The Webcomic Overlook #58: Pug Davis
Pugs are awesome.
I’ve never owned a pet, partly because my wife is terribly allergic to anything with fur, but mainly because I’m lazy. Terminally lazy. I’d probably forget to feed them from weeks, then the proper authorities would be called, and then members of PETA would probably spit on me too and from my car. It would not be a pretty scene.
However, if I were ever to own a dog, I’d want a pug. Those little dudes are alternatively grotesque and fun-loving, embodying the “small tough guy with a heart of gold” aura that inspires animators from Warner Brothers to complete the look with a saucy bowler hat. Pugs always seem happy (“comedians of the dog world,” says Wikipedia), what with their big-ass grin, wrinkly upturned eyebrows, and big bulgy eyes that just seem to say, “Everything’s going to be OK, mac.” (Needless to say, they all have Brooklyn accents.) Pugs never fail to put a smile up on my face.
Which is why I was excited to hear about a comic named Pug Davis. That title’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Like he should be an NBA point guard playing alongside the likes of Charles Barkley and Mugsy Bogues. But, no, Pug Davis is a sci-fi story about a Buck Rogers-like hero who’s got the face of … you guessed it … a pug.
This review will feature some mature discussions, so parents be warned. Pug Davis itself, though, is mostly clean, though there are some scenes that tend to cross into the PG-13 territory.
Pug Davis is written and illustrated by the delectably named Rebecca Sugar. Thus far, she’s published two issues with a third one on the way. Each issue, which include one major story and two small stories, also come with front and back covers. This leads me to believe that Pug Davis was meant to be published in book format. However, for the life of me, I have not been able to track where you can purchase these books. Rebecca, if you’re reading this, feel free to chime in.
Pug Davis takes place in a sort of retro-future, a world envisioned by dreamers in the Eisenhower Era and spurred on by the developments of the Kennedy Era. The hero of the comic is the titular Pug Davis: a defender of Earth with an American flag emblazoned on his chest. A bare-knuckles brawler. A man of action with a puppy for a head. He’s basically Buck Rogers if Buck was a surly old marine. He makes no attempt to hide that he’s a grizzled sourpuss, tossing about politically incorrect epithets that he may or may not mean. Pug’s past is a mystery, and he burdens a hidden pain that becomes apparent when you look at him directly in those big puppy-dog eyes. He’s also got a sort of Jesse James or Billy the Kid reputation: killers seem to be popping out of the woodwork just to see if they can take a crack at the infamous Pug Davis.
We’re also introduced to Pug’s unambiguously gay sidekick, The Blouse, the comic’s real main character. He gets much more face time than Pug. We view the world through his impossibly saucer-sized eyes and his ridiculously awe-struck reaction to everything. Where Pug is perennially grouchy, The Blouse is hopelessly optimistic to the point where his
star-struck naivete often turns him into the series’ Damsel in Distress. He sees Pug as his bestest friend (he’s probably wrong), thee universe as a cruel and dangerous place (he’s probably right), and encounters with any human being is a refreshing reminder of home. Overall, The Blouse is the most complex, realistic character in Pug Davis.
Mlle. Sugar style is confident, natural, and eye-catching. I love it so much I’m going to engage in an unforgivable fit of hyperbole: it’s like Will Eisner meets John Kricfalusi. Which is all the more impressive when you realize that Pug Davis‘ accomplished artwork comes from someone who just turned 21 (and who started the comic at a right tender age of 19, I think). The expressions are exaggerated yet controlled, and the character designs are rounded and organic. It’s a pleasing mix of cartoony humor and a sense of alien otherness. Body language portraying nervousness, fear, and anticipation are depicted exceptionally. These traits even translate to the novel-yet-familiar alien designs, which include floating brains and shapeshifters that are made of twisting ribbons ribbons.
Her style is also very economic. A very dry term to use for a style so dynamic, to be sure, but that’s one of the first things that came to mind when reading Pug Davis. Take the inner cover of Pug Davis, Issue #1, for example. In one simple page, Mlle. Sugar establishes the entire premise of Pug Davis, the personalities of the principal characters, and the duo’s passive-aggressive relationship.
Although there are long stretches of the comic that are dialogue free, Mlle. Sugar is more than up to living up to the old mantra of “show, don’t tell.” This doesn’t just apply merely to quiet scenes where Pug is chewing bubblegum and kicking ass. There are quite times where the characters are merely slumping down in their seats or walking across a beach. Actually, now that I think about it, a majority of Pug Davis is made up of action-free character pieces.
I usually don’t enjoy these sorts of wordless sequences. In What Birds Know (reviewed here), for example, I felt that these cinematic stretches were a tad over-indulgent. I had no problem with Pug Davis since Mlle. Sugar almost always was trying to tell us something, whether it was Pug’s self-loathing or The Blouse’s rising panic. Besides, quiet scenes are a natural fit for science fiction stories. Everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien have banked on the soundlessness of space.
As a result, Mlle. Sugar crafts a world so real that, while reading, you tend to overlook the absurdity of the central premise. Which is: why does the hero have a dog for a head? You never forget that Dr. McNinja is a wacky amalgam of two (or three) incongruent ideas, but a space hero who is also half dog? That should be a joke, right? It’s a testament to Rebecca Sugar’s talents that the idea didn’t feel strange at all. There’s a bizarre (yet tonally serious) backstory that acknowledges this mystery, yet even that raises more questions when you spend too much time thinking about it. (Top nearly spoiler-free inquiry: aren’t pugs’ heads really naturally tiny?) Maybe it’s one of those mysteries that should remain forever unexplained lest they ruin the story, like how Iron man can apparently fall thousands of feet from the sky without his body turning into a puddle of mush or how iCarly can apparently traipse about Japan without passports or any other sort of international documentation.
With The Blouse as the series’ main character, it was almost inevitable that homosexuality would be a central theme. This is nothing new for Mlle. Sugar. If you browse around her LiveJournal (NSFW), you might find yourself face to face with softcore yaoi for Ed, Edd, & Eddie and Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Incidentally, for you purveyors of straight erotica, there’s also some slightly more explicit illustrations featuring characters from Ratatouille. Explore ahoy!) Pug Davis’ universe seems to be populated by a strong number of homosexuals from several species… or at least that’s what I think is implied from the big, sparkly eyes and long eyelashes. It’s certainly more than any of the Star Trek franchises tend to depict. Believe it or not, it tends to streamline interspecies relationships… and actually makes aliens more believable from that standpoint that the aliens are as non-human as possible. At times it’s impossible to tell which gender a potential partner is, or if their species even has gender barriers.
The way gay men are portrayed in Pug Davis are almost stereotypical, at times reminiscent of how non-Caucasian races were often portrayed in the 40’s and 50’s. The Blouse, especially, seems to embody the hyper-emotional, swishy stereotype. Is it offensive? Not being a homosexual, I wouldn’t know. I suspect, however, most won’t be bothered, though, since Pug Davis makes it rather clear which side of the Prop. 8 debate it lies on. In “Like Heaven,” Mlle. Sugar subtly comments on the friction between homosexuality and religion, where The Blouse briefly becomes a hateful bigot after he’s possessed by proto-angelic beings.
Still, the way Rebecca Sugar presents it, homosexuality is simply an aspect of the Pug Davis world. With the exception of the “Like Heaven” storyline, she doesn’t get preachy about it. It’s just one of those things, y’know? Along with the excellent characterizations, the engaging stories, and the incredible art, it’s just one of the traits that sets her comic apart from the rest. It a webcomic that never feels like it drags despite all the quiet moments, and a world that always feels new despite the familiar sci-fi trappings.
Pug Davis: boldly going where no man (or dog) has gone before.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Posted on November 17, 2008, in 5 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, funny animal webcomic, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Pug Davis. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.