Publisher: Changeling Studios
Writer: Owen Michael Johnson
Illustrator: John Pearson
Letterer: Colin Bell
Release Date: 27th February, 2016
Ahead of its official launch on Saturday the 27th of February at Gosh London, we’ve been able to take a sneaky advance look at the third chapter of Owen Michael Johnson and John Pearson’s Beast Wagon. To say that things are getting pretty damn bizarre in Whipsnarl Zoo would be a slight understatement, and following the arachaphobe-baiting horror of the previous chapter’s conclusion, Pearson and Johnson ramp up the weirdness in a major way here as Patrick Edwards finds himself travelling into his own hallucinogenic subconscious where he meets a rather unique ‘spirit animal’.
Once again, the first thing that strikes you about this issue – right from its skin-crawling cover – is Pearson’s absolutely sublime artwork. With a somewhat scratchy approach to his character design and some truly mesmerising layout choices, there’s no denying that this book packs one hell of a visual wallop. However, for all the fantastically detailed animals and shocking sequences depicted within these pages, it’s perhaps Pearson’s colour work that really pushes Beast Wagon to the next level, with a dizzying haze of different glows and hues that provide an almost hypnotic effect as the story unfolds.
This issue also goes a long way towards making the human characters feel like more than mere props in the animal’s stories, with Patrick’s “vision quest” cementing his apparent role as the lynchpin for the events to come. His hallucinogenic journey also provides the opportunity for a neat little meta-moment where the younger Patrick pitches a somewhat familiar story idea to his grandparents, and while the delivery is a little on the nose and ever so slightly self-indulgent, it’s a smirk-raising exchange nonetheless.
There’s humour at play once again throughout this latest chapter, particularly from the darkly comic Chris Morris-meets-Johnny Morris dialogue on the part of the animals, but it always seems to be humour tinged with either a hint of tragedy or an undercurrent of anger and frustration. The overall tone is also becoming noticeably darker as the series progresses, and while there are still smiles to be had along the way, the nagging thought that this particular pressure cooker has the potential to explode at any second is never far away from the reader’s mind.
While it’s not a comfortable read at times – mostly as a result of Pearson’s increasingly surreal and disturbing artwork – it is most certainly an engaging one, with a heady blend of humour, drama and horror throughout. Yes, it’s a little unfocused right now, with a somewhat fractured narrative that almost feels more like a series of sketches than one flowing, coherent storyline, but there’s a definite sense here that things are gradually converging towards the main thrust of this particular story.
These minor niggles aside, Beast Wagon remains one of the most engaging, gripping and truly unique self published books I’ve ever come across. If it were being published by the likes of Image Comics, it would undoubtedly be a name on everyone’s lips, heralded as one of the most exciting and inventive new books in years. For the time being however, it remains a “best kept secret” kind of affair; a hidden gem that deserves to be seen by as many eyes as possible. Bold, disturbing, thought-provoking and downright hilarious, Beast Wagon is truly a breed that defies classification.
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