November 5, 2013

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Monkeybrain on the Brain: Aesop's Ark

When Monkeybrain debuted in July 2012, I took a little time to feature a review on each of the debut titles, which I called "Monkeybrain on the Brain." Now it's home to Eisner winners and creators ranging from Kurt Busiek to Jen and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the line.

Over the course of November, I'll be featuring different Monkeybrain titles, both new and old. You can find them under the Monkeybrain tag, which includes links back to the ones I did initially.

Written by J. Torres
Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer

One of the original Monkeybrain titles, I reviewed issue one here. The concept behind this one is that the animals on Noah's Ark interacted frequently and told stories to help pass the time as they sailed along in an uneasy truce. In each issue, we have a framing sequence featuring the creatures on the Ark, with a fable related to the frame in-between.

As with the legends and stories of old Torres looks to impart a moral into the proceedings for each issue. Issue one's story was about sharing burdens and setting up the premise of the series. For issue two, Torres moves into the idea of trust, and in the third issue, we learn about the concept of how everyone, no matter their outward appearance, is important to the balance of life.

It's really amazing work, with Torres striking just the right balance between imparting a message to the reader and coming off as preachy. Working with an eye towards a younger audience, Torres is careful not to let his values wreck the story. There's a reason why the oral legends we still tell today have made it down to us through the centuries--they're good stories with a lesson attached. Aesop's Ark carries on in that same tradition.

Torres' dialogue is extremely strong in these stories, with the characters feeling very human while retaining their essence as animals. We know snakes are traditionally tempers, and in the third issue, he uses that to try to get a chipmunk to do the wrong thing in order to justify his own lusting for the other creatures. Little touches like that are what make this series so enjoyable, as Torres reaches deep into traditional narratives but gives them his own touch.

Matching him stride for stride is artist Jennifer L. Meyer. One of the things that gives this series such a distinctive look is the decision not to process or color her pencils for the scenes on the Ark itself.

As you can see from the page at right, we get the raw look, complete with the occasional stray pencil line if you look closely enough to enjoy the rich detailing. Since this is a digital comic, I encourage you to go into panel view and take the time to linger on Meyer's art after you've read the story. You'll find details you didn't know were there making these drawings even more impressive than they are at first glance.

Meyer's equally beautiful when her lines are given color, as we see in the "story" sequences. (And how cool is it that this series changed up the style yet used the same artist for those moments?) The color choices are excellent, staying generally muted but still vibrant enough to strike a different tone. These sections are short, but they show Meyer's ability to use color to tell a different kind of story than just with her raw pencils.

The best part of the art, however, is how well Meyer links the illustrations to Torres' script. In issue two, she makes the Owl incredulous just as Torres ramps up his dialogue. The Snake twines itself around the Chupmunk, twisting it about visually even as its words do the same for its mind. The two creators are in perfect sync, making for an adventure that is a pleasure to read and feels far longer than its 13 pages per issue.

Designed for all ages, Aesop's Ark is a great comic that encourages you to listen and learn, as the title page notes. I liked this one a lot when I first read it, and the following issues have just increased my enjoyment. My only complaint, in fact, is that we've not seen a new issue in a long time. Even if we don't get more, this is a comic that comes highly recommended.