Kennel Block Blues
Written by Ryan Ferrier
Illustrated by Daniel Bayliss
Colored by Adam Matcalfe
Lettered by Collin Bell
Published by BOOM! Studios
(Author’s Note: Originally reviewed last year. Since, the single issues have been collected in a trade and nominated for an Eisner, couldn’t pass up another opportunity to sing this book’s praises.)
Nothing is what it seems in Kennel Block Blues.
We see the world of Jackson State Kennel through the troubled eyes of Oliver as he arrives for his first day of his sentence on Death Row. And he arrives on a Technicolor musical number that seems to only exist in his head. We learn a lot about him quickly as he awkwardly interacts with the other canine and feline inmates flying on a simple notion that it’s just a simple misunderstanding that should all be cleared up in a short matter of time. With careless abandon and a song in his throat no less, we immediately care for Oliver and fear for his well being with absolutely none of his back story. It’s unnerving, but you might as well strap yourself in for the ride. Like it or not, you’re along in it with him.
Every page is filled with beautiful line work and color that partner perfectly together but shouldn’t. A single art team that is simultaneously contradicting their own styles and color palettes in a panel simultaneously over and over again. The stark reality of what the prison is bleeds into what Oliver sees in his imaginary song and dance that looks like old 40’s and 50’s Looney Tunes shorts that would be perfectly at home in Disney’s ToonTown land. A prison fight breaks out, an inmate is stabbed by a crudely fashioned shank, and all our poor Oliver sees is magical flying candy pouring out from the victim’s wound. Cue the music.
Ferrier confidently leans on his art team to do their stuff and let the reader get sucked in by the pure innocence of Oliver’s imaginary world. Unconventional panel layouts and ambitious panel placements (which surprisingly guide the eye with ease) lure you to unexpected places of anxiety that grows over four issues as we see the peril being planned around the grime in the cracks and deceit that the inmates maneuver in order to survive Jackson State Kennel. Oliver’s delusions start to melt into denial making him an unreliable narrator of the story. It’s a gutsy move that works for this book.
Readers may not want to look at this story any closer than what’s on the surface and that’s fine. It’s an amazing story as is. But the similarities of Oliver and his relationship with Jackson mirror our real world mental health solutions for those unfortunate to wind up in our prison system that go without the proper help they need, too close for me to ignore.
I’m proud to watch BOOM! follow suit in the Image led creator owned climate of comics as more indie publishers are taking chances on concepts like this. Time and again we are seeing some of the best original ideas and inventive stories being created by brave voices. Kennel Block Blues is the type of comic that comes along that epitomizes my love of comic books. It showcases what the comic book medium is capable of, even when no one is looking. The type of collaborative art that came together which makes me wish I could have been in the room or secretly reading the emails when the creators were sharing their ideas back and forth leading up to this title finally going to print. A story that utilizes anthropomorphic characters to tell a deeply layered, deeply emotional tale that you wouldn’t expect by tugging on the readers natural empathic tendencies towards animals and their natural character traits. Only to realize that we see elements of ourselves in these complex human/animal avatars.
Final Grade: A
All 4 issues of Kennel Block Blues have been collected in trade and are available in shops now!