Genius Animals? is a lot of fun on a lot of levels.
From US TV writer Vali Chandrasekaran (Modern Family, 30 Rock, My name is Earl) and France-based illustrator Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, this web-based international collaboration feels both fresh and classic, slipping nimbly between genres like an octopus with a stolen USB drive.
Chapter one initially feels like a classic romcom scenario – girls night out messing with idiots, one idiot, Todd, messes back, ninja level quipping ensues and a true love pairing is a given. Cue tongue-in-cheek adorable dating montage.
Protagonist Alexandra fairly soon transitions from pro flirter to amateur sleuth however, when her love interest disappears in very mysterious circumstances. Pairing up with her to solve the case is her friend Finnegan – something she is a little too eager to do since she is a frustrated officer of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with illusions of cophood. A decision which must have given the creators mixed feelings during the recent global mixed feelings on the topic of police brutality. The peril the two heroines face is a gratifyingly surreal mix of the cartoonish and satirical though; they are repeatedly shot at but the danger feels a little more like the Warner Brothers cartoons that are frequently referenced in the story. And yet at the same time, this comic does have things to say about the real world.
The characters’ disdain for taking things seriously is infectious from the outset, even if the quirky is laid on pretty thick. No topic is safe from Chandrasekaran’s razor wit, but the irony is gently layered enough that it feels warm and fuzzy – not a surprise given the shows he’s worked on. The brazenly thin veiling of cultural references is brilliant too, from Werner Herzog to Bugs Bunny. Alex’s day job is working as a video editor for the former, while the latter’s involvement is far weirder. In terms of the art, the colours are great and the pages well designed and sometimes striking. The character’s poses are sometimes a little wooden, but the expressiveness of the faces makes up for any shortfall in body language.
As Alex and Finnegan pursue clues and meet a colourful cast of cute crazies, the plot thickens to a nice custardy consistency. Which is to say, conspiracy theorists focused on various government programs concerned with hyper-intelligent animals of various species. If animals were hyper-intelligent, what do YOU think they would do? Right. But more importantly, is Todd alive? And how did he get mixed up in all this anyway? And why didn’t he think to mention it to his girlfriend? The mystery is solid and compelling, and the jokes are wise and plentiful with genuine laugh out loud moments happening at least once a chapter. What are you waiting for? Go read this comic for free at https://geniusanimals.net/
Vali Chandrasekaran (W), Jun-Pierre Shiozawa (A) • Self-published
Review by Jenny Robins