What I really want to do is link to the several awesome reviews that lead me to this, most notably Mike's
, but then also this dude's
because it's really comprehensive.
Obligatory stuff: This volume is available online for free
, and if you want a paper copy, Hines begs you to donate to several listed organizations instead of dropping $25 on paper. That's up to you. As a paper fetishist, I checked this out of the library, and then plunked down the requisite cash at a comics expo so I could lug this home like a wheel of cheese, and about as heavy.
Anyway. Here we go.
The animals in Duncan the Wonder Dog
talk. That's not unusual or anything, and I just mildly accepted this at first, the way I would a Garfield comic
or something. And, if you bother to click the Garfield link, it will take you to Garfield Minus Garfield, an enterprise where the titular cat and his thought bubbles have been erased, leaving Jon in an existential crisis/mental breakdown. Which is funny, but then also a little upsetting, because we humans tend to ascribe agency to patterns.
But these talking animals aren't just part of joke about a miserable loser, or animals schills selling you their flesh, but the creatures who surround us, feed us, and are observed by us every day. This is our world, and the animals can talk.
I live with animals: a dog, a cat, a chinchilla, a guinea pig - and I ascribe them varying amounts of agency and sometimes human-like motivations. My cat is in love with my husband, and by genetic proxy, my son. The guinea pig is worried about his not-so-girlish figure. The chinchilla is more inscrutable; the dog open and easy. There are a lot of narratives in this edition: little vignettes of characters, larger arcs that meld together. One of the later ones is the diary of a housewife - whose murdered body is lying somewhere off-page, referenced passingly by the monkey terrorist who has taken over her house. It's a stunning reversal, because so far these interactions have started with the human, then passed off to the animal, the way the animal is often in these kinds of stories the subtext or intertext to Man, and not other way around. Her story layers with her pets, whose lives are intertwined with hers, tragic, domestic, heartfelt, prosaic. This story is not reductively about "animal rights", but more nuanced than that.
Honestly, I'm not sure what to say about this. There's so much tragically beautiful here, and painful, an argument not such much in argumentative words, but images and conversation. Hines keep twisting your perceptions - there are long sections of folk tales told by humans and animals to one another - my favorite being a grade school story about brothers who turn into dogs in this complex metaphor about honor, after which a dog says baldly, "I didn't hear it like that." Or a conversation between FBI agents that is later parsed for subtext between drinks and smalltalk. It's weird and digressive and wide-ranging, and touches all kinds of thoughts, ideologies, people, animals and (people/animals).
I've put in some of the art, so you can see for yourself, but this isn't really typical comic-book fare. Some of it is Sunday comic-standard, especially when you are dealing with certain characters, but some is photorealistic, or collage, or a mix of all those things. Much of it felt to me like photoshop art - in the best way - manipulated images run over with filters and screens, purposely made flat and almost ashy. Usually wordful panels were intercut with vistas and the wordless, and I lingered in these spaces, thinking.
Beautiful. Thoughtful. Painful. Absolutely the best of didactic art, because message is obscure and complicated. The word for the day is empathy.