It was just another Thursday evening at the office. I had come off of a heavy case investigating an old TV show for Culture and was hoping for a night to myself. That’s when I heard the ring of the conference call. My editor. I let the program ring five times, one for each hour the job had pulled from me. After pouring a drink of Diet Coke, I hit “Accept.”

She entered my office, looking just as tired as my own face in the upper screen. “I know it’s late, Jeremiah,” she said, “but I got a hot one for you.” I nodded at the screen and took a sip of my Diet Coke.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, slipping me the electronic folder. “It’s all in there. Names, issues, and press pictures. You know the drill by now.” Of course I did. You work one job in this business, and you work ‘em all for the end of time. Didn’t matter who drew the pictures or wrote the words: the game was all the same.

I clicked it open. It said ANIMAL NOIR, written by Izar Lunacek and Nejc Juren — drawn by Lunacek, too. Four issues, tied up neat in a bow for trade publication this Wednesday, September 27th. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll take it.”

They say an intern doesn’t choose his work — the work chooses him. I’d come to live those words for the next 48 hours as I slipped into the soot-soaked alleys of the animal world just inside the pages of that book.

READ: Like stories about sentient animals? Read our analysis of cultural reactions between humans and animals in ANIMOSITY!

ANIMAL NOIR Is Film Noir Within An Animal World

ANIMAL NOIR is exactly what the title suggests: film noir in a world of anthropomorphized animals. In Serengeti City, a society of carnivores and herbivores coexist as business partners and citizens. And rather than espousing the Garden-of-Eden-like features of the town, we see its seedy underbelly. We follow Manny Diamond, a former police officer turned Private Eye (and also a giraffe), who takes a job from his Uncle Theo, a respected “’raff” judge in the city.

ANIMAL NOIR
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

Uncle Theo has a problem. His wife, a gazelle, once acted in the prey fantasy industry — otherwise known as hunt porn — and now one of her more famous reels has gone missing. Not only that, but all of the other reels at the hippo mobster-run Deluxe Cinema are missing too. Because Uncle Theo is an honest judge trying a few of the “hips” who run the city, he wants Manny to track down the reel before it can be used against him.

What follows is Manny’s pursuit of the truth behind the missing reels. He talks with the hippo mobster, Mr. Shasha, cavorts with a revolutionary gazelle, and overall gets himself in thick up to his fedora. Which is saying a lot because he’s a giraffe.

READ: Looking for more film noir adventures? Read our review of SPENCER AND LOCKE #1!

The first three issues of the trade follow the case of the missing reels; the last serves as an epilogue to what you read. Put together the plot has what it needs — good stakes, a few twists, and a reveal to show how powerless Manny is to do anything in the city. For that reason, ANIMAL NOIR presents a perfectly competent film noir theme — pessimistic and cynical as all-get-out.

The Characters Know Their Complex World, But It May Lose Readers

As noir, there aren’t any surprises in the archetypes that appear, but Lunacek and Juren write each character in ways that feel fresh and distinct. For instance, our hero Manny is a jerk. The mob boss, Mr. Shasha, is powerful but harried. Cops and contacts all act with clear morals, good or bad. For that, ANIMAL NOIR does a good job.

READ: Want to learn a little bit more about the switch from film noir to neo noir? 

One weakness of the comic, however, is just how enmeshed the characters are in jargon and history of Serengeti City itself. Although multiple re-reads of the comic finally gave me an idea of what was going on, things were confusing the first time around. While there is something to be said for immersion — that is, characters speaking in the slang of the city and not talking about much in the past — in order to work, there need to be enough pivot points from real life for an audience to follow the action.

Even still, once I understood the city — once I knew the difference between stripes, hips, raffs, and even Zebus — it made sense. In conclusion, there’s a lot in this world worth exploring, and I look forward to seeing where the creators go if the story continues.

The Art Sinks You Deeper Into The Miasma Of The City

The art in ANIMAL NOIR is an acquired taste. It’s extremely stylized and cartoony. Given the subject matter of the story, I could see that turning off potential readers. It’s a little weird to see monkeys in flagrante delicto in one of the supplement panels towards the end.

Yet despite that, I can’t imagine Izar Lunacek drawing the book in any other way. In cartoony styles, the artist has to choose what to draw, and I love the details that show up. I love the way Manny wears his hat, the way Mr. Shasha walks under his girth — even the way that the carnivores tear into meat. I love the cigarette and cigar smoke — snaking clouds of filth the characters practically bathe in, giving the whole book a haze of vice.

READ: Want to see how other artists handle noir? Here’s a list of 5 comics from 2016 you should check out!

And the colors — that’s really what brings the tone of the story together. It’s bright when characters are forthright and dark when Manny sneaks around. The eyes of the animals turn red when they get angry, herbivore and carnivore alike.

ANIMAL NOIR
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

The art matches the story and gives the city life. Whether or not it looks “normal” doesn’t matter much.

Final Thoughts on ANIMAL NOIR TPB

Finishing ANIMAL NOIR left me feeling grimy and gross — a little worse for wear and disappointed at the state of the world while feeling powerless to affect it.

That was reflected no better in ANIMAL NOIR than in the central issue of the porn industry. Rather than using the topic as sensational bait for readers, the characters involved in the industry discuss and share their feelings on the taboo. Do they offer suggestions for improvement? No, but they discuss why the actors do it and why they feel stuck with the work in the first place. This reflects maturity on the part of the creators. Given that this is a story about cartoon animals, it came off as a pleasant surprise.

ANIMAL NOIR
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

READ: ANIMAL NOIR has an interesting take on eating meat. Here’s more about vegetarianism and meat in comics!

In the end, ANIMAL NOIR came across with a very strong theme and felt like film noir. Is that for everyone? No — and I don’t think the creators expect it to be.

If anything I’ve written intrigues you, check out ANIMAL NOIR. As for me, I’ll be taking a long walk in my trench coat and fedora and then watch one of my favorite films.

ANIMAL NOIR TPB by Izar Lunacek and Nejc Juren
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
A cynical tale of forbidden desires that the herbivores and carnivores want to forget.
73 %
Noir with Animals Mostly Works

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