Animal Stories by Peter and Maria Hoey from Top Shelf is an anthology of magical realism and twists that will leave the reader gasping with delight. The Hoey siblings have been producing award-winning comics for decades, including their Coin-Op comics series that brings together pop, midcentury, noir, and art deco with a colorful modern flair to make their distinctive style.
Six tales in Animal Stories each serve as mysteries and fables told in comic form. In one, a girl who keeps pigeons on the roof of her building has an extra bird show up with a note attached, “Do you dream of flying?” She writes back, beginning a correspondence that leads to an astonishing discovery. In another, the crew of a container ship discovers a dog swimming in the deep ocean. Another still sees a rebellion break out at a pet store against a ruthless owner.
In each of the Animal Stories, the perspective follows primarily the humans. They creep upon the deeper reality of the world slowly, acting as a conduit for the reader to experience the same bewilderment as strange things begin to happen. Sometimes the magical world unravels slowly, such as a cat that comes inside for dinner and coughs up an emerald. Other times, the world is abrupt, like Ted the dog being president while his owner yearns for quieter days before his political career.
Rather than being standalones, the tales in Animal Stories work together in a greater metanarrative. Characters interact, appearing in each other’s stories as they pursue their separate goals, much like life. They do not intertwine as much as they share a world, building to a shared climax that impacts everyone. It stems from a theme of where the humans’ role in the world rests, presenting us with the situation where people are the ones in charge at the beginning and showing that we might not be as lofty as we think we are. Is it that we choose to feed them and house them, or do they allow us to do so for their company?
While the writing in Animal Stories is captivating, the Hoeys go a step further with their masterful skills in engaging the reader with art. Innovative layouts bring the reader into each of the stories, such as interlaid circular panels to show the point-of-view through binoculars as the girl in “Extra Bird” attempts to track the flight of the mysterious pigeon. No two pages are the same, ranging from tightly packed sets of as many as nine panels on a page to an enormous double-page splash spread of the container ship in “Noah’s Mark.” That story especially shows dynamic layouts with cross-cutting lines that rest at angles, causing the story to roll just as one does aboard a ship. Animal Stories is a must read for comics fans as well as anyone who likes a good Twilight Zone, especially the animal ones.