The major comic companies get enough reviews and press, it’s time for the creator-owned and indie series to get some love and judgment. Indie review takes up-and-coming indie and creator-owned series and puts them through the review process so you can confidently support the best of the small press and passion driven projects in the comic industry.
The Info Bit
Dogs of Winter
Writer: Matthew Fillbach & Shawn Fillbach ( SW: Clone Wars Adventures, Broken Heroes )
Penciler: Matthew Fillbach & Shawn Fillbach
Letterer: Matthew Fillbach & Shawn Fillbach
Publisher: First Comics
Number of Issues: 1 (OGN)
Page Count: 161
The Review Bit
It is rare that you see art so wonderfully drive the story of a comic these days, but Cadaver Dogs of Winter does that to a degree that only the comics medium is capable. To steal a line from the graphic novel’s introduction, by Charlie Adlard, “the art immediately grabbed my attention”. Now I’ve long appreciated the art of the Fillbach brothers, but I think in dropping Adlard’s name you can recognize the value of this statement. Charlie Adlard is a very famous comic artist known for doing the highest selling black and white comic currently being published, The Walking Dead . He knows good art in part because he creates it. What the Fillbach brothers did here was on par with that visually strong and stunning style, yet mixed with a wonderfully minimalist appearance that makes the whole thing stand out all the more. I want to compare it to Michael Avon Oeming, but I feel the need to call it superior in just how strong the solid blacks to negative space use of whites wonderfully contrast and feed the story in often word-less panels.
Cadaver Dogs of Winter is a revenge story, through and through. It has the hardcore action of films like Taken, with all the dark reasoning you’d need to relate to the protagonist and his mission. But it is also much more, in that is an artistically breath taking example of how powerful sequential art story telling can be. The 161-page original graphic novel opens up with 3 quotes, of which one stands out at first as oddly unrelated. It isn’t until the story progresses that you understand why a quote on physicians by Thomas Fuller could be connected to two quotes on revenge. You are then silently pulled into the comic’s setting. The first 20-pages have absolutely zero dialogue, but wonderfully set the scene for the comic in both location and feeling. It is amazing how you can almost hear and feel the setting and events that are captured so beautifully in each sequential panel. I’d almost say you could safely decide whether or not you’re going to love the book in just those first quiet pages that bring you into the empty, snow filled winter of a small mid-western town.
The protagonist of the story is Doctor Cooper, a small town physician and single father. At the start of the story life seems normal enough for a small town in the cold forests of Northern America. But when two hunters discover a body, abandoned after a brutal murder in the woods, the doctor is called out for examination. Unfortunately, the discovery of whose body it is and the circumstance behind their death starts Doc Cooper down a dark and bloody path.
Matthew and Shawn Fillbach devised a great plot for Cadaver Dogs, but it is without question that their art drives the tale into being so notable. As said before, high contrast between solid blacks and white make the art pop, but choices in that contrast and what is and isn’t shown define it. The book has no grey, and the only major art change comes in a simple flashback where the creators wonderfully change the art style in the minor way of using hatching style shading. Two things I can very confidently say about the Fillbach brothers in this comic is that they are masters of lighting contrast in artwork and defining atmosphere. I say they’ve mastered defining atmosphere because, despite the fact that the story is following select characters, you’re given an almost Twin Peaks like feel for the entire town and everyone filling it around our main characters. Subtle notes given in the artwork and backgrounds of the story fill you in on what life is like in this once quiet town, and even convoke a silent empathy for the characters on panel in each scene.
Fans of lettering will undoubtedly enjoy that this graphic novel was done in traditional, hand lettering. No fancy fonts or computer based lettering tactics that leave every alphabetical representation looking like the last. The hand written lettering of the Fillbachs very nicely compliments the story and reads nice; not that you’ll see it too often with many of the scenes relying on the cliché these brothers prove, that their pictures are worth a thousand words. My only possible complaint about this book comes from the publishing end. While the cover and binding on this graphic novel look great, on some very nice cardstock, the pages it contains are not quite thick enough to prevent color bleed through. Early on in the story this bleed through of images looks kind of nice, with serene and quiet backdrops setting the mood almost like slow fading transitions. But later in the comic it is a slight annoyance seeing previous or future panels through the white areas of the page. With that said, it does not hugely affect the reading of the story, but it takes away from the otherwise often astonishing contrast in the artwork.
The Rating Bit
Cadaver Dogs of Winter is an intense tale of revenge filled with high contrast art that amazingly captures the cold and deadly silence of winter. The art alone could sell this book, but the amazingly woven story the art tells is the linchpin that makes the tale such a notable comic. I highly recommend this graphic novel, gladly handing out the rare 10 out of 10 to this very deserving book.