It’s very likely you’ve never read a comic book like the Beef before. Sure it’s about someone with super powers, yes it has a romance and you would be correct to point out the vile and over the top villains, but still The Beef is unlike other comics because its not just a comic. The drawn adventures of our hero aren’t simply a way of telling a classic superhero tale that pokes fun at the old pseudo-sci-fi origins of many favourite characters of the past, this one clearly being a spook of Marvel’s Hulk. But the silly (and frequently upsetting) story that befalls our hero and the people surrounding him aren’t the only story here, the true tale is one of real life and one that occurs thousands of times a day all over the globe, the true villain between the pages here is the meat and dairy industry.
Even though you may have fallen prey to the very cool and fun mock up versions of real bovine produce that made up several of the covers (Like the cuts of beef or carton of milk), it’s clear once you begin the story that the writers are far from fans of this institution. As the book progresses the horror of what happens to cows throughout their life is told through the eyes of Chuck who not only works in the meat industry just like his father, but also consumes burgers and milkshakes on mass daily. Secondly it is told more directly to the reader, explaining several processes in dairy farming and meat packing that unless you’ve seen a documentary or two, you probably have no idea about. What takes this comic away from other ones that face real life issues unblinkingly is the sheer detail that this book covers, from the artificial insemination of females to the iron deficiency in calves who are destined to become veal. It really becomes an animal advocates worst nightmare (You have been warned), and not just because the two idiots who are devoted to making –‘s life hell are pretty good at it.
The art style provided by Shaky Lane may seem a little odd and minimal at first, but the use of generally flat colour kind of adds a playfulness that the tragedies inside need to bounce off. It has a retro nostalgic style to it that is very pop art and oddly fitting for this tale. What could be seen as a simplistic art style, actually emulates the basic instructions on hospital pamphlets and safety leaflets, making the book once again tow the line between fictional fun and imaginative information handout. But even though it unquestionably points a very firm finger at something truly horrific, the adventures of Chuck are still fun to read, there is still a comic in there.
It’s safe to say this book is tongue in cheek, and yet it has a great deal of depth. The graphic and descriptive process of turning a cow into a machine for milk or meat is full of step-by-step detail to help readers fully grasp each element. They say the devil is in the details, and here each detail is laid out like an infographic for all to see. Once you read The Beef, it’s clear who writers Tyler Shainline and Richard Starkings believe the devil is, and you are likely to agree.