Night Animals (cover is probably NSFW)Written and Illustrated by Brecht EvensTop Shelf; $7.95 (Shipping in March)
When Brecht Evens describes his new work as “a walk on the Where the Wild Things Are side,” he’s not exaggerating. Night Animals contains two stories, each of which follows a normal person into a fantasy world that comments on his and her real-life situation. The second one, “Bad Friends” is especially (and intentionally) reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s most famous book, complete with homemade crown and a wild rumpus in the woods with fierce, wonderful creatures.
But the similarities end right there. Night Animals is no children’s book. From the graphic details in the visuals to the dark, oppressive themes, this is a book for grown-ups. Or – especially in the case of “Bad Friends” – well-adjusted teens at least.
The first story, “Blind Date” (this is the one we ran a preview of a couple of days ago) is about a man who puts on a bunny costume to wait for his date in the park. The story is wordless (both are), so the reader can only guess at first about what’s going on. Is the man a furry? A Donnie Darko fan? Just weird? More is revealed when no one shows up at the park. As it becomes dark, the moonlight reveals a series of luminescent arrows that the man has to follow through fantastic scenes and horrifying worlds. He has terrible encounters with creatures who become increasingly appalling, yet he keeps going, revealing more of his loneliness and desperation with each turn of the page and each obstacle he has to overcome. By the end, I was hoping hard that he’d be rewarded for his trouble and not forced to endure some awful, final torture. It’s to Evens credit that I had no idea which it would be.
Where “Blind Date” is a poem about loneliness, “Bad Friends” is a fable about growing up. Especially about girls’ growing up. And it’s effective. It’s about a young girl who gets her first period and takes a Where the Wild Things Are journey into adulthood. At first, it’s just rowdy fun, but it soon takes a turn and becomes rabid and scary. I’m not a woman and neither is Evens, but if he’s not accurately describing the way girls experience the world as they enter adulthood, he’s certainly nailed the fears parents have for their daughters during that time.
As dark as these two stories can be though, there’s a lot of creative joy in them too. I can tell that Evens had a good time drawing this book, designing all of these creatures and imagining their worlds. I can tell because it spills off every page and I had a great time exploring what he created and immersing myself in the details, even as I dreaded whatever he was going to have me encounter next.