Stray Dogs has such a simple premise – the ‘what if we did a horror comic from the point of view of our trusted, beloved best friends‘ idea, where no horror is more terrible in a dog’s life than their man or lady going missing.
But it’s how cleverly the issues are constructed, combined with the striking contrast between the horror concept and the classic animated look of the art, that marks it out as something genre-hoppingly good.
A second issue for this wonderful mashup, the whole looks like a classic animation, reads like Stephen King vibe to it.
I did rather enjoy Stray Dogs #1, so, and it shouldn’t really be any surprise that Tony Fleecs and Tony Forstner keep it all going so well into this second issue.
I could give you a recap, but they do it quite perfectly themselves…
That first issue was all about setting things up. Here, with the second of five issues, we’re into consolidating the shocks and revelations of that first issue.
So, although we know that the Master is a serial killer, taking the dogs as some kind of sick trophy after murdering their owners, we’re not yet sure of the hows or the whys, and we’re not sure whether the thrust of the series will be one of escape, revenge, justice, or a combination of all three.
Straight away though, we’re reminded of just what made issue #1 so good, with the art of Forstner evoking all those perfectly family-friendly animated movies from Don Bluth, especially All Dogs Go To Heaven. But we’re also straight into the horror themes as well, with this on the first page…
It’s that contrast of the sweet and the horror that makes Stray Dogs work, that and the skills of all involved of course.
Again, as in issue #1, there are themes here that are going to run all the way through the series, the timidity of poor Sophie, the different characters of the various dogs, the perfectly observed moments of doggie characterization, but above all else it’s the playing with the concept of canine short term memory that is so cleverly done. It’s not something that Fleecs needs to hit you over the head with, but it is something that’s there, mentioned, and most importantly integrated into the plot.
For example, with those panels above where pack leader Rusty tries to understand what Sophie’s been telling him, the accusations of the Master being a killer, there’s a great sequence of action with Rusty setting up a diversion just so he can go get the scarf. (Good Rusty, good boy!)
And that makes so much sense, backed up with the science, where a dog’s short term memory may be no more than a minute but a scent memory evokes so much more.
Now, all this praise isn’t to say that this is perfect. For one thing, I’m not sure it all entirely holds up logically, that difference between Sophie and Rusty’s memories. How did Rusty remember it when Sophie had forgotten it? Okay, Rusty might have a better short-term memory, as I’m sure some dogs do, but to be so much better as to remember the facts here… that just drew me out of things, took me out of the story. Not a disastrous thing, just a nagging fault.
Now, once her memory is back and she’s desperate to know what happened with her lady, Sophie and Rusty are off to investigate the one room the Master doesn’t let any of the dogs go into.
And here’s where we get the big set piece of the issue, with Sophie being trapped, Rusty attempting to distract the Master, and plenty of chances to use those sudden cinematic cutaways from terrified victim to murderer being distracted, right at that last minute. It’s wonderfully well done for sure, the pacing of it done to perfection – enough to raise your hackles and get the heart pumping.
Take this little sequence as another example, as Sophie hides in the cupboard, only to knock over a stack of boxes. Door opens… the Master’s feet come into view… throwing poor Sophie into another memory, of this shy, timid little girl finally cutting loose at the doggie park, just because her lady has told her it’s okay…
And that moment of screeching to a halt, Sophie stopped in her tracks, that’s a wonderful little sequence of panels, drawing you deeper and deeper into a hugely enjoyable comic series, playing on the horror tropes that are instantly recognisable.
Again, one small moment of pause here, another nagging little thing – as enjoyable as this big extended set piece is, I did find myself thinking, by the end, that they were just overdoing the use of those horror tropes, with six different moments of jump scare or shock revelatory moment through the sequence.
Again, nothing that should really spoil the hugely enjoyable read of Stray Dogs issue 2, but just something that bugged me a little as I was reading.
However, those couple of things notwithstanding, Stray Dogs really is a delightfully done, cleverly genre-twisting comic, packed with characterization, gorgeously drawn, with horror and heart all there in the mix.
Stray Dogs #2, co-created by Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner, written by Tony Fleecs, art by Trish Forstner, layout artist Tone Rodriguez, colours by Brad Simpson. Published by Image Comics
And to end with… the horror movie variant cover – and this one was always going to be happening, wasn’t it?
Next issue… more dogs are drawn into Sophie’s beliefs about the Master…