Study Guide for Duncan the Wonder Dog

Created by: Adam Hines

Published by:

ISBN: 0977030490

Pages: 400


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Notes: We ran Duncan the Wonder Dog for the eighth meeting of our graphic novel book club. Because of the book's visual complexity, I wanted to give our members enough prior experience that they might have the best chance at actually understanding what Adam Hines was doing from page to page. Unfortunately, most of our members couldn't attend the meeting — some due to holiday obligations and some because they found the book too disturbing and couldn't finish it. Of the remainder of those involved in the discussion, one member read Duncan as her third graphic novel ever and another as her first (she had won the book in a Good Ok Bad promotional drawing and wanted to participate though she had never picked up a graphic novel before). The discussion was lively and fruitful, though I would recommend participants have several other worthwhile graphic novels under their belt before attempting Duncan — as there is some valuable visual vocabulary that can be attained elsewhere to help render Duncan more easily understandable.

This study guide offers the questions I created for my particular group, as well as some further resources to help flesh out your own interpretations and discussion.

Discussion Questions

  1. It usually stifles a good discussion to begin with our general thoughts, but Duncan's a complicated book so it might be good to get this part out of the way at the outset. So what did you guys think of the book? Were there specific things you appreciated (or didn't appreciate) about the book? What's your general evaluation of Duncan the Wonder Dog—would you read it again?
  2. Adam Hines has corrected interviewers who say the book concerns animal rights. He says "rights" are just an arbitrarily assigned thing, kind of an abstract, and seated too firmly in the human seat of power or dominance. He prefers to speak of Duncan being a book concerned with animal welfare. Do you see anything toward this distinction in the way he tells his story?
  3. Hines style of art in Duncan is very collage-oriented. Some pages are a cacophony of text while others are wordless. Why do you imagine Hines took this route and do you think it magnifies the work or detracts from it?
  4. What do you think are the governing themes of the book? (Here are some possibilities:)
    • Dharma
    • Empathy
    • Connectedness
    • Man's brokenness in the system
    • Hope vs. hopelessness
  5. After a brief prologue, Duncan begins with the Marciano/Charles boxing match and the circus cages and discussion of the Pythagoreans and dharma - followed by Let us then begin our discussion. How do you think this combination of things is meant to prepare the reader for the discourse to follow?
  6. How would you guess does Hines view animals? How is that different or similar to how you view animals?
  7. The book's obvious conceit is that animals have the ability to voice all of their thoughts and frustrations. But in our world, that isn't the case. How much, if at all, do you think that removes the urgency or plausibility of Hines' actual point? After all, if animals can't speak or think or reason like us, do we really have the same responsibility to protect their welfare? Contrawise, does a creature's inability to speak or reason like a non-impaired adult human determine whether we should seek its welfare?
  8. How do you think Hines views religion? How does work in Duncan's world?
  9. Hines describes the Diary portion of the book as its anchor, as the center around which everything else revolves. How do you think this may be the case?
  10. Did you find any portion or instance in the book particularly affecting or memorable?
  11. Why do you think Hines chose a sheep for the cover?

The Important Parts

This is all very subjective, but as we approached the day of our book club's meeting, my wife realized that her memory for the book was a little fuzzier than she'd like. As an aid, I gave her excerpts from the text that would help her hit all the most important parts and allow her to summarize the book in a much shorter experience. There are, of course, important points made throughout the book that aren't covered in this summary, but these segments may be ideal for a review of the book.

Dharma Stories

(pp. 22-29)

Euclid and Mercodonius trade stories while Euclid learns of the dharma of man.

The Discussion Begins

(pp. 30-32)

We find out the good to which all things wend and Hines ends his prologue.


(pp. 130-135)

Jack Hammond's imaginary familiar Remus (?) introduces us to Jack's chief problem.


(pp. 145-147)

The story of two birds and why we should pity mankind.

The Tale of Robert Paige

(pp. 181-195)

Containing Pompeii's soliloquy, one of the most powerful, passionate speeches in the book.


(pp. 246-250)

Pompeii doesn't think much of man's ability to make everything a story about man.

Every Man I Ever Saw on This Roof Tonight

(pp. 283-289)

The ONACP director talks to a starling but thinks much more than he says.


(pp. 293-328)

Hines refers to the diary as the anchor around which everything else in the book revolves. It is the emotional heart of the book.

Just Imagine What They Think of Cats

(pp. 344-352)

Hadrian quotes an old dead sociologist and infects Jack Hammond with a need to deaden his empathy.

Another Day

(pp. 381-390)

In which we are introduced at last to Duncan.

Additional Notes

  • pp. 1-4 In the first prologue, there is a story about Daniel Muir. This is likely the Muir (or father of the Muir) for whom Voltaire works.
  • pp. 6-29 Rocky Marciano vs Charles Ezzard match (video).
  • p. 23 The names of the countries from which the animals in the circus hail are ancient: Taprobane is Sri Lanka, Suvarnabhumi is probably Lower Burma, and Agisymba is a lost sub-Saharan region.
  • p. 35ff Sputnik represented by off-kilter > symbol
  • pp. 40-41 show a cacophony of quotes among which are Blaise Pascal from Pensees, Cicero, Giacomo Leopardi's "The Infinite" ("So amidst this immensity my vision drowns: and sweet is the shipwreck in such a sea), and either Semonides or Simonides.
  • p. 43 contains excerpts from a dictionary page featuring space-related definitions, another dictionary page featuring both "practical" and "practical joke," several depictions of our solar system, a title from Book 6 of Milton's Paradise Lost, and a headline quoting and referring to Thomas Love Peacock's gentle satire, Nightmare Abbey.
  • p. 70 Omphalos, the little owl, is the only animal (besides the enigmatic Duncan/Antaeus) to speak in a language other than what those around it speak. Omphalos stones were said to direct communication with the gods. Alternatively, the Omphalos hypothesis posits that the gods created the earth with apparent age, making it impossible to determine its age from natural observation. Svegli means "wake up" in Italian and Nessun essere umano means "No human being." Voynich is a reference to an indecipherable language. Phaistos probably refers to a Phaistos disk, a relic of cryptic symbols whose meaning is unclear.
  • pp. 67-75 feature in the inner margins of the odd pages an interesting excerpt on animal contributions to the arts written (ostensibly) by Herodotus, the rogue marten.
  • p. 94 Polybius first mentions Duncan, the dog of title, calling him Antaeus. Antaeus was a half-giant, the son of earth (Gaia) and sea (Poseidon).
  • pp. 99-100 Polybius ends page 99 with a meditative representation beginning with .142857 (1/7), the most well-known of cyclic numbers and counts through the cyclic permutation to the value 1.
  • pp. 157-160 Pompeii quotes from Matthew 10:34-36, though rearranges the parts.
  • p. 350 Hadrian quotes a story from chapter 27 of Social Organizationrelated in which sociologist Charles Horton Cooley argues that since equality isn't going to happen in society, a well-established hierarchy is the best second choice for a society.

To celebrate our discussion of what is probably my personal favourite comic, I carved a Pompeii pumpkin, reprising what I thought was one of the most powerful scenes from the book.


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