Title: Carnal: Pride of the Lions
Author: Jason Bergenstock
Artist: John Connell
Publisher: Sea Lion Books
Release Date: 01/06/2013
If pressed, I'd admit that not all anthropomorphic animal books are my style. It took me a while to get into Carnal because of this, but I have to admit... the artwork kept bringing me back. Why? Because it's freaking amazing. As far as the story goes, it's pretty much Avatar mixed with Lion King mixed with a dystopian-esque world.
The first graphic novel in the Carnal series, Pride of the Lions takes place on the continent of New Africa and focuses on three main species of humanistic animals. After the Great War decades earlier between the hyenas and the lions, the victorious and once united lion prides now lay scattered across the land, torn by civil unrest over territory disputes and food shortages. The hyena clans that survived the war were forced deep into the Earth and now live in a massive underground city under the control of a terrible witch. The buffalo race is indifferent to most other species and have walled themselves off from the rest of the kingdoms. Humans have lost their hold on the African territories long ago and live as a simple, nomadic species. The first book opens with Long Eyes, an old sapphire-eyed lion who is determined to save the lion kingdom and rescue his warrior son, Oron, who has gone missing. Long Eyes believes Oron is the key to uniting the prides. A young lioness tracker named Omi is sent out with the protection of two lion brothers to locate the missing warrior, but what they find is something that may unravel the very foundation of life for all species.
For me, the artwork was one of the best parts of this read. Connell is pretty skilled and his artwork brings a really lovely touch to the story. The animal-people in the story are originally descended from humans and witches, so Connell tries very hard to make them both animal and human-like at the same time. Omi's artwork accomplished this part exceptionally well, and I was reminded of the character Neytiri from Avatar mixed in with a little Julie Bell/Boris Valejo. (And yes, if you're into hot cat girls, Omi is rather nice looking if you don't mind lion faces.)
Story-wise, it took me a while to get into. There's a lot of jumping between points in time, as characters remember things that are important to them and to the story. It does help, however, that there's a pretty good idea here and there's hints at various story lines and plot points. I'm somewhat convinced that some of the magic mentioned in the story might actually be science, although this is just my own personal theory. I'm rather interested in seeing if this is the case, especially since it means that we might get some nice creepy scenes of various animal/human characters slinking around abandoned medical and scientific facilities. (OK, I admit it, I'm a sucker for anything that explores abandoned places.) Even if it is magic and not science, there's still a chance for this, as humans did and still do exist in this series.
When I did get hooked into the story, I was fully drawn in. The last part of the story was rather surprising and a little sad, but it did serve to stir up my appetite for the next book. I don't think that I'll love this as desperately as I have Storm Born or Pariah, but this was a darn good story with some freaking great artwork in it. It might not necessarily be my thing, but it's incredibly well done.
4 out of 5 stars
(e-copy provided by Sea Lion Books)
*Carnal Knowledge - Interview with John Connell (ComicBooked.com)
This won't be out until next year, but until then you have this lovely trailer to whet your appetite!