(Image Comics, 2014)
Writer – Kurt Busiek
Artist and Cover Colors – Benjamin Dewey
Colors – Jordie Bellaire
Lettering and Design – John Roshell and Jimmy Betancourt
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, I love going in to a new issue #1 with one idea and coming out on the other end with a completely new understanding of what is going on in a book. Being surprised is really one of the greatest things in a medium where you think you’ve seen it all. And who better to provide that surprise than Kurt Busiek?
Busiek has had a storied career in comics. Astro City and Arrowsmith were created from his pen, and no less than the Avengers and Marvels were touched by his thoughtful storylines. With the release of Tooth and Claw #1 from Image Comics this week we have another to add to the list of must-have books for your Busiek Library.
Back to the surprise. I saw the catchy title, looked at the first couple of brilliantly drawn and colored pages, and thought, ah…another animal story. These have begun creeping up with other publishers as well; perhaps a new trend is in the making. After the first 48 pages though, I’m of another mind. Busiek is a genius.
Tooth and Claw is the creation of a new world, full of it’s own magic and mythology, societal intrigues and political grumblings. In the same vein as books like Animal Farm and Blacksad, it anthropomorphizes animals, gives them human-like qualities, and makes them the stars of the book. But this is more than that even. After reading the first issue it felt more akin to Watership Down than anything. (If you recall Richard Adams fantastic novel, the rabbits within had a complex, almost Tolkien-esque mythology interweaved with the story.)
The story takes place in the Seventh City of seventeen, each ruled by animals that walk on two legs, (two legs good…four legs bad) and who practice a complex form of wizardry that keeps their cities floating in the air. So far the focus is on Dunstan, a pitbull-ish boy whose father is a high-ranking minister who deals with feeding the city from the plains below. We encounter the menacing “lesser ones” (buffalo people) who provide the city with food. It’s a complex story that is centered on the dwindling magic in the world, and the wizards’ effort to recapture it.
Benjamin Dewey (Monsters and Dames pinups, I Was The Cat) takes on the near-impossible task of bringing humanity to non-human faces, and triumphs. He takes those expressions that you see on your dog or cat, the one that says, “Really? Do I really need to wear a sweater?” and translates it onto the page. Emotion is hard enough to convey to human faces, but to make a dog look happy, or stern, or sad, is no small task. Add to that the amazing background and scenic pieces in the book, and you can tell that Busiek chose the perfect artist for the job.
Also credit should be given to Jordie Bellaire (The Manhattan Projects, Deadpool) whose masterful color work shows Dewey’s art in the best possible way. Her colors are irreplaceable in the magic sequences, making the wonder of it all that much more wonderful, and her skill with the different tones on the individual animals is proof of her mastery of the art.
Kurt Busiek has assembled an all-star team for Tooth and Claw #1, and if you’ve any leanings toward fantasy or science fiction, towards epic stories and classic themes, then you should pick this up or add it to your pull list. This is a late-runner for one of the best books of the year. Busiek, Dewey, Bellaire, Image Comics…you can’t go wrong.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, who all put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.