Co-Created & Drawings: Nathan Kelly / Co-Created & Written: Kelly Bender / Colors: Josh Jensen / Letters: Micah Myers / Alterna Comics
Indie Werewolf comics are slowly becoming my professional nerd specialty — and I can tell you, that’s something I never thought I’d say. At the same time, it is a good specialty. Werewolves and other animal shape shifters are great vehicles for all kinds of stories, especially the kind that surprise you, which is exactly what the new one-shot coming out of Alterna Comics, Snarl, does. It surprises. This is a spoiler-free preview of the comic. It will be available for purchase May 13 from Alterna and all of your other digital comics suppliers.
Snarl has a classic cop drama opener:
What happened? What kind of scars? Physical? Emotional? Kelly and Bender set up the hook right away. Werewolves.
This panel is an excellent example of the art style used throughout the book. It is very dark – most panels have more black ink than anything else. The perspective is slightly tilted, the hands and facial features exaggerated. The overall result is reminiscent of the art style from other classic detective/crime series like 100 Bullets. The look and feel aren’t realistic, they is gloomy, threatening, and suspenseful.
The story itself centers around the cop pair of Bevil (the dude) and Sagun (the dudette). Both are stereotypical take-no-shit Black cops who are used to chasing murderers through the city of Seattle, Washington. They are handed an impossible assignment: find out who, or what, is killing joggers and hikers in Olympia National Park. Simple, right? Some serial killer? Except all of the witness report hearing snarls and growls, and the scenes are all covered in larger than usual wolf paw prints. What are these two skeptical cops to do? Well, first they have to take some shit from their fellow cops for their new case.
But this chance encounter, gives them their first real clue:
The yee naaldlooshii is a figure from Navajo legend, translated to English as “with it, he goes on all fours”. These are the shamans, or those with more malicious aims perhaps, who dress in the skin of a bear or wolf and thereby adopt the viciousness, cunning, and power of the animal in question. This is a pretty cool twist, that they’re hunting not a traditional European werewolf, but a creature out of Native American legend, or perhaps a combination of the two. However. Yee naaldlooshii is a Navajo legend (as Wikipedia will tell you). The comic is set in Washington State. Bevil and Sagun go to great lengths to visit the local Duwamish Native Reserve, definitely not Navajo country (which is centered in the Southwest). This is the kind of mish-mashing of Native American cultures that can be taken as ignorant at best, and offensive at worst. The Duwamish and the Navajo are not interchangeable peoples. I wish the creators had dug a little deeper to find a Duwamish concept to use in this book that would have better represented the tribes of the Northwest. Or if they’ve given some explanation as to why a Duwamish “shaman” is using a Navajo term to describe what is going on. As it is, this short-cut soured my opinion of the ending of the book.
I enjoyed the main characters in Snarl. They were sassy and snarky and effective in equal amounts.
The plot is a unique take on the Werewolf myth and does try to open up new venues and cultures where it can be explored. I just wish the cultures they’d picked had been explored more accurately and used to a fuller extent.
I can recommend this graphic novel to fans of crime drama comics and to anyone who, like me, has an active collection of supernatural creature comics. It is available May 13 through the Alterna Comics website or wherever digital comics are sold.
Snarl is a good indie comic that loses points for an inconsiderate and inaccurate portrayal of Native American folklore. For an antidote, I had to go read Sherman Alexie’s How to Write the Great American Indian Novel. Click the link and you’ll understand. Now I want to scour the Internet for a comic that does a good job of using any Native American folklore. I’m taking suggestions.