SEEN BY ANOTHER SENTIENT Finder: King of the Cats and Grease Monkey

reviewed by Dronon
©2006 Dronon

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Finder: King of the Cats Grease Monkey

Title: Finder: King of the Cats
Creator: Carla Speed McNeil
Publisher: Lightspeed Press, Sept 2001
ISBN: 0-9673691-2-6
Trade paperback, 114 pages, b&w, USD $13.95

   Carla Speed McNeil describes her award-winning Finder comic as ‘aboriginal science-fiction’, and since each story in the series has been wildly different in content and tone, it’s hard to pin down and summarize neatly—but it’s certainly never been dull.
   In her story universe, most humans belong to biological clans and live in technologically-advanced domed cities, inundated by mass media. Outside the cities roam relatively less-advanced nomadic tribes such as the Ascians (a human group roughly equivalent to North American Indians) who are at war with the Nyima, a race of anthropomorphic lions.
   This is the third book in the series, comprising issues 15-18 of the original comic, and stars McNeil’s main character, a young Ascian named Jaeger. Jaeger’s personality is complex, on the one hand extremely independent, pragmatic and occasionally obnoxious, while simultaneously a very caring individual with a rather varied set of personal ethics.
   Jaeger is a ‘Finder’, a member of a highly-trained and secretive society of scouts and detectives. In King of the Cats, he’s hired to bring some bad news to a peace conference: that the Nyiman king who helped organize the event has died. This is, of course, upsetting for both the Nyimans and the seven Ascian chiefs who were trying to negotiate a peace treaty, and with the situation falling apart, the old feuds are ready to start up again, with Jaeger caught in the middle.
   To make matters worse, Jaeger’s people consider him a ‘sin-eater’, a ritual scapegoat (the lowest possible rung in Ascian society), and he’s none too happy about having to mix with his own kind again. The other problem is that the Nyimans and Ascians chose to meet in Munkytown, a DisneyLand-like city whose directors have no intention of letting them leave until they complete their numerous contractually-obligated public performances. McNeil imbues the entire story with a crafty sense of humor.
      Although not predominantly anthropomorphic, this book is the most ‘furry’ of the Finder series so far (the Nyimans appear on one-fifth of the pages). Readers might also be interested in McNeil’s Mystery Date, whose mature story includes a large, plumed lizard-like university teacher who visits the grasslands for his species’ annual courtship rituals. McNeil draws her influences from diverse sources—fantasy, science-fiction, movies, comics, books—and occasionally furry (she previously did penciling for Shanda the Panda). Hidden references to her joys and inspirations are scattered throughout her work.
   Since McNeil self-publishes, the best way to get Finder is through her website, Lightspeed Press. The trade paperbacks include extensive notes that give detailed explanations and added depth to her stories. You can also read the first 23 pages of King of the Cats online.

Finder: King of the Cats Grease Monkey

Title: Grease Monkey
Creator: Tim Eldred
Publisher: Tor Books, June 2006
ISBN: 0-765-31325-1
352 pages, b&w, USD $27.95

   It’s no surprise that the American Library Association has nominated Tim Eldred’s Grease Monkey for ‘Best Book for Young Adults 2007’. The next time someone asks me to recommend a comic that uses anthropomorphics, I’m handing them this. After all, what could be more anthropomorphic than a gorilla?
   Grease Monkey is a massive graphic novel carefully nurtured for over ten years, with promises of more to come. The story is a comedy built around a science-fiction setting, the flagship Fist of Earth, where fresh-off-the-shuttle cadet Robin Plotnik finds himself stationed as a fighter mechanic. His new boss? Mac Gimbensky, an 800-pound gorilla and mechanical perfectionist who refuses to play by the rules.
   Despite their differences and a rough start, Robin and Mac become great friends, and the plot is off and running. Most of all I’d characterize Grease Monkey as a coming-of-age story for Robin as he makes his way into the culture of the space station and falls in love for the first time. But there’s so, so much more going on here.
   The fighter squadrons are extremely competitive and are surrounded by a dirty gambling network. New friendships are formed and broken. A crazed dentist stalks the halls. Parents come to visit. Mac courts another gorilla, the flagship’s admiral, whose schedule is so busy she barely has any time for herself. And after elections sweep the station, bureaucratic efficiency management begins to threaten everyone’s sanity.
   Throughout all this, Eldred’s characters are compellingly real, and behind the humor are several moving stories carefully woven together. This is a hard book to put down once you’ve eased yourself in through the introductory chapters, and leaves you eager for more.
   Getting Grease Monkey is easy—it can be found or ordered through any major bookstore. The hard cover and acid-free paper makes it additionally sturdy and a prime candidate for library shelves. Best of all, Tim Eldred’s Grease Monkey website offers tons of additional information about the work, and you can read the first five parts online, where they’ve been colored.

Finder: King of the Cats Grease Monkey

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