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Culture: DogPatch
Sketchbook: Stephanie Birdsong
Babe is one of my beloved dogs and yes, sometimes she can’t see very well through her shaggy mop. But I’ll tell you a little secret: she’s not very good at catch whether her hair is trimmed or not. I can’t say what issues the folks on the right have.

I began doing sketchbooks in a little 3.5 x 5 inch journal about six years ago. I was already doing to-do lists to keep track of all my nutty daily tasks, and I decided to try to do a painting next to my lists every day if possible. As an art director, turned illustrator, turned art director, I missed painting and knew I’d need to get back in the habit by doing it regularly. I would often start painting with no idea what it was going to be. Buster & Babe, my adopted dogs/children are always by my side in the studio, and are featured often in my drawings and task lists. Buster’s a Jack Russell/Dachshund mix and Babe’s a Wheaton Terrier mix. I enjoy drawing dogs, especially Fox Terriers, Poodles, Bulldogs, and the occasional German Wire-haired Griffon.

Culture: DogPatch
Tribute: A Dog Named Jake
T.P. and Jake, Tempera on canvas mounted on board, 48 by 31 inches (121.9 by 78.7 cm) Painted in 1938. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake.

Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs.

T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here.

He was with us for 11 years before he died.

Rita found him on a farm west of Kansas City. She was learning to ride a horse there and he followed her about. He was friendly, and Rita took to him. The farmer who owned him saw this and said, “If you’ll give that dog a good home you can have him.” So he was brought to our house.

T.P., our boy, who was then eight years old, was delighted. So was the dog, but because he had never been in a house he was a little gawky and clumsy, and slid on the rugs. He was named Jake because he was a country dog, a country jake who hadn’t learned city ways.

Jake had a laughing face. His mouth was so set that, active or in repose, he had to smile. Even when he was sad, as when he was not permitted to go with us in the car, this smile persisted. His mournful moments had thus the appearance of an act. There was also something humorous about him which made you say, “Jake, you old faker,” and which also too frequently made you yield to him and take him along whether you wanted to or not. Jake became a very adept actor. He calculated his effects and in the course of years became master of most of the family situations that concerned him.

Jake was a traveler. He sat with T.P. in the back seat of our car on the long trips from Kansas City to the summers on Martha’s Vineyard. He was fascinated by the speeding world out of the window. He would sit upright on his haunches, his tongue rolling out of his laughter, his ears erect and with the spit of well-tasted pleasure dripping off his lips. When he got tired he’d lie down on the seat and he and T.P. would battle for room. They loved each other.

On Menemsha Pond T.P. had a rowboat with a small centerboard. He rigged this up with a homemade mast and a three-cornered sail and called it the Red Jacket. It was supposed to be a pirate ship. Every afternoon T.P. and Jake would board this vessel and sail the pond. Sometimes Jake would sit in the stern with T.P. and sometimes by himself in the bow. He would bark at the gulls. If he got tired of this he’d jump overboard and swim to land, sometimes nearly half a mile. Then he’d bark at T.P. from the shore, running up and down, full of a tense glory of life.

In the winter, back in Kansas City, Jake went along when his pardner was taken to school. He learned the way, and A Dog Named Jake The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake. Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs. T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here. Masterwork 60 Bark Spring 2016 sometimes when the long wait for the return trip was too tedious, he’d slip away and run the two miles or more to the schoolhouse and wait outside until closing time. Then he’d play with T.P. and the other boys until Rita arrived. He went coasting and skiing and participated in all the games that eight- and ten-year-olders devise.

After three years had passed, Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Up to now he’d given me little attention. Rita fed him and T.P. played with him. Of what use I might be he had little need to consider. I was just there, good enough to shake hands with occasionally but not important. Now, however, he clung to me, and I took him on a long roundabout tour of the South, which ended, after seven weeks, at the docks in New York where we met the boat returning his real master and mistress.

There was a high rail fence between the passageway for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full-grown 70 pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.

No one who saw that meeting of boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. They forgot their own emotions in the more intense one of a delighted animal. This was a high point of life and those who saw, recognized it.

Jake and T.P. grew older. They continued sailing in summers each year, now in a larger boat. Jake didn’t much like the later boats. They went over in the wind too much and he jumped overboard oftener. But he could accustom himself to changes. He accepted things.

When T.P. started playing the flute, over long practice periods he lay quietly at his feet, though he would have preferred to be out and doing. When we had musical evenings he took his place by T.P.’s music stand and after things got started he’d wander about among the guests to be petted. Sometimes he’d nibble on the back of one of our cats. Jake loved cats.

When Jessie was born into our family, Jake was opposed to her. He would turn his head disdainfully away as she was brought into the room. But after a while, and as T.P.’s older concerns failed to provide him a proper share, he relented and took her into his life and played with her and helped her grow up.

The war days came for T.P. and took him away. Jake then went fully over to Jessie, though for many weeks, and especially when Jessie was in bed, he’d sit up with his ears cocked, listening and listening. We knew he was on the alert for a sound of T.P. He’d moan in his sleep and sometimes wake up with a bark and go upstairs and sniff around T.P.’s old room. Then he’d go back to listening.

Half shepherd and half collie, with the shepherd blood predominant, Jake had always liked to go out and wander at night, especially on moonlit nights. He generally fought on these expeditions, for there were wild and half-wild dogs living in the woody sections of the parks surrounding us in Kansas City. Jake was always full of cuts and scars but he took them laughing.

One morning last autumn he came home in a bad fix. His ears were slit and his legs torn. A big slash was over his eye and the front teeth between his fangs were broken off. This was his last nocturnal spree.

After this he’d go out on the porch, cock his ears up, and stand with one leg lifted and curved in a dainty sort of way and listen to the wild dogs baying. His ruff would bristle and he’d bark, but he let his urges go at that and in a little while scratch at the door until one of us let him in. He slept a great deal on the stair landing, moaning and talking more and more in his dreams. We often wondered what kinds of images were built up in this interior life of his sleep.

Jessie’s return from school always snapped Jake into life, though, and he’d romp and play with her as if he were still a pup. He rode east this summer, taking his old place in the car, laughing the miles by. For three years, due to the war, he’d been traveling unhappily on trains and he seemed now to be revivified by this return to old and familiar ways of going places

June and July were gay. T.P. was in far-off Tokyo, gone out of Jake’s life, but Rita was here to see that he got his food, and Jessie, now seven years old, was a pretty good substitute for his lost master. She made daisy chains for his neck and watched him chase the wild bunnies, which he never caught, which he never tried very hard to catch, and which certainly he would never have killed if he had done so. Jake was not a hunter. He had no instinct for the kill. Cats were to be chased, all right, but merely to be nibbled on when caught. Other animals were the same.

Dogs, of course, had to be fought, but with Jake this seemed a sort of ritual, a ceremony by which status was maintained, particularly status on his home grounds. No strange dog would be suffered in his own house or even too near the door.

But outside of this hangover of suspicion and violent appeal, coming down from the savage centuries of his blood’s past, Jake was gentle. He was polite. He bowed, front feet stretched out, tail wagging in the air. Sitting close by a steak in preparation for the grill, he’d waggle his ears and drool mightily but never touch it. With his red tongue, his smiling mouth, and gentle eyes, with his tawny ruff and his pointed ears, he was immensely pretty and appealing in such moments of polite restraint. But he was always pretty.

Last week Jake returned to sleeping a great deal. When he was awake he was subdued and given to listening again. With ears up and head cocked sideways, he strained as if for something very far away and faint. Was he listening once more for T.P., for his voice or the sound of his flute? Certainly he was trying to hear something. Trying very hard.

Maybe, though, it was not toward anything he’d heard before that he reached. Maybe he was listening for something which would tell him the meaning of the change he could feel was coming to him. Maybe, because Jake knew something strange was near.

I like to believe, however, that a part of him was pointed back to the early times with T.P., back beyond the days of the flute-playing to those of the little boat with the red sail, where he sat with his devoted partner and sailed Menemsha Pond and barked and laughed in the fullness of young vitality and joyous companionship. Those were Jake’s ultimate days, the days of his high success, and surely they were not lost to his old dog’s memory.

On August 2 Jake played with Jessie as usual. In the evening after supper he went out. He had a green ribbon gaily knotted around his neck. Jessie liked to dress him up. Returning from a visit about 10 o’clock, I was surprised to find him greeting me as I put the car in the garage. It was a late hour for Jake to be out. He jumped up and I petted him and we went into the house. He had taken to sleeping under a couch in the living room and as soon as we were in he crawled under, thumping his tail on the floor in a sign of satisfaction.

About three in the morning Rita and I were both awakened by a strange, prolonged wail. It was high-pitched and mournful, so utterly mournful that it made a creeping in the flesh. It was wild and without definite locality, like something coming out of far spaces or distant times. We were startled, sharply so, but hearing a panting of breath we said to ourselves, “It’s just old Jake, dreaming again,” and went back to sleep.

When we got up we found Jake dead. His head was lifted a little, his ears were erect, his eyes were open, and his smile was still with him. Jessie’s green ribbon slanted jauntily across his neck. He looked as pretty in death as he had in life. His face was happy. We wondered how this could be in view of the utter sadness of his death cry.

Jake is buried beneath a young pine tree in front of our house.

A young sculptress, who has a dog of her own and knows what it means, is carving his name on a stone. The stone comes off the beach at Menemsha Pond over whose waters and about whose shores Jake tasted most of the sweetness of his life.

News: Editors
Something to Bark About
An Encore Performance by Crypton and William Wegman
New additions to the William Wegman Pet Collection by Crypton—throvers—blankets featuring the artist’s drawings; Wegman and Flo (right).

Randy Rubin, co-founder of Crypton, launched the company’s first line of pet products back in 2004 in an inspired collaboration with artist William Wegman. A dozen years later, Rubin and Wegman are at it again with a brand new line of canine home products by Crypton. 

Renowned for his whimsical photographic portraits of Weimaraners, Mr. Wegman is also famous for his work in a variety of media—photography, video, painting and as an author. For decades, while Wegman was creating art in New York, Crypton was at work in the heartland, revolutionizing commercial fabric with the introduction of a patented process that produces a virtually indestructible, stain and odor-resistant material appropriately named Crypton Super Fabric. They’ve also launched soft, luscious Crypton Home Fabric, using a new performance technology especially for residential interiors, offered by major furniture and home fabric brands in stores and showrooms from coast to coast.

 

Wegman provides the art and Crypton supplies the science with their permanent stain resistance properties—ensuring neither microbes or odors penetrate these dog beds. Crypton founder Randy Rubin (right).

 

The creative collaboration between the textile innovator and the downtown visual artist has proven hugely successful, with a visual style that is once recognizable and inspired. Combining the ultimate in function and aesthetics, the resulting beds, pillows and throws (christened Throvers) are elegant, bold and sturdy...fulfilling the must-have checklist for stylish dog lovers. The line is offered exclusively at crypton.com. 

News: Karen B. London
Christopher Cline’s Giant Dog Images
Make yourself happy and take a look

Christopher Cline’s photographs of his Goldendoodle Juji are beautiful and funny, and celebrate the emotions of life. These are not amateur photographs that happen to work out. Cline is a trained artist and professional graphic designer. The technical professionalism of his work is obvious, and certainly part of the appeal.

Yet, I think the reason people adore his work goes so much deeper.  I love his images because when I see them, I think, “That’s how I feel, too.” He has captured the whimsy, joy and love that dogs bring to our lives. And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the metaphorical point for those of us who love dogs truly, deeply and passionately. Only in Cline’s photos do they appear visually as we experience them viscerally—as larger than life.

News: Editors
A Boy and His Dog by Thomas Hart Benton
Auction of Classic Painting Benefits Dogs

The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-war America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The subjects are the artist’s son T.P. and Jake, the family dog.

Last evening (November 18) the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5M and $2.5M. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. It was accompanied by the following notes in the auction catalog that included touching words by the artist describing the deep bond shared by his young son and his dog. Appropriately, the sale of this painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs.

The present work depicts the artist’s son T.P. Benton and his beloved dog, Jake. T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, Missouri. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to T.P. When Jake died in 1946 Thomas Hart Benton wrote an obituary for the dog, which appeared in the Vineyard Gazette and The Kansas City Times. In one passage Benton recalls an event which illustrates Jake’s special affection for T.P.:

“After three years had passed Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Up to now he’s given me little attention. Rita fed him and T.P. played with him. Of what use I might be he had little need to consider. I was just there, good enough to shake hands with occasionally but not important. Now, however, he clung to me and I took him with me on a long roundabout tour of the South which ended, after seven weeks, at the docks in New York were we met the boat returning his real master and mistress.”

“There was a high rail fence between the passageway for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full grown seventy pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.”

“No one who saw the meeting of the boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. They forgot their own emotions in this more intense one of a devoted animal. His yaps of joy sailed up over the arching girders to the high roofs of the dock and came back to pierce your heart. This was the high point of life and those who saw recognized it.” (The Kansas City Times, p. vi).

Culture: DogPatch
The Artful Life Of Maira Kalman
Beloved Dog

Maira Kalman’s new book, Beloved Dog (Penguin Press), illuminates her friendship with her first dog, Pete. Kalman, who movingly writes, “It is very true that the most tender, complicated, most generous part of our being blossoms without any effort when it comes to the love of a dog,” grew up being terrified of them.

Featuring her fanciful paintings and handwritten text, Beloved Dog details a life of love, loss and companionship. It also includes numerous examples of her work, including New Yorker covers and several of her Pete-inspired children’s books. As long-time fans of her delightful, quirky and just a bit offkilter work, we were particularly happy to snag some phone time with her recently. Following are highlights from our conversation.

 

Bark: Early in the book, you say that you are “besotted by dogs”—what a great term.

Maira Kalman: I used to be afraid of dogs, and that switch-over to realizing how important they are in my life and how completely besotted I am was a wonderful revelation and a great moment.

B: That discovery is pretty magical.

MK: It is, and it really does change the world. It opens things up in ways that were incomprehensible before. I don’t want to liken it to having children, but next to having children, it is that kind of relationship.

B: Tell us about Pete.

MK: I had always thought that if I got a dog, it would be a dog that jumped up— shpringeny—on all four legs, a scruffy kind of animated cartoon. And there he was. From the beginning, he was not only a beloved, beloved companion and an easer of sadness, but also a damn fine model.

B: Having a dog to guide you through the streets of New York must be a great entree into the world.

MK: Yeah, because when you have a purpose, which is “I am walking my dog,” you are already calmer and you have a companion. Of course, when you walk a dog, you have to add at least another half-hour to get to any destination because you meet people, the dog stops, you stop. You’re engaging in ways that you just didn’t do before. People who are walking their dogs usually are delighted to chat. It’s a friendlier world when you have a dog with you.

B: Can you talk about dogs as a subject matter for your paintings and books?

MK: Sometimes the dog is a human character and (of course) a stand-in for me, or a composite of me and other people. The dog is a conduit to emotions and humor, all those universal experiences. The other way that I work is to depict dogs as secondary characters, or digressions—my work is always about digression anyway. So, they populate the landscape the way people do, and contribute to the emotional quality of my paintings. They surprise me— they’re funny. The paintings are really observational journals of my life and the dogs who live in my world.

Culture: DogPatch
The Black Dogs Project
Showing the world how beautiful they are

The Black Dogs Project is a extraordinary photo series by animal photographer Fred Levy. Known as “Black Dog Syndrome” in animal shelters and rescues, it refers to the unfortunate phenomenon that black dogs are frequently the last dogs to be adopted and the first dogs to be euthanized in animal shelters. Levy has turned his camera lens to black dogs, showing the world how beautiful they truly are and spreading awareness of the problem. A portion of all proceeds from The Black Dogs Project (Quarto) will be donated to black dog rescue. fredlevyart.com

News: Editors
Dog Years: Portraits of Then and Now
The Bark interview with photographer Amanda Jones
Nellie 1 year, Nellie 13 years, Amanda Jones with Benny. All photographs © Amanda Jones.

In the great tradition of itinerant photographers, Amanda Jones travels from town to town taking portraits. For more than two decades, she’s used her camera to write the stories of dogs nationwide, capturing them at specific moments in their lives. For her new book, Dog Years (Chronicle Books), Jones extended the narratives of 30 of her subjects—including Bark’s late, great “founding dog,” Nell—by pairing photos of their youthful and mature selves. She shares her insights with Bark art director Cameron Woo.

The term “dog years” suggests time compressed, measuring experiences on another level. What does it mean to you?

I assume that, like me, those who have dogs come to realize that their human lifespan can accommodate those of several canines. My first dog, Lily, who is featured in the book, had a great long life with me: from 12 weeks to 14 years. She moved with me across the U.S several times, she saw the birth of my daughter, she ushered out older rescues and welcomed in new puppies. Now, she’s gone, and as adults, those “new puppies” are welcoming in new rescues. I’m aging as well, and each one of those lives—whether arriving or departing—has an impact on me and on my family.

After all this time, what have you learned about dogs and their people?

Like humans, each dog is unique. They may share many physical similarities, but even siblings from the same litter display distinctive personalities. As for the people … I’ve worked with a wide range of personalities but they all share one thing: they love their animals.

When you were reunited with the dogs for these shoots, sometimes as much as 15 years later, did any of them seem to remember you?

Whether they remembered me specifically, I can’t say with certainty. I do think they remembered the process of the photo shoot and being on the set. In each case, the second shoot seemed to work that much easier. Or, maybe older dogs allow themselves to be more easily manipulated for a treat!

When I look at your portraits, I find myself drawn to the dogs’ eyes—they’re so powerful. What do you try to capture when you photograph your subjects?

I don’t go into a shoot expecting anything specific; I tend to let dogs dictate the nature of the session. If they love balls, then we play with balls and work from that activity. If they like to lie around and be mellow, I get creative and do some interesting portrait work.

What’s it like to connect with people and their dogs over time and across the country?

I have the best clients in the world; they’re the reason I get up in the morning and do what I do. In many cases, they have become best friends. I travel a lot and, as you can imagine, each trip presents logistical hurdles. These days, I have clients who are willing to share things that make my time on the road much more pleasant: places to stay, cars to drive, home-cooked meals to eat. And, of course, dogs are the glue that holds us together. What could be better than that?

As you assembled these matchups, did anything in particular jump out at you?

As you mentioned, it’s all about the eyes. Peering into those eyes several years later, I still see that certain spark. The muzzle goes gray and the body gets lumpy and jowly, but the soul is still the same. It amazes me.

What about the dogs in your life today?

There’s Benny, a shorthaired, silver-dapple Dachshund, and Ladybug, a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix. Ladybug is a recent rescue; her photo was posted on Instagram through an NYC rescue group and the second I saw it, I knew she was the dog for our family. Social media is an amazing way to spread awareness of animals in need of homes! And, of course, I still miss Lily, who inspired Dog Years.

amandajones.com

News: Karen B. London
New Dog Photo Shoot
Just like a baby (and maybe cuter)

Years ago, my husband brought our seven-month old son to an all-day seminar I was giving on dog aggression so that I could feed him during the breaks. In many situations, a man carrying a baby would attract a lot of attention from women, but not in this case. There were about 200 people at the seminar, and approximately 180 of them were women. During the course of the day, only a handful of them approached my husband, and all but two of them came over to share puppy photos with him. (“Look! You have a young animal in your life. I have a young animal in my life, too!”)

I’ve noticed over the years that in the world of dogs, there are many people who are just not that into kids. It’s especially true for people whose professional lives revolve around dogs. I’m fond of saying that as a group, we dog people are not very “breedy.” Of course there are tons of exceptions (I myself have two human children), but many dog people are not as child-oriented as the rest of the population.

Any couple who does not have children has probably faced questions and criticisms about that, which is obviously rude. It’s thoughtless, narrow-minded, and potentially hurtful (not to sound judgmental or anything) to ask people personal questions about when they are going to have kids or why they don’t have kids. It’s nobody’s business, and it’s impossible to know if a couple has decided not to have children or if perhaps they have been unable to have children even though they want them very much. Either situation may involve a couple who is very focused on their canine companions, and that is a beautiful thing.

One couple took an unusual approach to letting their families know that they should not expect a human grandchild. They had a photo shoot with their puppy that mimicked the popular “new baby” photo sessions. The result was a gorgeous set of photos by Elisha Minnette Photography. It looks like they enjoyed themselves and judging by the response, many people share their sense of humor.

>Are you tempted to do a “new dog” photo shoot with your best friend?

Culture: DogPatch
Comics: Rover Red Charlie
Even the apocalypse can’t keep good dogs down.

You wouldn’t think dogs and post-apocalyptic horror comics would go together, but you’d be wrong. In Avatar Press’s six-issue series, Rover Red Charlie—now available in collected form—writer Garth Ennis and artist Michael DiPascale put our best friends in the worst of circumstances: at the end of the world. Well, the human world, anyway. Fortunately, these canines are more than up to the challenge. Rover Red Charlie offers an uncanny insight into dogs and what life must be like from their point of view.

The comic features three dogs—Rover, Red and Charlie—trying to survive in a world in which all the humans have gone crazy and become violent for unknown reasons. We’re immediately shown the terrible predicament of seeing-eye dog Charlie: his leash is wrapped tightly around his owner’s hands, and his owner is on fire. Charlie is rescued by Red and Rover, who chew through the leash.

Rover, a Bassett Hound from England, is the cynic of the bunch; this character allows Irish writer Ennis to utilize plenty of appropriate slang. Red (a Red Setter) is the dumb, sweet, brave one who is also obsessed with the smell of his butt. Charlie, a Collie, is ever-proud of his guide dog vest and, as the most trained of the three, least equipped for the chaotic new world. The three pooches band together to survive and explore this new environment, meeting a variety of dogs and other critters in a cross-county journey from (as the dogs put it) the big splash to the bigger splash.

In Bleeding Cool, Ennis—well-known for classic runs on Marvel’s The Punisher and creator-owned Preacher—explained that the story “was inspired by an old painting that used to hang on the wall of my grandparent’s kitchen and now hangs on the wall of my office. It’s just head shots of three dogs. I think it was called ‘Faithful Friends,’ and I guess I waited 40-odd years to send them on an adventure. The other inspiration was when I figured out what dogs were saying when they barked.”

Ennis decided that barking means, “I’m a dog! I’m a dog!” This refrain is used powerfully throughout the book, with a few humorous variations, such as puppies yapping “I’m a pup! I’m a pup!” and an oddball Dachshund proclaiming “I’m a fish!” For Ennis, doglish is English plus these dogs’ own distinctive vocabulary, in which people are feeders, cats are hisspots, a heart is a thumper, the ocean is the big splash, fire is the burn, chickens are bork-borkers and Chihuahuas are me-dogs (because they bark “What about me? What about me?”). I’d buy a companion glossary to this comic in a second.

Our three heroes have differing views on the feeders and this changed world. Red and Rover are more accepting of the new state of affairs; Rover expresses a thought all dogs might have if they could put together a sentence: “Any time I got near anything interesting, I hardly had time for a sniff before I heard—Rover! No!” Charlie, the service dog, has more trouble letting go. He doesn’t want freedom, even when the three dogs pretty much have it made on a farm. The saddest words in the book might be Charlie’s plea: “I just want to be told what to do again.”

DiPascale’s art is naturalistic, kinetic and humane. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time around dogs because he nails not just the specific breeds, but dogs’ distinctive body language. Whether  they’re feeling playful, confused, scared or defiant, DiPascale puts them in poses dog owners will recognize as true. There’s also a visual sense of humor to match Ennis’s wit: for example, the way he draws Rover running—flying folds of flapping flesh—is both true-to-life and funny. The real triumph of DiPascale’s beautiful painted art, however, is the faces, which are equally cartoony and realistic, expressing openness and honesty. Even if these dogs weren’t born charmers in terrible circumstances, you’d love them just for their mugs.

I asked Ennis by email why comics about dogs are so appealing, and he guessed anthropomorphism, adding, “…watching a dog sniffing around, frowning and shoving his nose in things, you can't help but attribute human motivation to him. Logically you know he's thinking—food, food, food, food, water, food, food, food—but your mind automatically comes up with thoughts that appear to match his expression and actions.”

A warning: This series isn’t going to work for squeamish readers. It is a horror story, and there is some gruesome violence, some of which happens to dogs. That’s usually a dealbreaker for me; I stopped watching the TV version of Fargo after a gratuitous dog death. But the violence in this comic is necessary for the horror genre, and without spoiling things too much, I can say the ending is far from a downer.

In fact, the ending is pretty damn inspiring: it makes you think that if we feeders were gone and the world literally went to the dogs, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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