Shiny Beasts is a 2007 collection of short story pieces dating from 1978-1994. Rick Veitch is an artist who worked with Alan Moore on his early run of Swamp Thing and eventually took over writing duties as well. Since Swamp Thing is a horror title, it’s no surprise that Shiny Beasts deals with the horrific at times as well, but usually in terms of the horror that man inflicts on himself and other men. However, though not all the stories are horrific, all are a bit unsettling. Finally, Shiny Beasts, like most story collections, is uneven in its content; however, the best pieces make it worth having, particularly if you like art that challenges the mainstream both in its look and its content.
The first story — “Shiny Beasts” — is my favorite. It is only seven pages long and has no word balloons: nobody speaks and there is no narration. There are only a few words on images in the panels. I love how this story seems to be a comic about comic books and their potential impact on our lives, but that impact is ambiguously presented by the end of the story. And all Veitch will say about the story in his wonderful afterword is that it “explores the transformative nature of the psychological Self.” I’ve read this story carefully at least ten times this week, and I’ve shown it to four or five people already. To some it may seem slight, but to me it speaks volumes.
My second favorite story in the collection is “Landmass.” It, too, is told solely through images without any dialogue or narration. In it, large, destructive robots to emerge out of the landmasses in the ocean. They quickly destroy themselves, collapse into each other, and form a new, shared land mass. It seems to be a fairly didactic story about the military-industrial-complex, but the way it presents this message in a unique, visual fashion turns it into a powerful visual parable.
The next story that I love also has to do with the problems of violence and warfare, but I won’t give away anything about the surprise narrative in “Ghost in the Machine.” It has Tron-like graphics, and like his other stories makes a point about his subject matter that I find incredibly compelling. This story is the second one in the collection, and it does include characters and dialogue. As a result, it helps balance out the stories that are told solely through visual, non-linguistic techniques.
There are seven other short stories, plus about seven single-page works of poster-art that are brilliant. There’s also an insightful, in-depth afterword in which Veitch talks about his earliest days as an artist, his time at the Joe Kubert School of Comics in 1976, his working with Kubert, his working with Alan Moore (along with a funny single-panel comic of Veitch and Alan Moore), and his working with and under the guidance of the great Archie Goodwin. He also talks about HEAVY METAL and EPIC Illustrated, two magazines that — from what I can tell — were crucial to the development of independent, less mainstream comics. The afterword also includes some more art: it has individual panels as well as his “Li’l Tiny Comics” running along the borders of the afterword.
Shiny Beasts is a short book that can be read in an hour, but it cannot be fully appreciated that quickly. I’ve spent many hours with it this week rereading my favorite stories, even some of the throw-away ones. But there are several others that might be favorites for other readers, particularly “Love Doesn’t Last Forever,” written by Alan Moore, about a bizarre, alien veneral disease (seriously!). However, my final two favorites are short science fiction tales that will appeal to Fanlit readers: “Solar Plexus,” says Veitch, was “conceived in the vein of Stanislaw Lem,” and “Shipmates,” a short tale told in a single, double-sided fold-out format that allows for a three-page splash on one side and a two-page splash on the other side. In other words, “Shipmates” is one more example of Veitch trying out different visual story-telling techniques.
The more I read of Veitch, the more I enjoy his work. I sought out Shiny Beasts because I was blown away by his Vertigo-line graphic novel Can’t Get No (a book I hope to review in the future). But I’m reviewing Shiny Beasts first because I think it will appeal to those Fanlit readers who want to immerse themselves in something very different from both normal SFF/Horror Genre Fiction AND SFF/Horror Genre Comics. I am suggesting this book for those who want to look at a book that tries to push boundaries in little minature stories. And even though there are a few failures, I’m glad they are there because they shed light on Veitch’s creative process and help me think more about what other comic book artists and writers do and don’t do and often don’t even try to do. And finally, the art is splendid and vibrant and dizzying in the best way. Shiny Beasts was an eye-opening book to me, and I hope it will be for you, too.