By Doug TenNapel
File this one away in the unexpected surprise department. Gear managed to fly completely under my radar when it was first published, nearly a decade ago, by Fireman Press. In fact, it wasn’t until I cracked open the book that I actually had any idea who Doug TenNapel was. By the third page of the story, it was clear—this was the artist behind the glorious mid-90s platform shoot-em-up Earthworm Jim.
Gear doesn’t quite live up to that to skewed masterpiece, but does manage to retain a fair amount of its own charm, taking a similarly bent approach to the funny animal comics genre, and adding in a health dose of robot fighting action, clearly influenced by TenNapel’s time spent working on fellow Fireman strip, Scud: Tales From the Vending Machine. There’s also dash of film noir, a touch of Stargate, some unblinking animal violence, and few awful puns added in for good measure.
Gear’s story revolves around four warring villages, two occupied by cats, one by dogs, and another by sword-wielding anthropomorphic insects, which resemble bi-pedal praying mantises. Naturally, each faction has one or a few guardians, large biomechnical robots charged with protecting their village. Also naturally, none of the villages are big fans of the others, but build desperate alliances in order to dominate the rest. Somewhere along the line, an expedition is put together, in order to discover the mythological ‘Forbidden Mechanism,’ which might finally put an end to these wars once and for all.
It’s the discovery of said mechanism, which gives rise to the title character, appropriately something not unlike a cross between Scud and that famous trigger-happy oligochaeta.
Gear is a fantastic little book, in just about every sense of the word, with plot points that grow increasingly more bizarre as the book progresses. On occasion, TenNapel’s then-unpolished storytelling has the tendency to make the already-idiosyncratic book that much more difficult to grasp. It’s TenNapel’s uniquely wonderful artwork that serves as the serves as the book’s centerpiece. Even as the story’s sometimes abrupt jump cuts muddle the proceedings, his images paint a world that makes you want to stick around until the bitter end.