Curtiss Hill is a winner on the racetrack, but what kind of dog is he in real life?
Nucky Thomas could be a dog on Boardwalk Empire but what if he were an actual dog? And instead of prohibition, the show dealt with the rise of Nazism? Also, racecar driving. It might sound like a strange hypothetical but it’s actually quite close to what Pau’s Curtiss Hill is about.
Curtiss Hill is a dog, not a place, and a successful dog at that. He’s a racecar driver. A playdog. Extremely wealthy. The hero of the track. His rival, Rowlf Zeichner, is a known cheat who, despite cheating, comes in second every time. That’s because Curtiss has Dino Canino, a genius engineer, on his team. While most of the book is in sepia tones, whenever Curtiss and Dino think cars the image that pops up is a car outlined in blue, like a blueprint. These aren’t just dogs who are interested in racing. They’re changing the industry, which has some businessdogs peeved that they’re always ahead.
Curtiss Hill isn’t solely a dog’s world. There are other animals as well. Due to Pitbulism, though, cats are being persecuted (and it does feel a little easy, making pit bulls the Nazis). Is there a narrative benefit to making the characters animals? Not necessarily, and for younger readers who enjoyed Pau’s series, Atlas & Axis (which also featured dogs and was published by Titan Comics), it would be easy to mistake Curtiss Hill for being all-ages when it’s not (Curtiss has sex with his groupies).
Pau’s attention to detail, however, when it comes to the period setting is remarkable. Curtiss goes to the movies to see a film and you can tell it’s a silent movie, not because the film uses intertitles but because the music is in front of the screen, which means it’s being played live.
Curtiss is a naturally self-absorbed dog but, with Frank Cvetkovic’s help as letterer, Pau is able to step up the melodrama in every scene. There’s one scene where Curtiss is staring out the window for two panels. If Curtiss had said “Why?” in the first panel it wouldn’t have been as memorable but because Curtiss and Cvetkovic allow for a pause and wait for the second it’s a Douglas Sirk moment in comic form.
Maugène Berk’s character design is also really dynamic. She’s the journalist covering the race and Curtiss’ would-be love interest. The first time you see her she’s looking the other way, but her shoulder is in just the right place that her ears look like femme fatale hair. Normally Rowlf and Curtiss don’t look like each other but if they weren’t driving numbered cars during the races, it would be hard to tell them apart.
Usually graphic novels are self-contained, but Curtiss Hill leaves a lot of storylines unresolved. If there is a sequel in the works, it would’ve been nice if the cover indicated that, so readers could go in not expecting an ending, but if there isn’t going to be one, the ending is fairly disappointing. Readers are cheated out of a confrontation while the character of Dino is completely shorted from getting a voice.
Curtiss Hill goes on sale March 17th from Dark Horse Comics.