‘Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In’ – Comic Book Review

Orphan and Dymphna are back in this latest one-shot story titled Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In that releases this week in local comic book shops around the country.  The Eisner and Harvey Award-winning comic book series that began with “Stray” in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings (2003) and then in 2009, given its first four-issue story arc treatment. The world of talking dogs and cats that investigate paranormal occurrences in their community of Burden Hill was created by Evan Dorkin, illustrated by Jill Thompson, and lettered by Jason Arthur. Over the years, Dorkin has often been joined by Sarah Dyer for shared script duties.

In this one-shot, Dymphna reveals she has been returning to her human's home, a witch's coven, before Orphan and the dogs broke up said coven. Dymphna has been trying to get into the house to retrieve some items, so when the group does get into the house, they find more than they bargained for: a fiend who eats dreams and brings nightmares. In the course of the story, the extent of Dymphna's vengeance towards Orphan is explained - a sentiment that Dymphna explains no longer exists in her mind; however, the fiend must be dealt with if the group is to escape the house.

Dorkin and Dyer's short story is an excellent entry point for readers not familiar with the Beasts of Burden series, because this story discusses events that have transpired in past stories. The crux of the story explores the concept of trust, which has been difficult for Dymphna, given the betrayal she experienced at the paws of Orphan. And, as trust is established, it is then tested when Dymphna must banish the fiend. It is an intriguing and fascinating story, but do not be fooled by the idea of talking animals: this tale is not appropriate for young children. There is some swearing, and there is the unsettling situation in which two of the cats have scratched out their eyes. In addition, there are themes of witchcraft and sacrifice.

Thompson's art is gorgeous and perfectly matched for this enchanting series. Her animals are expressive and engaging, capturing nuances of cat behavior and personality. For instance, when the cats look quizzically at the dead mouse and door knob, then later when Dymphna's eyes linger on a photograph of her humans. The panel layouts are clean and represent a good mix of panel size and shape on each page, which keeps the visual experience fresh and interesting. Thompson has gone for a straightforward, simple layout, because it doesn't have to be complex and convoluted. Her color choice of muted colors contrasts well when the fiend becomes the focal point of the story. Cats' eyes are vibrant yellow and convey fear, tension and the unknown.

Arthur's letters dovetail nicely with Thompson's interiors. The font for the cat speech balloons fits cat speak and the all-caps, slightly italicized text sets apart the fiend's dialogue well. The caption boxes, especially during the flashback, complement the sepia tone of the panels. Arthur also differentiates Dymphna's witchcraft incantations with speech balloons that look like they are flames – they are outlined with thin red line and yellow interior.

The one-shot issue concludes with “Speak! Speak! Good Boy!” letters to the creators. The answers that Dorkin provides are enlightening, particularly with regards to the appropriate age for readership and the successful portrayal of talking animals that doesn't come off as goofy. As mentioned earlier in this review, Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In is a good entry point for potential readers, because it is a standalone story, but with cues that loop in important facts to help new readers grasp the ongoing character dynamics with ease. This issue will also be a welcomed new story for devoted fans of the series.

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