Nerd Culture

6 Anthropomorphic Comics to Remind You We're All Animals

Few cartoonists can depict violence and action sequence without glorifying gore like Sakai.
Few cartoonists can depict violence and action sequence without glorifying gore like Sakai. Art by Stan Sakai/Courtesy of Dark Horse
click to enlarge The aesthetic and art direction reeks of 1950s film noir. - ART BY JUANJO GUARNIDO/COURTESY OF DARK HORSE
The aesthetic and art direction reeks of 1950s film noir.
Art by Juanjo Guarnido/Courtesy of Dark Horse
Applying human attributes to animals and objects is not new or revolutionary in storytelling, but anthropomorphizing characters can be a strength. Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are testaments to the tactic. But these famous examples tend to be for children. What about the adults?

While the film Sausage Party showed there are audiences willing to consume such stories, comic books have been ahead of that curve for decades. Here are a few of our favorite stories featuring anthropomorphic characters to help us connect with the animals inside every one of us.

Blacksad
Juan Díaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido
Dark Horse Comics

If a Disney animator made noir, it would be Blacksad. And actually, that’s exactly what Blacksad is.

Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido teamed up to make an anthropomorphic noir tale about a black cat set in the 1950s United States. Canales and Guarnido both worked in animation, and Guarnido even worked for Walt Disney Animation before creating the series with his partner.


Blacksad is the main character, solving mysteries and meeting femmes fatales with hidden agendas. Characters are rendered as animals, the species often playing into their professions and mannerisms. Dogs are loyal and/or mean, cats can be aloof or precise, reptiles are cunning or deceptive, et cetera. Their fur and skin colors often play up racial stereotypes, as Blacksad often faces discrimination both for being a cat and for his black coat.

The mysteries are strong, drawing inspiration from Steve McQueen and Humphrey Bogart’s best films. Each volume is in Spanish, but Dark Horse Comics has released a few English translations. Their latest translated installment, Amarillo, features Blacksad traveling through middle America, where he runs into analogs of the beatnik scene including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Beautifully rendered, painfully heartbreaking, and deftly characterized, each Blacksad volume is a worthy addition to any collection.

click to enlarge Since November 2015, Monstress maintains a position among the best creator-owned comics currently hitting comic shops. - ART BY SANA TAKEDA/COURTESY OF IMAGE
Since November 2015, Monstress maintains a position among the best creator-owned comics currently hitting comic shops.
Art by Sana Takeda/Courtesy of Image
Monstress
Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
Image Comics

One of the best new comics of 2016, the Eisner-nominated series by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda is critically acclaimed for good reason. The linework is elegant, the colors are gorgeous, and the story weaves topical and relevant real-world issues in with an imaginative concept in a way that renders the story revered in the fantasy genre.

One of the best-reviewed and best-selling comics of 2016 (the first issue sold out of multiple printings at comic shops), Monstress chronicles the story of a young woman exploring her past — as well as her connection to the monster inside of her. Writer Marjorie Liu explores racism through the lens of her own experience of an Asian-American in the context of identity and heritage, creating a story with Sana Takeda that is wholly unique.

The story, set in a matriarchal society with female main characters, keeps women in focus. Maika, the focus of the series, is a former slave who harbors a monster within her. Other nefarious factions, struggling against each other, learn of Maika’s struggle and wish to control the monster for their own purposes, propelling her through her own epic journey to learn about herself and her mysterious mother.

click to enlarge Ghüs: Your favorite character since Lying Cat. - ART BY FIONA STAPLES/COURTESY OF IMAGE
Ghüs: Your favorite character since Lying Cat.
Art by Fiona Staples/Courtesy of Image
Saga
Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Image Comics

Everyone knows Saga by now. Fiona Staples' striking visuals combine effortless linework, simple layouts, and breathtaking colors to render a fantastic sci-fi tale on par with the Star Wars saga. And Brian K. Vaughan knocks each issue out of the park, deftly weaving in new characters into the story of Hazel and her parents, Marko and Alana.

Born on a warring planet and its moon, respectively, Marko and Alana met in a prison where one was a guard and the other a prisoner of war. Their species typically hate each other, but love at first sight struck hard. The story begins with the couple on the lam, hiding in a literal grease monkey’s garage, where Alana gives birth to their daughter. A grown-up version of Hazel narrates each issue’s events.

The story includes many unforgettable anthropomorphic characters, including the fan favorite Lying Cat who only says the phrase “LYING” whenever a character, uh, ahem, lies. Then there’s Ghüs, the adorable humanoid seal in overalls, willing to defend his friends with his trusty battle ax. Both became loved after their first appearances and earned more time in the book. And that’s one of Saga’s best traits: how the creators engage with fan response and reward them for their enthusiasm, even if they occasionally break a few hearts along the way.

Read on for more anthropomorphic comics you should pick up.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joseph Schmidt
Contact: Joseph Schmidt