Tough, Sweet Animals Survive the Apocalypse in Jen Lee’s Garbage Night

Garbage Night page one image via Nobrow

Garbage Night Cover by Jen Lee image via NobrowGarbage Night

Jen Lee (Writer and Artist)
Nobrow Press
June 13, 2017

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Imagining what survival will look like in the dystopian future is one thing, but what will it be like for our precious pets? Garbage Night is the second installment in Jen Lee’s series about three anthropomorphic animals surviving a world where all humans seem to have disappeared. Simon was a domesticated dog living with a family, but Cliff and Reynard–a raccoon and deer respectively–are wild animals. However, in the dilapidated suburb where they live, wild versus domesticated doesn’t mean much. The food is running out, so when a tough dog shows up and claims he’s on his way to a city where there are still people, they decide to travel there with him.

The pacing and composition of Garbage Night are incredible. There are no panel borders, just white gutters, emphasizing the lack of boundaries in the little broken town. When the group wanders into houses hunting for food it feels quite normal; it’s just a necessary part of the breakdown of civilization. Similarly, when Cliff slips through a window to scavenge, Simon and Reynard’s word bubbles slightly overlay Cliff’s panels, indicating that Cliff can hear their conversation. These details may feel small, but they are crucial to the dystopian atmosphere of the comic. Much of it takes place in the woods or outside the suburb, and without the presence of ruined houses and grocery stores, Lee uses composition and dialogue to perpetuate the loneliness and desperation necessary to the setting.

Danger in Garbage Night by Jen Lee, image via Nobrow
A dangerous moment in Jen Lee’s Garbage Night.

Lee is also a master of color, using it not only to indicate changes in time of day, but also to emphasize shifts in tone. During their journey, Simon and his friends encounter a few rough, dangerous animals, and when their interactions become especially dangerous Lee simplifies the backgrounds and drops the characters into a more solidly-colored, paler world that heightens emotion and action. It’s as if the readers “see red” along with the characters, although usually not in a literal sense.

Readers who have not yet read Vacancy, the comic that introduces Simon, Cliff, and Reynard, can easily jump into Garbage Night. (The book actually includes Vacancy, but it appears at the end.) Lee’s superb world-building immediately answers any questions new readers may have about the setting, and each character is expressive and endearing (except Barnaby, the tough, but rude stranger who leads them toward the fabled Fallbridge, where there are supposedly still humans). Simon is so sweet and sad, as one would imagine a dog without his beloved human family would be, and I felt particularly drawn to Reynard, whose large eyes often express fear and grief kept largely under wraps in order to survive. Cliff is wily and blunt, but clearly good-natured. It’s Cliff who shoves her hand up a vending machine to pull out food, Cliff who tries to scale an old amusement park ride to get bird eggs, and Cliff who keeps a calm head for the anxious Reynard. Only a cold-hearted reader wouldn’t root for these precious, punk animal teens immediately.

Garbage Night is already available in the UK and via Nobrow’s website, but will be released in Canada and the US on June 13th. Jen Lee and Nobrow will be at TCAF (Toronto Comics Arts Festival), so you can pick up a copy there or at your local bookstore! There’s also a really cute field guide introducing each character that you can read on Nobrow’s website.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.