Review by Roz Gibson
Squarriors (Squirrel + Warriors) is a comic series by Ashley Witter (art) and Ash Maczko (writer). It is one of a spate of recent furry graphic novels with super-detailed, gorgeous art—paired with stories that are an incomprehensible mess. The main premise is something that’s become a bit of a trope—animals suddenly and inexplicably develop consciousness and intelligence. This has been done in books (The Awareness and the War With No Name trilogy) and in comics (the Animosity series).
In Squarriors, the premise is that something referred to as “the flash” uplifted animals and wiped out humanity 10 years prior. The animals separated themselves into several competing groups, each of which follows a different ‘code.’ They then proceeded to go to war with each other, with the good guys of the story, called Tin Kin, who follow the “Code of Will,” being on the verge of being wiped out by the other two factions, the Amoni, who follow the “Code of Blood,” and the Maw, who follow the “Code of Might.”
Volume #2, Summer, picks up where volume #1 (not surprisingly, entitled Spring) left off. The Tin Kin huddle in their stronghold (an abandoned steam locomotive) while a combined army of Amoni and Maw marches to wipe them out. There’s some additional plot wrinkles, such as Ghost, a deadly assassin, being sent into the Tin Kin fortress to kill a Maw traitor, and Spin, a Tin Kin captured and sent to the Amoni feeding camps. It’s also made clear early on that the Amoni intend to betray the Maw once the Tin Kin are eliminated. At the beginning of each chapter, there are some non sequitur sequences of a human family and their dog in the waning days of civilization. I’m sure this will (eventually) tie in to the main storyline, but right now it doesn’t.
Virtually all the animals in this comic are small. Tin Kin is mostly squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, and a few birds. A red fox is also a member, along with someone named Cheeks, who looks like a giant fat squirrel, but I think is a woodchuck. The Amoni is ruled by cats, but also has squirrels, rats, weasels and birds of prey. The Maw is mostly squirrels and rats, but also has a porcupine. The brother of the Tin Kin woodchuck, who has the odd name of Meat, is a member of the Maw too. The largest animals seen in the entire series so far is a mid-sized dog and a single raccoon. There’s no mention of anything larger, no deer or big domestic animals like horses or cattle, no coyotes, wolves or bobcats.
This lack of diversity is one of the major problems with the series—you have three fighting factions mostly composed of squirrels and rats, and in the battle scenes it’s almost impossible to tell who is who. If you really study the art it looks like the Tin Kin all wear some scrap of blue cloth, but in the rain and confusion it isn’t very clear. It’s also very difficult to tell the squirrels apart, which is due to the realistic way they’re rendered. (In real life one can’t really tell one squirrel from another.) Since the latter part of the book is one huge battle scene, it gets confusing really fast.
There are a few other things that don’t make sense—the Amoni feeding camps are meant to keep captives alive for the cats to eat, but for some reason they allow everyone in them to die of starvation. And what does the fox in the Tin Kin group eat? (The dilemma of obligate carnivores is a major issue in the Animosity series) Midway through the book we’re introduced to another group of good guy animals (who are promptly wiped out by the Amoni) and the survivors take shelter with the Tin Kin. A mouse with the confusing name of Oh announces that the refugees are going to ‘save them,’ but never explains how, and they’re not shown doing anything helpful.
Despite starring squirrels, chipmunks and other adorable small animals, this is a pretty bloody series. You get to see squirrels killed by being stabbed in the mouth, a rat crushed in a raccoon’s jaws, and a cat that gets impaled with a fish hook, among other gruesome deaths. So if you ever wanted to see squirrels dying horribly, this is definitely the book to read.
As mentioned in the beginning, the artwork on this book is absolutely gorgeous. It’s worth getting for that alone. Occasionally the backgrounds will be a little too detailed, which can make it hard to pick out the characters, and the artist uses blurs to indicate fast action, which doesn’t work at all, but those are minor quibbles. I honestly can’t think of another comic that has animals so realistically drawn and rendered.
A brief caveat—this volume does end on a cliffhanger, and I have not heard a single peep about when the next story arc will be out. It was literally years between issues of Summer, and during that production the artist had a baby. That’s usually the death knell for side gigs like Squarriors, so I would not be surprised if there’s never another issue produced. But I do hope they prove me wrong.