Comic Book Review – Monkey Meat

Monkey Meat (2022)
Reprints Monkey Meat #1-5
Written & Illustrated by Junji Ba

To quote Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!, “All the food is poison.” One thing I’ve learned while living in The Netherlands is that society doesn’t have to have a constant flood of food recalls as they are in the United States. You ensure that by being very strict about what is and isn’t allowed for consumption and then enforcing those regulations. The United States essentially decided to hand regulatory power for meat packing plants to the companies themselves. Between the nightmarish working conditions that have a severe psychological impact on the workers, the cruel treatment of animals, to the chemicals & toxins allowed into America’s meat, it’s no wonder public health is dismal. Sinclair Lewis’s The Jungle had an impact in its time, but it’s clear that effect has faded. Now, there seems to be a story every few days about children (often migrants) being found working in meat packing plants doing work that has driven adults to suicide and death. 

Junji Ba is a Senegalese comics writer/artist who speaks to his upbringing in a part of the world ravaged by Western colonialism and its partner in crime, capitalism. Ba found inspiration to make his own comics growing up by reading works like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, the Japanese manga Shaman King, and what is most visually evident in his style, The Gorillaz. The art is intentionally busy, with kinetic energy exploding off the page. Characters are hyper-stylized, reminding me of Cartoon Network fare from the early-mid 2000s. There’s also liberal use of in-universe advertisements presented as if they are ads found in a comic book, all centered around products made by the Monkey Meat Corporation.

Monkey Meat is an anthology set in a shared universe, where Monkey Meat Island is the home of the aforementioned company. It’s meant to be placed in a developing nation where the factory city is nestled safely behind the walls of a compound. Beyond that is a vast jungle where the company harvests its main product. This is where it gets complicated because it gets incredibly chaotic between the rotating central character aspect and Ba’s particular style of storytelling. There’s Lug, a massive brute who the company has exert its will on tribes & revolutionary movements that rise up. He’s reluctant to do it, but as the story progresses, you learn why he seems to be in their servitude.

The Monkey Meat Company is the clear villain of the whole piece and goes to comically absurd lengths to exercise their will, including chasing down someone dead to the afterlife and coercing God into a contract to give them the soul back. That soul becomes part of a new line of drinks called Soul Juice which ensures one of their lackeys can never find peace in death. 

While Ba’s art is playing things for comedy somewhat, it’s truly a horror story because food manufacturers aren’t too far off from being this fucking awful. Coca-Cola hired literal death squads to enforce their will in Columbia, plus they invented Fanta to keep making a profit in Nazi Germany despite pulling Coke products from Europe. Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s all continue to use child slave labor to harvest cocoa despite “pledging” to drop the practice years prior. Nestle has gone further by expanding their bottled water production by buying up freshwater rights throughout the United States. Their leadership has made it clear that they do not see clean water as a human right. 

People in nations like Senegal are routinely forced into slave labor or what would be considered adjacent to slavery legally. Their homelands are stripped of valuable resources that the people are not allowed to profit from by a foreign corporate entity that has used another nation’s military to enforce their rule. Most people in the West live in ignorance of these facts, and honestly, I’ve found most people you tell just come up with excuses not to care. As long as a Westerner is distracted with treats and entertainment, they simply can’t be bothered to give a fuck about people struggling to provide them with that contentment. Having a voice like Ba’s in comics is vital. Superheroes are fun, and I enjoy funny books, but if you are an adult, it’s time to grow up and do a deep examination of how your life is made and what it is on the backs of slaves on the other side of the world. Their struggle is my struggle, and if I must make do with significantly less, that is simply what must be. None of us are free until all of us are free.

While I found Monkey Meat chaotic, it was still an enjoyable read. I would like to see Ba hone his narrative down more and find a way to keep the energy but deliver a funny & moving story about the ravages of colonialism. Monkey Meat can be extremely on the nose, which knowing American audiences, you sort of have to be. Subtlety is something the average comics reader just ain’t great at. Look at every superhero movie ever made with its sledgehammer of themes being spoken out loud. If you’re looking for a different perspective and a comic book that has a style that blends familiar imagery with an original take, Monkey Meat certainly does the job. It’s a loud, angry, funny scream into the void against the devils who feed us poison. 


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