Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. This week we recommend the collected edition of ‘Marney the Fox’, available this week from Rebellion.
By Arpad Okay. Like many classic works of British literature, Marney the Fox has a tangible reverence for its home. The land, its flora and fauna and weather, how one part of the country leads to another. It’s in the writing. It’s in the art. Marney is inky, full of shadows and textures. A bit like an old child’s encyclopedia. Closer to lively lithographs than Rupert the Bear. It reminds me of the more contemporary work by Bryan Talbot. The Tale of One Bad Rat, or perhaps the artist that Talbot’s book pays homage to, Beatrix Potter. There’s even a bit of V for Vendetta in there, with the fat faces and beady eyes of cold men.
Marney, the titular fox, is the one character given real emotional depth. He isn’t overly anthropomorphized, though maybe in the eyes. He is an orphaned fox leading a lonely life and those big, sad looks he gives sure show it. The smile on his face after he manages to steal a Christmas turkey is a welcome bit of cartoonery in a mostly serious story. Marney appears like the other foxes, the dogs, stoats, birds, and fish. It is inside that Marney is different. He’s spiritually evolved. He has a sense of honor and obligation. He is the defender of the lonely. His inner voice is floral and poetic, where the men of the countryside speak in thick accents, animal grunts, low caste slang.
The outlandish series of events that Marney undergoes will come right up to beggaring belief. I think that the scope of the comic is meant to please all ages. Children will enjoy seeing the creatures of the forest, the domesticated animals of the farm, wild horses, seals, owls, mice. Parents can revel in the bounty of their homeland. The stories do a great job of leading into each other despite the ironclad recurring theme of escape against ludicrous odds. Sometimes it’s quite good, like when lazy travelers start a forest fire and Marney winds up shepherding a lost kitten back to its owner. Sometimes it’s just on this side of unbelievable, as when Marney is driven onto the land of an eccentric statesman and then hunted by his trained birds of prey.
The greatest danger in Marney the Fox is man. Hunters, farmers, all men with guns. Automobiles or floodwaters from a broken dam. So. Many. Evil. Poachers. The cruelty of “the arena.” There is plenty of Marney fighting off other woodland creatures for food or shelter, but man’s greed can even overwhelm the antagonism between animals. Unlikely friendships are forged, like Marney the Fox and Greytooth the Mongrel, because of the oppression of their mutual enemy. Marney is a odd and heady mix of romanticizing rural traditions and criticizing society’s treatment of those without a voice. It strongly reminds me of Richard Adams’ cult classic The Plague Dogs, the gothic adventure of two escapees from an animal testing facility.
Marney the Fox is a world where children are innocent and adults are largely heartless. Man is the enemy of all, though over time, the strip grows to treat this concept with more complexity. Children are kind, but some men are, too. Industry is the real evil, with its guns, bombs, pesticides, and cruelty. Industry is ever encroaching on nature, and the results are increasingly convoluted and disastrous. Man hates. Man shoots. Man even preys on man. The depictions of Romani people in Marney the Fox are unfortunate at best. What the British do to them is worse — a silver lining, I suppose — but what they do to Marney, the slurs used against them, it dates the piece in a way I wish weren’t present. Man is truly without pity in Marney the Fox.
And yet Marney the Fox is so very full of heart. It’s a gorgeous relic of a bygone era, a comic book without asphalt or screens or power lines. Not because modern technology was lost in an apocalypse, but because in those days such things were a flight of fancy, not a part of the world. Marney is a love letter to the raw earth, the countryside, the changing seasons, and life, lived free and wild.
Written by Scott Goodall.
Art by John Stokes.