If you the reader have seen my other reviews, you’re probably aware that I love noir. It evokes a certain image in your mind when you see the word, but it’s such a versatile genre that your imagination is likely only scratching the surface. Your thoughts likely turn to cyberpunk, or 1940’s settings. In reality, it only describes a set of circumstances that can be placed literally anywhere. From fantasy to superhero stories. Today’s topic goes with the traditional 40’s, but that’s not to say it’s without its own clever subversions.
Full disclosure: Dogs and Sailors was sent to me by the writer themselves for review. Along with that, I was informed of a planned reboot and redesign of the comic. I was given scant details on what exactly will be changed, but we’ll be talking about this as if I don’t know any of it. After all, the purpose of a review is to evaluate the available product, not what it may become. So if I have any comments that entail what I heard, I’ll likely save them for the end.
As usual, I’ll start with the shortest subject first. In this case: The art. In some moderately noticeable ways, the illustrations are somewhat… Inexperienced. The occasional lackluster composition, or nonsensical proportion of small details (even considering the stylistic approach). The most glaring of which I can think of is an instance where a character seems to turn in the wrong direction to face another person.
That being said, I find the style and presentation so fun and absolutely refreshing, that these issues barely bothered me. Obviously the art is meant to imitate that of crime pulp of the time; some may even recognize it as the style of things like Archie. However, there’s a thick obvious line between actively choosing an outdated popular style to suit your work, and following the trends of today. I adore what they’re going for here. It actually manages to perfectly compliment some things I really enjoyed about the writing.
I think that’s probably the smoothest transition I’ve ever made. I actually really liked the writing in this one. There’s a lot I want to talk about, and I’m not entirely certain where to start. Dogs and Sailors presents itself like an actual crime comic of the time, and it’s played completely straight. You might think that’d be overly cheesy, or hard to take seriously. But Forester (the writer) knows just when to hold back, and allow a heavy moment to take place. Or rather, since it’s being presented so earnestly, it doesn’t feel like a switch has suddenly been hit. What’s happening is dark no matter the climate of culture at any given time. So when something serious happens, the playful recollection doesn’t need to grind to a halt to allow it. The fun presentation persists, and gruesome moments are given the weight they need. It all flows together nicely.
That being said, Forester smartly avoids elements that would be presented in a silly manner (by our current standards) when these things are happening. It’s an extremely delicate balance the writer has managed to strike, it’s frankly impressive. From “a crazy reefer with a knife”, to horrible mutilation. All of these things exist in the same story without feeling inconsistent.
One of the few requirements of “noir” is that is features hard-boiled, cynical characters. Dogs and Sailors does something I find incredibly interesting: It’s main character becomes that way over the course of the story, rather than beginning as such. He starts out kind, dutiful, almost naive. But as he’s exposed to the brutality of his current case, he begins losing sight of what he once considered his values. The creators even went as far as having the character wear a “Superman” pin to more subtly hint at his ideals of justice and good. I think allowing the audience to watch this character’s decline into the genre requirement was a really intriguing idea. It has the bonus of giving people much more emotional investment. They have something to compare him to when he hits that low point in his life. Like watching a friend you care for slowly spiral into a state of despair.
My largest complaint about the writing, is that the mystery is… Well, it’s not much of a mystery at all. There’s a surprisingly fine art to writing a detective story like this. It’s not all bad, Forester has the basics down pat. Instead of revealing far too much with some kind of overblown intro (lookin’ at you modern Law & Order), the writer ties the audience more or less to the perspective of the characters conducting the investigation. The issue lies in just how quickly and thoroughly the crime is uncovered. Some of this may be due entirely to time constraints, it’s not a horribly long comic. It needs to either be longer, or you need to be willing to draw plots out over multiple issues.
The investigation side of the plot is what I was the least invested in. Which is saying something, since I love that sort of thing enough to be writing my own noir story, and am working towards getting licensed so that I can work as a PI again. Or maybe that just makes me overly critical? I suppose it’s certainly possible.
That being said, I think I can make some recommendations to improve this aspect in a way that shouldn’t leave anyone hanging. People like myself that go a little overboard love these stories, but so do a lot of people that aren’t looking to pick apart an intricate mystery on their own. Unlike many situations, I believe there’s actually a way to appease both crowds here. Leave some little hints throughout the story, details that will allow the attentive audience member to piece together the mystery themselves. It could be something in the background that the characters didn’t quite notice, or maybe something they took note of but didn’t understand it’s implications. Allow for a good bit of time before the puzzle is really solved by the characters (this will have the bonus of making the characters work for it), and have them finding an assortment of clues that may not have a clear meaning at the time.
Only fill the reader in on details they would have no way to be privy to (like how Seph noted that the label on the crates belonged to a local store) and let them do the rest of the work. Basically, you’re giving your audience everything the characters have, and allowing them time to piece it all together alongside them.
Eventually, you’ll wanna have a moment where the characters themselves are allowed to recollect and put the whole thing into perspective, making theories and whatnot. This will catch up the readers that are just in it for the story alone, and not the brain teasers. That way they’re not left behind by a plot that’s overly ambiguous. These approaches can be used simultaneously relatively easily, and will allow both types of readers to better enjoy the detective side of your plot. I know you certainly have the capability to pull it off.
Honestly, I really enjoyed Dogs and Sailors. I recommend it as is… and this is where we get into the reboot. I realize some of my recommendations may not be possible in the current first issue, even with the heavy modification I’m told is planned. But I do hope they can help you in the future. Don’t remove things if you have a good idea, plots like this benefit from being complicated. Making this story simple, shouldn’t be your goal. Think about how your antagonists operate exactly, and how they’d react to a situation you plan to put them in. Make them competent and threatening, if they’re meant to be. Don’t shy away from putting your leads through a grinder to get to them.
Forester informed me they were so deathly afraid of making Seph (the main character) a Gary Stu, they opted to make him borderline incopetent. Obviously they realize that was a mistake if it was said to me, but I think I may still have something to add: You never see an interesting character being called a Gary Stu. Contrary to popular belief, a powerful character does not make a poor one. It’s why. What makes them so good at what they do, how hard did they have to work for it? If they’re naturally adept, display that. Don’t just make them do things inexplicably. A character doesn’t need to be relatable to be a good one, they need to be intriguing.
What’s they’re thought process, what makes them the way they are? Get inside their head, especially in a story like this. Show us how things affect them, and what made them the way that they are. No one calls Batman a Gary Stu because he’s the “world’s greatest detective”. They find him intriguing because of the broken mental state that turned him into that. I find Seph’s story arc intriguing. An idealist, and a talented detective made more harsh and cynical by the horrible world he inhabits. That’s good shit, don’t ditch it.
If this is what Forester thinks is bad, I can’t wait to see what they think is worth a re-release. Dogs and Sailors may not be perfect, but it’s above average. Quite a bit of potential here. I found myself genuinely enjoying the story, and wanting to see what happened next. I’d say this original version is worth your money, so the fact that there’s a revitalization on the way should excite you as much as it does me.
Keep a close eye on this one.