March 04, 2021


Fangs. By Sarah Andersen. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Thoughts of Dog. By Matt Nelson. Illustrated by Malory Pacheco. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Most of the time, Sarah Andersen is content to chronicle the life of an everyday twentysomething woman – herself, thinly disguised – in her Sarah’s Scribbles comics. In Fangs, however, she chronicles the life of a decidedly non-everyday twentysomething woman, a 300-year-old vampire whose body is 26, in line with the form of vampire lore that has vamps retaining forever the appearance they had when “turned.” An almost-graphic-novel – this is a story told entirely in graphic-novel form, but in episodic vignettes more akin to traditional comic-strip episodes – Fangs follows the evolving relationship between Elsie and Jimmy, who overhears Elsie saying she much prefers dogs to cats and who is instantly interested in her, since he happens to be a werewolf. No particularly big deal is made as the two supernatural beings explain their nonhuman elements to each other: Elsie bemoans being “a monster,” and Jimmy simply says, “Girl, I’m a werewolf,” and soon they are kissing passionately. There are some amusing getting-to-know-each-other moments here – the undercurrent of amusement is something Andersen does particularly well in Sarah’s Scribbles, too. For instance, Elsie asks Jimmy what type of music he likes, and he – thinking of the howls of the pack – says “Wolf,” then quickly changes it to “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: I am very refined.” Later,  when Jimmy asks Elsie what she is listening to, Andersen shows the title “assorted agonized screams” on her phone, but Elsie answers, “Beethoven.” In Fangs, there is actually considerable subtlety to what is essentially a lighthearted love story. For example, thinking about what to watch on TV, the lovers decide on “something light, maybe funny,” and select The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. OK, maybe that one isn’t so subtle, but this is: on another TV night, they watch what appears to be some sort of health-oriented show, on which they are told, “Eat lots of vegetables.” Elsie’s immediate reaction: “Eat?” (Of course, she does not eat – she only drinks blood.) Jimmy’s simultaneous reaction: “Vegetables?” (Of course, he only eats meat.) Andersen has a lot of fun with the whole vampire/werewolf combo, although for full appreciation, a rather dark sense of humor is obligatory, as when by-now-thoroughly-smitten Jimmy says, “We should have a baby.” Then there is one of those wordless panels used in comics to indicate thoughtfulness, puzzlement, uncertainty – and then a panel in which Elsie says, “For dinner?” Not everything here is so darkly playful, though: the episodes in which Elsie and Jimmy casually display their powers and limitations are much lighter. For instance, Elsie, who ignites in sunshine, deliberately puts one finger into the sun at one point so she can light an incense stick for Jimmy. As for Jimmy, he shaves one morning, goes for a walk, and notices himself already with substantial facial hair – remembering, “Full moon tonight.” There are almost no characters in the book other than Elsie and Jimmy, although Andersen occasionally uses a walk-in for a specific purpose. For instance, one of Jimmy’s friends wants to see Elsie on social media, so Jimmy snaps a selfie, but only he is visible in it and there is a complete blank next to him (in other sequences, Elsie’s clothes are visible in mirrors and so is the shape of her lips when she applies lipstick; but consistency is not the point here). The characters are appealingly drawn, and Andersen never shows Elsie feeding (she now uses blood-bank blood) or Jimmy metamorphosing (although Elsie’s tenderness toward him just after he transforms, in either direction, is touching). What makes Fangs so engaging is the way Andersen mixes an ordinary story of two young lovers discovering each other in a deepening relationship with the tropes of vampire and werewolf legends. There really is something special about the humor here: the full-page single drawing in which Elsie is flossing one of her fangs is just one of the laugh-out-loud moments.

     The laughs are much gentler and the overall story much more mundane in Matt Nelson’s Thoughts of Dog – which simply imagines how a much-loved and always-loving golden retriever (Nelson has two of them) would think about the experiences of ordinary life with humans. This is a gift book – a square hardcover volume suitable for dog lovers everywhere – and features illustrations by Malory Pacheco, in which the pooch and “my stuffed fren sebastian” (a plush elephant) are given appearances that would fit nicely into a children’s book. Thoughts of Dog intends to span the age range from kids to adults, though. The sections are called “Winter,” “Movie Night,” “Sebastian Goes to Work,” “Beach,” and so forth, and are all narrated by the dog in short or partial sentences with no capital letters. In “4th of July,” for example, “the human and I are headed to the shelter. to comfort some pups who don’t yet have. someone to hold them. i made sure to bring my stuffed fren sebastian. he helps everyone feel better.” Elsewhere, Sebastian loses an arm (“my human is a surgeon” and sews it back on); the friends make a “new pumpkin fren” at Halloween and another during a car ride; and there is a touching final story in which the dog and Sebastian gradually befriend a mailman who, initially skittish, eventually reveals that he had a dog who died not long ago (Sebastian realizes this when he sees a photo). It turns out that that dog also had a stuffed friend, which the mailman ends up giving to the dog narrator so that, at the book’s end, we see the smiling golden retriever with both Sebastian and a much-loved (and much-chewed) stuffed bear looking out a window as the mailman arrives. On the one hand, that final story lays things on rather thickly; on the other, dog lovers will likely tear up at it as they recognize all the emotions being called up by the very simple prose and the pleasantly stylized illustrations. Thoughts of Dog draws on Nelson’s social-media accounts and, thanks to the warmth of the writing and the sweetness of the pictures, moves very successfully out of the Internet and into the world of books.

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