Written by: Scott Goodall
Art by: John Stokes
Price: £17.99 (UK)
This Graphic Novel reprints the following Marney the Fox stories:
- Buster (June 1974 – September 1976)
Originally published in Buster during the mid-seventies, Marney the Fox differed from the more humour-led strips seen in the comic, and instead offered a dramatic and often brutally realistic glimpse at the treatment of wild foxes. Inspired by adventures such as Tarka the Otter, Watership Down and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Marney the Fox tells the story of a fox cub, orphaned at a young age and forced the survive alone in the beautiful, yet dangerous Devon countryside. Casting Marney in the lead role, the reader soon sympathises with the young animal and his plight against “hated man” and other natural predators.
Writer Scott Goodall infuses his adventure with a raw sense of realism that works well with John Stokes’ heavily detailed art. Each two-page installment captures the intensity of the life and death struggles that Marney is up against as he continuously clashes with nature. This collection reproduces the original strips in all their glory, capturing the essence of Stokes’ beautiful panel work. I was amazed at the quality of the artwork in this series, especially considering the more cartoonish visuals seen elsewhere in Buster’s pages. Stokes’ artwork emphasises the brutality of Goodall’s story, capturing the impassive environment of the Devonshire countryside and the danger that lurks in every corner.
While many of the stories revolve around the ‘dangers of man’ and present humans in a negative light, it never feels preachy in tone – instead, educating whilst entertaining. I really like this style of ‘ethical storytelling’ and I think it is something that is lacking in modern-day comics. While there are occasional kind-hearted humans seen in the stories, the bulk of human interaction involves people attempting to rid the countryside of foxes, or selfishly benefit from the creature in some way. Written in the seventies when fox-hunting was legal, it is somewhat shocking to see this behaviour represented in the strips and the blood-thirsty nature of the “hated man” antagonists. Even now, while fox-hunting is illegal, the creatures themselves are still seen as vermin and a pest for farmers.
The initial adventures in this collection feel limited by the two-page instalments, often resolving and setting up cliff-hangers in quick succession. As a result, it feels as if Marney is leaping from the frying pan into the fire in each episode. Later stories become more evenly-paced, taking place over multiple instalments to establish a more engaging storyline. There’s also a shift from the realistic encounters with fox-hunters and other animals seen in the initial chapters to more fantastical stories, such as rescuing a new-born baby from a flood, becoming a test animal for a university laboratory and getting embroiled in a hunt for buried treasure.
I’m surprised at just how much drama poor Marney undergoes in his life. It feels relentless at times and the very downbeat tone of the book feels typical of the other releases in the Treasury of British Comics range, such as One-Eyed Jack and The Leopard of Lime Street. It also feels quintessentially British, thanks to its Devonshire setting and the grim realism that pervades each tale. Goodall doesn’t hold back and there are frequent scenes of animal cruelty and death – there is one particular scene where a young fox cub is shot dead that is very haunting, and I’m surprised that it was published in a children’s comic. It reminds me of The Animals of Farthing Wood TV series, which never shied away from showcasing the gorier side of nature, despite its target audience of children.
In his introduction for this collection, artist John Stokes calls the series “a Marmite story” saying that readers either loved it or hated it, and I have to say that much like the yeast spread, I absolutely loved it. I have a soft spot for this gritty style of storytelling and Scott Goodall does a tremendous job at giving readers an insight into the fox’s thought processes, making Marney a strong central character that readers quickly embrace and care about. The opening adventure bears some resemblance to Bambi, albeit stripped away from the Disney niceties and injected with British practicalities. Fast-paced adventure with a hint of social commentary bubbling underneath, Marney the Fox is definitely worth revisiting all these years after its debut, offering readers a wonderfully poignant look at the life of a wild fox. A forgotten classic, Marney the Fox deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Watership Down and The Animals of Farthing Wood as a leader in anthropomorphised fiction.
Score – ★★★★
Marney the Fox is available in print from Amazon and 2000AD’s Webshop from 5th October 2017. A special edition (limited to 50 copies) is exclusively available from 2000AD’s Webshop and includes a numbered bookplate and art print, both signed by John Stokes.