Sing the blues, man! Sing the blues!
Arnold tells the story of a blues musician who happens to be a wolf. The story is set in the 1920s, and Arnold’s conceit is that the wolves in the story are black people, while the pigs are the white people. So the pigs dominate society and treat the wolves like second-class citizens, not unlike the social situation in the U. S. during the 1920s.
BB is a farmer by day but a guitarist/singer by night, and this book tells what happens when he comes up against the pig establishment. As we learn soon enough (and can guess even sooner) that he’s telling his story from Death Row, we know that nothing good will come of this story. One day the pigs arrive to kick him off his farm because they found a loophole that allows them to seize it, but the wolves don’t let them take it. Unsurprisingly, one night the house burns to the ground, killing BB’s wife and children. So he vows revenge upon the family that stole his land, the Littlepigs. Perhaps you can guess that there are three of them.
Arnold’s story is mildly entertaining even though we can predict pretty much everything that happens in it. He doesn’t do anything novel with the old story except with the twist that BB is the good guy and the pigs are the bad guys. We know that BB’s family is doomed. We know that BB will get some measure of revenge but will fall short. We know, at one point, who the wolf BB is supposed to dump in the river will turn out to be. Despite the fun of reading through the story, it’s a bit frustrating because Arnold does nothing remotely interesting with it. He’s a competent writer, but even the dialogue, which is where a standard story can become something more, is simply there to move the plot along.
It’s not that the writing is terrible, it’s just that it’s annoyingly predictable. Arnold took the old story and put a nifty twist on it, but didn’t do anything with it after that. It’s a shame.
It’s partly a shame because Koslowski is so damned good. Whenever you anthropomorphize animals, it’s tough to blend the faces of animals with the emotions of humans, but Koslowski does it very well. BB has a hangdog look throughout the early part of the book, when he’s being beaten down by the pigs, but when he decides to have his revenge, he becomes a ferocious wolf. It’s a nice look that might be difficult to show with a person, but with BB, it looks natural. The pigs and their henchmen, the boars, are done well, too – the pigs are fat and pampered, of course, and just a bit effete, especially when compared to the boars who do their dirty work. Koslowski does a nice job making their reactions to things animalistic – BB goes feral when confronted with the murderers of his family, the third Littlepig turns into a squealing coward when BB sends him a gruesome present – but it’s all within the context of the story, so it’s easy to go along with it. Koslowski does a nice job with the settings, as well – BB’s story begins on his farm, and we see the travails of 1920s farm living, and when BB goes on the lam, the cities he lives in are squalid and dark, reflecting his descent into a violent world.
Koslowski also shows the violence of BB’s revenge well, as it looks like you expect it to look when a wolf decides to start tearing into pigs. Koslowski has a good eye for detail and a nice, soft style that recreates the feel of the 1920s – it’s almost old-fashioned. Koslowski’s The King, which came out five years ago (and which is very good; seek it out!) featured much more cartoony art and a more solid line, and it’s interesting to see the evolution of Koslowski’s art. Koslowski likes to alter his style based on the material, and it’s kind of neat to see.
I can recommend this slightly because the story is entertaining and Arnold gets out of Koslowski’s way and lets him make the pedestrian story better than it should be. I have no problems with Arnold’s story except that it’s completely predictable, but the art is what really makes this an interesting comic.
Tomorrow: What? Someone else already beat me to a review of this comic? That shall not stand!!!!!