Review: Night Animals, by Brecht Evens

I’m working through some older comics this week, and I’m finally getting around to Night Animals, a purchase from my SPACE adventure earlier this year. While it was published in English by Top Shelf after The Wrong Place (from Drawn and Quarterly), the book is some of his first work.

Night Animals is 48 pages of wordless watercolor comics on deluxe cardstock. The book is a diptych, one story “Blind Date” which follows the adventure of a man in a rabbit suit, and “Bad Friends,” the story of a girl’s magical puberty and sexual awakening vis-à-vis a wild Hieronymus Bosch meets Maurice Sendak wilderness party.

As a visual object, Night Animals is astonishing. Evens’ art is clearly the reason you buy this book. He has a tendency to let his compositions sprawl, but constructs his pages so that they flow well. The coloring is also superb – Evens blocks out warm and cool colors and plays with the subtleties of the variations in shade. His watercolors are fantastic, and his linework embellishes the strongest point of the work.

What is less strong in this collection is the actual stories Evens is constructing. To be clear, this is a comic book of sex stories, so perhaps the illustrations are what are most important, but Evens seems more intent on the illustration than anything else. There are troubling elements to both stories, such as the rabbit scene in “Blind Date” and the perplexing, ominous ending of “Bad Friends.”

In some sense, the work is an exploration of the binary sexual experience. “Blind Date” shows the man’s vision of sexual conquest, striving out on an arduous journey before finding the right girl/rabbit and thus being rewarded with sex and love. In contrast, “Bad Friends” portrays the sexual awakening of a young girl as both illicit and dangerous – the Devil comes to steal the main character away from her sick bed only to feed her to ravenous beasts with giant erections. While rape and sexual violence are the sad reality that many women face, conflating female sexuality with violence is problematic, just as is conflating male sexuality with conquest. There is potential that Evens is intending to condemn these social constructs, but the “message” of the comics (if there is one) is hard to pinpoint.

Where Evens succeeds, it is in a visual space. His art is fantastic, the colors remarkable. But the story of Night Animals (which is unfortunately not easily parsed), is troublesome. Still, it is hard to walk away from Night Animals without being impressed by Evens’ craftsmanship, and that is the dilemma of the book for me. Where you find yourself after reading it might be completely different – and that’s something worth thinking about.

Brecht Evens has published books with Drawn and Quarterly (tumblr: drawnandquarterly) and Top Shelf. His book The Wrong Place was an official selection of Angoulême in 2011. You can find out more about Night Animals here.

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