Coming to us from the King Louie’s Lab team of Fred Morris and Dominic Linton, Ant Story is a collection of the comic strips previously presented on Instagram and in webcomic format. The premise is a simple but accessible one. Young ant-child Rory yearns for his father’s approval but is thwarted as every turn by his dad’s constant caustic and brutal disapproval, usually revealed in a carefully timed final panel punchline-style moment.
Ant Dad constantly downplays his son’s achievements or dismisses him with an abrupt put-down. When Rory philosophises about the possibility of aliens looking down at him his father remarks “Don’t enough people look down on you already?”. When Rory’s curiosity is piqued as to his father’s frequent disappearances an elaborate scheme to shame him is revealed. while a basketball game between the two sees Ant Dad rejecting father-son bonding for an overt line in callous disinterest.
It’s a sly mix of the poignant, the near heartbreaking and yet, perhaps incongruously, the undeniably funny. While many of the strips work to the rhythm of an eventually familiar template some subvert expectations entirely (there’s a particularly good one about the age-old dream of turning up at school undressed). Very occasionally the jokes don’t quite land as well as they could but for the main part they are cleverly paced and there are some quieter, less comedic entries that allow us to empathise with both characters when their relationship is shown to be more layered than we originally imagined.
The art is simple and uninvolved but that plays to the strengths of Ant Story which is about concentrating on build-up and bleakly amusing denouement. In that same regard the tried and tested use of anthropomorphism provides a detachment from the immediate cruelty of Rory’s world, allowing us to filter the fractious father and son relationship through insect avatars in the same way we would accept the extreme conflicts of Looney Tunes characters.
This is a collection of strips that, despite relying on a running joke and a formulaic structure, always holds our attention. As Ant Dad continues to humiliate Rory in ever more elaborate ways the guilty pleasure of being almost complicit in his behaviour becomes an integral part of the reading experience. But we still remain detached enough from proceedings to understand that Ant Story is about appreciating the mechanics of darkly comedic narrative rather than celebrating unkindness. The strongest work to come out of King Louie’s Lab to date.
King Louie’s Lab (W/A) • King Louie’s Lab, £15.00
Review by Andy Oliver