I cannot say that I’m a huge fan of the Sentient Small Animal Genre. Mouse Guard, Mice Templar, even the great Maus took a bit of getting used to from me in order to even start page one. It’s not that I don’t like talking animals, I’m a huge Disney fan and talking animals were their bread & butter for decades. Many of these comic book depictions of rodents and other small animals did a great job with writing, but completely missed the mark when it came to the artwork. If I’m going to read a book starring mice, squirrels, and other animals, I want them to legitimately look like the mice, squirrels, and other animals they are supposed to be, and not just some low-talent attempt at drawing cartoon beasts. You might as well just put people in your comic and forget the beastly slant. Squarriors #1 is basically your typical sentient small animal story, but the artwork is brilliantly captivating in its realism, making this the sentient small animal book we deserve.
Squarriors is a post-apocalyptic tale of small wild-animals who have seemingly become sentient sometime after the (presumed) extinction of the human race. We’re introduced to several different tribes and members of those tribes, but the story focuses mainly on the Tin Kin tribe of small animals, made up mostly of mice and squirrels with a fox and bird thrown in here and there for good measure. The long winter has reduced food stocks and left many tribe-members ill, and political discussions between tribal leaders weigh options; options that include sending scouts to search for resources and talk of joining with competing tribes. There’s a whole lot going on in this issue, and writer/creator Ash Maczko not only has a firm grasp on every aspect of this book, but expertly delivers this weaving plot to the readers, while providing great character dialogue throughout. The shining star of Squarriors, however, is the masterclass of art. Every turn of the page is a gift from artist Ashley Witter, and no dialogue, or plot for that matter, is required to enjoy this issue. The realism of Witter’s work in Squarriors is truly amazing, with every species beautifully depicted, but the artist also pushes across great character emotions without losing any of that realism. It’s easy to show off the more savage nature of these creatures, but Witter turns wild animals into deep, intelligent, emotional creatures without losing that savagery. And that’s truly the overarching appeal of this title.
The story and pacing in Squarriors was a surprise to me. I was expecting a squirrel bloodbath by the end of this first issue, and instead I got a bunch of buildup and even more dialogue. However, this buildup and dialogue was very well done, and the surprise was less of a disappointment than it could have been. Although the story is a bit derived; drawing on previous beastly tales, tribal feud stories, and well-known tropes; it was pretty easy to ignore this due, in part, to the compelling backdrop, and, mostly, due to Ashley Witter’s amazing artwork.
A few surprises, a single disappointment, and a slower than expected buildup couldn’t do much to bring down a brilliantly drawn and well-written story of sentient wild animals living in a post-apocalyptic world of feuding tribes. Ash Maczko’s writing is terrific despite the slower than expected pacing, but the beautiful artwork of Ashley Witter is the only reason anyone needs to pick up this amazing comic book.