Writers/Artists: Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot
Publisher: Rebus Books
Release Date: January 23, 2013
Were you to judge this compilation of work by French cartoonists Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot (their first English translation) by its cover, you might expect something far gentler than its contents reveal: bestiality, random violence, orgies of the disabled, colonialism, and racism. This book should go on the shelves your children cannot yet reach. The outré subject matter is an easy focus that could attract either praise or damnation of a knee-jerk variety for the collaborative duo, but Barrel of Monkeys has much to recommend even if you find its topics repellent.
It’s not for nothing that its creators won the prize for Best Newcomer six years ago at the Angoulème International Comics Festival. Ruppert and Mulot work together on both writing and drawing, and there’s no apparent distinction between their contributions. Instead, the pages seem the work of a single mind interested in pushing the boundaries of what comics can do. Numerous phenakistoscopes (primitive animation devices resembling a flattened zoetrope) appear throughout; other pages incorporate a magic-eye-like technique, requiring the reader to refocus her or his eyes to perceive a cuboid series of events. It all requires slow going, and patience is rewarded with jokes, as with a particularly entertaining, pun-dependent strip about Sign Language and the Deaf that must have been difficult to translate from French American Sign Language to American, requiring redrawing. The visuals are mostly simple line drawings, stripped of anything extraneous to communication, but they contain much that requires thoughtful reading, too. This pairing of cerebral form with visceral subject matter is a strange combination, as if Chris Ware combined his genetic material with that of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but it makes for an intoxicating experience.