Daily Archives: 2 February 2011

Duncan the Wonder Dog

Adam Hines, Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One (Adhouse Books 2010)

I generally avoid the term ‘graphic novel’, because I don’t kowtow to the view that comics need to be called something else if they’re to be taken seriously. But this hefty tome (1.248 kilos by my kitchen scales) is definitely a graphic novel, not a comic. It’s not a book you can read with half your attention somewhere else. The dominant visual style is brooding halftone; the lettering is mainly tiny; the story emerges from fragments told from many points of view, and some of the fragments are at best tangential to the overarching narrative. You can see the first 28 pages, pretty well all of them in the tangential category, here.

In the world of the book, animals are fully sentient and communicate fluently in human languages, though they do retain their otherness in relationship to humans. When a pet puppy is taken out for a walk, for example, he rushes towards the nearest tree, calling, ‘There’s the tree!’ The higher mammals – particularly the apes – chafe at human arrogance and there’s a general sociopolitical movement towards full equality, involving some human allies. Naturally, this movement has its violent elements, and a terrorist bombing of a human college provides the central story line.

There’s a lot here that’s brilliant, and I gather that it’s intended as the first of nine equally hefty and demanding volumes. I’m not hooked. In fact, I took some dialogue between a man and a starling on page 287 (‘[This book] has been a ball and chain around my neck and I’ll be happy to be done with it’] as a sly but gracious acknowledgement from the author of readers like me.

Man to starling: [This book] has been a ball and chain around my neck and I'll be happy to be done with it

Partly my lack of enthusiasm has physical causes. The diminutive type and the ink wash that predominates in the images make the book hard to read in poor light or with less than optimal eyesight: even in the middle of the day I had to choose in which chair or at which bench to read, and even in full sunlight, many of the full page images were murky to the point of illegibility. This may be deliberate (given that parts of some images and some text are deliberately obscured by other images or other text, I’m not ruling that out). It may be a result of poor printing, or of Mr Hines poor understanding of what kind of image prints up well. The book’s sheer bulk make it uncomfortable to read in bed or bath (not that I’ve tried that), and impossible to read while walking the dog.

If you have young, sharp eyes and a sensibility attuned to postmodern self-interruptions, if you’re passionate about the pushing the boundaries of what can be done with sequential graphics, if animal liberation issues stir the fire in your soul, then I recommend Duncan the Wonder Dog to you. Please say something in the comments here.