Collecting the first arc of his funny animal post-Apocalyptic web comic into two print packages, Aaron Neathery’s Endtown Volumes One and Two (Jarlidium Press) provides a welcome intro for those readers who prefer to see their comic art slapped down on bright white paper. The format suits Neathery’s expressive cartoon style and makes lingering over his artwork all the more enjoyable. Call me a twentieth century geezer, but, dammit, comics work best on paper.
For those unfamiliar with the science fantasy strip (now in its fourth year and currently running on Go Comics), “Endtown” is set in a future world decimated by an arm race catastrophe which resulted in most its of survivors being transformed into either anthropomorphic or monstrous mutations. The former look like funny animal characters down to their three-fingered hands; the latter turn out to be well-fanged, multi-robed nightmares with no trace of their humanity intact. A few humans survived without changing – most of them seemingly turning toward a neo-Nazi obsession with genetic purity – and take control of the “topside.” The mutant animals and their few still-human allies take refuge in an underground city, the “Endtown” of the title, occasionally sending out foraging expeditions topside to look for canned goods.
The series opens topside with Albert Anderson, a bespectacled human, and his companion scavenging through a trashed-out corner grocery where they run into the genocidal top-siders and Albert has a fateful confrontation with a Godzilla-sized mutant. The majority of Albert’s story arc centers on his girlfriend Gustine, transformed into a cartoon rhino in the catastrophe, who seeks to find a way to transform back into human form. The duo’s relationship (for those looking for subtext beyond the obvious racism concerns) reflects a size acceptance theme that definitely spoke to this reader: most notably in a comically disastrous attempt by Albert to romance his super-sized sweetie in a gondola. (Yes, the underground city is apparently like Venice.)
Told by an oracle to seek a dying mutant tree aboveground, Gustine and her loyal lover head up to a decaying city where they’re confronted by the maddened scientist responsible for the disaster and swarms of mimicky pixel creatures called Dittos. The latter recreate a flashback to the Apocalypse, resulting in a memorably grim sequence: Neathery’s ability to switch from whimsical Carroll-ian satire to more disturbing fare is reminiscent of Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” during that strip’s memorable Simple J. Malarkey/Joe McCarthy takedown.
Since the story arc in these two volumes, “Endtown” has switched its focus to other animalized denizens of the underground outpost, providing some clues into the origins of this mysterious hideaway along the way. As a fan of the Albert/Gustine partnership, I have to admit initially being a bit hesitant in embracing the newer cast, though the big-hearted mouse Holly has since won my heart. Recently, the online strip concluded an engaging second arc featuring our girl and Wally, a feline newcomer to Endtown. Here’s hoping the first two books do well enough to encourage print editions of the second story line. And now that we’re in a new ‘un, maybe we could get a glimpse of how Albert and Gustine are doing these days?