Sometimes, three reasons just don’t feel enough. Some books I could go on about for days. Guerillas, a speculative war story set in the sweltering jungles of Vietnam, by cartoonist and animator Brahm Revel, is one such book.
Currently in its third monster-sized volume, Guerillas successfully challenges the reader’s perceptions of war on a number of different, interlocking levels. Told from the point of view of cherry Private John Clayton, Guerillas chronicles the exploits of a rogue troop of scientifically-enhanced primates as they fight their way through the Vietnamese bush, using the same vicious tactics as their enemies.
Although in many ways, Guerillas is a tale of survival, it possesses a strong, vital emotional heart that considers its themes with genuine sensitivity and objectivity. It would be easy to call Revel’s comic a parody or satire of war but to do so would dilute its power.
Revel’s approach to the story, while documentarian in nature, is never ambivalent about the feelings and motivations of any of his characters. It’s like reading a really great piece of investigative journalism. There’s a certain necessary distance in the reportage but a core desire to represent its subjects honestly.
See? Didn’t I tell you I could go on for days? Without further fanfare then, here are your three apeshit-crazy reasons why you need to read Guerillas…
#1 Chimps are people too – aren’t they?
In Guerillas, Revel builds upon the humanizing of previous ape-themed characters in an intriguing way by casting them in the roles of proxy soldiers. Not only does he invest each member of his simian guard with distinct personalities but he’s forced upon them the role of humankind’s agents of destruction.
This added layer of emotional danger simmers underneath the scenes of brutal violence peppered throughout each volume. Revel’s anthropomorphisation of his chimps is all the more striking considering he largely evokes this feeling through silent panels or through the troop’s human hostage, Private Clayton, himself a proxy documenting their story in his journal.
#2 Brahm Revel ain’t no chimp.
With an extensive history in storyboarding and animation, it’s safe to say Brahm Revel knows how to tell a story. He possesses a remarkable understanding of the peculiarities of visual storytelling in general, and comics in particular.
This is particularly evident in Revel’s choice of format for Guerillas. By choosing to tell his story in three large volumes, the cartoonist allows himself ample breathing room to explode out key scenes and explore his central themes in greater depth.
The restraint Revel displays by letting his story unfold seemingly at its own pace is a testament to his maturity as a storyteller. Even action sequences, despite a necessary choreographed framework feel like they’re also sprawling across a panel or a page, drawing our eyes from one dynamic beat of grisly warfare to the next.
#3 Funner than a barrel full of…
Everybody knows that deep down, whether we admit it or not, we all love monkeys. From King Kong to Curious George, we can’t seem to get enough primate in our entertainment.
Remember when you were a kid and you played army with your friends? Or hauled out the Joes for another mission to take down Cobra? Now imagine if you and friends (or the Joes) were apes…How cool would that be?
Despite their obvious predisposition towards violence, there’s a wonderful exuberance in Revel’s depictions of his troop in action. That’s not to say the violence in Guerillas occurs without consequence, because that is most certainly not the case. Rather, Revel celebrates his subjects’ natural strength and agility and delights in finding innovative applications in which to show them off in battle.
And what better – funner – place to show off a troop of armed primates in battle? Well if you haven’t figured that out yet, you shortly will, once you crack the spine on your first volume of Guerillas.
Guerillas Volume 3 is available now from Oni Press.