Tribes: The Dog Years

Tribes: The Dog YearsTribes: The Dog Years
Written by: Michael Geszel and Peter Spinetta
Illustrated by:
Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz 
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Hardcover, 224 pages, Full Color, $39.99 

Action-packed! Beautifully illustrated! And engagingly written, Tribes: The Dog Years is sure to generate hours of conversation among high school teachers, librarians, and their students. 

Set two hundred years in the future, the world as we know it no longer exists. In its place, a tribal, post-industrial wasteland exists, and it's every animal and man for himself.  But that's only if that animal or man can live to age twenty-one – the age at which a 2038 nano-virus has shortened the maximum life-span for all living things. Only the loyal will survive, according to Rockjumper of the Sky Shadows Tribe. Or, at least that is what he is trying to tell Sundog, who just so happens to think outside of the loyalist-tribal mind-set from time-to-time. 

So what happens when a mysterious stranger lands near the Sky Shadow Village and claims to want to the help Sky Shadow Tribe? Speaking of truths that seem to be ridiculous and risky – according to the tribalist mind-set – Dr. Adams claims that the twenty-one year old lifespan is not a curse, but, instead, a disease. While Sundog believes Dr. Adams, the conflict and tension in this story quickly rises when Rockjumper disagrees and condemns Dr. Adams and Sundog, refusing to believe in their seemingly random and risky thinking; After all, as new chief of the tribe, Rockjumper needs to protect his people from anything that might put the tribe's safety or people in danger. 

Tensions rise even more when Fallingstar, who is destined to marry Rockjumper and sort-of has a mutual crush on Sundog, decides to help Sundog and Dr. Adams.  The trio escape the village and set out to find the omega unit, which Dr. Adams plans to use to cure the twenty-one year old lifespan disease. Or as he tells Sundog and Fallingstar, "Understand this – you are meant to live a long life, not die young. You are meant to know your children’s children." Just the thought of knowing their children's children is awe-inspiring (unfathomable!) for Sundog and Fallingstar, who can barely even remember their own parents. Thus, the adventure ensues and Dr. Adams, Sundog, and Fallingstar will ultimately meet some new friends and some new foes.   

Will they find the omega unit? Will Dr. Adams begin to age as a result of his exposure to the Dog Years diseased-lifespan of twenty-one years? And what about Rockjumper? In hot, frustrated, and angry pursuit of Sundog and Fallingstar, will he and the Sky Shadow tribe ever believe in Dr. Adams' quest to solve the twenty-one year old, disease-ridden lifespan? Further, and perhaps most importantly, can Dr. Adams convince the various tribal representatives that there was a time when we were all one tribe that worked together? 

An energizing and engaging read, Tribes: The Dog Years is sure to generate many questions and many, many, many various, debatable responses.   

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: In the year 2038 a nano-virus shortened the lifespan to twenty-one years of age. Two hundred years later, during what the Sky Shadow Tribe calls "The Dog Years," a mysterious stranger lands near the Sky Shadow village and stirs up controversy when he claims that the twenty-one year old lifespan is not a curse, but instead a disease.  To the tribal-thinking Sky Shadow people – and their leader Rockjumper – such thinking is dangerous.  But Sundog and Fallingstar disagree; believing in Dr. Adams' theory that a disease is the cause of the twenty-one year old lifespan, they risk everything to join Dr. Adams, escape the village, and find the omega unit that Dr. Adams needs to cure the disease. 

Setting: The wastelands, the Sky Shadow Village, Solacia, the Headhunter village, Nanoimmune 

Major Characters: Sundog, Rockjumper, the Ancients, Firedancer, Fallingstar, Chief Bearstalker, Keesha, Skunktail, the Keylocks, the Dreadnots, Skull Chief, Kugo, Dr. Charles Lemley, Ann Sheridan

Themes: Action-Adventure, Cultural Awareness and Respect, Destiny/Fate, Discrimination/Prejudice, Loyalty, Courage, Responsibility, Past-Present-Future, War and Peace

Literary Pairing Suggestions: The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Native Son by Richard Wright, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame Victor Hugo, The Inferno by Dante, Beowulf, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead

Some Teaching Recommendations For High School Teachers and Librarians

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*

- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works. 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience. 

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Recommended Grade Levels: High school

Suggested High School Lesson Plan:

I really appreciated how well this graphic novel lent itself to teaching about cultural awareness and respect.  That said, I would like for this lesson plan to focus mainly on NCTE/IRA standard number one and its emphasis on having students "build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.  Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works."

The following lesson plan is called an ABC reading strategy: Anticipation, Building Knowledge, and Consolidation.


In order to build anticipation, write the word "awareness" on the board and ask student to define it.  Record their answers on the board.

Next, write the word "respect" on the board, and, once again record their responses on the board.

Finally, add the word "cultural" to your list of words and definitions.  And, ask students to think about what it means to think about these three words together ("Cultural Awareness and Respect"). 

It may be a good idea to have a student, or yourself, type these words and definitions out (for a handout).

Building Knowledge

Hand out the notes from the Anticipation activity. Read Tribes: The Dog Years with your class, and, at predetermined stopping points, ask students to add to or revise the handout, suggesting new definitions or ideas for either each word or the entire phrase. Further, ask students to write down evidence from the story that influences their new additions or revisions. 


After students have read Tribes: The Dog Years ask them to reread their handout and all of its revisions and/or suggestions.  Finally, ask them to think about:

1. How were the three words and/or the phrase "cultural awareness and respect" evident in the story?

2. How / Did these three words or phrase evolve and/or change as we read this story? 

*NCTE/IRA. (1996). Standards for the English Language Arts. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.