For a book with a picture of an adorable black lab puppy on the cover, Kinski is not the happy-go-lucky dog-meets-boy adventure I feared it would be. Instead of a Marley and Me style adventure where a stray dog melts a young businessman’s wretched heart to slag, we get a tense, almost surreal in its stakes, crime story about one of the biggest shlubs on the planet and the dog who loves him anyway. Joe is in North Bend for a big presentation with his firm when a stray black lab runs up to him, his boss and his co-worker outside their hotel. Joe almost immediately, and firmly, states that this dog will be his. The rest of the story follows Joe as he tries to make that sentence into a reality, through backyard theft, loss of job and apartment, giant RV park mishaps, cute waitresses, and Werner Herzog movies. It’s a hodgepodge, to be sure, but Hardman is an assured stylist, and his story carries you despite any doubts.
At its core, Kinski is the story of a man who knows he’s floundering and he takes on one last project to try and save himself. Hardman doesn’t give Joe much in terms of why he latches on so firmly to Kinski and what makes him pursue the dog at the cost of almost all of his social standing, but for a book that’s obviously taken a lot of dedication and a lot of attention from the creator, I don’t know that that was something he intended for us to know. It all seems normal enough, after all, until Joe appears at the home of the boy who owns Kinski (really Bosley), and we return to the house later that night to discover the dog’s lead has been cut and the dog is gone. After that, we’re down the rabbit hole with Joe, and there’s no getting out until he figures out what he really wants this dog for.
The real sell for this book is Hardman’s sense of composition and pacing. His bio says he’s been working as a storyboard artist on Chris Nolan’s Inception and Interstellar, which are maybe in the same animal-kingdom-type family as comics, but have very different visual grammars and purposes; luckily, he’s kept some of the cinematic angles, and left behind the too-numerous amount of panels. Each page of Kinski has at least one panel that shouldn’t be as interesting as it is, whether it’s just an establishing shot of a rundown motel, or a close-up on Joe’s face that gets so close, it’s like we’re right on top of him. The pacing and composition in this book, along with the decision to keep it black and white, make it bring to mind a taut neo-noir, even if it is just a story about a down-on-his-luck guy who just wants to keep this fucking dog.
Kinski was originally published in parts by MonkeyBrain, but I think it would have infuriated me to read it that way. The way it’s paced, it reads extremely well as one longish story to read in a sitting, but if I were to read an entire issue of Joe getting in trouble in an RV park over the span of a couple hours and then the next issue jumped a total of a year in time in the span of a couple pages, it would feel jarring. In a larger whole, it feels like a pure storytelling decision, and it works.
I’m still not sure I’m sold on Joe as a character, and I’m not sure he’s actually learned anything by the end of this story. I do know that Gabriel Hardman’s brushy black and white art and his storytelling drive are things that should not be missed now that this story has been collected. Much like the Herzog films Joe wants to talk about all the time, maybe this is a piece of art in the sense that it generates way more questions to discuss than it answers.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Gabriel Hardman Publisher: Image Comics Price: $14.99 Release Date: 11/5/14 Format: TPB; Print/Digital