Have you ever wondered what the world of gumshoes and gangsters would look like if instead of guys and dolls it were populated with the creatures of the Serengeti? No? Oh…well, I kinda figured you were going to say yes. Anyway, that’s exactly what we’ve got here.
Animal Noir #1 (IDW Publishing)
There are few genres of fiction as defined by their mood and aesthetic as noir. In addition to the fast-paced dialogue and reliance on gangster tropes from the roaring 20s, there are certain color schemes (or lack thereof) and thematic motions that carry a lot of the weight at what –if we’re being honest–tend to be pretty flimsy allegories dressed up as tales of private investigators tailing femme fatales or busting up smuggling rings. In Animal Noir, artist and co-author Izar Lunacek attempts to represent the genre with his own cartoony, R. Crumb-like art style and…it doesn’t really work.
It’s not that these more animated pencils can’t be used to convey a more serious tone–the early Ninja Turtles comics managed to bring a dark and serious noir tone to what is a pretty silly premise. Lunacek’s art style, however, is too hard to read and indistinct. The opening sequence where a group of monkeys and a cheetah (let’s not forget that these are hoodlums in this world) are waiting on a criminal shipment is just so hard to read, it’s occasionally difficult to know who is saying what. Even when it’s clearer, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re reading a gritty Garfield comic rather than something intended for a mature or sophisticated audience.
Given fiction’s history of using animal-centric stories as satire, it should come as no surprise that there is a not-so-subtle allegory at work in the underlying story. The clear plight of animals traditionally considered prey is meant to represent the underclass, with zebras in particular standing in for either the immigrant class or African Americans. In that regard it’s not too unlike the basic conceit of the recent Zootopia movie, though there are no laughs to be found here.
The plot revolves around a missing shipment of snuff pornography (dubbed “prey films” in the series) and the giraffe detective that is determined to track them down as a favor to his uncle, a powerful judge. So far so good. Yet fans of the noir genre will be disappointed to hear that the popping, almost vaudevillian dialogue that helps define these stories is absent in Animal Noir. There are elements of it to be sure–Manny plying Vera the cougar (literally and figuratively) for information and his conversation with hippo mob boss, Mr. Shasha, show promise, but they just aren’t enough to save the book from feeling needless and silly.
In the end, this was an interesting premise that tried too hard to be something it’s not. The cartoonish art style and underwhelming dialogue were a poor fit for an area of fiction that is very clearly defined by its verbiage and aesthetic. Hopefully Lunacek and his partner Nejc Juren can hammer out their characters’ voices and take the series down more interesting avenues.