By Will Holden
Writer: Tony Fleecs
Artist: Trish Forstner
Colourist: Brad Simpson
Publisher: Image Comics
I can’t say for sure what a Walt Disney or Don Bluth episode of Criminal Minds would be like, but I’m pretty certain it would be something like Stray Dogs. I have read the first three issues of this new Image series from Writer Tony Fleecs, artist Trish Forstner and colourist Brad Simpson and so far, I am completely on board for this ride.
I should preface this by saying I am a big fan of anthropomorphised characters, especially dogs (check out my previous reviews for Battlepug and Beasts of Burden if you don’t believe me) so I came into this book predisposed to enjoy it. Nonetheless, this book stands up on its own merits and presents a very fresh and interesting concept that many a comic fan will relish.
The story is told from the perspective of Sophie, a sweet natured and nervous little dog who one day wakes up in a house full of other strange dogs she has never met. Sophie has no idea how she came to be here or what her life was like before being at the house. The other dogs are introduced, each of which is a different but recognisable breed, helping to define the roster of characters quickly, the apparent leader of the gang is Rusty, a confident and reassuring “good boy”.
The other dogs express how happy they are at the house, telling Sophie that the Master is a good human who cares for them and feeds them. The tour that the group takes Sophie on reinforces this notion, the dogs have almost complete free roam of a large house with plenty of toys to chew and soft beds to snooze on. This is with the exception of one private room, this room is believed to be where the Master keeps the treats.
Sophie is overwhelmed by her new reality and after spending the night sleeping alone, hidden under a table, the Master finds her and wraps her in a scarf as a means to comfort her. However, this has the adverse effect of triggering a memory in Sophie’s mind. A memory which sits opposed to everything she has learned about this house and the Master. Sophie recalls that the Master strangled her previous “Lady” with the very same scarf!
Sophie tells her new companions of this but only Rusty takes her story at face value and together they set about trying to uncover the truth. Eventually one of the other doggos, Roxanne recognises her “Lady” from a photograph Sophie has taken from the Master’s private room. This room revealed mannequins adorned with female clothing, high heeled shoes stroon around, bolt cutters and various items of suspicion: rope, handcuffs stockings and gaffer tape. More of the gang are beginning to remember their lives before the house and become resolute in their need to escape, only one of the dogs, Earl is holding out that the Master is still a good guy.
The art which compliments this original story, by Trish Forstner, is fantastic. As I alluded to earlier the style reminded me of the animated films and TV shows of my youth, Lady and the Tramp being the obvious comparison. But the quality is so high that it could very well have come from the minds and talents of Disney or Bluth, the dogs have wonderfully expressive faces delivering the full gamut of emotions that a realistically illustrated dog would never be able to show. This helps to connect the reader with the dogs immediately as they reflect otherwise human traits, fear, excitement, intrigue, but in all honesty if you needed help connecting to the good girls and boys in this comic, well, I’m not sure how you got this far into this review.
Alongside the dogs, the backgrounds are brilliantly detailed making the house, where the majority of the story so far has been set, feel like a real space and one that has been lived in. I must admit, I am often disappointed when a comic uses solid colour backgrounds or just the vaguest of details to set a scene. I fully appreciate the time and effort that drawing full and consistent backgrounds must demand, but when you see how effective they are in Stray Dogs, it is hard to go back to books without it.
The colouring is simple but suits the book very well, there is very little in the way of shading in the colours, particularly on the canine and human characters but this is a deliberate choice and it succeeds in further promoting the animation art style. However, the colours are used to great effect when showing light and darkness in a scene. When Sophie finds herself in the Master’s private room, hiding in a closet with the Master sat outside, the colouring really gives the impression of the dark, tight space inside the closet contrasting with the well lit and spacious room on the other side of the door.
Something I found to be an interesting choice was to rarely show a human’s face, more often than not they are obscured in the scene or are off panel, this perhaps to demonstrate that the dogs are the characters here, the people are the backdrop, or maybe this is because to a dog, it doesn’t matter what your face looks like, to them it is too high up and the dogs have other methods of identification.
The whimsy of the cartoony art against the story’s insinuations of the Master being a serial killer works extremely well and is very striking.
I am enamoured with this book, its characters and its plot. I will be waiting like a good dog with a treat on my nose for the next issue, and then I’ll bury them all in the garden for safe keeping.
5 wet noses out of 5