Sunday, March 23, 2008

Critters #14

Critters #14, July 1987, Fantagraphics Books
by Stan Sakai, Freddy Milton, Dwight R. Decker, Steven A. Gallacci, & Monika Livingstone

Blogger's note: Entry for Friday, March 21, 2008.

Critters is anthropomorphic anthology series, which is the best use of alliteration I've had the pleasure to write in a long time! More notably, Critters chronicles some of the earliest adventures of Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, the flagship subject of my Easter-oriented reviews of comics starring rabbits. This issue's ten page adventure isn't as spiritually profound as Thursday's experience, but it is equally entertaining and just as suspenseful considering its length. Yojimbo is recruited by an old acquaintance ("friend" wouldn't be an adequate term, as the two share a begrudging-at-best respect for each other) to retrieve a stolen religious statue, a simple enough job as the samurai rhino explains that he intends to provide the distraction so Yojimbo can easily make the grab. Of course, when the dastardly rhino blows our hero's cover, the distraction ends up being Yojimbo himself, but in the end, this hare wins their race of wits when he walks away with half of the statue's reward and sticks his old "buddy" with the bar tab.

Like Thursday's issue, Sakai's simple, expressive art tells the tale almost as effectively as his consice, character-rich dialogue, and these two first impressions have convinced me to pursue more of Yojimbo's adventures in the future. To think, I've had two Usagi Yojimbo action figures (the first edition and space gear variant from the '90s Playmates TMNT line) for nearly eighteen years now, yet I've waited this long to see what the old fellow's really like. Shame on me.

The second story in Critters #14 could relate to the concept of catching up with old acquaintances. In Freddy Milton's Gnuff, a family of dragons has won the rights to build their home on a coveted piece of land, and in this flashback of their earliest days building their cabin, Gnellie, the lady of the house, recounts her attempt to reconnect with fellow travellers the O'Gators. Though Gulliver protests her departure in light of their construction work, Gnellie treks to the O'Gators' plot, only to find their cabin half finished, too. Their rival Harry Hancock (an appropriate name for a rooster!) startles her and tries to have his way with her, but fortunately Gnellie slips through his grasp and makes it home safely. Gulliver's gruff ways eventually get the better of Gnellie and she plays the field to feel better about herself, playing with the hearts of suitors until they made fools of themselves. Her story ends prematurely, undoubtedly to be continued for another issue, which, if it weren't for the fact that she was remembering this tale from an obviously much better point in the future, would make for a rather depressing ending.

I'm torn on Gnuff, though its charm may simply be lost in translation. When I noticed a small "translated by Dwight R. Decker" credit in the corner of this story's first page, I felt compelled to look Gnuff up and learn that Milton is actually a Danish cartoonish, and I presume his strips are simply reprinted for an American audience here in Critters. Still, some of the subtexts are potentially controversial; first of all, Harry Hancock's assault on Gnellie is borderline molestation, which is disturbing enough, but when it's a rooster coming on to a dragon? Further, Gnellie basically explains that she willingly became the town whore to compensate for Gulliver's lack of affection . . . oh, and if I didn't mention it earlier, this tale is a flashback as she tells it to her son. Gnellie's story ends when she remembers to check on the pies she put in oven, to which her son replies, "Okay, that's just as important!" Uhm, what's Danish for, "Hey, after you put the pies on the sill to cool, could you finish the one about when you slept with every guy in town?"

Birthright II was the most peculiar tale of them all, as a team of personified foxes in combat with an anarchistic rebellion while at the same time on the hunt for their lost, possibly captured or dead, prince. Leading the charge is the prince's fiancee, and in this chapter she oversees the construction of a new starship. I couldn't really get into this brief eight pager, as it focused less on the action of these characters' conflict and more on the logistics of their multi-pronged strategy. Steve Gallacci and Monika Livingstone's art was quite impressive, what with its varied brushstroke and watercolor-like graytones, but I can only assume that this installment was a bridge between more explosive plot points. I know foxes are sly, but they have to make their move sometime.

As I was researching the backgrounds of these respective strips, I learned that Critters was Fantagraphics' longest running anthropomorphic (or "furry," as it was called) anthologies, running fifty years for five issues. Goes to show, when it comes to animals like this, there are obviously plenty of tales to be wagged.

Yeah, I know. Sorry 'bout that.

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