It’s hard to pass Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden off as a simple supernatural horror comic. Sure, the cover logo features a skull and crossbones embedded inside an EC Creepy-looking tattered typeface, but Beasts of Burden is a comic that eschews the trappings of typical genre schlock.
“Lost” is the one-shot story in issue two which finds the super-sleuthing neighborhood animals of Burden Hill conjuring the spirits of lost animals for clues to help them solve the mystery of Hazel’s missing puppies.
Dorkin and Thompson’s strength lies in their ability to depict talking dogs and cats in a way that seems perfectly plausible and normal. These are talking animals that one can see oneself in. One of the joys of being an animal lover and a pet owner is how animals can quickly become an addition to a family and home. The story of Hazel and her missing puppies embodies the fear, worry and anger that we feel as humans. While some may argue that animal lovers are quick to ascribe human feelings to animals (I’m reminded of Herzog’s horrific Grizzly Man), I still believe that the love I feel for my pets is reciprocated, and like humans my cat displays a myriad of emotions.
The final panel, a large splash page that concludes “Lost” is perfect for a number of reasons. In terms of narrative, it provides closure as Hazel joins her deceased puppies. Hazel’s violent revenge a few pages earlier, where she kills the troubled neighborhood boy responsible for drowning dozens of small puppies and kittens, is rightfully unfulfilling. Blood for blood vengeance does not displace loss and heartache, a realization that Hazel and the rest of the beast of Burden Hill silently realize. This context makes the final page truly heart-wrenching as Hazel’s pain is quelled by her desire to be reunited with her puppies in death.
Thompson’s watercolor art is fantastic. The pain and horror of previous panels is now cast in a melancholy but peaceful light. The drowned puppies are there, as is a birdcage, some kittens, and the skeletal remains of other smaller animals. But there is a meditative tranquility, even in this horrific image. Hazel is lying in a comfortable position, almost as if she is nursing her deceased children. The tormented spirits have returned, and the little puppies are snuggled within their mother’s curved body, or silently drifting above her.
The dark, muted colors are contrasted with the small, brightly colored leaves and flower petals, sinking from the sunlit surface of the water. In the face of such tragedy, it is a calming image. Eliciting a spectrum of emotions, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s conclusion to Beasts of Burden issue two is a perfect panel, indeed.