Friday, April 18, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #107: Mush! by Glenn Eichler & Joe Infurnari

A lot of comics today aspire to be summer blockbuster movies, which can get tedious. Some of them aspire to be literary novels (pretty rare) or comedy shows on minor cable networks (a smattering of indy work) or documentaries (a lot of nonfiction comics).

But Mush! is the first graphic novel I've seen that aims to be a heartwarming workplace comedy, something you'd expect in mid-season on ABC sometime in the late '90s. If nothing else, you have to grant it the courage of its convictions.

This is less surprising when you learn that its writer, Glenn Eichler is a TV comedy writer by day (creator of Daria, writer for The Colbert Report for a number of years), though he's written a graphic novel before: Stuffed!, which was drawn by Nick Bertozzi. (Since two points make a trend, it's clear our man Eichler likes his exclamation points.) This time out, Eichler is working with Joe Infurnari, part of the Act-i-vate webcomics collective and multiple Eisner nominee.

And they're telling the story of a team of sled dogs, somewhere in the frozen northlands -- Infurnari is himself Canadian, so he comes by this material honestly -- as they squabble and plot and flirt and grumble their way through a month or so of late summer or fall. (Assuming their unnamed location has more than two seasons: frozen and not-frozen.) There's also the stub of a story about the dogs' owners -- a man who loves the solitude and self-reliance and his relatively recent girlfriend who's not as sure -- but the dogs are the focus of most of the book.

Buddy is dumb and lovable and big and desperately hopes he gets to mate with Venus again. Venus would prefer not to be bred at all this year, but that's not her choice. (Eichler plays this for laughs, but it could have been body horror in the right, probably female, hands.) Guy is sneaky and plotting and wants to take the lead-dog job from Dolly. Dolly isn't sure she wants to stay lead dog, because it's a lot of responsibility and she really just likes to run. Winston is a puffed-up purebred with delusions of grandeur. And Fiddler is deep and moody and thoughtful.

And they circle those issues for a hundred and twenty pages, in nine chapters that could be the episodes of a season-long arc on a HBO or Showtime, and everything is resolved in the end. Mush! is fun -- and Infurnari's art is lovely and evocative, making his characters expressive while keeping them dogs and lovingly showing both the snowy wilderness and the homier enclosure of the dogs -- but it aims to be the NewsRadio of sled-dog stories, which is a weird and unlikely ambition. But it's successful in that aim, and I have to salute any work that decides to do something so idiosyncratic and does it well. Mush! will never be on the short list of Great American Graphic Novels, maybe, but it's got a great beat, and you can dance to it.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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