‘Duncan’ displays alternate, militant animal’s lifestyles

Ao Meng

Coming out of nowhere with “Duncan the Wonder Dog,” a postmodern epic about talking and reasoning animals, Adam Hines has taken the comics world by storm with his richly dense art. The first volume in the Chicago-based artist’s series, “Show One,“ is a veritable tome that grandly exhibits Hines’ singular and extensive vision.

“Duncan was always going to be a book,” Hines said. “Even if I had to steal money to do it.”

To use a very sophomoric expression, ”Duncan the Wonder Dog” is like Chris Ware’s architectural experimentalism by way of Henry Darger’s mixed-media art. Animals around the world are sentient and can communicate both with each other and with humans. They philosophize, they have feelings and they hurt. And when they realized their disenfranchised state, some become militant. The graphic novel opens in the present day — an animal rights organization led by a macaque monkey named Pompeii has fertilizer truck-bombed a small southern California university.
With intensely detailed, almost baroque visual style that combines everything from newspaper clippings and computer text to children’s books and textile patterns with the cartoonist’s simple, sketchy character designs, the scope of Hines’ debut work is staggering. Hines creates a whole world that is easily recognizable, almost historical, but is alien in respect to human/animal (and animal/human) relations. In this regard, it feels like the best of science fiction instead of fantasy.

“Dog” is planned to be a nine-volume series, and the scope of the project is immediately palpable. The 400-page “Show One,” which is about as dense as a Thomas Pynchon novel, has introduced dozens of human and animal characters in locals all over the world and across decades of time. The title page occurs after a 46-page prologue partially set in the 1950s. “Show One” ends with a definitive “to be continued,” and the titular Duncan isn’t introduced to the reader yet.

“If I were a more patient man, I would’ve just spent 50 years making the whole thing,” Hines said. “I just prefer to have one big story and so that’s the kind of comic I’m most interested in making.”

Hines was introduced to comics from an early age. His father, a journalist, originally had intentions of being a newspaper cartoonist, and would bring home strip collections of “Peanuts,” “Krazy Kat” and other classic comics.

So it was not surprising that Hines became infatuated with the medium, and started drawing comics as a child.

“A confluence of events came together at the right time: We had got a dog, Duncan, who I was enamored with. I had started reading super hero comics and I could draw well enough that you could now understand the difference between a person and a mailbox, so I started making ‘Duncan the Wonder Dog.’” That was when I was 6, and I’ve just continued making those books since.”