BAGS (or a story thereof) is the graphic novel adaptation of a short novel written by Patrick McHale, a few years before he started working on Over the Garden Wall. Unable to land animation gigs, he woke up one day and decided to write a novel. He gave himself one week, because he thought that was how it was done. He barely edited. He did his own illustrations. He had it printed and sold it on Etsy for a while. Then came artist Gavin Fullerton who thought it’d be fun to adapt the short work in comic form, to which McHale said, “Sure why not?”
Thusly: BAGS, which tells the story of one John Motts, an everyman sort of figure who, after losing his doted on dog, embarks on a humble odyssey that will take him across his familiar town, the surrounding forests, and beyond, encountering along the way corrupt cops, talking walruses, and, not least, the devil.
This is a surreal take on the hero’s journey. A story that is aware of its own absurdity and indeed relishes and thrives in it. If you’ve ever seen the by-now classic Over the Garden Wall miniseries, the more dreamlike elements of that story can give you a hint of the weirdness that is contained within the bags of this tale. McHale’s writing is at times poignant and poetic, and at others purposefully simplistic and nonsensical. This style is reflected in Fullerton’s own art by contrasting the stark realism of his backgrounds and other characters with John’s distinctly cartoonish veneer, appearing as he does like a mix between Charlie Brown and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.
The art is further complemented by the contribution of colorist Whitney Cogar, who has also done work on the Garden Wall comics. She gives the book a classic, timeless feel by going with a style that simulates the four color printing process prominently used in the early days of comic books (complete with Ben Day dots).
I liked BAGS quite a bit. Mainly because it felt like nothing else I’ve read in a long while. It’s quirky and offbeat, but also lacking any pretense. It’s totally sincere, which makes it surprisingly moving. It’s hard to hate a lost dog tale, anyway, and this one is no different in that regard.