Comic Shots #29 with Josh Christie: Gose and ‘Lost Dogs’


Each week the iFanStaff passes along a tasty drink recipe and an even tastier comic book recommendation. The cocktail (or beer, or wine, or booze) and the comic can both be enjoyed independently, but they have a common theme and when served together they can make for the perfect reading experience.


Death in the beer business, like death in the world of comics, tends to be a temporary affair.

There are dozens of unique styles of beer that, while popular in their day, have disappeared from store shelves and draft menus. Styles like stein beer, burton ale, and lichtenhainer have been consigned to history books by fickle beer drinkers. Thanks to the enterprising and experimental nature of today’s brewers, this forced retirement of beers can be reversed. Historical brews are now being resurrected, Lazarus Pit style.

One of my favorites among these historical ales is gose, a style popular in Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries. A white wheat beer, the major distinguishing characteristic of gose was its seasoning. Along with the coriander traditional in many white ales, gose was brewed with a liberal amount of salt. The end result was a tart beer, bursting with lemon sourness and a ending in a salty kick. The style peaked in popularity in the 1800s, and eastern Germany was flooded with gosenschänke (literally, gose taverns) where locals could order the beer and specify just how salty they wanted it.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the style waned as lager swept into Germany. When the Reich nationalized and closed breweries in the 1940s, gose was effectively finished off. Finally, after decades of dormancy, brewers in Germany and America are bringing the style back.

Currently, the beer review site Beer Advocate lists about three dozen different goses available to curious drinkers. A lot are from small local breweries (my favorite is the Portsmouth Gose), but Sam Adams’ Verloren and the German Leipziger Gose should be available pretty much everywhere. With a sharp sourness, a dry finish, low alcohol, and saltiness that isn’t quite enough to make you thirsty, it’s a great style for late Spring.

The book to read while you’re sipping gose, Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs, fits the pairing in a couple way. The book, like the style, has been recently resurrected after years of being unavailable. The setting of the story, a seaside village, fits the salty bite of the beer perfectly.

Lost Dogs

Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Lettered by Chris Ross
Published by Top Shelf Productions

If you’re like me, your first introduction to Jeff Lemire was his Essex County Trilogy. It’s the first work of Lemire’s that got any sort of wide distribution, and it paved the way to his later work with Vertigo and DC. I was tickled to find out that Lemire had produced a graphic novel back in 2005, years before the Essex books.

In the mid-2000s, Jeff was a comic creator in concept more than execution. After abandoning an attempt at an epic sci-fi story called Soft Malleable Underbelly, and still struggling to find his voice, the artist was frustrated with where his work was. Lemire decided to see if participating in the 24-Hour Comic Challenge would free him of some of his artistic inhibitions. He failed the challenge – he only drew twelve pages in the 24 hours – but the pages that flowed out became the first dozen of Lost Dogs. The rest of the book was drawn in just a month, and the story netted Lemire a Xeric Grant, an award for emerging self-published creators.

Lemire’s grant financed a print run of 700 copies, which means it hasn’t been easy for fans to find the relatively rare book in the following years. Last fall, Top Shelf released a digital version of the title with an introduction by Timothy Callahan and a new preface by Lemire. The art remains the same as in the original, though Chris Ross re-lettered the book (as Lemire puts it, “Messy art is one thing; messy lettering just won’t do.”). Later this month, Top Shelf Productions is releasing a trade paperback of Lost Dogs.

At its core, Lost Dogs is a story about a man and his family. They’re topics that Lemire covers better than any creator out there, and even in this early work you can see the skeleton of Essex County, Sweet Tooth and Animal Man. It’s a small, simple and effective story. The unnamed main character (referred to in some reviews as “The Sailor”) is a hulking, simple man who needs little in life but the love of his family. Despite his massive physical presence, the man is a pacifist. It’s a noble thing to be, but his luck go south when thugs come after The Sailor and his family. Things are brutal, things are tragic, and people are cruel. It’s a 100-page punch to the gut.

The word used by both Lemire and Callahan to describe the art in Lost Dogs is one I’ll use again here – rough. There’s no other way to put it; the art in this book, which flowed out of the artist in a very short period of time, is raw. Small panels of background characters hold little more than stick figures, and there are pages where you could count the number of brushstrokes on one hand. There’s undeniably a kinetic flow to the pages, but it’s obvious that Lemire was still figuring out his style.

And yet, while the preface admits it’s a far cry from how he draws now, the DNA of Lemire’s signature style is here in all its chunky glory. The story reads well, too – despite the rough are, the storytelling chops for laying out pages and panels are there, if young.

The palate of the book, either by design or necessity, is striking. The whole book is black, white and grey, with splashes of brilliant, bloody red. The red, present in the sailor stripes of the lead’s shirt and in the copious blood spilled, jumps off the page. It’s a small piece of design, but it elevates the art substantially.

The desire to see early work from our favorite creators is strong. From early scripts to unpublished first novels (to, hell, early episodes of podcasts), it’s both enlightening and inspiring to see the creative genesis of people we admire. For all its blemishes, Lost Dogs stands out as an eerily affecting story, and one that contains all our favorite parts of Lemire’s work.

 


Josh Christie doesn’t care if your beer or book is nearly extinct. He just hopes it’s good. Follow him on Twitter for plenty of talk about beer, books, bookselling, and even comics.

Please obey the law and only drink if you are of age. Drink responsibly and never drink and drive. Buy the comics that make you happy. Smile more.

Comments

  1. This book is utterly heartbreaking. I read it recently (digital) and it ruined my mood for a week. And I mean that in the most flattering way possible. It will effect you that much. Great story. I’m looking forward to buying a physical copy when it hits the stands. This is definitely something I want on my bookshelf.

  2. That beer sounds terrible. Something things should stay in the history books. I’ll pass on Egyptian beer made out of cow urine as well – I don’t care how much they sweetened it with honey.

    • Don’t knock it till you try it. I had a pretty good one of these about a year ago. Another fun, but far easier to find by comparison is oyster stouts. They can be made either filtered through crushed oyster shells or, you know, just made with oysters which my understanding is the more common practice.

  3. Kinda shocking that Lemire couldn’t finish the 24 hour comic challenge, since they guy is super fast

    • In the preface, he writes a bit about how frustrated he was that he hadn’t solidified his style yet – he would start a story with the art looking one way and finish with it looking another. I think that his confidence in his style these days explains how fast he draws.

      And damn, is he fast now! I remember being surprised when got a sketch from him a couple years back.

  4. I picked up one of the last copies from Jeff when he did an awesome sketch of Robotman and Rebis that became my iFanBoy avatar. Such a great book.

  5. I bought this book YEARS ago from Jeff himself @ a con. When I brought it home my Wife read it. Her reaction… “The creator needs a big hug. He must have some demons.” LOL

    the Tiki

  6. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of either this beer or this comic – they sound amazing!! Definitely adding them to the To-be Read and To-be Drank lists.

  7. Read Lost Dogs a few weeks ago on Graphicly and was blown away. I thought it was about…. lost dogs, like BKV’s Pride of Baghdad or something, but didn’t expect this. You can really see the makings of a master in this book.

  8. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    A digital version of Lost Dogs was on sale a few weeks ago during a Top Shelf sale. I picked it up then but haven’t read it yet. It’s on my list.