Part of the outstanding mini comics series put out by the kuš comics group in Latvia, Runaway Dog, executes an unexpectedly elegant, sparse narrative with drawings that shimmer with silliness and surrealism.
In it’s barest form, Östergren’s story is about a goofy dog named Moses finding freedom and new opportunities with a cute ragtag forest family headed by a toddling gnome. On this level, it’s appropriate (if not a little weird) as a delightful children’s tale, but I also found it resonating on more adult frequencies as well. The essential message being conveyed is a reminder to not get caught in a situation where you can’t fully live to your potential (chained to your doghouse, that is). This point is made poetically – all gnome-dog dialogue contains charming benevolence leading down enigmatic trails. Details -such as a group of miniature friends hanging out mostly inside of bottles- is explained only vaguely and left for the reader to do the interpretive footwork. It’s a rich pairing of vivid and playful visuals and a narrative that has a childlike open-endedness to it.
This would hardly be a complete review without a little gushing over how enjoyable the art is. I initially encountered Östergren’s drawing style in her book The Duke and His Army where I fell in love with it’s intuitive feel, strange proportions and vivid color work. It summons in my head some of the strange energies of Maurice Sendak’s illustrations and Amanda Vahamaki’s comics- a fluid matching of unruly detailing, realistic care and bubbling caricature. There’s a contagious fun to the art in Runaway Dog, a roly-poly floppiness to it all that makes it hard to keep a smile off your face while you read. With Östergren’s terrific, organic approach to patterning, the colors seem to have the symbolic wit of Bohemian folk art. Runaway Dog is a small book and a short story,and in that it’s a tiny treasure.