Comics Time: Night Animals

Night Animals
Brecht Evens, writer/artist
Top Shelf, January 2011
48 pages
$7.95
Read a preview and buy it from Top Shelf

Dare I say that this is even better than The Wrong Place? I think I dare! Created before that book but published in English after it, Night Animals is a more traditionally drawn affair from author Brecht Evens in that it is, in fact, drawn. The Wrong Place‘s paint-only art was its distinctive selling point and, via clever coloring, its primary storytelling mechanism, but as it turns out this innovation meant Evens abandoned a really lovely line — thick, ropy, tactile, full of motion, fun. It gives the art more immediate pop, and gives Evens’s really vibrant colors (look at that cover; now imagine a whole book like that) the day off, as it were, freeing them from the burden of telling the story themselves and allowing them to comment on and enhance the action, and of course simply delight the eye.

Said action consists of two separate stories in which the protagonists’ sexuality is passed through a gauntlet of children’s-story-style creatures of the wild. The first, in which a balding businessman and apparent tyro furry goes down a literal rabbit hole and braves an increasingly terrifying series of beasts on his way to the “Blind Date” that gives the story its title, has a happy ending: A grinning, recumbent woman in rabbit ears, probably a little plain under normal circumstances with her hornrimmed glasses and mole and pointy schnoz but bomb-ass hot as she’s presented at the end of this journey, with a promising white arrow directing her bunny-suited suitor straight to her crotch. After the painstakingly delineated labyrinth we’ve followed to get here, including a pair of stunning spreads filled with seemingly every sea monster and forest creature Evens could think of, this punchline image elicited a good-natured “haw!” from me; if I’d been there, I’d have high-fived both the guy and the girl before leaving them to get it on. Indeed, the very last image, a Wrong Place-style painted silhouette of the two characters in floppy-eared flagrante delicto, gives the impression of the artist quietly backing away and closing the door behind himself, letting our hero and heroine do their stuff in peace. Evens really nails the simple satisfaction sex sometimes provides — life can be filled with storm and stress, but every now and then it’s nothing that a special someone’s smile and genitals can’t fix.

The scarred side of the Night Animals coin is the second and concluding story, “Bad Friends.” (“So it’s not just a clever name.”—Wayne’s World) It starts, and indeed continues, innocuously enough, as a sort of distaff Where the Wild Things Are/Aesopian cover version of Stephen King’s Carrie, in which puberty rather than petulance is what enables our young protagonist to heed the call of the wild, and in which the rapid locker-room onset of menstruation leads not to a telekinetic killing spree but a visit from the Great God Pan, a trip on the back of a giant bird, and a rockin’ party with various critters in the woods. Our heroine whoops it up, enjoying the nakedness her newfound friends have reduced her to — complete with body-paint heart drawn around her pudenda — so much so that she doesn’t notice the darkness in their eyes as they close in to devour her. This story ends not with a clinch, but an empty bloodstained bed, worried parents, an ineffectual search of the now-empty forest, a single flower wilting on the ground. Evens’s trademark red goes from a spot-color stain on the girl’s underwear, to the alluring light of an illicit night out, to a symbol of sexual abandon, to the color of violence and death. It’s quite a performance, sexy and creepy at precisely the moments Evens wishes it to be one or the other, and a direct contrast with the earthy lightheartedness of the opening story. It’s awfully easy for sex comics to get didactic in their rah-rah positivity; Evens gives us the flipside, counting on us to be grown up enough to weigh the pros and cons ourselves. Good for him and good for this comic. It’s a blast.