If ever you wanted to find a graphic novel to dismiss anyone’s assumption that they are “easy reads,” then this is the book for you, denizens. At more than 400 pages of tightly packed storytelling pleasure, Adam Hines’s Duncan the Wonder Dog, Show One is a visual storytelling blackout of a novel.
To be honest, I wasn’t quite prepared for this level of engagement. I only did a precursory flip-through before adding it to my pile of library books. Once I started in for my first serious session with this story, I realized that it was one of those rare beasts of a book that pulls you into a dazzlingly complicated world, where the story is not confined to the traditional spaces that “normal” tales occupy. The only other book that comes to mind as a fair frame of comparison is Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (although his follow-up, Only Revolutions, might be similarly constructed; I’ve yet to read that one). Like Danielewski’s labyrinthine debut novel, Hines’s novel bleeds into the margins, weaves through the backgrounds, trickles down the spine, and floats outward into any space it can infiltrate. It whispers tangential tales along the outskirts of the main story, sometimes making their connections readily known…sometimes making you work to unlock the cipher.
Not only does this novel not occupy the traditional spaces of storytelling, it also does not occupy the traditional parameters of “reality.” For Hines’s characters, animals can speak, philosophize, create, destroy, love, and harm with the same pernicious zeal as humans. In some regards, I could imagine Gerry Alanguilan’s graphic novel Elmer fitting quite well into Hines’s graphic world.
As for the artwork, Hines is quite talented at manipulating a monochromatic color scheme, but his true skill lies within his mastery of shadow and light. Especially light. Natural light. Fluorescent light. Light caressing a weary face. Light piercing a stentorian darkness. Light unrestrained by a two-dimensional depiction. Hines’s rendering of light throughout this novel was a magnificent thing. His complexity of shadows against shadows was almost equally captivating, but it was the light that continued to draw me into this murky, muddled, contrasting world in which humans and animals try to coincide amidst prejudices and long-suppressed hatred that triggers terrorism, investigation, salvation, and damnation, all in pounding waves of stunning line work and shading.
Final Verdict: Even though this book is called “Show One,” and I read that Hines had planned to take the series up to nine volumes, I don’t see any new volumes out there yet. Of course, with this level of detail both in artwork and storytelling, I imagine these things will each take quite a bit of time to produce. So far, I would have to say they are worth the wait. This was well worth the read, and I will happily keep watching for the next show to start…