Written by Nackiket Naik (@nachiketn)
The year 2021 was a transformative year for my own views on hyper-capitalism, so on the first day of 2022, I read the first issue of Monkey Meat, an anthology about a ruthless company with each issue exploring a new self-contained story. I haven’t read Juni Ba’s previous works, but I have only heard good things, especially about Djeliya, which by all accounts was a breakout hit. So while I was late to the Djeliya hype, I wanted to catch the Monkey Meat train early. I noticed that the title for Monkey Meat says Juni Ba’s Monkey Meat, but this is not a case of the artist not being credited. As a matter of fact, in this case, it is indeed a complete Juni Ba production with him delivering on all steps of the assembly line.
The first issue focuses on the story of Thaddeus Lug, an employee in the Monkey Meat Company, whose job is to procure monkey meat and clear the island of local “pest” tribes. The issue does something that I enjoy if done well: starting in media res. In this case, is “Lug” returning from a mission to get more meat for a special occasion and screwing up the drop. However, with the character interactions, we get more details, like Lug’s botched forays, the company watching his every move, and so on. After that, we get a bit of backstory on Lug as to how he got recruited and what he has been up to. It builds empathy for the character as we learn him to be circumstantially forced into working for the company and signing an overbearing contract. We simultaneously feel empathy for the island’s locals, the very tribes Lug was hired to “clean up.”
I enjoyed the art, for the most part. It invokes strong elements of modern adult animation and does well to highlight action while maintaining the whimsical and dark comedy tone of the story. It somehow struck me as a cross between Genndy Tartakovsky’s art style and Adult Swim animated shows. The colors are vibrant without being garish; there is restraint in not making things gritty or somber. It resonates with the nihilism that accompanies the stage of capitalism, where we silently accept the grimness of the situation and almost find amusement in the darkness. There is consistency in tone across the story, lineart, and colors which I suspect comes from being a single-person production. The art and design shine when it goes full throttle into the whimsical, such as making the page itself look like a contract. The one part I did feel there was room for improvement in was the expressiveness in the character’s face. A quieter moment here or there would help us feel more connected to Lug’s experience.
The story is new reader-friendly, and someone familiar with absurd adult animation humor would feel right at home with this. However, for someone absolutely new to the format of sequential comic book storytelling, it could be a harder sell.
There is something to note and love about Monkey Meat, and I expect the future issues to present more aspects of this world. There are moments of true comedy in the issue, and I hope Juni Ba goes from strength to strength with this title. I will end this review with my favorite gag from the comic which anyone who hates paperwork and unnecessary bureaucracy will certainly appreciate.