DOGS! An Anthology (2014)
Editors: Vidyun Sabhaney and Jeremy Stoll
Captain Bijli Comics / Authors Upfront
My best friend is a person formerly petrified of dogs. It's not like she had been traumatised by ferocious canines. In fact, the truth of the matter is that the only dog to "attack" her remains a batty old Pomeranian with one foot in a doggy grave. But she remained highly suspicious of them all, large and small. Until the day she met Alice, a garrulous neighbouring Spitz-mixed who broke down her defences with a mixture of bullying tactics and puppy-dog eyes. Now the two are inseparable, a blur of chew toys and gooey talk.
A similar story, Gingerly, written and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan, begins DOGS! An Anthology, a wonderful collection of graphic shorts edited by Vidyun Sabhaney and Jeremy Stoll. Kuriyan is one of the best new comics artists in India, whose work I first came across in the Pao Collective's anthology a couple of years ago, in a story called Pink.
Her style is rooted in realism: her buildings, landscapes, waves and water tanks are realistic. But her people are delightfully whimsical, leaning towards caricature, with prominent heads and button eyes: she's a more than decent writer, too. Like in Gingerly, when she makes a very important point about our grandparents' generation: "My family's track record with pet dogs has been a poor one. The last person I know to have kept a pet was my grandmother. She was the proud owner of India's national pet dog — the Indian Pomeranian, a fluffy thing called Tikku who could bark the sky down if he wanted. There was something about grandparents of that generation, however, that made them carefully ration their displays of affection towards their pets (and their grandchildren for that matter). So, Tikku was never cooed at... nor was he cuddled, which in my eyes almost disqualified him as a pet." Image 2nd
Shohei Emura, another Pao graduate, delivers a beautifully told (and ecologically significant) tale of street dogs: Oye! Chottu. Emura's style is manga-influenced, but there is much more to it than that. Like Yukichi Yamamatsu of the Stupid Guy series, Emura's stories use a humorous façade to raise some relatively sombre socio-political issues. Scraggly street dogs perched around garbage heaps is a common sight, but can vigilante dogs reduce the amount of avoidable littering by humans? In Emura's world, they can, and very ingeniously too. Dyuti Mittal's Parked is a cutesy take on doggy love, while Visiting a Theft, written by Sabhaney and illustrated by Pia Alize Hazarika (whose work on Ambarish Satwik's stunning Hindus and Offal you really ought to check out) is perhaps the most poignant story of this collection.
DOGS! ends with Portrait of the Artist as an Old Dog, a typically gorgeous and assured meditation on ageing by Orijit Sen, the grandmaster of Indian comics. Sen's sketches are moody, immaculately detailed and convey a very measured sense of fading away that I'm not convinced is possible through words alone. He reminds readers of realms that comics and comics alone can delve into.
If you're a dog lover, buy this book immediately to remember the first dog who won you over (all proceeds from sales go to Red Paws Rescue and Sai Ashram Shelter). If you're not, buy it anyway to see what you're missing out on.