I’m not sue what it is about anthropomorphic animals and the LGBTQ+ comics community, but for the second time in less than a year, we’ve got a tandem of queer creators releasing a book of vignette-style stories centered on the broadly-defined “queer experience.” First out of the gate was Remy Boydell and Michelle Perez’ The Pervert from Image Comics, well-reviewed in most quarters (including this one) and focused on the hard-scrabble life of a trans protagonist subsisting on the economic margins, and in the next few weeks Czap Books will be releasing Little Teeth, drawn by Rory Frances and written by Jae Bearhat, that transposes the so-called “funny animal” trope into a queer communal living situation.
Beyond the more fluid sexual and gender identities and the tails and fur, though, it should be noted that the two books have very little in common, conceptually and tonally, and this points to a surprising breadth of storytelling possibilities within what one would assume to be the “confines” of a “narrow” recently-minted subgenre. Chalk one more loss up for conventional “wisdom” and old ways of thinking, then.
Where The Pervert was dark, somber, often-times harrowing, Little Teeth — much of whose contents were originally serialized in short-form installments on the Hazlitt website — runs the emotional gamut, but most often the tone is light, free-spirited, and fun. The sprawling cast of characters (by my count there are seven central players, but in fairness I may be forgetting about one) is generally young, they’ve generally come to terms with themselves, and they’re all about navigating the minefield of today’s blurred-lines interpersonal relationships. There’s angst aplenty here, sure, but it’s usually of the externalized, rather than internalized, variety and, as you’d expect, most of the situations these foxes, alligators, wolves, rabbits. etc. find themselves embroiled in lend themselves nicely to “deft touch”-style light comedy.
And, to their credit, Frances (who illustrates the proceedings in a bright, borderline-jubilant modern approximation of the classic “cartoony” newspaper strip style) and Bearhat (who has a gift for unforced comedic timing and an ear for authentic dialogue) do have a deft touch and make for a great team — in fact, the fluidity of the pacing and “action” in these stories is so seamless that one could be forgiven for assuming that they must have been written and drawn by the same person.
That being said, there are some flaws on ready display here — I’m not terribly certain, for example, that each of the characters is given a name, and much of the dialogue is so “of a piece” that this lack of distinctiveness goes more than just skin (or, I guess, fur) deep; everyone’s favorite TV show, Seeking Same, is often employed as a cheap and easy storytelling crutch to “info-dump” the basics of concepts like polyamory on more traditional (or, in a pinch, square) readers; moments that lend themselves more to genuine drama are sometimes steered, unnaturally, back into “let’s play it for laughs” territory. And yet —
For all that, being young and mostly responsibility-free is a hell of a lot of fun, and Frances and Bearhat not only never forget that, their work positively bristles with the same energy and enthusiasm that their characters pursue their romantic entanglements (or, at the very least, potential romantic entanglements) with, and that kind of authenticity is absolutely essential when you’re making comics with a historically-marginalized (and, as a result, often condescended-to) audience in mind. Most of what transpires in these pages is well outside my own personal experience, true, being a straight, married guy who lives with only one other person, but I know when a comic is coming from a place of genuine personal experience or not, and that’s absolutely never in question here. Little Teeth is, ultimately, a story about a special group of friends at a special time in their lives trying to make the right decisions — or have a damn good time while making the wrong ones — within a social and romantic milieu where the old rules not only don’t apply, but are dispensed with gleefully. It’s fresh, it’s fun, and it’s very much “of the moment.” It doesn’t wonder whether or not you can or can’t, should or shouldn’t — it just plants its own flag, stakes out its own territory, and does things its own way. More often than not, its faith in itself is rewarded, and the same is true for readers willing to put their faith in it. Check it out, and enjoy the time spent getting to know your new fictitious friends.