Trench Dogs

Written by Ian Densford
Review by Thomas j. Howley

Trench Dogs is a graphic novel with no real text or dialogue. It comprehensively encompasses the breadth, depth, and especially the horrors of World War I. Almost surreally, the book portrays the characters—combatants and civilians—as dogs and other animals. And, if given a chance, it works. Through a series of comic-style watercolor panels, the author illustrates “people” and events from the early days of jubilation through the abject misery of graphic tragic horrors on the front to the exhausting and sometimes jarring war’s end.

Every panel tells its own little story, and the reader must pay attention to small illustrated details. Admirably, the author/artist includes not just horrific front-line combat but portrayals of aerial and naval warfare, chemical weapons, nurses, medical procedures and segments of civilian life before and at the war’s conclusion. The book also features participants from eleven different countries. Carrier pigeons, winter and mountain operations, and dirigibles broaden the scale illuminated in the panels.

I’ll freely admit I couldn’t follow nor decipher every side story or sub-plot in every panel, but a more astute reader may do better than me. The burgeoning audience of graphic novel fans, especially the historically literate ones, will certainly be impressed by this book. After setting aside my initial skepticism, so was I. The author’s and publisher’s intentions could not be more honorable, and for readers ready to accept the perhaps strange format and premise, I’m happy to recommend Trench Dogs.