Tyler Boss made a big splash on the comics industry several years ago with Black Mask Studios’ 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank. His latest project, the Dark Horse miniseries Dead Dog’s Bite proves that he’s also an exceptional writer. Boss created a captivating comic following a young woman looking for her missing friend with the unusual but delightful addition of a narrator reminiscent of Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone. Read what Tyler Boss had to say about writing and drawing Dead Dog’s Bite.
How did you land on the title Dead Dog’s Bite?
That one took me a minute. I wanted it to have that quality of mystery novels, or say a Raymond Chandler novel. More of a phrase, than just a noun or just a verb type title. I had written the outline for the whole series and the script for the first issue but still had nothing for the title. So I started doing these long, rambling, free association brainstorm pieces where I would think about what the story was and what it was trying to say, and Dead Dog’s Bite came out of that. Which my wife thinks is a crappy title. But I like it.
When did you decide to include a Twilight Zone-like narrator in the series?
That happened fairly early on. I started Dead Dog’s knowing the ending first, so writing it was a matter of backing up and figuring out how we got there. I started with the idea of wanting to do a proper mystery story and play that game as straight as possible. But the way I was trying to write it left this gap inside the story. I don’t really know why it popped into my head, but a sort of God-like character filled that hole perfectly for me. Separately, I’m a huge Twilight Zone fan and I want to think Rod Serling would have liked this as a fellow upstate New York boy.
What does his inclusion add to what is otherwise a story that feels like it could happen in the real world?
99% of the story happens through Joe’s (the main character) POV. Having the Narrator allows me to sort of step outside of her, and be able to do some things creatively that are really important to the tone and style of the comic. Even when we do spend time with the Narrator, he’s talking about Joe in some capacity. It also does add a bit of surrealism to the book that is otherwise fairly based in reality. Which I like.
As the writer and artist, how did you plot out the series? Did you break down the story beats first, or do you know that you want to incorporate certain visual elements?
Like I said earlier, I started with the ending and then worked backward. I figured out what the big story beats were and then started doing concept drawings, trying to figure out how things would look and feel. I did a test spread that ended up being the opening to issue one. After that, I outlined each issue and then fully scripted the first before drawing any pages. I wanted the exercise of writing for an artist even if that artist was ultimately going to be me. There are things in the scripting that came from me already knowing how I wanted to draw it, i.e. mostly in a 9-panel grid and using a strip cartooning style of storytelling. But I tried to allow myself some room to experiment, for things to change and be elastic as I worked on all the different aspects of the book.
Dead Dog’s Bite is very dense, with pages that contain as many as 16 panels. What’s the trick for fitting so many panels on a single page?
I’m a lover of the grid. The standard size of a comics page (11×17) is a perfect proportion for a lot of varied approaches to the grid when you’re trying to solve how to tell a story. My constant use of high panel count per page though just comes from my preference in storytelling. I only have 28 pages over four issues to tell readers what I’m trying to, and I want to tell them a lot. Not necessarily just plot, but I also want to give them those small moments, the things you bring up to your friends after seeing a movie or reading a book.
It’s also about creating a rhythm. There’s (obviously) no sound in a comic, but what I think you can do is create a rhythm for people to bounce to. You can hit people on the 3 beat of a 4/4 time. You can give them a crescendo in a high panel count before hitting them with the big note on the following splash. That’s the idea at least.
The comic uses a lot of warm colors. Is that a pallet you’re generally drawn to, or does it especially fit the tone of this series?
Yeah, my pallet is taken pretty whole cloth from the 70’s movies by Scorcese and De Palma. Warm reds and yellows have always been my favorite. My first two books also just happened to fit that aesthetic. I’m sure I’ll try something else at some point but I’m happy with them for now. I think that using warm colors gives the books a cozy quality to them, which maybe helps the story go down easier.
Not a lot of creators are capable of making a comic book completely independently. What encouraged you to learn every comic book craft?
That’s just how I learned to make comics. At my art school, they expected you to learn every aspect of the craft. I’m certainly better at certain aspects than others, but I really enjoy being able to control every aspect of the book. That’s something I love about being a cartoonist as opposed to say a proper(?) / pure(?) artist. For better or worse, it’s fully my perspective.
What benefits come with handling every stage of production yourself?
The benefits are the same as the negatives. It’s wholly up to me, so there isn’t waiting on anyone to finish their piece of the project, or sending notes or tweaks to anyone. That said, it’s up to me. If something sukcs, it’s because of me. If something is late, it’s on me. And creating a comic by yourself is a lot of work. A silly amount. That all said, it’s been great having my editor Brett at Dark Horse, and my friends have been invaluable in bouncing ideas off of and getting feedback. As much as I’m doing this alone, I have a lot of great people helping me in ways that don’t get credit in a traditional way. I’ve also never had people create covers for something I wrote before, so getting images in my inbox from Ian Bertram, Josh Hixson, Phil Sevy, and Tom Reilly was really exciting. Really grateful to those guys for doing that for me.
What lessons have you learned over the course of creating Dead Dog’s Bite, which appears to be your most ambitious work to date?
Having smart and creative friends who are generous with their time is the only way to be able to do this “alone.” At least for me. So grateful for the people I’m lucky enough to have in my life who have supported me through this. Creatively, I feel like this has been really educational and I’ve gone through a lot of growth. Excited for the next book.