Izar Lunacek and Jernej “Nejc” Juren are fresh new faces to the English-language comics market, and with “Animal Noir,” they join the list of cartoonists who use anthropomorphic characters to tell stories about the human condition. Private Investigator Immanuel “Manny” Diamond is the star of this crime story, centered, so far, on the theft of some very incriminating tapes. It’s “Zootopia” meets “8mm.”
In a world where giraffes are detectives, hippos are the kingpins of crime and zebras make up the oppressed population, things are not what they seem in this animal kingdom. Manny is just a guy trying to close his latest case quietly: his uncle, an influential judge, asked him to look into a robbery. The items stolen are tapes of “hunt porn” — prey fantasy movies where the hunt is staged and one of them possibly stars the judge’s wife in her youth. As if that weren’t enough of a potential scandal, the cops are also looking for the cache after rumors of a snuff film screening surface. Manny seizes an opportunity in his conversation with an elderly “cougar,” a lioness who used to be the equivalent of a sex worker and is familiar with the business of hunt porn.
Surprisingly, as our giraffe P.I. makes his way to the top of the underground food chain, it’s the hippos who have the world wrapped around their finger. Lunacek’s dialogue dazzles here. The conversation with head honcho Mr. Shasha is laced with menace, every other sentence threatening and polite. These scenes put pressure on our reluctant hero in a delicately paced game of verbal chess, while thickening the plot deliciously. The exchange is enough to clue in readers to the many layers of politics there are in this world, and further adds to the world-building of “Animal Noir.”
Juren’s art is the perfect complement, from layouts to character designs to color palette. The initial pages are all grungy and neon, perfect for eliciting the feel of a dark seedy part of town. It’s enough to make the reader feel transported to the street outside of the adult theater. The setting and beat are consistent in these opening scenes, keeping us all uncomfortable because something just doesn’t feel right. The interactions between the monkeys and the “little lion” are crass, but as the anxiety builds, it’s revealed to be just one more tiny piece to the puzzle of the missing tapes.
“Animal Noir” wraps up with an excerpt from the “The Modern Gazette,” an in universe publication focusing on the rise and fall of “equality” schools, the last of which was under the guidance of Harry Loveman, a lion. This backmatter deepens the hierarchy of the animal kingdom and gives us a peek at the blood tax and issues with the food supply without being heavy handed in its political nature. It’s a juicy piece of prose, and altogether garnishes this issue with one last layer of intrigue.
Joining other anthropomorphic stories like “Maus,” “Blacksad,” “Elephantmen” and “Wild’s End,” “Animal Noir” ups the ante on the parallels between animal and human. It’s a complex first issue, with the devil in the details.
“Animal Noir” #1 is on sale now from IDW Publishing.