“. . . Lost Dogs demands your attention and pulls you into a dark bittersweet truth: The only things that can be held dear are your sense of self and your steadfastness in the face of all that tries to break your heart.”
From the first page, you know that all will not turn out well.
Lost Dogs pummels you straight in the gut with its stark black, white, and red cover of a man falling into the abyss. What is made even more remarkable is that this was Jeff Lemire’s first published graphic novel. What a way to enter the scene.
We are presented an image of serenity: A man on the floor of his kitchen, nestling his daughter and wife in his arms, dog off to the side—all sleeping peacefully on the evening before their journey. An adventure. A tale of a quiet, physically imposing family man journeying with his wife and child from their sparse hilltop homestead to the city by the sea.
But the tone of the narrative makes it clear: This harsh brushwork foretells that we are indeed in the eye of the storm.
We travel with our family in their horse drawn wagon to the city where our little girl marvels at the street cars, the puppet shows, the ships.
“I’m for sure going to be a sailor!” she exclaims after seeing the BIG ships. All of the careworn weariness on her parents’ faces is dissolved by the love they have for their child, their love of a life they have built together, and gratitude for the small pleasures they are granted to share with each other.
And then, it’s gone.
Robbed of his wife and daughter, beaten to the edge of death, and kicked off a dock, our unnamed protagonist is rescued by sailors and sold in a back alley deal. Told that his daughter is dead and his wife is held captive, his only choice is to enter a bare-fisted boxing contest to win back the chance for a mere sliver of the life he has known.
With thick, bold brushwork, Mr. Lemire paints us a story of brutality, submission, acceptance, and appreciation—perhaps all made more relevant today than when first published in 2005.
Walk down any street in an American town, and you will see the same sense of despair, frustration, and hopelessness encountered by our stoic hero. It is the sad acceptance of life as it truly is. Words like luck and chance are more common than deserve or justice.
Written as a 24-hour comic challenge for the author (a challenge established by Scott McCloud in which an artist creates one page per hour: no breaks, no prep, no apologies) and published through a grant from the Xeric Foundation, Top Shelf’s reissue of Lost Dogs is a welcome gift.
With a print run destined to be much grander than the original paltry 700 copies, readers already familiar with Mr. Lemire’s multiple-award–winning Essex County Trilogy or his Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, are in for a real treat.
For in Lost Dogs we see the genesis of a graphic novelist. Readers familiar with his work will recognize the slightly off kilter faces but may be taken aback by the coarseness of the linework. These are not the finely detailed drawings of Mr. Lemire’s past; this is Jeff Lemire kicking in the door to announce his presence.
Mr. Lemire’s work has progressed through the years. He is now better able to handle lulls in dialogue, not relying solely on the art to tell his story. His pacing has improved and character development has been refined.
But when we are able to view Lost Dogs as the precursor of what’s to come, the book is able to transcend its humble beginning and become more than even the author gives it credit for.
Like a stone in your shoe, Lost Dogs demands your attention and pulls you into a dark bittersweet truth: The only things that can be held dear are your sense of self and your steadfastness in the face of all that tries to break your heart.