The Series: Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
The Heroes: A pack of dogs—Jack, Whitey, Pugsley, Ace, Rex, Miranda—and one cat, The Orphan.
The Ideal Format: An animated series, a la Scooby Doo, only much darker.
Beasts of Burden is a little-known gem of a comic series, set in the idyllic town of Burden Hill. This quaint hamlet looks like any other you might find on a long drive through the country: there are white picket fences galore, charming patches of woodland, sprinklers in the front yards, and dog houses in the back.
The humans of Burden Hill live in blissful ignorance of any of the dark forces surrounding them—because their devoted pets are busy fighting them off to protect their oblivious masters.
The ragtag heroes of this series all walk on four legs. There's:
- Ace, the courageous Husky.
- Pugsley, the cynical pug.
- Rex, the cowardly Doberman.
- Jack and Whitey, the high-strung terriers.
- Miranda, the clever Labrador.
- The Orphan, the sole cat of the group.
These normal pets quickly realize that there's something very wrong in the town of Burden Hill when they find themselves beset by ghosts, witches, zombified roadkill, giant frogs, and a very tragic werewolf.
With the help of a mysterious canine society known as the Wise Dogs, our heroes learn magic spells and face down these paranormal threats with all of the loyalty and fortitude man's best friend is renowned for.
Beasts of Burden is a series I've long recommended to people, and one that would translate easily to a small screen. Who doesn't love a good “Monster of the Week” show, brimming with supernatural forces, plucky underdog (I'd apologize for the pun, but I ain't even sorry) heroes, and genuinely emotional stories?
There's just so much to love here. Thompson's realistic art style would work beautifully on an animated show, and underscores the fact that while the stories may have elements of the fantastic to them, they're still grounded in a world that's very real and familiar.
Burden Hill looks like so many small American towns, and while the dogs (and cat) may be able to use magic, they're still normal animals. They talk—but it's an animal language that humans don't understand. And, they still worry about everyday things like angry masters, teenagers who get a sick kick out of torturing puppies, and speeding cars. They're typical pets that just happen to be thrown into atypical situations.
It's a concept that hasn't been done before on TV, a cross between Homeward Bound and Supernatural. An adaptation of Beasts would definitely have to be aimed at an older audience, given the complexity and darkness in some of these stories. The very first Beasts tale is a haunted house story—the house in question just happens to belong to a dog, and the ghost haunting it had been buried alive—very Cask of Amontillado.
In one story, a young mother comes to the pack looking for her puppies, which have disappeared without a trace. What they discover is a pond filled with bones and unquiet spirits—spirits that possess several of our heroes in order to exact their revenge against an incredibly cruel teenager.
Another particularly moving adventure has brave Ace developing a deep attachment to a strange boy the pack rescues one cold winter night: a boy who, impossibly, can understand the dogs' language. The tale ends with a lot of blood and tears, like all the best fairy tales.
And like any good fairy tale, Beasts is brimming with details and vivid world building. The story-telling possibilities are vast, and the stakes are real: several characters die or are badly injured in the course of their adventures. There's no candy coating here, and very few pat answers.
There would be ample opportunities for cross-over events: as a Dark Horse series, Beasts of Burden has already featured the BPRD's Hellboy, now well-known to audiences thanks to Guillermo del Toro's wonderful films.
While there are more animated shows aimed at adults now than ever before, most of those shows are in the vein of Archer and Bojack Horseman: full of witticisms, humor, and raunchy behavior. Beasts of Burden would eschew that tone and be a more straightforward horror/adventure series.
Done right, this could be a darkly beautiful show with atmospheric settings, unsettling tension, and heartstring-tugging moments. A good fit for SyFy, FX, or perhaps AMC—I could easily see it on a double billing with The Walking Dead. It’s just the thing for those who grew up loving Scooby Doo and Courage: The Cowardly Dog.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.