(Spoiler Alert: Phalluses are the stuff of nightmares)
A few weeks ago during spring break, two of my fellow MA grad students and I made our way to Seattle, Washington. Of course, being the people that we are, we had to visit Fantagraphics flagship store, and check it out. It was an overwhelming event as the comics, ranging from local zines to beautiful extensive anthologies, all called out to me to purchase them, and after spending some time determining that getting a Tony Millionaire illustration would not be worth the several weeks’ of ramen I’d have to consume in sacrifice of it, I stacked a few books that peeked my interest, including Ant Colony from Drawn & Quarterly (that I hope to get in the near future once I’ve read a few novels and poems). I decided on The Furry Trap on the recommendation of the store manager who referred to it as a book that would linger with me long after I read it. That plus the fact that it was five bucks cheaper than the other books I was checking out made it a done deal, and I walked away with a book featuring two bloodied naked men in the midst of a knife fight on the back cover.
I had never heard of Josh Simmons prior to The Furry Trap, and I don’t think I’d be at my current level of sanity had I encountered his work earlier in life. Simmons, a Seattle native and a well-mannered nice guy according to Fantagraphics’ manager, is not afraid of drawing some horrific images. The Furry Trap contains eleven short horror comics of varying length all written between 2004 to 2011 and they traverse from fantastic to dystopic, absurdist to apocalyptic, and at all times psychotic. Starting things of with “A Land of Magic,” Simmons uses a children’s fairytale illustration style and generic plot (adolescent elves leaving their idyllic realm to venture into the dark forest) to tell a truly twisted tale that left my mouth agape for several minutes after. It was then that I recognized that Simmons was not concerned with Goosebumps scares, but instead the real fucked up shit. To say more that story would ruin it, but just so you know there’s dicks involved.
And dicks seem to be a running theme throughout Simmons’ book, particularly the threat of rape of men, women and entire families by sadistic beings as most prominently seen in both “Demonwood” and “Night of the Jibblers,” Simmons’ take on a boogeyman story that involves the assault on an old man’s dreams and then home by a group of humanoid insects called Jibblers that sport Christmas hats. The former story follows a man’s first day on the job at the titular forest, and the encounter he has that night with a demon who reveals that horrific shit is in store for his family as a result of all his folly. What is great about all the stories described so far is that their early sections feel like stories we’ve seen many times, but when Simmons lets the evil shit make its appearance those characters deliver dialogue so dryly that I feel chilled by the actions that mostly take place off panel.
Among the collection are other stories that maintain the horror of the aforementioned comics while injecting some dark humor. The first that comes to mind is “Mark of The Bat,” a Batman parody that sees a worn down Batman driven to sadistic methods of tracking the cowardly lot of criminals that reside in Gotham. In one fantastic page where Catwoman joins the Dark Knight, she remarks on how his recent change in behavior has zapped all the allure he once possessed all the while Batman broodingly stares off into the distance. Then in ‘Asshole Roommate’ we see the downsides of having a shape-shifter sleeping down the hall from you.
Course none of the stories in this collection would evoke the scares that they do had it not been for Simmons’ ability to shift between varying art styles, employing colors that evoke the tone of each story and also character designs that are both expressive and diversely drawn. Although Simmons’ work may not be a comic I soon recommend to a casual comic fan, his revelry in the medium’s darker areas is a delightful change from the whimsy and over-intellectualization that often gain the most critical praise. I’ll definitely be sporting this on a coffee table in the future if I ever somehow acquire one.