Review - The Woodland Welfare Manifesto

"Remember, my friends - do not wake bear, for they are very grumpy in the morning!"

Manifestos sound a lot more cogent than they actually usually are. The word itself seems rational and intelligent. The thing is, some manifestos make sense only to the writer and a select few of said writer's followers. That's not to say there isn't a place for them; it's just that successfully delivering the message often requires some convincing on the part of the writer. Animals may be a great way to sell a manifesto though, like in The Woodland Welfare Manifesto from Slave Labor Graphics, written by Justin Sane and illustrated by John Hageman, Jr.

What do a burned bear, singed rabbit and perverted monkey have in common? A need for money, that's what. Burnt Beat, Crazy Rabbit and Pervert Monkey are three proletarian animals raging against the capitalist machine. Turns out that even if you're an anarchist rabbit, you've still got to pay the bills; even if that means going on quite an adventurous journey throughout a heavily populated forest. And it all starts with Burnt Bear being cut off from the disability checks he was making his way in life on.

From the beginning, The Woodland Welfare Manifesto holds nothing back. There's a very clear assault on the current state of things, with the concepts of capitalism ruining lives and anarchy being the path to freedom. Sane presents those tenets through anthropomorphizing the animals and having them act as the conduits for social commentary. It works pretty well, ensuring that the book isn't taken too seriously. The thing is, there is a very real satire within the pages that manages to seep through every now and then (at some points it clubs you over the head). It's a good mix between humor and soapbox ranting and the characters remain true to their positions in the entire production. The dialogue is told in a broken Russian accent which keeps the book feel fresh and moving along at a nice pace.

Artistically, the book looks as crazy as some of the characters. Hageman, Jr., has given forest creatures all manner of ailments and depravity, promising to make those characters memorable to the reader. There's a Ren and Stimpy feel in some of the action as well; while things don't get quite as disgusting as that show did, the reader does follow a half-burnt bear for the duration of the book. The colors and outlines are bold and pop off the page. And each character's facial expressions appropriately showcase their emotion (and general sentiment) throughout the book. It's a testament to Hageman, Jr., to present creatures who are convincingly human in some ways.

The Woodland Welfare Manifesto is an interesting book that doesn't really apologize for what it is. There are some rather scathing observations made about the culture we live in today and hiding those behind furry forest animals doesn't diminish them at all. In fact, the appearance of the characters emboldens those positions. Sane's story is very much relevant even if it's extremely opinionated and the characters make for great vehicles for that opinion. The look of the book feels childish at times, but Hageman, Jr., uses that style to subtly insert his own perverse takes on what an anarchist rabbit, perverted money and burnt bear would really look like. The Woodland Welfare Manifesto is a book that's definitely full of emotion on the part of the creative team and is interesting if you're missing crass forest animals rising up against the system.

The Woodland Welfare Manifesto will be available June 18 on Amazon and comixology, which are technically the same thing.