Squarriors lures you into a false sense of security. Ashley Witter draws the most wonderfully beautiful animals and leaves you melting at the wont expressions of vulnerability. She then slaps you hard when you see such violence and bloodshed emanate from the next page. It is quite difficult to reconcile, as it is not often you see animals participate in such hideous acts of destruction. These are not moments of survival of the fittest but purposeful actions delivered with malice. The world Maczko has developed is one akin to human tribal warfare and harks to the themes of control and power that are associated with that. There needn’t be an explanation for the creation of this world but there are flashbacks to a time more recognisable, where humans roamed the Earth. There was an event that caused them to become extinct and gifted rational thought to the remaining animals. It is interesting to see how those two worlds are now so far removed from one another but at the same time, not really at all.
This is the second series of Squarriors and sets up the story of three main tribes, the Tinkin, the Maw and the Amoni. However there have been others and there are hints at a tribe yet to be encountered. There are a number of codes developed by the tribes ancestors, which we assume was produced in order to live in peace during newfound intelligence. Though not specifically mentioned in this issue, the Code of Will is likely to be quite liberal and peaceful a lifestyle and the Code of Blood really needs no explanation. There are leaders and followers with classic dissenters and betrayers. Witter depicts them so fervently that they need not speak in order for their personality to come through. The black cat with a crown made from bones is quite clearly the emperor of the Amoni, and his viciousness come through a furrowed gaze. If that wasn’t enough his feasting on a terrified mouse with blood dripping from his jowls certainly is. Ra speaks to Grin who is a messenger rat with half of his fur missing from his face. It makes for uncomfortable reading as it instantly conjures violent imagery, but his sullen tone questions whether there was honour to his actions a long time ago. Similar characterisations can be found amongst other tribes with a lovely bearded squirrel maw leader, wise through age and thoughtful through painting. The interlopers are younger and appear fresh faced with such zeal that they require firm control. The true wonder of Ashley’s art is that the expressions these various creatures convey are so easily understandable and instantly place them in the story. Of all of these, the most gorgeous is Meo who speaks to the ghost of a long lost sibling and develops the courage that you could not possible imagine from a character so fragile. That is where the surprise lies and also the enticement for future plot developments.
Though the gorgeous environments and innovative use of discarded human rubble is quite entertaining, observing such cute animals being so vicious is enough to bring dread and worry. These mammals were once instinctive and fought to survive, now they have taken on more personal pursuits greater than just survival. The majority live under rule and follow orders of those more intelligent, powerful or fearsome. The consequences of constructing a new society has incited shock and disgust at something humans once deemed pretty. The codes represent ways of living and societal hierarchy, ranging from authoritarianism to liberalism and there are even some insights of a higher power and religion. Though not directly hinted at, there is some speciesism because it is impressive how the badgers and dogs have become subjugated by smaller and likely cleverer animals. The comic is a very clever and beautiful distraction, with its stunning aesthetic, from the real story at its heart: A metaphor for humanity. There have been many stories like this, focused upon the base wars between tribes over land, money, loyalty etc. But it has been a while since it was shown in animal form, and an even longer time seeing it in such glorious beauty. That is where it is most effective because it takes what is familiar and known to us, something that brings comfort and solace and then mutilates it. It becomes so estranged that it is almost unrecognisable, until those animals lose their fur, stand on two legs and suddenly see that it is our story it is telling. It is almost Orwellian but Orwell has never been as beautifully drawn as this book.