Glenn Eichler, creator of MTV’s Daria, brings that series’s wry, witty tone to his new graphic novel, Mush! Sled Dogs with Issues (First Second, December).
From the cover, which features a sled dog caught licking itself, it’s clear this book isn’t going to be pretty. Mush! is harsh, blunt, and rather philosophical. The sled dogs know what they love: running. Their problems arise in the interminable space between runs, when they have time to think and to debate their purpose in life. Their vulnerability seeps out in these conversations, my favorites being those with neurotic Fiddler (despite the spelling mistake):
Joe Infurnari’s illustrations emphasize this vulnerability, with prone positions and nearly-visible bellies. The dogs are drawn with unstable lines placed tenuously near one another, joining to create a unified (yet nuanced) whole, much like the team.
Mush! covers a wide swath of themes, including romance, politics, and perpetuating one’s species. After years of mating, Buddy is still trying to get Venus to fall in love with him; the reader will cringe at his well-meaning if awkward pick-up lines.
Winston fears he may be the last purebred Samoyed in his genealogical line and wants to mate with another purebred, but there are none on his team.
The bleak, melancholy story is backed by an electric undercurrent of joy: What if the dogs never stopped running? Could they be “high all the time,” like lead dog Dolly hopes? Perhaps then, they could live without worries or nagging insecurities. Self-doubt would be eradicated by the need to run and survive. In Fiddler’s words, “the great thing about starving is, it makes you forget your metaphysical pain.”
This graphic novel stayed with me long after I finished reading. I imagine those dogs out in the snowy wilderness, running their hearts out, not a care in the world.