Of the many comics I picked up at the recent Lakes International Comic Art Festival, there was one comic in particular that caught my eye as I turned around one of those giant rooms. A small little book, nestled amongst publishers large and booming, that shone out with a cover that immediately made me smile: Astrodog.
Seeing that I had tuned out the rest of the world in those thirty seconds, my boyfriend knowingly weighed himself down with my bags while I went for a closer look. I had not seen Astrodog before, I had missed its previous outing in webcomic form at the hands of creator Paul Harrison-Davies, and the glorious colours jostling upon the pages called to mind an old favourite of mine with a similar, yet completely different premise: Hendrik Dorgathen’s Space Dog.
Like its German sibling, Astrodog is a charming wordless tale of a dog who goes into space, told with charm and splendidly unique style. But what really sets Astrodog apart from the pack is the simplicity of both the comic itself, and the joy that it generates.
As the webcomic “about” page notes, “Astrodog is a dog, who goes into space. It’s pretty straightforward.” At 32 A5 landscape pages it is perfectly pint-sized, and combined with the appealing art and lack of words makes this a perfect all ages tale. And yes I do use the term “all ages” here because as attractive as this was to the many youngsters passing by Harrison-Davies’ stall, Astrodog is equally at home stealing the hearts of those whose childhood days are long behind them.
Astrodog is indeed a dog, who runs in a circle to put on her space suit before her enormous spaceship emerges from her owners garden and blasts into space. With that the adventure begins, with Astrodog en route to find a tasty Dog Star before being distracted by her rumbling tummy and a canteena of aliens of all shapes and sizes – and colours!
The entire comic has a wonderful dreamlike quality to the pages, with large white gutters and wibbly wobbly unlined panels containing the cosmic capers and gorgeous scenery. The comic is largely wordless, certainly with no dialogue or captions, but the occasional word does sneak in to highlight that Astrodog’s fridge is “Empty!” and that eating provides some chomps, munches, crunches and burps. Not to mention the use of a perfectly timed “KABLOOIE!!”
There’s some lovely brush work on the inking here, which gives everything a fuzzy edge – something that works particularly well on Astrodog herself of course, as well as the menagerie of aliens. The overall storyline is fairly simple, but with several diversions along the way the book is surprisingly action packed for its size and Harrison-Davies’ ability to explain situations and devices almost entirely without words is – on second read – rather impressive. On the first read I was far too swept up in what was happening to notice, save for the occasional pause to squee out loud at a particularly cute Astrodog expression.
But mostly the joy of Astrodog is that it serves as a wonderful reminder of how great comics can be. They don’t need a convoluted plot line, pages of exposition, or heroes we’ve seen a hundred times before. Astrodog reminded me of all the cartoons I used to love as a child, from Rhubarb and Custard to Barney (the dog). Just pure fun in a deceptively simple package.
(Oh and did I mention? Astrodog is a girl! The back cover describes her as a “she” and just made my week.)
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.