Kieran Fisher reviews Beast Wagon #3…
‘An intervention is staged. A memory resurfaces. Stralti tells a joke. Patrick takes a trip. An abundance of anaesthetics and prosthetics. Things get weird.’
In the medium of comic books, originality is commonplace. Every week there are brand new titles released that manage to stand out from the rest of the pack and establish their own identity. However, then you get something like Beast Wagon, a work operating on a plane so far leftfield from its peers that it’s impossible to compare it to anything; the hallucinogenic and surreal qualities are more akin to a fever dream than a comic book experience. As the series keeps progressing, it becomes even more intriguing and impressive, as weirdness intensifies, hilarity ensues and a menacing darkness permeates in every panel at all times.
Having been nominated for an award at the British Comic Awards last year, Beast Wagon has made strides marching to the beat of its own drum. It’s a self-published series creatively competing with (and toppling) most of the big hitters, wooing both critics and audiences too much acclaim. In this issue, the humour that predominated the previous ones is still a factor, but here darker territories are explored with thought-provoking, disturbing results.
Set in the strange habitat of Whipsnarl Zoo, Beast Wagon has so recounted the bizarre musings of the animals that inhabit it. It’s the animals that have taken centre stage, with human characters portrayed as the out-of-place sorts that don’t belong in this world; through all of the surreal qualities surrounding this series, it successfully manages to craft a world where everything makes sense in a weird, twisted way. However, in this issue, the human writer Patrick is the focal point as he embarks on a drug-induced spiritual journey through his own sub consciousness, and encounters a godlike talking turtle. If you think that sounds trippy, then just wait to see what else is in store.
First and foremost, Beast Wagon is a visually striking body of work. John Pearson’s artwork is sheer sensory overload that sucks you into a nightmarish, surreal dreamscape with a hard exploitative edge. It’s mesmerising to say the least, and it leaves a series of images that will stay with many readers long after. If Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was the demon spawn of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, godfathered by Ruggero Deodato and Salvador Dali and raised on a diet of The Mighty Boosh then it might grow up to be the equivalent of the visceral experience evoked by Pearson’s artwork in Beast Wagon.
Owen Michael Johnson’s writing is diverse, oscillating between existentialism and lowbrow humour. It’s a melting pot of tones which shouldn’t blend as well as they do; yet they somehow seep into each other rather seamlessly. This issue also brings a stronger human element to proceedings, with Patrick’s quest unveiling some unexpected depth; it gives you the impression that the humans might not be caricatures after all, and will ultimately serve as essential components in the upcoming story developments later in the series.
Despite its strengths, there is an element of incoherence from time-to-time. Not so frequently that it poses any real detriment to the story, but some added focus and fat-trimming wouldn’t have gone amiss. That being said, it’s difficult to criticise work this original, ambitious and daring – which is why this series comes highly recommend. This is storytelling at its most unconventional; a series playing by its own rules, unto an island by itself in the vast sea of comic book history. If this series fulfils its potential, then we’ll have another classic on our hands.
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