Review: The Furry Trap
by Josh Simmons
Published by Fantagraphics
Currently in-stock at The Beguiling
Review by Jason Azzopardi
When I last rhapsodized about his comics, I declared (probably ad nauseam) that Josh Simmons was a master craftsman of palpable dread, and that his first full-length graphic novel, House, was maybe the most saturated, uncomfortable example of the sensation that I’ve ever come across. Well, that is a bit of a grandiose statement, I know, but I’ve always reveled in hyperbole and this is something I absolutely stand by. In his most recent book, The Furry Trap, that feeling, once again, permeates everything on the page, but this time it’s interwoven with different degrees of pure raw terror that shred like fingers on a cheese grater. It’s not so much the suffocating shadows this time, but the things that hide in them.
Subtitled, Horror Stories, 2004-2011, the eleven shorts within navigate through an eclectic hodgepodge of genres and themes, each more chilling than the last. Much of the content is grueling, though not because the comics are badly done, but because they are so goddamn readable considering the images you are being forced to digest. And when I say forced, I mean by your own hand, because once you start, you really can’t stop.
Out of the gate, Simmons takes a cheeky poke, literally and metaphorically, with “In a Land of Magic”. The only question remaining, once the tale is done, is, at whom is the poke directed? With its buoyant tone and ludicrously floral language and cartooning, it seems to be at the silly tropes of the fantasy genre.
…nothing in those initial pages prepares you for what happens when two faeries venture beyond the safe borders of their magical kingdom. Once confronted by an evil wizard, everything goes exactly as it should; the good guy wins. But it’s when he “wins” in the most appalling, ultra-violent, sexually-assaultive ways imaginable that questions begin to arise of who the good guy actually is, or if the very concept of a “good guy” is even plausible.
And now the rest of the book is set up for the reader: anything is possible, so be prepared…
…be prepared for a mysterious caped figure who crusades against crime against a gritty urban landscape. Except, unlike the mysterious caped figure that we are used to (so charming in his alter ego, so terrifying in his superhero persona), this “bat” is a deeply disturbed individual, scarred by childhood trauma and, following a lifetime of obsession and violence, desensitized to any human connection beyond the dispensation of his own distressing brand of sadomasochism.
…be prepared for the rustic nightmare of “Night of the Jibblers”, where a rural community, located somewhere between real-world farming village and gothic fairytale, is assaulted by their own mythical monsters. The monsters in question – Jibblers – are simply us, but unchecked by social morality, rules and conditioning. They do everything they want to do, and everything they want to do is primal. If they see something, they consume it; someone, and they fuck them. The story, beginning with the hushed whispers and gossip of the locals, builds and builds and builds with a foreboding sense of doom that, by the end, can do nothing else but explode, leaving us to wipe off the gore.
…then be prepared for three ends of the world.
First, it all literally ends when “Jesus Christ” arrives on Judgment Day, and all of humanity is found wanting. No one is saved. There is no rapture. No forgiveness. No grace. Only a series of horrifying vistas of our “savior” (in the form of a Godzilla-sized centaur), pulling a sword from his scarred mouth (clearly having done this before) and swinging about Armageddon.
Family and society end in the harrowing tale of “Cockbone”, where, following some unseen extinction event, a depraved, inbred family spends their remaining days raping their simple brother/son and consuming his never-ending juices. It’s insane. It’s truly fucking insane. But, knowing what humanity is actually capable of in the real world, it also makes too much goddamn sense.
And finally, the world ends individually in “Demonwood”, the tale which most resembles our world, and the story which lingers the longest, where a slightly damaged man is haunted by a string of bad life-choices and failures until his own personal demon arrives to finish it all off.
Throughout the book, Josh Simmons proves to be an adept artistic chameleon, moving effortlessly through styles and aesthetics. Jagged scratches and cross-hatching, precise European clean-line, hefty blacks, dense shapes, naïve pencil-crayoned outsider art; it’s all there, each style perfectly suited to the tale it tells, and each tale, consequently, leaving a nightmarish aftertaste.
Some might find the content offensive. It depicts images and relates stories that, on the surface, go against the grain of everything normally palatable in society. But innovation is rarely normal or palatable, and these stories do what all great works of art should; they provoke.
The Furry Trap removes all romance and titillation from each story’s genre roots. This isn’t exhilarating movie violence, it is down and dirty ripping, pulling and tearing. The reader can’t root for a hero because there is no heroic behavior depicted, just pure viscera. From its uncomfortable, steam-filled cover image on down, this book asks what should or shouldn’t be shown in art, and then questions what you, the reader, are looking for in your entertainment. Or rather, what you are really looking for. Then it dares to ask you, why.
This book is greasy. It stains your mind and, try as you might, you simply can’t wash it out. Each story makes you wonder more and more why the fuck anybody push things that far, but also makes you thank fuck that somebody did.
The images are, without question, disturbing, but for all their repulsive impact, they also never fail to remind us that they are just drawings.
And, honestly, they pale in comparison to the hatred, corruption, extremism and genocide that humanity is actually capable of, or even just the millions of physical and emotional degradations found on the internet with less than a second of searching.
But, ultimately, it is Demonwood’s implicit ending which unsettles the most, through the most abstract form of communication possible; a simple line of text:
“Let’s get started…”
And so it ends, chilled to the bone.
Josh Simmons doesn’t make comics, he makes bear traps. They hoodwink you into thinking that you’re walking down a well-trodden trail, and then they snap shut on your leg. You struggle futilely with (and even slightly against) them for a little while until you come to the unavoidable conclusion that the only remaining course of action is to roll up your pant leg and start chewing.