The Collected Arn Saba’s Neil the Horse
Katherine Collins, 360 pgs, Conundrum Press, conundrumpress.com, $25
It would be hard — very hard — to find work as diverse as that of Canadian cartoonist Katherine Collins (formerly Arn Saba). Collins’ Neil the Horse, originally published in the ’80s, stood unique among its peers. Not content with the violent aesthetic of many of its comic book contemporaries, Neil the Horse was staunchly light-hearted and playful, often incorporating elaborately choreographed dance numbers, prose stories with only minimal illustration, or songs accompanied by sheet music (not for nothing is it billed as “the world’s only musical comic book”).
“Video Warriors,” a four-part story from late in Neil’s run, exemplifies the series’ whimsical spirit. The titular Neil and his two co-stars, Soapy the Cat and Mam’selle Poupée, are miniaturized and drafted into a war between a kingdom of fairies and an attacking swarm of Space Invaders-style aliens. Neil, a video game whiz, leads the fairies to victory, while Mam’selle finds herself in a burgeoning love affair with the kingdom’s prince — one that includes multiple dance routines and songs. Some of the jokes haven’t aged well, and may come off as tired or tepid for modern audiences (a trip to space reveals that the Milky Way is made of bottles of Devonshire cream, for example), but it’s hard not to love the work’s essential charm.
Rounding out the collected 15 issues of the Neil comic book are both some of the original Neil the Horse newspaper strips (which are decidedly more visually experimental and delightfully odd), and a few illuminating essays on Neil and its legacy. Collins and her work are finally back in the spotlight after a prolonged absence, and this collection provides a perfect way to become acquainted with a neglected part of Canadian cartooning history.