A missing girl with a mysterious past. A homey American town populated by the odd and out-of-touch. Secrets behind the door of every parked car.
These are familiar ingredients, but Tyler Boss and his one-man-band creative ethos whip them into something fresh with Dead Dog’s Bite #1 from Dark Horse Comics.
The story plays with a variety of influences, from Twilight Zone to Lady Bird, but it’s primarily a small-town mystery in the vein of Twin Peaks. Boss even gives his own visual nod to Peaks with the “Welcome to Pendermills: Population 22
40 39” sign on the opening splash page. Since the days of David Lynch’s epochal TV show, the quirky small-town mystery has bloomed into an evergreen genre in of itself. But Boss employs this genre as a vehicle for something deeper than mere pastiche.
Look at the tongue-in-cheek name of the missing girl: Cormac Guffin, whose friends call her Mac, and which—as it took me far too long to realize—combines into “Mac Guffin.” Explicitly, the story’s mystery trappings aren’t just a puzzle to be solved. Instead, the mystery is a catalyst, driving us deeper into the characters and themes of the book. Our main concern isn’t “Will they find Mac Guffin?” Instead, we’re left wondering, “What will this mystery reveal about this town? These people?”
Because, as we come to find, behind all the rural quirkiness lie real people, with real secrets, and, more importantly, real pain—the sort that only reveals itself when you think nobody’s watching.
But somebody is watching.
Enter the story’s protagonist, Joe Bradley. She inhabits a liminal social space, both inside and outside of the town, familiar with the place and its people, but still finding herself as an outside observer. Comic readers who grew up in small towns might find something familiar in her brand of melancholy. It’s what happens when the misfit Dorothy Gales of the world grow up to find you can’t just escape to Oz. You need to find a way to live with the world on this side of the rainbow—in this case, Pendermills.
And that unique perspective might just give Joe the strength to find her missing friend when the rest of town has given up.
All of this is brought together through the book’s moody visuals. Boss masterfully wields the pacing of his panels, creating a unique tone through the rhythm of the pages. With deep reds that unify the issue from cover to cover, the colors also bring fresh life to the sort of rural setting that can easily turn drab.
This is a book to watch. Join Joe and the denizens of Pendermills in the mysterious world of Dead Dog’s Bite this week at your local comic shop.