I have expressed sentiments like this before on many occasions at Broken Frontier but I never tire of repeating them. One of the greatest joys of our championing emerging creative voices at BF is seeing those artists’ storytelling skills grow and evolve as they hone their craft and approach to the page. Dominique Duong, the creator of The Dog and the Cat, is one of this year’s Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’ and was recently interviewed here on the site. She spoke then about her interest in comics narratives ranging from the supernatural to those tackling queer themes and of her desire to bring more of her culture into her work, all of which come together in the pages of her latest small press comic offering.
Debuting today, The Dog and the Cat takes the myth of the Chinese Zodiac as its starting point for a quietly thoughtful exploration of relationships, betrayal and reconciliation. In another time and place the Rat and the Cat were good friends. But on the day of the great river race to determine which animals would represent the twelve signs of the Zodiac the Rat deliberately let the Cat sleep in to increase his chances of winning. From that day on cats and rats would forever be enemies.
This betrayal didn’t go unnoticed though and one of the animals is sympathetic to the Cat’s plight. The Dog reaches out to her and, in their forms in the human world, the pair meet every year for dinner despite the Cat’s initial resistance to the Dog’s kindness. But can the Cat ever find it in herself to trust anyone again after the Rat’s treacherous behaviour?
Duong stretches her visual storytelling skills here with pages that are rooted in both in the fantastic and a more recognisable day-to-day reality. The early pages retell the myth of the Cat and the Rat with a blend of humour, pathos and the odd moment of ominous foreshadowing that both contrast and complement the later “real world” scenes. Sequences that are largely talking heads are, of course, notoriously difficult to pull off while maintaining reader interest but in that regard the story’s second extended section is confidently realised in pacing and construction as it depicts the duo’s annual New Year dinner. Duong’s use of changing perspectives, visual characterisation, close-ups and experimental panel layouts here all show great confidence in their realisation. Her delicate use of atmospheric colouring also enhances mood, as do her speech balloons which dramatically shift to reflect moments of emotional intensity.
At its core The Dog and the Cat is a queer romance story and from that perspective readers will no doubt be able to take their own allegorical truths from its pages. Duong’s tale touches on themes of trust, acceptance and duplicity, and of how we learn to let go of the past and embrace the future. But it can also be interpreted as an exploration of self-discovery, identity and self-awareness.
While there are some lettering choices – in terms of presentation rather than placement – that show occasional naivety this is by far the most accomplished comic from Dominique Duong to date. From her layered approach to the subject matter through to her fluid cartooning and assured command of the narrative tools of the form, The Dog and the Cat showcases her growing maturity as a storyteller across all aspects of the medium. I look forward immensely to following her progress in 2021.
Review by Andy Oliver