French anthro comic: Solo, by Oscar Martin – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Thanks, as always with French bandes dessinées, to Lex Nakashima for loaning this to me to review.
The setting: a bleak, war-destroyed future Earth. Think MGM’s/Hugh Harman’s 1939 animated Peace on Earth, where the last humans on Earth kill each other and leave the world to the peaceful funny animals; or the similar sequence in Alexander Korda’s 1936 live-action feature Things to Come, where England (and presumably the whole human race) has been bombed and shot up back to the Stone Age. It’s Mad Max with furries.
Solo’s blurb, translated by the publisher, is:
“Ravaged by nuclear and chemical weapons, the Earth has mutated and many animal species have developed a size and intelligence similar to that of humans. To make life easier for his family, Solo, a young rat, decides to take the road. In this hostile world of predators, cannibals, monsters or pirates, Solo will have to become the best fighter to survive.”
Solo is a brawny teenaged rat-equivalent of the young Conan the Barbarian, but a lot smarter. In the first few pages, he and his warrior father are shown fighting giant, mutated monsters in a freezing winter landscape for food for their family, and killing rival mustelid warriors ready to eat them. Solo and his father win, but it is obvious to all that Solo’s family is slowly starving. Solo, a huge teenager, decides to leave so his parents and siblings won’t have to share their food with him.
Solo is twice as large as the usual bande dessinée album. In fact, going by the page numbers, it is two albums published together, with a distinct break in the middle. Solo’s world is dominated by humans, but they have become so specialized that they have almost become separate species. There are the politicians, the warriors, the pirates, “les ferrailleurs” (which translates as “the junkmen” or “the wreckers”, but in this case should be “the armsmen” since their specialty is building weapons out of scrap metal), and others. Other intelligent species include the rats and mustelids, the cats, the dogs, the pigs, and the monkeys, all of whom shown here are also warriors. They can mix together, as seen in some arena audience crowd scenes, but they usually try to kill each other. There are also some hybrids, implied by rape rather than mixed-species families. (Or not; there are whores who will lie with anything that can pay.) There are twelve pages of charts and comparative statistics following the story, which are largely what makes the cast “furries” rather than just “funny animals” — they are distinct from each other. Rats like Solo, and mustelids, are the smallest “peoples”; about four feet tall.
Solo is well-drawn and well-written, but emotionally exhausting. The whole setting is called “le monde cannibale”; the cannibal world. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. Solo spends months or years fighting as an arena gladiator for bloodthirsty humans. It is implied that he could escape any time that he wanted to, but why bother? What is there in the dead outside world for him? The story is so numbing that I will give away a spoiler; after over a hundred pages, there is a more-or-less happy ending.
Of course, this is only volume one. Some of the humans shown in the charts and statistics, such as the pirates, never appear in this album, so they must be intended for future volumes.
Solo is for readers who like Conan the Barbarian-type stories full of blood, gladiatorial combats, warfare, and little else. In fact, this is Solo’s big problem. He thinks too much for his world. That is what has made him a survivor, as the arena master recognizes: “I really think you can beat Gorog.” “What makes you so sure?” “Because you’re intelligent. You plan ahead.” (p. 59) But a thinking man/rat who has to kill day in, day out, eventually becomes emotionally dead. Solo is as much about how Solo keeps, or regains, his “humanity” as it is about how he stays alive. The story may be emotionally draining, but it is not really depressing. Things can get better. There is always hope.
The reader can also have fun counting the number of ways the word “putain” can be translated. Stinking – shitty – whore – damn —
Oscar Martin (1962-present) is a Spanish comic-book artist known for his stories of American funny-animals (Tom & Jerry; the Lion King) for licensed European comics. With Solo, readers can now see his own work; writing as well as art. Both are very good.