Writer: Xavier Dorison
Artist: Felix Delep
WHAT IS IT?
Animal Castle draws heavy inspiration from the classic George Orwell novel, Animal Farm. It's a story of overcoming dictatorship unarmed.
All the political allegory of Animal Farm with the charming anthropomorphic aesthetic of The Aristocats.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
President Silvio the bull lives in the Animal Castle, guarded by his very literal guard dogs. Outside, under their harsh supervision, the other animals toil. Forced to work the land and drag stones to build a tower for Silvio's concubine, they earn buttons to purchase small amounts of the food that they themselves were made to collect. After a "tough harvest season," the already meager rations must be further reduced. Upon hearing this, the animals riot. In the ugly aftermath begins a long, arduous revolution.
As the winter sets in, the animals' suffering worsens. Stretched to the breaking point, they struggle to protect their principles in unbearable conditions. This is the story of how they overcame almost impossible odds to stand up to oppression, and what came next.
Xavier Dorison manages to pay homage to a classic while updating and modifying it. There are numerous moments of beauty, poignancy and ingenuity throughout.
Felix Delep's artwork is stunning. The animals are cute and charming, yet retain so much human facial expression. That sweetness works as a double-edged sword and provides some visceral gut-punch moments.
Colors by Jessica Bodard lean heavily toward vivid, earthy tones and a watercolor-like style that pairs beautifully with the character designs and the countryside setting.
Tom Napolitano does an admirable job of lettering, managing to fit a vast amount of text on each page while keeping everything clearly legible.
The political commentary at the heart of the story is easily accessible. You don't need knowledge of politics to understand the plot or its messages.
Animal Castle succeeds as both a fable and a drama. The story itself is of equal import to the moral it imparts, and the two scaffold and support one another.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content warning: There are some depictions of graphic violence in this book, and since the characters are anthropomorphized, all of them are by animals, against animals.
Though it doesn't show a bias for a political "side," Animal Castle does concern leadership, specifically dictatorship. If politics and comics are two things you like to keep separated, bear that in mind before you pick this one up.
Don't let looks deceive you. This is a heavy book. Don't expect an uplifting story or a happy ending.
It's extremely wordy. At times there are so many big speech bubbles and panels on a single page that it feels cramped, and the gorgeous artwork is tiny and buried.
The story concerns itself entirely with life in the castle and its grounds, and the animals living there. All the character interactions serve to further that narrative. Animal Castle doesn't want to excite you, it wants to make you think, which may not be what some readers look for in a comic.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
It's not uncommon for comics to have something to say about the world we live in, but it's rare to see a book completely eschew action or fantastical ideas to focus solely on its message. That's exactly what Animal Castle does so well. So while, yes, the main protagonist, Miss Benglaore, is a talking cat, anthropomorphism is the only whimsy to be found within this story. That doesn't detract from its concentrated allegory however, but adds to it by using animals, as Animal Farm did before it, as visual metaphors. How beautiful the artwork is cannot be overstated, every character and facial expression oozes personality.
From the outset, there's a clear sense of community and camaraderie between the animals living on the castle grounds. The good nature of the characters quickly shines through and they're immediately endearing. As conditions begin to deteriorate, it's natural to be concerned for their wellbeing, and that hook is what gives the consequent events their impact.
What sets Animal Castle apart from its forebears is the way in which the animals decide to revolt. They're relentlessly idealistic, even in the face of hardships that bring them to breaking point. That unshakable optimism makes the protagonists admirable and easy to empathize with and keeps the tension high throughout the final act. The finale, too, takes a different direction to Animal Farm and is complex, true-to-life and makes us question whether the revolution was a success, a failure, or both.
Irresistibly intriguing, ceaselessly charming and morally interesting, Animal Castle is an adult fable worth reading.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel by George Orwell and Odyr
Shangri-la by Mathieu Bablet
HSE: Human Stock Exchange by Xavier Dorison and Thomas Allart
If you like the art:
Blacksad by Juan Dias Canales and Juanjo Guamido
Mamo by Sas Milledge
Hex Vet by Sam Davies
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Xavier Dorison – Writer
Screenwriter and script doctor
Has written numerous graphic novels.
Felix Delep – Artist
Making his comics debut with this work
Scant internet presence, but can be found on Facebook.
Jessica Bodard – Colorist
Tom Napolitano – Letterer
Based in New York.
Also lettering the currently running "We Have Demons" and "Grim."
Avid comics fan!
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