Outward Reviews: Guerillas

I’ve said it before, the monkey game can be a tough nut to crack. Preconceived notions of the apish persuasion aren’t exactly flattering to the genre. Monkeys are viewed as clowns. Beta humans; their lines to the animal kingdom christening them incomplete versions of ourselves. They’re either disturbing or hilarious. Spectacle is king.

“Look at that monkey dance! Monkeys aren’t supposed to dance!”

*Giddy laughter*

*Cracking whip*

“Dance monkey, dance!”

You know the drill.

Goliath with his little helper.

Goliath with his little helper.

Unless your goal is a healthy coating of cheek, you’d expect a genuine attempt at drama featuring our furry cousins to be a fool’s errand. How poignant can a scene be when the prime movers are convicted shit-slingers? Throwing comics into this mix, you’ve got an uphill battle so steep you’d wish you had a prehensile tail just to hold on. It’s a nigh-impossibility!

I was pleasantly surprised to be proved dead-fuck-wrong when I discovered Brahm Revel’s fantastic graphic series, Guerillas.

First released in 2008 by Image comics, Guerillas couldn’t exactly escape the “stinking ape” stigma and was later picked up for continuation/distribution by Oni Press. Though it may not feature unitard-clad superheroes, Guerillas has been steadily gaining cred through 5-star reviews by fans and the kind of steady attention that a deserving work of art merits.

Did I mention that ape-fiction has a fan base? I know I painted a grim picture a few paragraphs ago, but there is a silver lining. Perhaps it’s that mystical power of well-armed primates? Who knows, but if ever there were a work of ‘damn good’ simian drama that deserved recognition, it is Revel’s series.

Guerillas is the tale of a fresh new recruit named John Clayton and his introduction to the hellhole of atrocities that is the Vietnam War. Our boy John is painted as a wide-eyed young chap who seriously miscalculated when he decided to earn his aloof father’s respect by enlisting. This kid could barely hurt a fly. There are genuinely disturbing instances depicted when John and his platoon comb through the jungle and.. do what American GI’s did.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were... you know... into that whole 'talking' thing.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were… you know… into that whole ‘talking’ thing.

The writing is strong throughout. The interactions of the soldiers, while unflattering, remain candid and realistic. It’s got all the conflict and inner turmoil of your big time war flicks; your Platoons and your Apocalypse Nows, all coated in beautiful four-by-four. The art is minimalistic, yet sumptuously illustrated in layers of heavy shadow and bright sunlight. The attention to detail shows: from the rendering of a soldier’s rucksack to the inferred acrobatic antics of the titular primates.

Oh yeah, the chimps! Things take off when our hero buckles under pressure, witnesses his entire squad mowed down by Vietcong and does nothing. It’s at this point that he’s rescued by a group of ‘artificially enhanced’, battle trained chimpanzee commandos. And they don’t exactly take to him at first.

It’s obvious that Revel did his chimpanzee homework. His depictions are spot on. Social interactions are fully represented here, with ‘shit-your-pants’ dominance displays and termite foraging featured just like you’d see it on National Geographic: minus the combat fatigues.

John meets the monkeys.

John meets the monkeys.

Big bruisers like John Bull and Goliath puff on cigarettes; a habit abnormally trained chimps exhibit in real life. Smaller chimps like Goblin and Faben bound shrilly through the trees. These are behaviors (and names) that you see plastered all over nature documentaries. This authenticity legitimizes the story and almost lulls you into forgetting that you’re reading a comic about M-16 toting primates.

It’s this extra effort to tell a good story that is prevalent in Guerillas. It adds nuance and a deeper level of enjoyability to an otherwise fantastic ‘shoot-em up’ war comic. All the right layers are here: Good guys, bad guys, moral ambiguity about who the good guys and bad guys are, mad scientists, swearing; one liner spouting soliders, action, dramatic tension, chimpanzees hooting while they unload a clip into an unsuspecting village..

Guerillas gets my wholehearted stamp of approval. In the world of ape-pulp, this comic stands as a shining example of how to do it right.

Oh. And it’s got a baboon named Adolph that is probably the creepiest loose-cannon character that I’ve ever seen. Way to do that name proud, Adolph… *shivers*

You can get a free digital copy of Guerillas on comixology.com. Not a bad deal for a double-feature sized comic about monkeys.

All My Yesterdays: An Evolutionary Snapshot of Dinosaur Doodles

So a while back I wrote a review on this pretty boss paleoart book. I raved about it, enjoying its refreshing stance and bold ideas concerning a long childhood obsession of mine. All Yesterdays brought a cunning and much needed twist to the newest trends in dinosaur restoration. It highlighted a kind of common sense mentality that seemingly goes missing with the world at large. Dinosaurs were animals.

How could I 'not' salivate at the mouth for this opportunity?!

How could I ‘not’ salivate at the mouth for this opportunity?!

I’ll grant you: Kind of an obvious statement, but I’d argue it’s a message that the majority of people tend to forget. All too often, dinosaurs are regulated to the children’s section of popular culture. And as hard as it is to accept, Mesozoic earth was almost certainly NOT like a page out of a 1950’s pulp magazine.

At its core, this is why I enjoyed the book. It isn’t often that you get such a level-headed and adult take on the subject of dinosaurs.

So why am I doing all of this fanboy harping all over again? Why did I think you guys needed the refresher course on how awesome this book is? Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this rant.

The rough draft version of my All Yesterday's contest entry. Note: I've always used notebook paper. It ain't a doodle without notebook paper.

The rough draft version of my All Yesterday’s contest entry. Note: I’ve always used notebook paper. It ain’t a doodle without notebook paper.

The good folks over at Irregular Books have just finished with their own art contest based on All Yesterdays concepts. 200+ entrants were tallied, and luckily, (thanks heavily to a 10 day extension window) I was able to submit my own piece. I gotta thank those guys for so much grace. Us writer types can be real “last minute” monkeys. At any rate: It took a few rough drafts and aborted attempts, but my precarious doodle and Corel Paint skills saw me through. Taking up the pencil was cool and all, but the most interesting facet emerged when I did a little research. I looked back over some very old “circa 1998” pictures I’d concocted, and was stunned to realize just how prescient I failed to be! I’d fallen into strict 90’s paleoart a trend… and I’d fallen hard.

One of the arguments All Yesterdays makes was that of shrink wrapping: Coating the reconstructed bones of dinosaurs with the thinnest semblance of muscle, skin, and integumentary bites-o-goodness. You didn’t want to speculate too hard, back on those olden days, lest you be labeled a quaking crank.

This “anorexiation” of dinosaurs came from a backlash when paleontologists started viewing dinosaurs as sleek, warm-blooded, speedsters… as opposed to the lumbering walnut-brains of past fame. This Dinosaur Renaissance was spearheaded by an old hero of mine, Robert Bakker; along with his disciple, Gregory S Paul.

Lookin' pretty skinny there, slick. This is my 90's interpretation of some ... ancestral... dromeosaurid? I suppose I figured all cool dinosaurs needed the sickle claw.

Lookin’ pretty skinny there, slick. This is my 90’s interpretation of some … ancestral… dromeosaurid? I suppose I figured all cool dinosaurs needed the sickle claw.

Ribcage sporting dinosaurs were all the rage through the early 1990’s and I was a born again convert.

Lets just say, you couldn’t get my nose out from one of Paul’s gorgeously illustrated books. It was a physical impossibility. Weeks could pass and parents could worry, but I wasn’t fucking letting go.

So I guess it wasn’t much of a surprise when an adult version of me came across one of these little gems.

Shrink wrapping happens, my friends. Witness it to your horror!

Anyways.. I thought that was kind of funny. And a little eye opening. Heed the wisdom of All Yesterday’s dogma. I’ve re-converted. Now my ornithopods have fuzz. It’s the circle of life.

Evolution in action.

Seriously though, if you haven’t read the book, you should check it out.

Now with color. I feel I've come a long way. I call this piece Beachcomber.

Now with color. I feel I’ve come a long way. I call this piece Beachcomber.