The Comic Book Club: Night Animals and Batman Inc.

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Evan Narcisse, Graeme McMillan and Douglas Wolk talk about Brecht Evens’ Night Animals and the third issue of Batman Inc.

EVAN: I didn’t know anything about Night Animals when Douglas suggested it, except that he described it as a not-for-kids take on Where The Wild Things Are. After reading it, it seems serendipitous that it came out during Mardi Gras week. Both the wordless stories are about the depths–literally for the first one–that libido will take a person to, and the mishaps that happen on the road to what we think we want. The book’s chockablock with visual puns, starting with the subtitle (“A Diptych about What Rushes through the Bushes”) and the frontispiece image of a beaver/woman hybrid.

DOUGLAS: The only things I’ve seen by Evens are this and The Wrong Place, the graphic novel that Drawn & Quarterly published a few months ago, but they’re both fantastic. I love his sense of color and wit, and the way his stories always end up going places where they don’t look like they’re going. Since my brain is wired for This Thing Is Like That Other Thing, I kept seeing riffs on Where The Wild Things Are all over the book: the bunny-suit guy in “Blind Date” is Max in his wolf suit, the dance with the beasts in “Bad Friends” is the Wild Rumpus, the shift back to the bedroom and then the outdoor scene mirrors Max’s bedroom and the final image of leaves in Sendak’s book. But, of course, there’s a lot more going on here too. (Also, I could have sworn the woman’s pose on the cover–that link’s NSFW, by the way–was from some Sendak thing or other, but now I can’t figure out what.)

(More on TIME.com: Weekly Comics Column: “The Wrong Place” and “Hewligan’s Haircut”)

EVAN: “Blind Date” struck me as the weirder of the two stories, unfolding like a wet dream from a furry-obsessed Craigslist personals ad. Maybe it’s the video game critic in me, but the glowing arrows were a great device to let the reader know that they’d be leaving reality far behind. (And, no, the bunny suit was not enough. Rabbit Guy could’ve been going to a cosplay convention.) The puns in the book serve as jokey signifiers, like the demon reading Michel Houllebecq in the sewer. Two pages later, there’s Ahab lashed to Moby Dick in the background and you’re thinking, “Man, this ain’t gonna end well for Rabbit Guy, huh?” (And is it too pretentious to see a connection to Updike’s perpetually horny Rabbit novels? It feels like Evens is channeling Gaugin for a few panels in “Blind Date,” too.) By the time you reach the freaky giant hare near the end, and that last fateful arrow, you’re bracing yourself for something truly transgressive to happen.

DOUGLAS: …And, of course, it ends up being a much sweeter and funnier punch line than you’d have guessed any time before the last couple of pages. I love the premise, which boils down to “you actually can get the particular weird thing you want, it’s just that it’s not necessarily going to be easy to get to it,” and I love all the visual gags: the descent through the bathroom of a creepy bar (and hey, bunny-boy seems to have dropped the flower that turns up again at the end of the book), the cloacal “tunnel of love,” the sweetheart vulture family, the humping bunnies. Evens’ linework is wonderful–the expressions on bunny-boy’s face when he meets the entity he thinks is his mystery date are priceless–but his coloring is even better, giving each scene a different tone with just the choice of a single shade.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: DCU Online Legends and Scenes from an Impending Marriage)

GRAEME: I will just add to the love above. This is a great story, and it’s all about the execution more than the essentially meaningless plot. Evens’ art is beautiful; I see the shout-outs you both mention above, but also see something older as an influence, old woodcuts or something similar, especially in the forest scene. There’s some Ronald Searle in there, too. I love that the art is so full of… not exactly in-jokes, but details that serve no purpose other than adding to the depth of the world. There’s detail here that’s just beautiful and impressive, and the lovely color work really brings it alive even further. I wasn’t sure where this was going when I started, but somewhere along the way, I started enjoying the experience so much that I stopped caring about the destination.

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