Do you remember what it was like to pick up the Sunday paper for a parent or older sibling? To take to them the heavy stack of black and white and ask for only one thing in return? Undoubtedly, we eventually graduated to other sections of the newspaper, but we all started by simply asking for the Funnies.
When you think about it, comics have been making you laugh for years-but now that you’re older, and are presumably after some more mature works, where do you go for a giggle? If you’re looking for an evolved art style reminiscent of the funnies you used to love, humor that’s both smart and simple and a mature approach to some truly involved storytelling-Chris Grine’s “ChickenHare: Fire in the Hole” from Dark Horse Books could be the answer.
At first glance, judging from the cover art alone, it might be easy to get the wrong impression of “ChickenHare.” The main character is a Chicken-Hare, and he looks it: chicken legs, feathers and fur, bunny ears and a rooster Mohawk-he’s pretty ridiculous.
But when I referenced the humor of the funny pages in the Sunday paper, I meant to include the variety it offered as well. It’s not all slapstick, nor are you overwhelmed with things you have to think too hard about. More over, the humor comes in spades-you’ll laugh occasionally, but it’s the epic storytelling that takes center stage. The best way to describe it is through the lens of witty characters in a serious adventure.
In fact, the wit of the characters combined with their outrageous design (besides Chicken-Hare, there is goatee toting turtle, among others) might bait you into underestimating just how mature “Fire in the Hole” is.
To be fair, the art in “Fire in the Hole” is really quite sharp. I’m not sure if it would have worked as well in color, because the black and white layout lends a certain gravity to the characters. It is almost as if the decision to deprive the pages of color was made to counter-balance the unique character design scheme.
Within its near 200 pages is the whole repertoire of what makes a hero’s journey great. You have a group of unlikely heroes to start with. ChickenHare is effective in the lead role. He manages to be heroic enough to inspire, but not so much that you can’t relate with the decisions he makes as he faces trial after trial.
Life and limb are constantly at risk-and while “Fire in the Hole” can be read by children, it certainly doesn’t underestimate them. The threat of death isn’t entirely uncommon as ChickenHare faces off against demonic hordes of war-like creatures intent on ravaging and consuming the land. There is no unnecessary censorship. When a villain makes the command to kill someone, he makes it clear he wants them dead.
Likewise, other mature themes are explored. A sort of quasi-racism is employed-a variety of creatures are enslaved and persecuted for being “half-breeds” (not hard to grasp seeing as how the titular character is a half rabbit, half chicken).
A romantic subplot also ensues between ChickenHare and another “half-breed.” It is handled with subtlety and thoughtfulness, and says a lot about taking these seemingly comedic characters as verifiable players in a story that has heart and depth.
Going into it, I knew nothing of the ChickenHare series other than the fact that the first installment was an Eisner-nominated graphic novel. Simply put, I now have to go and get my hands on every bit of ChickenHare I can find. Its pages hold a whole world of adventure and charm, humor and excitement; and I’m surprised that Hollywood hasn’t jumped on this thing for some kind of animated adaptation.