Writer: Resty Grey
Oliver, a black and white Boston terrier, rides a cartoon bus down a bouncing road that’s paved through a forest of smiling trees. The bus approaches a pink and yellow castle while he sings show tunes beside caricatures of cats and dogs, professing his perfect day.
Turning the page to a full-page spread featuring penitentiary gates, slapping the audience with a strong sense of story’s reality. A truck carrying a cage full of anthropomorphic inmates including Oliver drives through the entrance. The iron gates to the prison lock shut behind them.
Welcome to Jackson State Kennel.
Within the first two pages of the story, Ryan Ferrier and Daniel Bayliss introduce Oliver’s fantastical world juxtaposed beside the reality of Oliver’s situation. The story centers on a dog who copes with stressful situations with hallucinations, getting sent to prison.
Ferrier and Bayless take their audience through a colorful roller coaster of early-Mickey-Mouse-cartoon-inspired caricatures blended with a cast of violent inmates that eventually obscures the protagonist’s reality. Ferrier and Bayless create a unique rendition of another prison story; only this story actually feels different.
The animals represent the blueprints of a prison story; differing cultural groups represented by differing species of animals thrown into a small space to live together.
Just like every other prison story, the cats fight with the dogs. Rodents band together with other similar rodents, all trying to survive their terrible fates without losing their sanity.
The aspect that really sets this story apart from the dozens of other prison stories is the perspective of the protagonist. To put it simply, the Boston terrier is crazy.
The story starts with the protagonist feeling wrongfully imprisoned, singing show tunes to cope with his situation. From Oliver’s perspective, the other inmates joyfully welcome Oliver as a member of their criminal community. However, by the end of the book we find Oliver’s outlook on his imprisonment change when he finally realizes how his life has taken a turn for the worse.
The audience witnesses the innocence of Oliver’s perspective juxtaposed beside the reality of living in a prison. Though we don’t know why Oliver was really admitted into the penitentiary, the audience trusts Oliver’s innocent intentions. The Boston terrier still becomes a small bright and colorful spot in a bleak world of animals dressed blues, living behind iron bars. Ferrier and Bayliss cleverly blend a typical prison feud with the story of a dog trying to cope with the unfortunate situation he finds himself in.
With the cats violently ruling the prison, staying alive long enough for Oliver to reach his appeal becomes more and more daunting the further you get into the first issue.
BOOM! Studios produced a gem with Kennel Block Blues. As a fan who loves social commentaries that blend aesthetically-pleasing illustrations with strong character dialogue, I really can’t wait for the next issue.