ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If you’re on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.

   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.

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#60 / Jul 2000

Two by Paul Kidd:

Title: A Whisper of Wings
Author: Paul Kidd
Illustrator: Terrie Smith
Publisher: Vision Novels (Flushing, NY), Oct 1999
ISBN: 1-887-038-04-3
vi + 348 pages [p. 349-352 are adv’ts], $19.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Title: Fangs of K’aath
Author: Paul Kidd
Illustrator: Monika Livingstone
Publisher: United Publications (Keston, England), Apr 2000
ISBN: 0-9537847-0-3
iii + 364 pages, $17.99/£11.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   For the past fifteen years, most of the notable anthropomorphic comic books for readers older than children have been published within our own fandom. The largest of these publishers have been small presses like Shanda Fantasy Arts and MU Press, specializing in a handful of titles designed primarily for ’morph fans rather than for the general public. The smallest have been single-title publishers; a ‘company’ that consists of the cartoonist’s own comic book.
   Now these ’morph publishers are beginning to expand from comic books to ‘real literature’. Darrell Benvenuto’s Vision Entertainment Ltd. in America, which published The American Journal of Anthropomorphics and several ’morphic comic books between 1993 and 1998, has just released its first adventure novel, A Whisper of Wings. Martin Dudman’s United Publications in England, which began with the fanzine Fur Scene in 1994 and added its first comic book, Wild Side, in 1998, has now produced its first adventure novel, Fangs of K’aath.
   Not by coincidence, both novels are written by Paul Kidd, who was already penning comic-book stories for both publishers. But the novels were not written for them. They were written years earlier for mainstream publication, and were finally given to Vision and United after years of being rejected by all the major publishers in America and Britain, with comments like, “This is obviously not a story for young children, and no adult is going to read a novel with funny-animal characters. Nobody will ever buy a book like this!” (Early anime fans will find this argument sounding awfully familiar.)
   Kidd does not just write stories with animal-headed characters; he creates whole planets for them. A Whisper of Wings is set in a world of butterfly-winged foxes living in tribal societies roughly analogous to Australian aboriginal cultures, though the land is more forested than Australia’s Outback desert. But although these Kashran live close to nature, they are neither socially primitive nor cute picture-book woodland pixies. Their society is thousands of years old, and rigidly locked into stratified castes and unchangeable traditions. The Kashran possess a psychic force or aura, the Ka, which is more vital than their wing-muscles in enabling them to fly. Individuals with particularly powerful auras, and the mental strength to control them, can focus them into deadly weapons. The planet also has a world-spirit, an ecological ‘Mother Nature’ flow, which some Kashran can tap into.
   These background details are gradually introduced, described, and woven together to become important elements of the story of the mountain forest Katakanii tribe. Shadarii and Zhukora are very dissimilar sisters, daughters of the Lord of one of the tribe’s many male-dominated clans. Zhukora is a young huntress, impatient and hot-tempered, already resentful of her socially predetermined future as the subservient wife of some strutting male. Shadarii is a dreamy, ‘useless’ girl with a habit of wandering away from tasks to spend hours contemplating the beauties of nature. She is also mute, and her lack of speech plus her disinterest in the clan’s normal life have gotten her a reputation as simple-minded.
   As these and other characters are introduced and linked together, a picture forms of a world approaching catastrophe. For a thousand years, the Katakanii and neighboring tribes have lived in a complex society in a close balance with nature. The common hunters and artisans support an aristocracy of a priesthood and chieftans, who display their social status by conspicuous consumption, notably by hosting the most lavish feasts at ceremonial clan and tribal gatherings and sponsoring clan sports events. Decades of a moist climate are ending, and the mountain area is entering a dry spell. The lush environment which had permitted a Kashran population expansion is fading, but the aristocracy refuses to scale back its luxurious lifestyle.
   The ominous situation is, as with many social problems, first openly addressed by malcontents and dissatisfied youth who use it as an opportunity to rebel against tradition. Tribal leaders try to ignore complaints and to silence insistent doomcasters as troublemakers. Intertribal friendly rivalry turns into brutal competition for hunting grounds. Zhukora, who is already unhappy about many elements of the Kashran stagnant society, begins to rally her friends among the young hunters into a sports team that disguises a budding terrorist group. There is practically a separate novel in the sections describing the Kashran jiteng sport, a form of aerial soccer which evolves from ceremonial to deadly as Zhukora and her Skull-Wing team play it. Meanwhile, Shadarii’s growing affinity to the world’s lifeforce opens an unimagined psychic potential, but her low status and her disinterest in Kashran society draw her away from the growing conflict.
   When Zhukora tries to use her sister as a pawn in her plotting, a double tragedy results. One is immediate. The other is more subtle and slowly developing. The Ka is not only a psychic force for physical use, it permeates and influences the personality. The more that Zhukora concentrates on using violence to shatter the aristocracy’s rigid control before starvation overwhelms her tribe, the more she becomes determined upon the slaughter of the entire ruling structure and the conquest of the whole world to force her bloody new society upon all Kashran. The more that Shadarii withdraws from her increasingly alienated peers to commune with nature, the more she transforms into a genuine Nature Goddess and attracts a cult of worshippers who prefer to live outside of the Kashran society rather than reform it. Two sisters evolve into rival primordial forces, each powerful enough to save or to destroy a world.
   In Fangs of K’aath, Kidd switches from a world of tribal forest dwellers to the splendor of a furry Middle Eastern civilization.

   In the Kingdom of Osra, by the banks of the Amu Daja, lay the ancient capital city Sath, a tarnished jewel in a comfortable crown. The great river meandered past the city walls, fondly caressing the worn old stones, while domes and minarets lay sleepily beneath the setting sun, bleached and tired by the endless heat. … The people of Sath were a riot of clashing shapes; Jackal, Tiger, Cat and Fox, scurrying Mice and Rabbits in their slave chains. Fur and tails and endless chatter turned the crowded streets into a melting pot where all races mingled. The city was a place of tangled alleyways, of fortress walls and gaping market squares. Minarets hurtled themselves proudly up to God while the slums sank down into the dust; mosaic tiles and marble clashed with fading white wash. … For those with wealth, life was good. There were slaves and jewels, wines and luscious drugs; uncounted sensual pleasures to while away the hours. (pg. 1)

   This is the romance of Raschid (Jackal), a Prince, and Sandhri (Bat), a marketplace storyteller. Raschid is the scholarly son of the Shah of Osra’s first wife. But he is the Shah’s second son, since the Shah’s second wife gave birth first. Raschid is happy with this, since he would rather spend his time in the palace library studying, and leave the pompous glitter and backstabbing of court intrigue to his arrogant half-brother Abbas.
   Raschid meets Sandhri when he decides to go incognito among the commoners to record their old folk tales. But he is entranced by Sandhri’s new tales, tailored on the spot to fit her audience. Raschid’s attention quickly shifts to Sandhri herself; a peasant from the mountains, uneducated but obviously quick-witted, sparkling with joy and spontaneity that is so different from the haughty, stultifying court life that is all he has known. Raschid’s brief folk-tale expedition turns into regular trips to the marketplace to spend time with Sandhri, who believes that he is a student from a distant city.
   Unfortunately, Raschid is too important to avoid the court intrigue as he would like. His mother, Lady Shiraj, is constantly scheming to have him replace Abbas as Shah Marwan’s leading son and heir. Raschid’s interest in Sandhri is diverting him from her plans to promote him socially among the nobility. Abbas and his mother, Lady Farasche, have no intention of letting Raschid become a serious rival, and hurting Sandhri would be one way to hurt him. When Shah Marwan callously puts the untrained Raschid in command of a military expedition to settle a rebellion between feuding desert nobles and nomad raiders, he is forced to bring Sandhri with him to protect her. Their adventures in the desert bring them closer together, and also temper them to face their adversaries at court more effectively.
   Fangs of K’aath is the sort of Arabian Nights extravaganza popularized by Hollywood, full of exotically costumed nobles, gossamer-veiled dancing girls, scimitar-waving palace guards, crowded bazaars, a fanatic priesthood, wizened sorcerers, disguised assassins, cruel desert tribes, and more. And they are all funny animals. The royal dynasty are jackals, the Grand Vizier is a tiger, two Emirs are a cat and a fox, the harem mistress is a rabbit, and so forth. The major surprise is that the bats in this world do not have wings, and the reason that they are wingless has to do with the demon-goddess K’aath.
   (Although Fangs is just now published, it was written ten years ago. Comic-book adaptations of parts of it have previously appeared from MU Press.)
   Kidd’s worlds are described with a wealth of detail and color. He suspensefully sets up dramatic scenes—the jiteng games in Whisper; the attack of the assassins at Emir Caïd’s estate in Fangs—and fills them with dazzling action. If they had been written with human characters (or if Whisper had been written as a s-f novel set on some interstellar world with aliens that looked less like funny animals), they would doubtlessly have been published long ago. Thanks to Vision Novels and United Publications, we have the opportunity to read them at last. Buy them to enjoy a good read, to thank Vision and United for their financial gamble in publishing them (both attractively illustrated, too!), and to support the market for further anthropomorphic novels.

Title: Kevin & Kell: Run Free!
Author: Bill Holbrook
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (Thomasville, NC), Nov 1999
ISBN: 0-9660676-9-X
156 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   These reviews of the book collections of Holbrook’s Kevin & Kell online comic strip are becoming a happy routine. See Yarf! #50, #53, and #58 for the reviews of the first three volumes. This fourth ‘annual’ collection follows the third by only six months. It presents the Monday-Friday daily strips from August 31, 1998 through September 3, 1999, closing the gap between the comics’ online appearance and their collection into a book format. There is only one strip missing this time, 10/30/98; and this volume’s ‘bonus’ is six more of the full-page ‘Sunday-format’ strips in color. There is also a sampler from Plan Nine Publishing’s first collections of Holbrook’s two non-’morphic newspaper strips, Safe Havens and On the Fastrack, presenting ten of each of them.
   Hopefully all ’morph fans are familiar by now with the funny-animal world of Kevin & Kell Dewclaw, a brawny rabbit married to a demure wolf. Their family includes the two children of their first marriages (Lindesfarne, a mid-teen hedgehog who is Kevin’s adopted daughter, and Rudy, Kell’s twelve-year-old wolf son) plus Coney, Kevin & Kell’s year-old baby (a carnivorous rabbit). Other regular characters include Kell’s fellow office workers at Herd Thinners, Inc., a corporation of carnivores who handle necessary population control; Kell’s wolf parents and brother, who look down upon her for marrying a rabbit; and Lindisfarne’s and Rudy’s friends and schoolmates.
   The average story sequence does not run more than two weeks (ten strips), and many are individual gags. Events during this year’s worth include Rudy’s becoming a star on his school’s hunting team; the Dewclaws being targeted by a hate group, the Institute for Species Purity, because of their mixed-species marriage; Kell’s klutzy brother Ralph becoming an expert webmaster; Lindisfarne’s ongoing teen romance with Fenton the bat; the discovery of Kevin’s first wife’s remarriage to a skunk with 20 children; the revelation that the birds are the secret masters of the world; how the Y2K panic affects the forest animals; a Phantom Menace parody; and plenty more. If you have read the previous collections, you won’t want to miss #4. If not, they are all still available.
   All four Kevin & Kell collections have been published by Plan Nine Publishing (in fact, the company was started by a Kevin & Kell fan to make the strip available in a traditional book format for comic-strip collectors who were not on the Internet), but the first three carried Bill Holbrook’s own address and were available from him by mail order. Plan Nine Publishing has since expanded, and it is now beginning to publish the first collections of other original Internet comic strips—including such funny animal titles as D. C. Simpson’s Ozy and Millie, Thomas K. Dye’s Newshounds, and John Robey’s The Suburban Jungle. With Run Free!, Plan Nine is now marketing the Kevin & Kell collections directly. Order them from Plan Nine Publishing, 2 Salem Street, Suite 314, Thomasville, NC 27360, or via their website,

YARF! logo
#61 / Jan 2001

Two private-eye thrillers:

Title: Anonymous Rex: A Detective Story
Author: Eric Garcia
Publisher: Villard Press (NYC), Aug 1999
ISBN: 0-375-50326-9
276 pages, $23.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   You have to admire an author who can make his novel compellingly readable when it ought to be ludicrously silly. The premise of Anonymous Rex is that dinosaurs did not become extinct, but are still living in modern civilization, disguised as humans. Vincent Rubio, a seedy Los Angeles private investigator in the Sam Spade/Mike Hammer style, is really a Velociraptor in a full-body human suit. A friend of his, a L.A.P.D. detective, is a Brontosaur in disguise. A Brontosaur passing as a human? That must be a really good full-body costume!
   Unbelievable? Surely. But this book’s publisher was also the publisher of Gary Wolf’s second Roger Rabbit novel. You’ve heard of Roger Rabbit? That was also over-the-top fantastic. But it was very cleverly developed to carefully build plausible drama and suspense upon that outrageous scenario. Anonymous Rex is also that good. Those who will pretend to swallow the premise will find that it leads to a consistent, intelligent story that supports good drama.

   The Evolution Club—gotta be a dino joint, no two ways about it. We love shit like that, little in-jokes that make us feel oh-so-superior to the two-legged mammals with whom we grudgingly share dominance over the earth. My usual haunt is the Fossil Fuels Club in Santa Monica, but I’ve logged in some classically blurry early morning hours at the Dinorama, the Meteor Nightspot, and mid city’s very own Tar Pit Club, just to name a few. The last Council estimate laid the dinosaur community out at about 5 percent of the American population, but I have a hunch we own a disproportionate amount of nightclubs in this country. (pg. 28)

   Rubio is visiting a patient at a hospital:

   “I’ll have to—”
   “Announce me. I know.” Standard protocol. Ward F is a special wing, set up by dino administrators and doctors who designed it so that our kind might have a sanctuary within the confines of a working hospital. There are dino health clinics all over the country, of course, but most major hospitals contain special wards in case one of us should be brought in for emergency treatment, as Mr. Burke was last Wednesday morning.
   The official story on Ward F is that it is reserved for patients with ‘special needs,’ a scope of circumstances ranging from religious preferences to round-the-clock bedside care to standard VIP treatment. This is a broad enough definition that it makes it easy for dino administrators to classify all their nonhumans as ‘special needs’ patients, and thus move them and only them into the ward. All visitors—doctors included—must be announced to the nurses on staff (dinos in disguise, every one), ostensibly for privacy and security, but in actuality in defense against an accidental sighting. It sounds like a risky system, and every once in a while you’ll hear some dino raise the roof about the chances that we take, but the whiners never come up with a better solution than the system we have now.
(pgs. 39-40)

   Garcia does try to keep the concept from being too implausible by postulating that, in the millions of years since the dinosaurs were ‘last seen’, they have also been evolving, and they no longer are the behemoths shown in museums’ paleontological recreations (which are themselves exaggerated due to deliberately faked fossil evidence by the dinos):

   A few moments after Vallardo buzzes his receptionist, we are joined by two Brontosaurs in human guise, introduced to me as Frank and Peter. Their costumes designate them as twins, and so far as I can tell from their comparable enormity, they may very well have been actual littermates as well. The evolutionary process that shrank the rest of us dinosaurs into somewhat manageable heights—some of us too manageable—didn’t have as much an effect on Brontosaurs, resulting in their current status as the largest dinosaurs on earth. It is no wonder that so many of them play for the National Football League. (pg. 122)

   These three examples out of context may make Anonymous Rex look exposition-heavy and light on action and drama, but in context the novel moves briskly along. Once the rules of Rubio’s world have been established, the story flows smoothly:

   “Tell me something,” she says, coming closer, hot breath on my throat. “Why do you find it necessary to stir up trouble?”
   “Am I stirring? I thought it was more of a shake.”
   A pause. Will she kiss me or spit at me? Neither—the Coleophysis backs away. “You went to see Dr. Emil Vallardo, is that correct?”
   “Considering your goons picked me up outside the medical center, I’d say you know it’s correct.” Without asking permission—enough with the permission—I squat up and down, up and down, trying to get feeling back in my legs. The Coleo pays my impromptu workout no mind.
   “They’re not my goons.” Then, a moment later: “Dr. Vallardo is a twisted man, Vincent. Brilliant, but twisted. It would be better if you left him to work on his bastardization of nature by himself.”
(pg. 141)

   As that passage should hint, Anonymous Rex is more than a standard murder mystery with cute references that many of the characters are dinos in disguise. The scenario of a secret dinosaur society hidden within humanity, determined to keep its secret at all costs despite both curious humans and renegade dinos; and of characters with individualized dino-species attributes which they can take advantage of, is paramount to the case. This is a ’morphic novel in the best sense. I agree fully with whoever reviewed this book for Publishers Weekly (July 3, 1999, pg. 62): “You might not believe any of this 30 seconds after you close the covers, and at odd moments the narrative veers into shtick, but while it’s going on you’re mostly going to be dazzled by Garcia’s energy and chutzpah.”

Title: Chimera
Author: Will Shetterly
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates/Tor Books (NYC), Jun 2000
ISBN: 0-312-86630-5
285 pages, $23.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Chimera is also a tough-guy private-eye thriller set in Los Angeles, but in a decaying future America rather than the present, and featuring a real human P.I. rather than a talking animal disguised as one. Chimera is actually much closer to S. Andrew Swann’s 1993 Forests of the Night, but with a reversal of its central theme; a forbidden love between a human P.I. and his animal-woman client, rather than a tiger P.I. and a human woman.
   Descriptions of technological and social changes put the unspecified date toward the middle or last quarter of the 21st century. A Libertarian revolution has led to a privatizing and decentralization of America to the extent that the national government has become about as weak as the United Nations. The country is unofficially run by big corporations, crime lords, and whoever else can afford a powerful private police force. Nobody is interested in paying taxes for garbage collection, street repairs, or other maintenance of a large civic infrastructure, so America has largely turned into a continental slum sprinkled with pay-as-you-go privatized communities of whatever life-style their inhabitants can afford. The public puts more money into pleasure palaces like glitzy gambling casinos and sports arenas. Chimeras, bioengineered intelligent humanoid animal-people, are a new oppressed menial-labor underclass stirring toward open revolt, as in Forests of the Night; but there is still another new kind of people, the mechanicals with Artificial Intelligence. There are separate chimera and AI equal-rights movements. Many think that they should combine forces, while extremists in each group who believe in their own superiority want to maintain their independence; and it is commonly believed that ‘real humans’ who oppose equal rights for either are fomenting antagonism between the two. When terrorism breaks out, who is responsible?
   Chase Maxwell is another seedy Los Angeles private investigator, living in L.A.’s cheap Crittertown chimera ghetto (North Hollywood) only because he can’t afford anything better. He does not work for chimeras, until he takes a case for one without realizing it.

   “When you passed my office on the way back to the game, did you think of that little loan you haven’t paid back?”
   “I’m on it. The lady here brought me a big case.” I turned to acknowledge her.
   She dipped her chin graciously, and Arthur began to smile. The smile faded when Bruno
[Arthur’s Doberman bodyguard] sniffed loudly, then announced, “I don’t smell money. Just cat pee.”
   I frowned at the dogman, then at my client. Hiding an ID tat gets a chimera a minimum of two years in prison, guaranteed. Erasing the tat might get a chimera put to sleep. I couldn’t see anything on her forehead. But for all that Bruno was bred for brawn, not brains, I knew he wasn’t stupid enough to call a human a chimera if he wasn’t sure.
   Zoe Domingo leaned toward Bruno and put two fingers under his chin. “Tease a cat—” Her fingernails extended like claws unsheathing, answering any doubts anyone might’ve had. “You might get scratched.”
   Bruno sprang back with a snarl that would’ve done his grandparents proud.
(pgs. 16-17)

   Maxwell is taking a policewoman and Zoe to his apartment in Crittertown, past the dark ruins of Universal City:

   Blake glanced at her as the pert switched to the Lankershim-Vineland side rail and slowed to a stop. The door opened. Since I was closest, I stepped out first and tapped a nic stick from its pack.
   A couple of chimera kids waited on the platform. They were dressed nice, he in an iridescent red suit, she in an off-white gown. They must’ve danced until Pied Piper’s had closed. Their faces were decorated with complex black and red designs that framed their forehead IDs—the law may’ve forced one tattoo on them, but it didn’t stop them from getting more. The monkeyboy’s face was fairly furry and semi-simian—his extra tats merely emphasized that he knew what he was. The doggirl had very human features—so far as I could tell, only her eyes would have prevented her from passing. Her extra tats let everyone know she had chosen her side.
   I see kids who are passionate, arrogant, and optimistic, and I feel nostalgic. I smiled as I brought my cig to my lips. The doggirl must’ve thought I was being condescending. And maybe I was, a little bit. She scowled. The monkeyboy caught her arm. She said something dismissive about ‘skins,’ and that might’ve been the end of it.
   But the cat was next out of our pert. The doggirl saw her, then glared at me. “Fucking furry!”
(pg. 70)

   A ‘furry’ is any human who voluntarily associates with a chimera; it is commonly assumed that the human is looking for a perverted sexual thrill. (Shetterly is familiar with s-f fandom.)
   Zoe Domingo was the ward of Dr. Janna Gold, a scientist specializing in Artificial Intelligence and also a liberal supporting the chimera rights movement. When Gold is murdered, Zoe hires Maxwell to find the real killer. Both assume that Zoe has been set up as a patsy, both to save the police the trouble of looking for anyone else and because Gold was probably killed to set back the rights movement by making chimeras look dangerously feral. But robots are quickly identified as the immediate agents framing Zoe. Have they been programmed by the real villain, or are they intelligent AIs with their own agenda? Soon both Maxwell and Zoe are running for their lives. There are plenty of murders, car chases and shoot-outs; chimera urban riots; futuristic slang; and steamy interspecies bedroom scenes.
   Since the overall mood of Chimera is noir—depression, everybody-is-no-damn-good, no-good-deed-goes-unpunished—the reader is never sure whether anyone including Maxwell and Zoe are telling the truth, whether romance is real or feigned, whether there will be a happy ending or Maxwell or Zoe or both will die at the last minute. Chimera is depressing, but a genuinely suspenseful thriller with lots of surprises.

Title: Animist
Author: Eve Forward
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates/Tor Books (NYC), Jun 2000
ISBN: 0-312-86891-X
336 pages, $23.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The jacket blurb begins: Animist is the story of Alex, a recent graduate of the College of Animism. Talented but naïve in the ways of the world, Alex embarks on a quest to acquire his Anim: the animal with which he will bond for life; an animal with which he’ll share an empathic link that will allow him to detect and resist the use of magic.
   Yes, Animist is the story of Alex, but it is even more the story of the fascinating fantasy world depicted here. A Medieval European-style civilization is spread among several sentient species. Humani, Lemyri (lemurs), Rodeni, and Delphini are met in the first two chapters. One more is unexpectedly introduced later on; and the author does not say that there are no others. In some nations all species are social equals, while others are dominated by one species or another.

   The tents spread out like skirts around the trunks of the massive trees, to protect the revellers from anything dropped by the Lemyri in the branches above. They also served to concentrate the smoke and smells of the cooking fires, and the noise, and the people. Humani and Lemyri and even a few Rodeni moved from tent to tent, talking, drinking, bartering, shouting. It was Trade-Meet, a festival held to celebrate the many differing species of the Archipelago, and to encourage them to work for their mutual benefit.
   Right, thought Alex wearily, as he watched a small but spry Lemyri artisan proceed to deliver a thorough and painful beating to a Human who’d been too drunk to avoid crashing into the Lemyr’s display of dried fruits. Other Humani came into the fray, and then more Lemyri, and soon a mass brawl of fur and skin and profanity was raging in the ruins of the stall. Meanwhile, a Roden hopped cautiously up and started shoveling the spilled fruits into a sack. Maybe Trade-Meet meant something on other islands, where it was held with religious significance, but here on Highjade it was only a tradition, along with such other traditions as insults, prejudice, and blood feuds. Alex wished he’d stayed at home, at the College.
(pgs. 11-12)

   There is an even greater and more confusing variety of schools and guilds of metaphysics and knowledge; and of religions and gods. These get along about as well as the different schools of martial-arts in a Hong Kong action movie. Since arrogant priests and masters of the different schools can wield deadly force, whether by poison or true magic or calling down a petty god’s wrath, it can be a fatal error to mistake one for another.
   Alex is about to become an Animist. Animism, the spiritual bonding of a human (or other sapient) with an animal familiar, is considered the lowest of the spiritual schools. Theists were the priests of the gods, theurgists were shamans of the spirit world, and the rare and powerful thaumaturgists were true wizards and witches. In comparison to any, Animists were mere dabblers—but they served a separate and dangerous function of their own. (pg. 32) Alex has just completed his College training and must set out into the world for the first time in his adult life on his spirit quest, to find the animal who is his soul-mate, who will become his empathetic twin and enable him to communicate with other animals and gain certain other powers (which are revealed in the story). He hopes, as do all young Animists, to bond with a wolf, lion, or something equally impressive, which will lead to a prestigious position with a rich and powerful patron.
   Instead, fate takes Alex to a large island split between two feuding human kingdoms. He manages on his arrival to accidentally incur the anger of Belthas’ patron god, and things go downhill from there. While trying to stay out of the hands of the king’s guards, Alex stumbles into Belthas’ despised Rodeni underworld.

   The Rodeni looked very much like large hopping rats, though with larger heads in proportion to their bodies, eyes set farther forward and closer together to allow for some binocular vision, and tails covered in short flat hair with a tuft on the tip. Alex had learned that they were probably more closely related to desert jerboas than rats, but the unknown distant species from which they’d evolved was long extinct and ‘large hopping rats’ was probably the closest you could get in accurate description. […] The front incisors were yellow and long and sharp and very visible, and this particular Roden stood, on his hind legs, only a foot shorter than Alex. (pg. 31)

   “Where are we going?” Alex whispered, as the Roden led him down tight and twisting passageways. It was hard to tell, but Alex was pretty sure they were making progress upward back to street level. From time to time light fell in cracks and splashes from above. Sometimes the roof was tall enough for him to stand in a waddling crouch, other times he went back to his knees. Underfoot was sometimes dry, sometimes wet, all with a faint smell of fungus and organic decay. The Roden hopped along easily on all fours.
   “Someplace safe for now.”
   Now the passages opened up, into side-chambers and crossing tunnels, and now and then they would step for brief periods out into the open air, across narrow alleys blocked and strewn with shattered barrels and boards, piles of trash and fallen fences. Rodeni were all around, hopping and scuffling and bounding on four legs and two, eating and talking and fighting and playing, but all stopped as the black Roden led him past.
   Some of them just stared, some slowly swayed their heads to see him fully. Some jumped back in fear, others held their ground, hairs bristling in anger. Young ones blinked wide-eyed, or ran to their mothers to hide their heads in the maternal fur.
   “Won’t the king send his people in here to look for me?” worried Alex. “I don’t want you to come to harm because of me…”
   “They will come. But we can hide. They give up soon. Know as we do that His Lordship angers quickly but soon loses interest. There may come a price on your head, and watchmen will watch for you, and search, but he picks his wars carefully, does His Lordship. And we have much practice in hiding from him.”
(pgs. 121-122)

      An Animist’s self-interest lies in using his (or her) affinity with animals to control metaphysical powers to gain fortune and power. But Alex’s affinity combined with youthful idealism leads him to champion the cause of Humani-Rodeni equality in the kingdoms of Belthas and Deridal. This earns him the dangerous enmity of both Humani political leaders and Rodeni extremists who oppose any cooperation with humans and advocate extermination of their oppressors.
   The world of Animist is shared by at least five intelligent species, but after the first sixty pages which set the stage, this adventure focuses upon only the Humani and Rodeni. Animist is a complete story, but the stage is still set for far more stories, either featuring Alex and his newfound Anim companion or other Animists. This has the potential to be the beginning of a long and popular series.

Title: La Vida Panthera: A Suburban Jungle Portfolio
Author: John ‘The Gneech’ Robey
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (Thomasville, NC), Jun 2000
ISBN: 1-929462-08-5
110 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Plan Nine Publishing was started in 1996 to publish ‘dead tree’ collections of Bill Holbrook’s Kevin & Kell, “the world’s first commercial online comic strip.” Those have been so successful that Plan Nine has recently begun a vigorous expansion to make more of the best Internet comic strips “available for viewing off-line!” in annual collections. John Robey’s The Suburban Jungle started in February 1999 and quickly became one of the most popular funny-animal strips on the Net. La Vida Panthera is its first book collection, compiling the strip from February 1, 1999 to April 5, 2000.
   The Suburban Jungle is subtitled ‘Starring Tiffany Tiger’. It is broadly a Cheers-type comedic soap opera focusing upon Tiffany Tiger, an aspiring actress and model; and her roommate, family, and acquaintances. The latter are concentrated around her neighborhood bar, the big computer corporation where Tiffany works to pay her rent while waiting to make it as a model or actress, and the people she meets on her auditions and first assignments.
   Each strip is a daily comedic gag which advances a more serious ongoing storyline. Tiffany is introduced as a young supermodel-wannabe who is sharing a cheap apartment with Yin, a spaced-out panda (she believe The X-Files is real). Tiffany hangs out in the evenings at The Watering Hole, where she and the bartender-owner, Leonard Lion, trade good-natured amorous innuendos. As the strip progresses, more cast members are added. Tiffany gets her first serious auditions. She gets a temp job at MegaHuge Conglomaco with an opportunity to turn permanent employee. This offers good pay, but ends her freedom to go to modeling auditions. She starts some new romantic relationships; a comedic one with computer-nerd Dover Cheetah (mostly wishful thinking on Dover’s part) and a more serious one with super-stud model Conrad Tiger. It gradually becomes clear that Leonard’s feelings for Tiffany are serious and selfless enough that he will pay ‘Cyrano’ to help Tiffany with her preferred lover.
   Much of the surface humor plays off the fantasy nature of the cast as humanoid animals, especially the predator-prey relationship. Leonard has built up the clientele of The Watering Hole among both predators and prey by enforcing a ‘No Predation Allowed’ policy. This is good for business, but it makes it hard for him to catch dinner. Tiffany is friends with a mouse, Wensley, because she can’t stand the taste of mice, and Wensley takes full advantage of having a tiger protector from other predators. A couple of gags reference TV funny-animal stars like Tony the Tiger, and there are funny-animal parodies of pop-culture stars like ‘Weird Al’ Hamstervic. When rich-kid Dover becomes temporarily broke and can’t afford to buy meals, Leonard tries to teach him how to hunt (away from the bar); unsuccessfully, since Dover is too squeamish to kill even a mouse. These animal gags are kept light and do not affect the more realistic storyline. The Suburban Jungle is therefore a genuine funny-animal fantasy, not a realistic human-interest strip where the characters are merely drawn as cartoon animals; and it should appeal to fans of both gag-a-day strips and continuity strips.
   The art in La Vida Panthera is uneven, showing the rapid evolution that many comic strips go through during their first year as their cartoonist develops a preferred character style. Almost all the characters have animal-muzzle whiskers in the earliest strips; these are gone by the end of the 1999 strips. Robey’s art style gradually grows much smoother. The earliest strips are printed cleanly because they were drawn to be posted on the net in black-&-white. Around the beginning of 2000 Robey turned The Suburban Jungle into a full-color strip. While this looks great on the net, many of the later strips in this collection lose all the sharp details of clothing and any scenes set against colored backgrounds into a muddy gray-to-black monochromatic mass. The last ten pages in the book are printed in full color. This is both an appreciated bonus, and frustrating because it emphasizes what has been lost in the color pages printed in black-&-white. (Since it would be prohibitively expensive to print all the strips in full-color, could future collections print them as black-&-white line-art without the computer color rather than as b-&-w copies of the art with the color added?)
   John Robey draws two Internet strips, and Plan Nine has published La Vida Panthera in tandem with a first collection of his other strip: Childproof the Unicorns: A NeverNever Chronicle (also June 2000, 110 pages, $12.95; but ISBN 1-929462-03-4). NeverNever is a fantasy with a cast of mostly humans, cat-riding tiny faeries, gnomes, goblins, and other non-animal species; but there are pookas (shown as anthropomorphic rabbits) and intelligent talking dragons. It does not have enough ’morphs to be pertinent to Yarf!, but unless you read only ’morphic comic strips, you should try this out, too.

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