Of fur and metal

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Iron, Or The War Af­ter Cre­ator: Shane-michael Vi­dau­rri Publisher: ar­chaia

THIS is a book about the af­ter­math of a long war, in a world of con­stant win­ter. An in­tel­li­gence spy from the Re­sis­tance – the rab­bit, Hardin, steals se­cret in­for­ma­tion from a mil­i­tary base of the Regime …

Wait a minute, a rab­bit? What is this, Brer Rab­bit the Su­per Spy? Bugs Bunny Un­der­cover?

With its talk­ing rab­bits, goats, tigers, crows and foxes, Iron, Or The War Af­ter may seem like some­thing out of an Enid Bly­ton book, but writer/ artist Shane-Michael Vi­dau­rri’s de­but graphic novel is any­thing but child­ish.

It is a som­bre and se­ri­ous look at two sides in a con­flict, a brood­ing look at war, hon­our, be­trayal and death.

The book it­self is a trea­sure to be­hold – beau­ti­fully bound in a red cloth cover, lov­ingly hug­ging page af­ter page of gor­geous, soft, wa­ter­colour art­work. Ev­ery page seems like a piece of art in it­self, and Vi­dau­rri uses a mostly grey­ish-blue colour pal­ette to por­tray the gen­eral som­bre mood of the story.

Vi­dau­rri’s of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy states that he re­ceived a BFA in Illustration from the Univer­sity of the Arts, and that his work has been ex­hib­ited in nu­mer­ous gal­leries and pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing WIN mag­a­zine, The Indypen­dent, and Pow­er­pop Comics. Most tellingly of all, it also tells us that his New Jersey apart­ment is “filled with many an­i­mals”.

Whether those an­i­mals in his home were in­stru­men­tal in his de­ci­sion to make Iron an an­thro­po­mor­phic tale re­mains un­known, but it was an in­spired choice of medium for this story. His “good guys” are mainly por­trayed by the more timid and least threat­en­ing crea­tures – rab­bits, goats, and so on; while the an­tag­o­nists com­prise tigers, li­ons and ravens, an­i­mals that we per­ceive to be a lot more ag­gres­sive and hence, “bad”.

But there is more to this tale than rab­bit ver­sus tiger, car­ni­vore ver­sus her­bi­vore, or good ver­sus evil. At first, Vi­dau­rri’s use of an­i­mals as his char­ac­ters gave me the im­pres­sion that he was look­ing to por­tray each char­ac­ter’s per­son­al­ity ac­cord­ing to the cor­re­spond­ing an­i­mal, but his char­ac­ters are any­thing but an­i­mal­is­tic. In fact, they seemed even more … hu­man than some ac­tual peo­ple por­trayed in other books.

In an in­ter­view with The Mor­ton Re­port, Vi­dau­rri de­scribes Iron as “The Wind In The Wil­lows meets All Quiet On The Western Front”, and it’s not hard to see why. While there are one or two more ac­tion-ori­ented set­pieces here, the main fo­cus of Iron is on the char­ac­ters’ re­ac­tions and men­tal states as they strug­gle with the con­se­quences and ef­fects of be­ing at war.

While a lit­tle de­press­ing at times, Iron is nev­er­the­less a fine de­but by Vi­dau­rri, and has the look and feel of a real labour of love. Just don’t ex­pect the rab­bits to start munch­ing car­rots and ask­ing, “What’s up, doc?” – Michael Cheang

The an­thro­po­mor­phic char­ac­ters in Iron are any­thing but an­i­mal­is­tic.

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