Creator Johnny Tay originally produced and published Seven Years in Dog-Land in Singapore between 2009 and 2011. The free web comic version shares the first half of the story, and the second half is available only via a digital or print version through various retailers. It has won and been nominated for several awards, and it seriously looks at the basis of the human-animal bond, as well as the details of what makes us human.
As a dog owner and rescue volunteer/advocate, I both loved and hated parts of the message I saw in Seven Years in Dog-Land. Portions of the story almost seemed to preach against pet ownership of any kind, while I believe that the overarching message is that we are the most human when we can respect the grace in beings different than ourselves. The ruling species in the alternating worlds, Earth and Cania, were highly flawed in their treatment of “lesser” creatures, and I feel that Tay mostly is speaking up for animal welfare. It’s easy to see the horror when human beings are treated as livestock, and if the story helps people understand that animals have inner lives and feelings, too, I think it’s done a great service.
Apart from the underlying messages, the story in Seven Years in Dog-Land is a simple one about a lost little girl wanting to find her way; however, Alice’s journey is not just one of finding her way back to Earth; she must emotionally find her way back to connect with her father, who has shut himself off to avoid another loss like that of his wife. The obvious Alice in Wonderland references are not just happenstance, although Tay’s Alice is more level-headed and forthright than her classic counterpart. (I think Tay’s version rocks.)
The art in this comic is not as precise or perfect as some web series or comic books, but Tay excels at drawing very distinct dog characters. While it took me a little while to identify all of the various characters in the Cania royal palace, none of them blended together as generic dogs. Also, he successfully made Alice stand apart from the other humans in Cania, simply through her light-colored hair and more upright posture. She is clearly a more advanced human species than the majority, even before the large canids indicate that the humans of their world cannot speak.
The free version of Seven Years in Dog-Land only covers about half-way through Alice’s fourth year trapped in Cania and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Obviously, it’s meant to encourage readers to purchase the full version, and when I get the chance, I probably will snag myself a copy. I still have a few questions that I’d like answered, and I want to see if Alice ever finds her way back home.
Overall, Seven Years in Dog-Land isn’t exactly a story for dog lovers or for people who wish their dogs were a little less like non-verbal, hairy toddlers; it’s philosophical, gritty, and a little uncomfortable, but it definitely made me think. I know for certain that if all humans treated their dogs more like Alice, the world would be a better place, and we should never discount the inner world of any creature simply because they do not speak our language.
4.5 Heartbreaking Howls in the Darkness out of 5