When I first encountered March of the Crabs by Arthur de Pins, I thought that the title was a play on March of the Penguins, which was a 2005 documentary that was also originally published in French. But March of the Crabs Vol. 1 was a 2015 publication, and the original French title translated more precisely to “The Revolution of the Crabs.” Did someone at BOOM!’s Archaia branch think this was hilarious nonetheless? I’m not sure. But when I read the book we might more accurately call “Crab Revolution,” I try not to wonder why they didn’t choose that infinitely better title.
The story is a fairly simple one: underdogs get creative to overcome unfair obstacles. In this case, the underdogs are marbled crabs, aka Cancer simplicimus vulgaris, and their obstacle is that they can’t turn. As in, they can’t steer to the left nor the right, but keep in the middle of the road, the road, keep in the middle of the road. Their road. Their own personal road, which is a straight line that continues until they run into an obstacle they can’t crawl over. At that point, they proceed back the way they came until that also becomes impossible. It’s a lame life, and three intrepid crabs long for more. They long…to turn! Or at least to go in another direction and see the rest of the world.
I also had to look up whether Cancer simplicimus vulgaris actually existed, because despite my understanding that anything this helpless would fail to thrive in the wild, I really, really hoped that it did. But it’s not worth looking too deeply into the logic behind a creature that can’t adjust its path. In this context, the marbled crab is just a metaphor for rigidity. (Interestingly, there is an actual marbled crab in real life, but it’s capable of turning. Alas.)
To call this book deep would be a little generous. It whacks us fairly broadly over the head with its message, viz people who follow the rules too strictly are at a disadvantage. While the crabs provide the primary metaphorical vehicle for that message, the humans in the story also seem stuck. A nature videographer, tasked with making more Serengeti spaghetti docs featuring lions and gazelles, struggles to make his utterly boring documentary about little square crabs a hit. (This may actually end up working out for him. After all, he’s about to catch the crabs mid-revolution.) A ferryman and his wife seem stuck in their patterns, too, and it’s easy to imagine them having married almost by default after their life paths happened to cross.
I particularly liked the beachy setting. Beachgoers always strike me as in a rut, possibly because when I’m on vacation myself, I’m lost without a mission. If I’m ever captured by aliens who torture me to learn what human beings hate the most, they’re going to descend upon the Earth armed with beach umbrellas and mandatory sun ‘n’ sand days, certain that we’ll all cry mercy within minutes. However, I recognize that most people probably wouldn’t see the book’s vacationers as “stuck” per se. The false similarity of tourists being pointless by choice and crabs being pointless by default made for a nice contrast. It helped highlight the immense privilege that the humans enjoyed as occupants of the highest rung of power and cast the ecosystem as a hierarchical social system.
Speaking of ecosystems, there’s an environmental subplot here that I (of course) greatly enjoyed. There wasn’t really enough of it to my mind, but I’m the type of gal who feels that every story should be Blackfish City. It was enough that there were environmentalists trying to buck the pollution-causing status quo and get rid of a gosh-darned pipeline. (Which is a straight line and also plays into the metaphor!)
In some ways, I liked March of the Crabs. The art was very interesting in a Samurai Jack sort of way – you can really see the influence of Pins’s animation background. I’m probably going to at least read the next two volumes at some point just to see how the rest of the story manifests.