Originally published in 1996, Oink: Heaven’s Butcher is comic artist John Mueller’s dark, perverse, and beautifully illustrated graphic novel that is set in an Orwellian society where men are crossbred with pigs by the church-turned-state (run by Cardinal Bacaar) to create slaves to work in slaughterhouses. After the death of his close friend (by crucifixion), the main character, a man/pig named Oink, begins to question his life in the slaughterhouse and the false dogma that is forced on him and his fellow slaves, which causes him to descend into a rage-fueled quest for revenge against those who oppress him in the name of religion.
Dystopian fans will appreciate that the story of Oink is reminiscent of works by George Orwell (1984 and Animal Farm, which features pigs). Oink: Heaven’s Butcher conjures up many emotions in the reader in only 112 pages: sadness, anger, disappointment… It’s simple, yet challenging and gripping. There’s a certain beauty in it, but there’s also pain, violence, and death. It encompasses everything a good book should – it makes you think, root for Oink, cry for Oink (okay, maybe not literally), and feel as if you’re a part of his victories and defeats. Unlike many graphic novels, it’s a hidden gem that’s a social commentary.
However, it does have its faults.
Oink is part pig, so I had to re-read some panels to truly understand his language. (“Da” was used in place of “the,” for example). (Though his speech can be considered elementary, his thoughts were profound). Also, I found the storyline to be somewhat disjointed (it lacks smooth transitions), causing me to wonder ‘how did Oink get here?’ more than once. This was especially true when he meets Herbert and Mary, some like-minded individuals who take him in and help him. My advice? Take time to really read and re-read it and appreciate the artwork… the story isn’t told entirely through words. (You can make inferences through the artwork alone).
An interesting point that I’d like to touch on is the fact that Heaven has a double meaning, which is very important to the story. Heaven (the place where most religions believe you go after you die), as described by the warden and cardinal, is somewhere that won’t accept man/pigs. However, Heaven is also the city in which the story takes place and where Oink is hunted by “angels” named Judas, Cain, and Goliath. (Allow me to point out that all of those biblical men were murders or traitors). Oink is hell-bent on literally (and metaphorically) burning things (and Heaven) to the ground in his wake.
This doesn’t last, though, and he’s stopped.
Namely, Oink is captured and arrested. As he awaits his execution for his crimes in the bowels of a prison, he is given the opportunity to share his last words and says this: “Confront your gods, boy. Don’t let them give you the answers and the questions.” This is especially important because Oink finally, and rather ironically, learns what true freedom is.
Overall, I would recommend Oink: Heaven’s Butcher to anyone looking for a good graphic novel to read. I believe that it could quickly become a favorite and a classic. Oink isn’t always easy to read, but it’s unique, enjoyable, and timeless.
Written by Alexa Linger