I just wrote a review of “Dogby Walks Alone” for Amazon, and felt that the story was so good I needed to post the review here, too, even though it’s only barely tangentially related to video games. Long story short, whoever you are, you absolutely MUST read this book, and help spread the word about it as much as humanly possible.
I’m a huge fan of film noir, and “noir” in general. My three favorite movies are BladeRunner, Brick, and The Big Sleep. I’m especially impressed when noir is translated well into non-noir settings (as with BladeRunner and Brick), which is part of why I absolutely love Dogby Walks Alone. A direct sequel to Wes Abbott’s identically-titled short story in The Rising Stars of Manga 2, Dogby Walks Alone tells the story of Dogby, an amusement park mascot, who solves crimes without saying a word and without ever removing the head from his costume (at least not in any way that the “camera” can see). The actual narrative and dialogue of the story comes primarily through “Snack Girl”, Dogby’s “Watson” who also has a huge crush on him. While the original short story’s plot had Dogby deducing who stole all of the park’s hot dogs, this book kicks it up a notch by having Dogby solve a murder, while the rest of the park is on the brink of civil war over the mysterious theft of a week’s ticket sales. And whereas most manga end their volumes with hair-raising cliffhangers to seduce readers back for more, this book wraps up the murder mystery nicely at the end, leaving the reader wanting more simply by virtue of the characters and the writing.
Where Dogby really shines is in its pastiches; there were many times in the story that Abbott made such an obvious homage that I was afraid the story was going to derail into a parody of Star Wars, or Metal Gear Solid, or one of a dozen other things, but instead Abbott glances perfectly off the surface of his reference, working it fluidly into the plot of the story and never for a moment wasting time on fancruft. Every single reference to something else is there not as a distraction, but actually to propel the story along; as soon as a character mentions that one of the sections of the park is called “Chinatoon”, I KNEW that, at some point, someone was going to get killed fleeing Chinatoon in a go-kart, and another character would remark “Forget about it, Dogby, it’s Chinatoon”. Again, I presumed that it would be an indulgent distraction, but when the moment finally did arrive, toward the end of the book, I discovered that it worked perfectly, and created one of the most solemnly dramatic moments of the entire book, while simultaneously making a smirking homage.
Which brings us to the drama. Despite the fact that most of the book is comedy, and none of the characters have real names (the main heroes are “Dogby”, “Snack Girl”, and “New Shift Manager”), there are moments of pure, gripping noir drama, unadulterated by any hint of melodrama or sarcasm. There are even scenes that are both grippingly dramatic AND absolutely hilarious, something I’ve never seen before in ANY writing, much less a graphic novel, and for which Web Abbott wins my deepest respect.
I know that this book won’t sell well; there’s no androgynous bishi boy or giant-breasted teenage girl with guns on the cover, and the hero will probably scare away furry-phobes (it’s certainly not furry, though — the reader is aware at all times that Dogby is a man in a dog suit, not any sort of anthropomorphic dog). This is, quite simply, one of the best single-volume graphic novels I’ve ever read, and one of the best noir works I’ve ever experienced (on par with the movies listed at the beginning of this review). Both the art and the writing are absolutely top-notch. This book deserves the Eisner Award, and you absolutely owe it to yourself to read it.
(Dogby Walks Alone also gets ALL of the bonus points for using a mocked-up Neo-Geo MVS game for a chapter splash page, complete with cartridge, marquee card, and move list.)