Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Raised By Squirrels

You know what I love about Raised By Squirrels, by Brad and Monica Banko Meehan? Actually there's more than one thing - we'll get to that later. What I love, at least initially, is that it reminds me that "Indie Comics" is about as useful a term as "Cable TV". It's a business term, and exists only by ceding the central ground to the industry titans, lumping the rest together as a fringe. Though we'd like to cobble it all together in generic terms: a reviled Big Two providing slick entertainment and everything else as soulfelt art.

It's bullshit. Comics is about people wanting to tell stories, some of whom have marketing dollars behind them, and some who don't. Though they dominate the market, it's not like two Manhattan publishers own the exclusive patent on action thrillers. Many readers of Checkmate, The Ultimates, Chase, or Sleeper might turn their nose up at Raised By Squirrels because anything not coming from the offices of Joe Quesada or Dan DiDio is "artsy indy comix", but would do well to remember that publishing models do not define content. Though disguised as a black-and-white book from an unknown publisher, Raised by Squirrels is as slick and engaging a superhero espionage thriller as you'd find in any "mainstream" book.

The "squirrels" of the title refers to the "S.Q.R.L.", a shadowy security agency that employs metanormal agents to protect national interests. There are hierarchies of power within the agency, and it's near impossible to "retire". Noir backstabbing, betrayals and conspiracies litter the scene, but the Meehans keep the plot and action at the forefront without letting the book degenerate into an atmosphere piece or a chunk of world-building. The story is told through short, titled sequences that are driven by the book's online origins but also serve a as sharp, staccato rhythm to keep the story moving without much pause.

The biggest stumbling block that a Big Two reader might find here is the art. It's certainly not that the art is bad: the composition is excellent, and though the characters are a bit stiff and mannered, there's also a tremendous amount of emotion in the faces and body language. It just feels "off" a bit, the script and art seeming to belong to two different comics. The art feels like a rough draft, a storyboard of what the book would look like with the clean finish the snappy script seems to call for: the naturalistic cinematography of a Sean Phillips or a John Cassady. On the flip side of that, I feel like the art is straining against the heavy plotting of the script, desperately wanting the space to explore fall trees and expressionist cityscapes. I can't say that the friction doesn't have it's merits, however ... the pull between art and story may be the very tension that keeps this from becoming too slick, polished and commercial.

This trade paperback is available for a very value-packed $4.95 at the excellent Raised By Squirrels Website, with a second volume soon to follow. If you're still not sure, you can also download the all the issues in PDF format for the low, low cost of completely free. If a crackling tale of superheroes and espionage gone bad sounds worthwhile, give it a try ... regardless of publisher.


Jason said...

Hey, a Raised by Squirrels review, alright! Way to go Mark.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

You made this sound pretty good, so I ordered myself a copy today. Looking forward to it.

Mark Fossen said...

Great news, Guy. Nice to hear someone else will enjoy this book!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Good call, Mark. Got it, liked it, reviewed it, looking forward to more.

Still on the fence about checking out New Frontier, though.

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