Sometimes there ain't nothing as shuddersome as a good Southern rat tale. If you've never had the experience of dealing with a rat infestation, let me tell you, it's goddamn horrendous. Those black-eyed, pink-tailed, voracious little fuckers are just about the manifestation of all of the nightmares of the universe crawling across the floor hungry for peanut butter and brazenly leaving little seeds of their execrable excrement in their wake.
And they travel in packs.
And they don't give a shit about you or yours.
Alan King and Jamie Vayda's 20 page chapbook, The Rats Were Bad That Year, captures this horror perfectly. While it's more of an illustrated story than a comic book, in The Rats Were Bad That Year King and Vayda play off each other's strengths to impart the psychological damage a bunch of fucking rats can wreck on a family's psyche, as well as the lingering damage it imparts. A man can be shaped by the battle he wages against rodents, and, if he is a thinking man, many philosophical musings can arise from the pitch.
As demonstrated by their previous collaborations in Loud Comix, King is a masterful storyteller and Vayda's art consistently punctuates his narratives. While Deep South Punk rockers at heart, King and Vayda play like Jazz musicians in The Rats Were Bad That Year, each riffing off the song's theme with their own particular instruments, exploring the harmony between them.
Funny, frightening, and full of human foibles, The Rats Were Bad That Year does what any great story will do. It sets you up, brings you in, makes you think, and then releases you into yourself. It's about time and place and character as much as it is about narrative. It's about King telling you about himself as you tell yourself about you. While you may have never seen your own dad crush a rat's head under his work boot, something about King's words and Vayda's art makes it as real for you as if you were sitting right next to it, hearing its scream and the crunch of its skull, smelling the blood and the brains as they ooze across the linoleum floor of the kitchen.
It's the distance from the experience that somehow makes it thicker in the retelling. King's had the opportunity for reflection, and through this is able to convey the immediacy of the incident. So, while the monstrosity of the moment is distant through time, The Rats Were Bad That Year has, in its construction, a layer of cerebration that sticks thick to its audience. Vayda allows the story to do the heavy lifting, his artwork serves to punctuate as much as to illustrate.
This is a brutish little story about a hellish childhood experience writ funny and profound.
And damn if it ain't well worth the two bucks to read it.
You can pick up The Rats Were Bad That Year through Birdcage Bottom Books here.