Comics auteur Tyler Boss clearly believes that If you want something done, you should do it yourself. For Dead Dog’s Bite, a four-issue mystery with hints of humour from Dark Horse, he’s written, drawn, coloured and lettered the whole thing (apart from a few variant covers). And – slightly annoyingly – there doesn’t seem to be a weak link in the whole chain.
Dark Horse has pitched the series as “Twin Peaks meets Lady Bird”, and the latest addition to the atlas of small-town freakiness in Pendermills – a borough seemingly owned and run from the shadows by the profoundly spooky Patricia Pendermills, whose factories and commercial interests are the town’s raison d’etre (and whose swirling logo repeats like a fractal throughout the issues).
The book is ostensibly a missing-person mystery, as a young woman, Josephine “Joe” Bradley, looks for a friend who seemingly vanished into the darkness at the edge of town. However, when that friend’s name is literally “Mac Guffin”, you know you’re in the hands of a playful storyteller who’s happy to tinker with the conventions of fiction openly for their own ends.
From the first page, that playfulness drives the comic along. Before we get anywhere near Pendermills, a dapper Rod Serling-style narrator makes a memorable entrance. As the book progresses, he continues to insert himself into the action, communicating freely with the reader and dropping teasing allusions.
Boss is a very “knowing” creator, and all of his choices give a quick wink to the reader and another jolt of energy to the story, always giving the impression of forward motion. His smooth, confident, almost diagrammatic graphic style moves the story along like a tiger on vaseline, using the storytelling strengths of the comic format to give his pages a characteristic energy. The clean, matter-of-fact approach also allows him to play the book’s many quirks with a straight face.
As Joe digs deeper (tapping Esper, the improbably fabulous chief of the Pendermills Traffic and Safety Department, and Allen, Mac’s boyfriend), the mysteries start to pile up. What are the mysterious registers that the town’s inhabitants sign when they turn 18, and why did Mac sign hers in red? What happened to Joe’s dad? And who, in the incendiary ending to the second issue, is trying to warn off Joe?
I’m a big fan of the four-issue miniseries: it’s a format that keeps creators honest – they can’t keep tossing balls into the air without thinking how they’re going to catch them. With its strongly defined cast, neatly unfolding mystery and witty use of the form, Dead Dog’s Bite is a series that stays light on its toes; even its apparently tangential asides add a bit of humour or energy to the mix. With a punchy script and polished, accessible execution, it slips down as nicely as a cold bottle of Pendermills Peppermint Cola on a hot day (yum!)
Tyler Boss (W/A/C/L) • Dark Horse Comics, $4.99
Review by Tom Murphy