Gussy, Rosie and Hissy are the protagonist triangle of Dog biscuitsa comic signed by Alex Graham that tells the sexual tragicomedy of a summer pandemic in which the three characters are involved. But it could be Guillermo, Rosa and Héctor: despite the local appearance of the story, which takes place in the city of Seattle in the Northwest of the United States, this graphic novel portrays simple but profound issues that happen anywhere in the world.
During the confinement to curb the spread of covid-19, Gussy -owner of a small dog biscuit business- and his employee Rosie -25 years his junior- live a romance shaken by doubts, the instability of the business and the future , solitary confinement, drugs, and also by Hissy —Rosie’s roommate and son of Jennifer Love-Hewitt—, with whom Rosie enjoys passionate sex but with an expiration date. In the background, the police violence, the restrictive measures imposed and the uncertainty of a few months that were exhausting.
“Anxiety is the basis of the story,” explains Graham, born in Denver in 1987, “it’s why I did it: to give people a chance to get out of their pandemic anxiety, to show them that they were not alone. And also to exorcise my own anxiety. We all lived through the same uncertainty and that’s why I wanted to tell the story in a fun way, to get out of it. I think that’s what humor is for, to use sad feelings and turn them into something that’s digestible.”
Dog biscuits has won the Puchi Award 2021 in its fifth edition, an award granted by the La Casa Encendida cultural center and the Fulgencio Pimentel publishing house, co-editors of the album, a 400-page volume, each with six vignettes, which Graham initially published in his Instagram account, sometimes up to three pages per day. The response obtained gave him the opportunity to think that there could be a story there, beyond the improvisations, and that is why he reformulated it, turned it into a comic and closed it with an ending.
In this process, the interaction with her followers on social networks, who in some way participated in the development of the graphic novel, was very important, as the author acknowledges: “The story was affected by people’s comments, although at first moment I didn’t want to. What I was doing was the opposite of what people expected from the story, I wanted to provoke the public, make them angry. They got very angry with the mistakes that the characters could make, there were people who threatened them with death. I had a lot of fun with those reactions, I also got pissed off and became protective of my characters and a little vindictive.”
Graham points out that many of the influences on his illustrating style come from the 90s, from reading and watching cartoons on the Nickelodeon channel. But he also mentions the name of an American underground comic book pope: “My initial influence was Robert Crumb. When I was a teenager, my father showed me a documentary about him and I started reading his comics, his magazine. WeirdoIt’s what made me want to dedicate myself to comics.”
Gussy, Rosie and Hissy are very different but they share some traits, not only the fact that they are anthropomorphic animals, that usual resource in comics. One of them is that the three of them find it hard to ask for help. “It’s true,” Graham confirms. Those three characters are actually aspects of myself. I don’t like to say that this book is autobiographical, I wouldn’t describe it as such, but any fictional story has autobiographical elements. It is something of myself, it is very difficult for me to ask for help and I think that comes from my childhood because then they made it clear to me that you could not ask for help.
Graham also highlights another aspect common to its three protagonists. Although altruism and empathy appeared in many places in the face of the catastrophe of the pandemic, which reflects Dog biscuits it is a reality that was suffered behind closed doors. “They are very lonely characters and that was accentuated by the pandemic. Hissy, for example, has a lot of friends but with the pandemic, somehow, we turned inward and felt lonely. In part, because we were told to avoid social interactions and stay home. They deal with it differently but they are in the same situation, very alone. As we all were”, summarizes the creator.
With this background, and without the desire to gut the story, it can be inferred that this graphic novel does not end in a pleasant way. Graham explains the reasons for this: “The happy ending is not a part of my way of telling stories, if my narrative leads me to it naturally there is no problem, but it does not usually happen. My philosophy is to try to reflect real life, and real life is absurd. Sometimes there are happy endings, but most are not. The literature that attracts me tells more real stories, which do not have to have a happy ending. Hollywood feels the need to end stories with a happy ending, but I think that’s a business decision.”
Before covid-19, Alex Graham, whose first extensive graphic novel, Englishwas published in 2017, she worked as a full-time waitress. With the pandemic, the restaurant closed, but received help from the Government through an agreement that required all workers to stay forty hours a week on the premises, even if there was no activity on it. In one of the many downtimes she spent there, she began to draw some vignettes that would end up being Dog biscuits. The digital and censored version —in the Spanish edition it is published in its entirety, with all the pages— was the winner of the Cartoonist Studio Prize in the category of webcomic of the year.
There is talk of the first pandemic comic to refer to Dog biscuitsbut she places in that category critical zone by Simon Hanselmann, who actually shared some of Graham’s initial posts on social media, getting the ball rolling faster. “Simon started working on his five months earlier and published it a month before I did. If I am to be honest, the first one is yours. But it is true that we both did it in real time, simultaneously, while things were happening”, concedes the author, who also acknowledges that writing this story helped her “immensely” during the first months of the pandemic and, although she does not believe that her intention was to tell a universal story, the answer that comes to him is making him change his mind and think that perhaps he has touched keys that sound similar in many latitudes.