After a gorgeous and fun first issue, the Kickstarter-funded series Squarriors is back for issue number two. Is it good?
Squarriors #2 (Devil’s Due Publishing)
The issue opens with another flashback to the humans’ waning days of control (survival?) on the planet. Instead of a violent act of murder like last time, however, we get a touching scene of a father saying goodbye to his family.
When we return to the (1990’s) present, Redbeard is learning of the skirmish between his scouts and the Tin Kin search party. Despite his surprisingly pragmatic approach to the situation, the Maw leader concludes that a war between their tribes is now inevitable.
My scars were given to me by other squirrels afflicted with rabies… turns out the urban legends were true.
Back at the Tin Kin camp, we get a brief history lesson of the Squarriors’ history. The tale of surprising alliances and bloody battles is sprinkled with small hints about what might have happened to all the humans. Most importantly, however, it gives a great deal of weight to the conflict between the various squirrel and animal tribes while allows artist Ashley Witter to go absolutely nuts. We’re talking two double page spreads and more of some of the most incredible artwork I have ever seen in a comic.
This is what goes on inside your trash cans at night AND IT’S AWESOME!
Once the historical exposition is completed, we get a look into the political infighting that takes place among earth’s furry rulers. Much like the humans, there’s plenty of infighting and backstabbing to go around. I know that might sound boring, but I promise you it is not. For starters, Witter’s art continues to shine, this time giving the rodents an incredible range of emotions.
A haunting and heart breaking final few pages (followed by a real gut punch on the last one) points toward things escalating even more quickly than before.
Is it Good?
Oh my goodness it is.
Let’s start with the obvious: Ashley Witter’s artwork is off the charts incredible. Not only does it look gorgeous, but she has a keen sense of storytelling that makes Squarriors much more than just pretty looking book. Even the best painted artwork can often appear stilted, but Witter injects every scene (even the the dialogue-heavy ones) with large amounts of kinetic energy…and when she draws a fight scene, it’s mind blowing.
But all that might even be her work’s most impressive aspect. I showed Squarriors to a co-worker of mine who does not read comics. She gaped at the pages, dumbfounded at how beautiful they were. She then looked at me and said “Even though they’re animals, the facial expressions looks so human!”
She’s right—Witter makes these anthropomorphic characters’ personalities and reactions shine without ever coming across as cartoony. It’s just another of the many reasons she’s one to keep an eye on while her star rises. I’m not sure how long it takes Witter to draw a full script, but to be honest, I don’t really care. When the work is this good, it’s worth the wait. If the big time publishers aren’t trying to lock her down for some event series (with plenty of lead in time) yet, they will be soon.
So what about the story? Well fortunately, Witter isn’t the only exceptionally talented member of the creative team. Writer Ash Maczko could have easily just turned in a mindless, action heavy script and let the art carry the book. Instead, he’s crafting a tension-filled story laced with political intrigue and emotional resonance.
He’s also avoiding a major mistake that many works of fiction make when a central mystery surrounds its speculative elements. The way the humans disappeared in the Squarriors universe is definitely a point of curiosity (and even referenced a bit), but it’s nowhere near the central theme. Television series like Lost or The Left Overs tried to do this, but kept going back to the well of “SOMETHING CRAZY HAPPENED” to drive the narrative forward. Maczko, on the other hand, is going the Walking Dead/Robert Kirkman route: In that universe, the source of the zombie apocalypse is/was a mystery, but like the mystery of what happened to the humans in Squarriros, it’s been deftly moved into the background….mostly.
Here begins my few quibbles about the book. I’m not sure if the opening scenes from issues one and two are supposed to hint at something larger or simply tie thematically into the main story. I also occasionally have trouble keeping up with who is who (despite the great work from Witter).
I encouraging anyone reading issue two to go back and familiarize yourself with the first one. It makes for a much better reading experience. It also indicates (to me, at least) that Squarriors will probably read much better as a trade than sparsely released single issues.
Now before I conclude expressing my love for Squarriors #2, I need to take a moment and address the book’s publisher, Devil’s Due, directly.
Wow, guys. Devil’s Due is knocking it out of the park lately. You once referred to yourself on the Squarriors Kickstarter comments page as a “lean and mean operation” and that’s the truth. Your library is already filled with quality titles, some of which were funded through Kickstarter (and I can’t wait to read the collected edition of Solitary, by the way). And not only are your creative offerings impressive, but tangible results are beautifully professional. My physical copy of
Unfortunately, getting the copy itself is where there serious issues occurred.
You’ve utilized Kickstarter to fund some great projects. But with regards to Squarriors, the business end did not live up exceptional quality of work.
I backed Squarriors at the $10 level. This gave me a digital copy and a signed copy of the physical one… which retailed for $5. Now don’t get me wrong—having Team Ash sign my copy was cool (especially now that I’ve seen how awesome they are), but I was initially willing to pay the premium because I thought I would get my copy early. Other folks paid the premium because they wanted to see their name in the Thank You’s at the back. But to my surprise, Squarriors was released to retail before the people who backed the project even got a digital copy…which was compounded by the fact that the digital copy had some major download/contrast issues (that thankfully did not plague issue #2).
That means that on the day Squarriors was released to retail, I could have gone to my local comic shop and picked it up for half the price the backers paid—even less if you are getting a 10-20% pull list discount that many shops have. So essentially, I paid $5 for a signature and had to wait longer to get the book. To make matters worse, many backers’ names are still missing from all currently released editions of the titles. As far as issue #2 goes, I was able to add it onto my pledge for only $5 extra, but will still have to wait on a physical copy until long after it’s been on the shelves.
That can’t happen, especially when it involves the people funding the book’s actual creation.
Otherwise, many folks will be justifiably inclined to wait on crowdfunded Devil’s Due projects making it into stores rather than supporting their campaigns. Even if that level of bystander-purchasing doesn’t lose backers to keep a project from funding, it will definitely hurt things like stretch goals and additional issues.
That’s a real shame because when I hear a title is being published by Devil’s Due, my first thought these day is that it’s probably worth checking out. You’ve also developed a reputation as being very creator friendly, treating your talent with kindness and respect while fostering an atmosphere conducive to trying new things.
In short, you guys are a rising star in the small press publishing segment of the market. Please don’t let 16 years of hard work get any smudges on it (however small) by issues like this…especially when it involves the people who believe in your products enough to back their creation.
It wouldn’t take much — if logistical concerns keep you from getting physical (or digital) copies to backers early, then drop the price a bit on the Kickstarter standard editions. If that’s not feasible, maybe just add a couple extra pages of content or a make the KS exclusive cover the same price as the retail one. Ben Templesmith/44Flood handled this really well with their successful campaigns for The Squidder and Dagon. When I bought the retail version of The Squidder and learned about the unique aspects of the KS edition (which were pretty minor, to be honest), it made me wish I’d backed it…and ensured that I wouldn’t miss the next one.
Look, it’s not like I’m saying you’re failing here. Far from it, actually. Despite the previously mentioned issues, you’re still delivering high quality products, both with regards to their content and physical production. It could be a lot worse—at least you’re not burning backer rewards when they complain). But if you’re going to utilize crowd funding to get projects off the ground, it needs to be done right. Your rise in visibility and reputation deserves it.
:: Rant Over ::
But you know what Squarriors deserves? A heaping helping of awards and accolades, that’s what.
Maczko is turning what could have been a run of the mill anthropomorphic narrative into a reading experience filled with drama, mystery, and visceral thrills. And Witter’s art—holy smokes! I’m not sure what else I can say to express just how great it is…except that should close your browser right now and go pick this book up. It’s worth every penny (even for us Kickstarter backers who had to pay a little extra).