True Amazon and Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In, for Best Graphic Album-New for Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, and for her Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In for Best Single Issue/One-Shot (with Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer).

    

Sonny Liew and his The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Pantheon), was the big individual winner, for Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia, Best Writer/Artist, and Best Publication Design.  Saga also took multiple awards, earning its creators four awards.  Archie Comics received multiple wins for Erica Henderson and Ryan North for Best Publication for Teens for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Best Humor Publication for Jughead.

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The best artwork in a graphic novel you will find this year is at your comic book store this week.  Seven-time Eisner Award winner Jill Thompson has created the definitive Wonder Woman origin story with Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, written and painted in the spectacularly vibrant manner only America’s most acclaimed writer-artist could create.

You may be familiar with Diana, Amazon Princess, and her ancient origin story, but this new version is a keeper–a storybook you’d read to your kids with lush colors and mythology steeped in classic folklore.  The action and storytelling are similar in execution to the best work of Alan Moore and his bold layouts, as well as the action and story development in Frank Miller’s 300–an easy comparison because of the setting and theme–yet Thompson’s story and art is far richer.  Thompson’s watercolor-painted comic pages and layout work is up there with the 1980s-1990s work of Mike Grell, and Wonder Woman: The True Amazon may very well be not only looked back on as the benchmark for all Wonder Woman: Year One attempts to come, it’s very possibly the best looking graphic novel from DC Comics since Grell’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.

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Best of all, Thompson’s story is surprising.  For much of the tale Diana is anything but heroic.  An early subtitle was The Very Selfish Princess–should that give you a hint.  Thompson looked deep into the mythos of Wonder Woman–celebrating her 75th year this year–and asked “what did Diana go through to become this iconic figure?”

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Thompson 1 What the Cat Dragged In

One of the best world-building series and some of our favorite comic book characters are making a brief return to Dark Horse Comics this May.  Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s fantastic Beasts of Burden will make an appearance at your local comic book store in the one-shot story Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In.

When curiosity gets the best of Burden Hill’s cats (and one reluctant raccoon), sleeping demons are awakened and black magic is unleashed on the town of Burden Hill.

This is the same series that garnered Eisner Awards for Best Short Story and Best Publication for Teens.  Dorkin and Thompson first introduced their animal sleuths in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings and made regular appearances throughout the “Dark Horse Book of” series, earning them Eisners for Best Short Story and Best Painter.  In 2009 the beasts of Burden Hill received their own miniseries, Animal Rites, and in 2010, they met up with Hellboy.  And Beasts of Burden: Hunters and Gatherers won the Best Single Issue Eisner in 2015.  Sarah Dyer joins the creative team for this latest story.

What the Cat Dragged In

We here at borg.com will brag up the Beasts of Burden series whenever we can.  It’s simply among the best writing and artwork that comic books have to offer.  Do yourself a favor and check out what we had to say here about the past stories in the series.

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Beasts of Burden cover

Another banner year for comic books has come and gone.  You can find something for anyone and everyone at your local comic book shop, and the diverse selection of winners of this year’s Eisner Awards illustrates that better than ever.  The latest round of winners were announced this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con.

What’s better than to see winners that you would have selected yourself were you on the judging panel?  Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson can’t publish enough of their Beasts of Burden stories, and we previewed this year’s winner for Best Single Issue, Beasts of Burden: Hunters and Gatherers, last year here at borg.com.  We couldn’t agree more with this win.  Are you listening, Hollywood?  It’s time for an animated movie from this series.

We also like to be in sync with the critics.  Remember when we picked Greg Smallwood as our Breakout Artist of the Year here at borg.com back in 2013?  Greg was given the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award at this year’s Eisners.  We’re glad others want to see more of his work, too.

It’s also fun to see the rare repeat winners.  Our own borg.com writer Elizabeth C. Bunce shared a panel at Comic-Con with Raina Telgemeier, winner this year as Best Writer/Artist, when she won her first Eisner Award back at SDCC 2011.  Raina won this year for her book Sisters.

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And our own local comic book shop couldn’t seem to keep the new Lumberjanes series on the shelves this past year.  Lumberjanes was a multiple winner this year, scoring Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens.

Here is the full slate of 2015 Eisner Award winners:

Best Short Story: “When the Darkness Presses,” by Emily Carroll

Best Continuing Series: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (Image)

Best Limited Series: Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, by Eric Shanower & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

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Beasts of Burden cover

Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson are back again with their expertly realized Burden Hill gang, the canine paranormal investigators and a feline familiar that earned them a Harvey Award and multiple Eisner Awards.  We’ve reviewed previous Beasts of Burden stories before here at borg.com and the animal stories are among the best of the outgrowth of shorts from Dark Horse Presents, the best anthology series around.

This time ’round we find the team defending Burden Hill from a giant monster.  Real or a specter?  A plan is hatched and the whole town of furry ones plays a part.

Here’s a preview of a few pages:

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Look for Beasts of Burden: Hunters & Gatherers in comic book stores everywhere March 12, 2014.

Rusty swordsman

Dedicated to Rusty, borg.com’s mascot, Krypto of my avatar, and my cosplay conspirator, whose smarts and curiosity would have fit right in to the Burden Hill pack.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Trigger Girl 6 cover

One of my favorite ways to get introduced to new comic book worlds is through Dark Horse Comics’ monthly anthology series, Dark Horse Presents.  We’ve reviewed several stories here at borg.com that were pulled from Dark Horse Presents to become their own collected volumes, including Francesco Francavilla’s Black Beetle, the sci-fi series Number 13, the off-the-wall Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy, Phil Noto’s Ghost, and our favorite of them all, the animal story Beasts of BurdenIn a similar vein, the relatively new anthology series Creator-Owned Heroes has spawned its own compilation book, Trigger Girl 6.

Trigger Girl panel B

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Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan has had many incarnations in the past 100 years, so it’s probably time that he is thrust into the far future as a 300-year-old human who, along with wife Jane, encounters a future world you might find in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, Nolan and Johnson’s Logan’s Run, or Richard Matheson’s I am Legend in the new one-shot comic book The Once and Future Tarzan.  Tarzan faces strange creatures big and small, and a tribe of women who speak in a future French dialect, who he assists on their quest.  Tarzan is a well-educated survivalist who communes with the animal kingdom–the main element that ties this future Tarzan to the Tarzan of our past.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

My wife, Elizabeth C. Bunce, and I stumbled across a very good Dark Horse Comics anthology series several years ago all beginning with “The Dark Horse Book of…”  These nicely presented hardcover editions included a Hellboy story, other ghost or horror stories by the best writers and artists at Dark Horse, and ended with a story about a group of dogs and an orphaned cat.  The collections were each brilliantly drawn, brightly (or darkly) colored, and included exactly the right kind of tale for fans of ghost stories over gore.  The anthologies included contributions from the likes of Mike Richardson himself, P. Craig Russell, Keith Giffen, Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Eric Powell, Brian Horton, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson.  Each anthology had a separate nice-and-creepy theme, including The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft, The Dark Horse Book of The Dead, and The Dark Horse Book of Monsters.

My favorite story in each anthology was by writer Evan Dorkin and artist Jill Thompson, focusing on the dogs and the cat.  The dogs, Ace, Rex, Jack, Whitey, and Pugsley, and the orphaned cat (who they call Orphan).  These qualify as quiet stories, in that they were snuggly hidden in the back of these anthologies and meekly waited in the shadows of the louder and more mainstream stories in the front of these books.  But Evan Dorkin knows how to convey compelling story via animals like few others have mastered.  Likewise, Jill Thompson’s characters are expressive and animated, and leave readers begging for more.  Her watercolor style reminds me of Mike Grell’s work on Green Arrow, Warlord, and Jon Sable, and she probably has a more accessible style than someone like Alex Nino, whose God the Dyslexic Dog series is one of my favorites.

In The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, their 2003 story “Stray” focuses on a the group exorcising a doghouse that has become possessed in a somber and gulp-worthy series opener.  This of course was not initially intended as a series, yet Dorkin and Thompson continued their contributions to future books.  In The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft, the band of animal friends encounter a witch cat in the 2004 story “The Unfamiliar.”  In 2005’s The Dark Horse Book of The Dead story “Let Sleeping Dogs Die,” the merry band confronts the witch cat again, this time allowing her the chance to become part of the team.  In 2006’s The Dark Horse Book of Monsters, the animals encounter a werewolf in “A Dog and his Boy.”  Each of these stories is endearing and clever in a way you’d only find in the Dark Horse universe.

So last week at the comic book store I stumbled on a new Dark Horse one-shot Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch.  I did a quick flip-through and knew it looked good and familiar and so I added it to the pull-list stack.  It didn’t click until I started reading the three new stories to realize what I had:  more great Dorkin and Thompson, and the animal pack has a name now as the Beasts of Burden.  This new one-shot is actually composed of three stories from Dark Horse Presents issues #4, 6 and 8.  Two other compilations exist that I have yet to get my hands on, a Beasts of Burden four-issue mini-series and a crossover one-shot in 2010 with Hellboy called Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice.  Another edition, Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (2010) collects the stories Stray, The Unfamiliar, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, A Dog and His Boy, and issues #1-4 of the mini-series.

In Neighborhood Watch, the story “Food Run” follows our group protecting the neighborhood from a golem-like green goblin.  In “Story Time,” an old sheepdog called Wise Dog recounts the epic story to three local pups about a brave dog in battle with a “Weeping Angels” twist.  In “The View from the Hill,” Orphan has encountered a lost herd of sheep and although we hear no “bah-ram-ewe” uttered, Dorkin and Thompson enter the realm not of Babe but of the X-Files.  Will little Jack ever be the same?

Last year there were rumors that Beasts of Burden may have been optioned for an animated movie.  So long as Jill Thompson is illustrating and Evan Dorkin is writing this could be a great idea–a dark, but not too dark, animated animal tale to take on the same old animated offerings we get each year.  But the real challenge will be getting the human voices to match the inner thoughts of Dorkin’s dogs and cats as well as he writes it.