Anthropomorphism reigns supreme in this witty and often harsh glimpse into the world of sled dogs in the frozen north. Two tales are told simultaneously, that of dysfunctional relationship between the humans, Boss and the Boss’s Mate, and that of the individual dogs that make up the sled team. Their relationships are equally as dysfunctional in human terms, but as canines, their relationships are perfectly rational. The dogs all love to run and work splendidly as a team while doing so, but the time between runs is fraught with danger as they have time to be bored, to determine their future positions in the team and their purpose in the larger arena, to woo (and discourage) romantic relationships, and to basically create chaos and frenzy.
Life is not that simple for the dogs: Dolly, the lead dog, is not sure that she should be holding that position, while Guy, one of the swing dogs, is quite sure that he should be in the lead. One of the main threads of the story is Guy’s often frantic manipulative attempts to gain his desire by pitting the other dogs against each other. Winston, the second swing dog, is mostly concerned about reproducing himself as he is the only pure bred Samoyed on the team and Buddy, one of the wheel dogs, cannot focus on much of anything but procreating and having a relationship with Venus, the other wheel dog. Venus, on the other hand, having been bred to Buddy several times previously, is just as intent on denying any sort of relationship with her amorous colleague. Second lead dog, Fiddler, is more of a cipher. While he is very involved with the rest of the team dynamics, neither the reader nor Fiddler himself seem to know what he wants.
Droll dialogue, sometimes pithy and philosophical, is the strong point of this graphic novel. The illustrations, filled with action, muted color and humor, carry the story line but often obscure it as well as the individual characters are not always distinguishable without the accompanying textual context. That being said, however, the expressive faces are more than adequate in conveying the emotions and vulnerabilities among the characters, canine and human.
Regular and irregular shapes and sizes of the panels add to the chaos, joy and drama. There is a sense of freedom, indicative of the culture of the far North that travels through the pages, taking the reader on a journey that is filled with awe and respect. These talking dogs are not intended for young readers being the panels are dialogue heavy and filled with angst, anxiety, corny pick-up lines, and above all, laugh out loud absurdity.
It was also a treat for this Canadian reviewer to appreciate the maple leaf on the togue in Joe Infurnari’s self portrait on the back end paper.
Mush! Sled Dogs with Issues
by Glenn Eichler
Art by Joe Infurnari
First Second Books, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: Adult