In the film Chupacabra vs. The Alamo (2013) a town is plagued by a pack of Chupacabras (the legendary “goatsucker” that is believed to stalk parts of the Americas). In Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico (2004) the residents of Veracruz are also stalked by the Chupacabra. Until that is, the Mystery, Inc. crew solve the puzzle. In today’s post, I’d like to explore a random offshoot to the crime fiction genre. Animal noir.
Stretch your imagination past the Chupacabra and you arrive at Eric Garcia and his Anonymous Rex series which includes Anonymous Rex (1999), Casual Rex (2001) and Hot and Sweaty Rex (2004). The series features the private detective Vincent Rubio and his partner, Ernie Watson and the cases they work on are as hardboiled as they come. If you can suspend your disbelief that is. Vincent and Ernie are in fact dinosaurs (a Velociraptor and a Triceratops to be exact) disguised as humans. Dinosaurs didn’t die out, rather they are alive and well and living in Los Angeles. They don’t drink but get high by eating herbs, which allows them to fit nicely into the hardboiled world. In Garcia’s stories, one in every 20 or so humans is actually a dinosaur. I promise you I am not making this up. Dinosaur noir is big business. Big enough for the ScyFy channel to make a film version at any rate. Anonymous Rex was released in 2004 starring Daniel Baldwin and Faye Dunaway.
Garcia isn’t alone in this, and nor was he the first to drift into animal mafia, if that is even such a thing. Jonathan Lethem’s 1994 novel Gun, With Occasional Music, introduces us to Joey Castle, a gun-toting kangeroo. Lethem’s novel is set in a futuristic version of San Francisco and is also written in the hardboiled style, in fact, the cover of the book makes it looks like something Raymond Chandler might have produced. In Lethem’s world animals have been given human levels of intelligence and citizens keep cards which record their crimes and misdeeds. A karma card, if you will. Crimes are punished by deleting points from the card. Once you reach zero you are put to sleep. Cryogenic sleep that is, until you have slept off your debt to society. What makes this concept even more fascinating is that the detective is hovering dangerously close to zero points. Living in the hardboiled style means he is constantly in danger of being sent to the deep freeze. If you look at graphic and comic novels the animal noir offshoot looks even bigger. In Grandville (2009) Bryan Talbot introduces us to the Holmesian Detective LeBrock who is a badger with a rat for a partner. Spanish duo Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido give us John Blacksad, a cat cum hardboiled detective in a series of comic albums also featuring police commissioner Smirnov, a German Shepherd dog.
The development of any genre is in the hands of those who seek to drive it forward. You may scoff at the worth or value of animal noir, but to me ‘worth’ is defined by whether something finds an audience, not how it gets there, or how big the audience is when it does. Ratings and books sales are important and will always drive the commercial aspect of programme production and publishing, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the viewer and the reader. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) imagines a land in which prehistoric creatures still survive. All Garcia did was to develop this idea and use a well established hardboiled style to tell his stories. Conan Doyle gave us a terrifying beast in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). All Stephen King did in Cujo (1982) was replace Conan Doyle’s phosphorus with a rabid bat, but the effect and the terror is essentially the same.
Any genre needs to develop or it will stagnate and die. Animal noir might sound like a bizarre form of fairy story, but let me take you right back to the very start of the detective fiction genre. If you consider The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe then it isn’t that much of a stretch from a razor-wielding orangutan to a gun-toting kangeroo. Animals are the bedrock of our literary education with classic works like Watership Down (1972), Charlotte’s Web (1952) and The Wind in The Willows (1908). They are also the stars of one of the greatest works of fiction, George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945). And no, I am not trying to compare Scooby Doo! and the Monster of Mexico to a dystopian masterpiece. But I do think there is an audience for both.