A review of the SLG Press mini-comic!
Credits & Solicit Info:
Stephen Coughlin's debut comic book series Sanctuary shows us that a cute and friendly exterior often houses a dark center. Coughlin's fun looking animals are as complex and dangerous as anything in comics.
One of our most basic philosophical questions asks, "What is the difference between man and beast?" Obviously there are multiple answers to this question, from the simplistic "opposable thumbs," to "developing plans that aren't immediately beneficial." [Editor's note: to be fair, gorillas have opposable thumbs on both their hands and their feet.] Sanctuary continuously establishes and blurs those lines, making for an intelligently plotted and downright witty comic.
Our story opens to a pair of gorillas being observed while they discuss what will lead to the main plot- the arrival of a new panda at the sanctuary. This brief conversation between the gorilla couple culminates in a very humorous exchange. Later, we are shown two giraffes, an enamored male and flirtatious (but taken) female. The female's mate returns, only to be taunted by the panda. After the panda insults three giraffes- including one known as Biff, who is far too physically dominating for any ruminant- we are shown a tiger cub and his lion cub friend watching surgery being performed on another animal.
It is at this point the audience is given clues that there is more going on at this sanctuary than mere captivity or species preservation. The chief doctor exposits that each animal has an exploding microchip inside of it. Obviously, the only reason any of them would need such a device is if it were a failsafe for some kind of dangerous experiment. We are then shown the results of these microchips on a hapless squirrel, which displays the cruel nature of our antagonist.
What is great about this comic is that all of the stories are character driven. Yet the characters are animals, and the audience cannot forget this- the gorillas act like gorillas, the cubs act like curious children, et cetera. As the story goes forward, it is shown that scientific experimentation is granting the animals higher and higher levels of cognitive intelligence. In doing so, the animals are shown that the trials they face are, for better or worse, a result of their underlying personalities, much like human beings. In contrast, the doctors are continuously shown as either puppets or pawns, and are completely ignorant to the true goings on of their dearly loved facility, similar to how insects are completely unaware at the world around them. [Editor's note: most insects are acutely aware of the world around them in purely sensory terms- for example, flies have 360 degree vision and a ninja-like knowledge of how to most effectively escape a swatting- but presumably this is meant philosophically.]
The artwork itself is somewhat exaggerated; however, this serves more of a benefit than a hindrance. The distorted lines and features of the characters emphasize their natures. The spiders are dark, simple and maniacal; Biff the giraffe is drawn with big lines and a villainous face; contrasting both is the tiger cub with his soft shading and a mostly white body, giving him a sense of innocence.
The dialogue is both cheeky and enjoyable. The conversations flow naturally, and there is distinct voice for each character. Unfortunately, they do tend to be slightly clichéd and, from time to time, there are mechanical and grammatical errors. Based on some of his conversations, you half expect the head doctor to be twirling a moustache and laughing maniacally anytime he is featured in a panel. It was the weakest aspect of the comic, but the flaws were not insurmountable and the story is still enjoyable.
Final verdict: indie comics are often a grab bag. More often than not you are left wanting, but this is by far not one of those cases. It was a genuinely enjoyable story, and I sincerely hope that it is continued and finalized in the coming months. It is definitely worth a read, and it won't disappoint. Two and a half stars out of four.
Review by: Dan Kester