ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

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   Welcome to the “Patten’s reviews” wing of the Anthro Library! Since this is a collection of columns from a dormant (if not dead) furzine called YARF!, a word of explanation might be helpful: In its day, YARF! (aka ‘The Journal of Applied Anthropomorphics’) was perhaps the best-known—and best in quality—of furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!’s roster of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zine’s readers could expect to enjoy work by the likes of Monika Livingstone, Watts Martin, Ken Pick, and Terrie Smith; furry comic strips such as Mark Stanley’s Freefall and Fred Patten’s reviews of furry books and comics.
   Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We can’t say whether YARF! will ever rise again… but at least we can prevent its reviews from falling into disremembered oblivion. And so, with the active cooperation of Mr. Patten, Anthro is proud to present Mr. Patten’s review columns—including the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.

Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, we’ve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellers—, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powell’s Bookstore—now has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.

by issue
by title

YARF! logo
#53 / May 1998

Title: Great Apes
Author: Will Self

Publisher: Bloomsbury (London), May 1997
ISBN: 0-7475-2987-6
xi + 404 pages, £15.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Publisher: Grove Press (NYC), Sep 1997
ISBN: 0-8021-1617-5
xi + 404 pages, $24.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   If this literary psychedelic satire had been published entre nous, there would probably be panic that it would get all Furry fandom censored as perverts and degenerates. As a mainstream novel, it has won critical acclaim from The Times Literary Supplement (London), The Observer (London), The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and the rest of the intellectual establishment for its savage putdown of humanity.
   Simon Dykes, a successful London avant garde artist, is undergoing an emotional crisis. His wife has divorced him, taking their children. He is consciously worried about losing his perspective, his artistic insight. Unconsciously, his work has been growing apocalyptically melancholy to an extent that is worrying his acquaintances. Dykes mechanically slogs his way through the arty-farty artistes’ community:

   Drugs, he sighed, drugs. Which drugs? The crap London barroom cocaine that managements turned a blind eye to the sale of, knowing that the only effect it had on its snorters was to make them buy more marked-up booze? Yeah, definitely some of that. He could already picture himself chopping and crushing, crammed into some dwarfish toilet stall. And he could already see how it would end up, Sarah and he fucking with the dismal end-of-the-world feel that the crap cocaine imparted. Like two skeletons copulating in a wardrobe, their bones chafing and stridulating. (pg. 9)

   After an evening of intense depression and chemical experimentation, Simon wakes up in a world in which everyone has turned into chimpanzees. He freaks out and is incarcerated in the emergency psychiatric ward at Charing Cross Hospital.
   The camera pulls back, as it were, and the world is populated by chimpanzees—not anthropomorphized as much as intelligent. Self has educated himself in detail on chimp social behavior, and he has redesigned civilization in its image. The main viewpoint of this chimpunified society is that of Dr. Zack Busner, clinical psychologist, medical doctor, radical psychoanalyst, anti-psychiatrist, maverick anxiolytic drug researcher and former television personality (pg. 28), the prestigious author of such best-selling books on psychoses and neurology as The Chimp Who Mated an Armchair. (Self is obviously pastiching Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of the famous mid-’80s pop-psych The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.) Busner is called in as a consultant by the puzzled Charing Cross staff, who have never encountered a fixation like Simon’s: although clearly a chimp like themselves, he insists that he is a human and behaves as one might if humans were intelligent, acting out his delusion consistently down to the subconscious and instinctual level. Busner is intrigued—Simon’s dramatic pathology could lead to a new armchair psychological best-seller—and he adopts Simon as his personal patient.
   The reader observes this new world by following Busner and his medical colleagues at some length before the story returns to Simon. London is still London, but it has been redesigned for the smaller simian bodies. Dialogue is primarily translated hand-signs, with simian vocalizations inserted. The chimps wear clothing only above the waist, so they can proudly display their genitalia and engage in casual matings and groomings in the streets.

   The two chimps met in the middle of the asphalt apron at the crest of the hill and fell on each other’s necks with loud grunts, bestowing sloppy kisses on eyes, nasal bridges and mouths. They then settled down to groom. Wiltshire seemed to have an awful lot of sawdust in his armpit fur, Busner was trying to get the stuff out—while inparting tenderness—but finding it pernickety work, when Wiltshire pulled away and signed, ‘Let me get a “huh-huh-huh” good look at you, old chimp. I haven’t had my fingers in your fur for what… must be more than six months now—’ (pg. 87)

   Simon is convinced that he is human and that he has gone mad, seeing everyone turned into chimps. But since the story presents a panorama of a chimpunified London that is far more extensive than Simon’s viewpoint, the reader is deliberately left confused. Is Simon crazy? Has the unique blend of alcohol and drugs that he took projected his mind into an alternate world? And what will happen to him? Will he remain in a padded cell for the rest of his life? Will he return to the human world? Or, with Busner’s guidance, will he be ‘cured’ and released to blend into chimp society?
   The novel starts in the human world, and does not become totally chimpunified until Chapter 6. By midway through the book, the reader has become used to a society in which male friends fondle each other’s genitals in public; strangers casually fuck in elevators or during Underground commutes; parents who do not sexually caress their young children are considered guilty of emotional child abuse (not showing them sufficient love); and executives demonstrate their corporate dominance by dashing about their offices screaming, urinating, slapping and throwing shit at their underlings. Yet these gross activities are performed in an atmosphere of blasé rationality by sophisticated intellectuals.
   Self has taken a step beyond the usual anthropomorphized world peopled with funny animals acting in a totally human manner. He has created a radical culture that is simultaneously anthropomorphized and animalized; that is both shocking and almost boringly commonplace. The London Times compares Self’s vigorously raunchy satire to the style of the more outrageous standup comedians. “There is a Swiftian energy to Self’s scatology,” says The Independent. That’s true… Great Apes is not completely unique, then. Simon Dykes is to some extent following in the footsteps of Lemuel Gulliver through the Country of the Houyhnhnms.

Three four cartoon-art novels:

Cover of Item 2
Title: Harum Scarum (The Spiffy Adventures of McConey #1)
Author: Lewis Trondheim
Kim Thompson, editor & translator
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), Dec 1997
ISBN: 1-56097-288-2
48 pages, $10.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: The Hoodoodad (The Spiffy Adventures of McConey #2)
Author: Lewis Trondheim
Kim Thompson, editor & translator
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), Jul 1998
ISBN: 1-56097-338-2
48 pages, $10.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The McConey series may be hard to track down, but it is worth the effort. These wittily hilarious adventures should not be missed. They are American editions of French bande dessinée albums, published in the same high-quality format as the original albums. Unfortunately, American editions of French comic-art novels tend not to sell (Tintin and Asterix being notable exceptions). Attempts to bring popular, long-running series to America usually only get out two or three volumes before their publishers give up. So go out and order these McConey albums at your local comics shop right away; firstly, so you won’t miss them in case your shop doesn’t regularly carry odd items like the European-format albums, and secondly, because sales now will help Fantagraphics to continue publishing the series.
   Harum Scarum is set in a funny-animal generic large French city, which could be Paris in the 1930s. A rabbit (McConey, a medical student), dog (Inspector Ruffhaus, a plainclothes policeman), and cat (an unnamed tabloid journalist) are fleeing in panic from a tenement apartment from which horrific roars are heard. The apartment belongs to Martin Walter, a scientist who has discovered how to turn rodents into giant monsters. Both the government and two rival gangs of foreign spies want the formula, and also intend to kill our Odd Trio as inconvenient witnesses.
   Harum Scarum is a comedy-thriller along the lines of movies like Danny Kaye’s classic Knock on Wood, the most recent of which is probably Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little. The snappy dialogue could be taken from any Rocky and Bullwinkle adventure, but the situation is more ominous and the villains are more cruelly menacing than Boris and Natasha. The rabbit is a non-involved college student who just wants to get out of this mess in one piece (“The minute I walk through this door, I ain’t seen nuthin’, I ain’t heard nuthin’.”); the cat is a gonzo extrovert who dreams of getting a front-page scoop (“‘The Monster on the Fourth Floor’… No… I need more of a grabber… ‘The Hideous Monster of Terror!’ Naw… Gotta preserve that urban angle. Wait! Got it! ‘The Hideous Monster of Terror on the Fourth Floor’!”); and the dog is a not very bright but, er, dogged detective who is determined to do his job honestly despite his superiors’ heavy-handed attempts at cover-ups.
   The setup in The Hoodoodad is markedly different. ‘Paris’ has become 1990s current. The rabbit (still McConey), cat (Richie), and dog (Doug) are now three middle-class bachelor drinking buddies. McConey is the levelheaded member of the trio; Doug is playing around (he’s just learned that he has an 8-month-old daughter by a former girl friend; he shrugs it off as no big deal); and Richie is even more frenetic (the sort who is easily convinced that he is a flying saucer abductee). Early on, five whole pages are spent just showing an evening dinner and Scrabble game at Doug’s apartment. Trondheim’s sharp dialogue keeps what could have been a boring scene amusing, and the subtle establishment of the personalities is important. (Richie: “Hey! How ’bout we play Scrubble instead—dirty words only?”)
   The following synopsis should have a spoiler warning, although the story’s merit lies in how it is told rather than the plot itself. McConey accepts an ‘ancient cursed pebble’ from a crazed bum to keep him from committing suicide over it. Richie laughs, until he gets a couple of bruises, is chewed out by the police for goofing off in public, and can’t find his dictionary.

   “Say… what if I ended up with your curse?”
   “Yeah, right… Point A: There’s no such thing as a curse. Point B: I was the one who accepted the stone…”
   “I know, but Point C: The cops stopped me, I got hurt twice in the same spot, and I couldn’t find my dictionary—coincidence or something more?”

   The cat grows increasingly hysterical as his ‘ominous bad luck’ imperceptibly builds up. His pals shrug it off as just Richie being Richie, until they realize that the weirdness has become too blatant to be ignored or explained away. By this time the cat is practically a basket case from trying to convince them that he’s not imagining it this time; it’s REALLY REAL!! Okay—so how do you exorcise a genuine hoodoo?
   A biographical profile, Short Road, Many Turns: Lewis Trondheim, by Bart Beaty in The Comics Journal #201 (also published by Fantagraphics), January 1998, pgs. 27-33 is illuminating in describing Trondheim’s career and his McConey series. Trondheim treats his funny-animal cast as actors. Their personalities remain basically the same, but there is little or no continuity between the four albums produced so far. (One is a Western.) Fantagraphics is publishing them out of order, because the self-taught Trondheim is an artistic perfectionist who cannot bear to let the public see anything besides his most recent work. He insists on redrawing his first albums rather than allowing them to be reprinted, even though the oldest was originally published as recently as 1993. The art is colored by Brigitte Findakly, Trondheim’s wife, who “us[es] a palette composed primarily of dirty browns” and similar earth/grime colors which “evoke a naturalistic sense of color that acts as a counterpoint to Trondheim’s simpler anthropomorphic characters and deliberately spare drawing style.” Beaty does not need to define Trondheim’s art style since the article’s sample panels speak for themselves; but it is roughly similar to Sergio Aragones’ or Harvey Kurtzman’s rather than Disney-cute. (Primitive? Stylistic? It’s an art critic’s call.) Beaty approves the quality of Kim Thompson’s translation, although he criticizes Thompson for taking extreme liberties in Americanizing idioms and jokes. The protagonist’s name is really Lapinot rather than McConey, and the series is Les formidables aventures de Lapinot. (One would have to look hard to find any dictionary that would translate ‘formidable’ as ‘spiffy’ rather than ‘tremendous, terrific,’ but the stretch to trendy, less elegant synonyms like ‘groovy’ or ‘bitchin’’ is clearly there.) Dialogue references to such American pop-culture icons as Fred Astaire, the I Dream of Jeannie TV series, and Cap’n Crunch cereal do seem a bit jarring in the artistic context of such a French setting. But this approach doubtlessly keeps both the brisk humorous pace and the common touch much more successfully for American readers than would a more intellectual translation retaining the proper French names.
   If you cannot get these through your local comics shop, order them directly from Fantagraphics Books at 7563 Lake City Way, N.E., Seattle, WA 98115; (206) 524-1967.

Title: Xanadu: Across Diamond Seas (Xanadu #2)
Author: Vicky Wyman
Publisher: LX, Ltd. (Granada Hills, CA), Jan 1998
ISBN: 0-9662574-0-5
136 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the compilation of Wyman’s second Xanadu five-issue mini-series (inked by Monika Livingstone) published by MU Press during 1994; the companion volume to Xanadu: Thief of Hearts, published by MU in December 1993. The two will make an attractive matched set in any fan’s bookshelf.
   Vicky Wyman created Xanadu a decade ago to bring swashbuckling romance to the genre of anthropomorphic comics. This world is divided into three social classes: the hereditary ruling magic-working nobility (mythological and practically immortal animals such as unicorns, dragons, griffins and pegasi); a middle class of freeborn merchants and soldiers (wild animals such as lions, bears, foxes and wolves); and the lower-class domestique servants (cats, dogs, the standard barnyard livestock). There are two empires: Xanadu, modelled upon Renaissance Europe, ruled by the young unicorn Empress Alicia since the death of her father Allynrud three years earlier; and the Golden Realm, modelled upon feudal Japan, ruled by the wise Queen Mother of the Golden Dragons. During Allynrud’s long reign the two empires did not associate much beyond the exchange of proper diplomatic formalities. But Alicia, young and enthusiastic, wants to shake up the old order. She shocks her court in Thief of Hearts by socializing with the lower classes, and starts establishing closer relations with the Golden Empire.
   Across Diamond Seas is a direct sequel to Thief of Hearts. The adventure stands on its own, but the reader is expected to be familiar with the main characters and their relationships. The Golden Realm sends Empress Alicia an invitation to attend the celebrations for Queen Mother Joo-sama’s Golden Millennium. To accept the invitation and personally visit the court of Oriental dragons seems like an excellent next step to Alicia. She selects an escort consisting of Fatima, her lady-in-waiting (fox); Fatima’s lover, Tabbé le Fauve (cat); Tabbé’s friend Jonathan (mule), and Kinomon, a young dragon guard from the Golden Empire, to accompany her on the long sea voyage.
   The Xanadan court’s unfamiliarity with the Orient and the Southern Seas route there is the excuse to introduce both them and the reader to exotic new lands and perils. There are vicious pirates, and fierce but honorable aboriginal seafarers who are funny-animal dinosaurs. The real danger, however, comes from this world’s rarest but most magically-powerful nobles, the kyryn.
   These hermit-like wizards usually lead a solitary, monastic life. But Tzu Kai and Tzu Li, the first kyryn born in centuries, are adolescents bored with nobody but elders to associate with. They escape to roam the world and have some fun. When Tzu Kai spies the Xanadan galleon, he decides to make the lovely Alicia his toy, while his sister develops a crush on Kinomon. Alicia, herself young and headstrong, finds herself at the mercy of a handsome but petulant almost-god. Kinomon’s determination to remain faithful to the memory of Firepetal, his martyred fiancée, is sorely tested by Tzu Li’s magically enhanced seductiveness. Tabbé and the others must fight to rescue them before it is too late.
   Alicia, the dynamically regal unicorn, has become established as one of the most popular of the Xanadu cast in the ten years since the first comic-book issue appeared. Across Diamond Seas will please her fans by giving her a more personal and dramatic role than that of the imperious figurehead to which she was largely limited in Thief of Hearts. But the nation of Xanadu has itself emerged as a star. Fans have shown their curiosity for more information about Xanadu’s unique noble/freeborn/domestique society; what the Empire consists of beyond the Ever-Changing Palace and a couple of huts in the slums; and the cryptic allusions to such unexplained events as Emperor Allynrud’s violent death. Unfortunately, this second novel shifts the setting to almost literally uncharted waters, answering none of those questions. Readers will have to await future volumes to learn more about Xanadu’s history.
   Xanadu was first published by Steve Gallacci’s Thoughts & Images company, and this latest graphic novel is also available from there; $12.95 + $3.00 shipping to Thoughts & Images, P. O. Box 19419, Seattle, WA 98109. (But make cheques payable to LX, Ltd.)

Title: Kevin & Kell: Seen Anything Unusual?
Author: Bill Holbrook
Publisher: Online Features Syndicate (Norcross, GA), Apr 1998
140 pages, $11.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the second annual trade paperback collection of Bill Holbrook’s Internet-exclusive ‘newspaper’ comic strip. Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content, the first collection (reviewed in Yarf! #50), collected the strip from its beginning on September 4, 1995 through August 29, 1996, with a couple of omissions. Seen Anything Unusual? presents the 260 Monday-Friday strips from September 3, 1996 through September 1, 1997, plus five undated larger ‘Sunday-format’ strips.
   Kevin & Kell is a family situation-comedy set in a funny-animal community which is more beholden than most to the Law of the Jungle. The main characters are recently-remarried Kevin Dewclaw, a brawny rabbit; his wife Kell, a demure wolf; Lindesfarne, a mid-teen porcupine who is Kevin’s adopted daughter from his first marriage; Rudy, Kell’s twelve-year-old son from her first marriage; and Coney, Kevin & Kell’s year-old baby (a carnivorous rabbit). Kevin works at home as the sysop of the Online Herbivore Forum. Kell is a staff predator at Herd Thinners, Inc., a corporation of carnivores who handle necessary population control. Kevin & Kell’s mixed marriage (a herbivore and a carnivore) is highly controversial.
   The strip’s humor emphasizes the animal nature of the cast as applied to such situations as Internet sociology, mixed marriages, (step) sibling rivalry, and high school romances. Examples include the ‘corporate jungle’ office politics (literally ‘eat or be eaten’) at Herd Thinners, Inc.; Santa’s reindeer appearing on Kevin’s ‘Online Celebrity Chat’ during the Christmas season; and Rudy’s Predator Studies 102 high-school class, taught by Ms. Catherine Aura, a vulture (she doesn’t mind cleaning up after the class).
   Some of the strips feature stand-alone gags, but most present short weekly/five-strip story arcs. In addition to generic social themes and those tied to seasons or holidays, there are a few which parody topical pop-culture icons such as The X-Files.
   One of Kevin & Kell’s main attractions is its appealing characters. Most of the supporting cast who briefly appeared during the first year are back, and there are new friends and neighbors such as Ms. Aura; and Lindesfarne’s high-school beau, Fenton Fuscus (a bat—he sees her “in a different way than everyone else!” by ultrasound waves). There have been a few unlikeable characters introduced for conflict, but they tend to appear only briefly. Kevin’s stupid brother-in-law, who always tries to eat him, makes only one appearance during this year; and Kell’s abusive personnel director at Herd Thinners only lasts a week before becoming a mounted trophy head. The entire regular cast is intelligent and likeable.
   It is difficult to tell after only two years whether Kevin & Kell is a ‘real time’ strip or not. Lindesfarne and Rudy seem to maintain their same ages from 1995 through 1997, but Coney was born during the strip’s second month and she celebrates her first birthday in October 1996. It will probably take another year or two to tell whether the characters are growing older or not.
   The only complaint about these two annual collections is that each leaves out a couple of its year’s worth of Monday-Friday strips. This is apparently necessary due to the paperback format. Two strips missing from 262 is not much, but it is still annoying. Both volumes are self-published by Bill Holbrook, and can be ordered directly from him at his Online Features Syndicate, P. O. Box 931264, Norcross, Georgia 30093. Add $1.75 for postage & handling.

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