Comics are about to get even more radical in September when BOOM! Studios launches Jake Lawrence‘s “Teen Dog.” Announced by the publisher earlier in June, the upcoming BOOM! Box title features Lawrence’s sunglasses-wearing, skateboard enthusiast canine who just likes to have a rad time while navigating high school with his best friend Mariella.
Lawrence, known for his online comics work on his Timecowboy Tumblr as well as the cover to “Bravest Warriors” #7, has a fun cartoony style that lends itself well to an all-ages book like this one that finds its roots in a favorite coming-of-age film from the ’80s starring Michael J. Fox. And, much like Fox, Lawrence’s lead carries the kind of charm that draws other characters — and potentially readers — to him.
The 8-issue series will feature a variety of strips inspired by a number of different popular culture aspects — from “Daria” to John Hughes movies. To get a better bead on the ideas behind “Teen Dog,” CBR News spoke with Lawrence about the origins of the miniseries, Teen Dog’s relationship with Mariella and the variety of influential films and TV shows that helped spawn the title.
CBR News: Jake, can you talk about the origins of “Teen Dog?” Where did this character come from and how do you describe him to potential new readers?
Jake Lawrence: “Teen Dog” kind of started out as a throwaway joke I made on Twitter a few years ago, which was really just a play on “Teen Wolf.” Then some comics came out of that. I mostly just thought the idea of a teenage dog going to school and goofing off was funny. I originally did a handful of comics about him before moving onto other things, but he was always in the back of my mind so I’ve had some time developing him and his relationships and building that world over the last couple of years.Â
The best way to describe him is that, on the surface, Teen Dog is a charmer, he’s effortlessly cool. He’s Ferris Bueller or the Fonz if the Fonz was actually a high school kid instead of that weird 40-year-old guy hanging out with Richie Cunningham. He’s the guy in school everyone seemed to like, mysterious, lovable and cool and I think he’s fairly relatable despite being a teenage, sunglasses-wearing golden retriever in a denim vest.Â
How would you characterize Teen Dog’s relationship with his best friend, Mariella?
Mariella’s as much the main character as Teen Dog is because she’s always there. She’s a constant in Teen Dog’s life. They’ve known each other since he was just a Kid Dog! They’ve grown up together, they get each other, but mostly Mari doesn’t really get caught up in the Teen Dog charm like everyone else. She can see past that and gives him a hard time if he’s getting too big for his boots — but she can also be a supportive and loving buddy. Everyone has a friend where being with them is super easy and feels natural and effortless. Even if you don’t see them for a while, you still know that you’re cool [and] you can pick up where you left off without any issues. Mariella is that person for Teen Dog and Teen Dog is that person for Mariella.Â
What can you tell us about Teen Dog and Mariella’s exploits when the series kicks off in September?
The first issue is laying the foundation for things to come while still being jam packed with fun and friendship. There’s lots of Teen Dog and Mari palling around together.Â You’ll meet a bunch of new pals who make up this weird little world such as Thug Pug, Teen Dog’s kind of rival; Sara Sato, the star quarterback; and cat-loving teacher Mr. McGuffin. Each issue is really about just having a good time, the best time. Even small everyday things can be an adventure, especially when you’re Teen Dog.Â
Are the stories in each issue of “Teen Dog” standalone, or is there an overarching plot throughout the course of the series?
Each issue is a collection of strips, but there is continuity to them. Some run into each other and some set things up for future issues, but some certainly are just moments in time. There is an overarching narrative throughout, though. I mainly wanted to do it that way because I think it’s a format that lends itself to fast paced comedy. I wanted to cram as much fun and laughs into each issue as I could. Plus, it’s how I like to write, so I’m mostly playing to my strengths in that regard.Â
Did you draw on your own high school experience when creating Teen Dog and the relationship between him and Mariella?
It would be hard not to in some respect. I think growing up in Australia, my high school experience is going to be fairly different from that of an American high school, but a lot of stuff still carries over. Cliques were still a thing, jocks still exist but the sports are different — stuff like that. I drew on my teenage experience for a lot of the ideas that are in these comics. Teenagers seem to have a lot of similar experiences: young love, best pals, getting into — or causing — trouble. High school is kind of the glue that holds all that together, but a lot of my fondest memories from being a teenager happened outside of school. I think that shows in the comics. I was also that kid who was really into music, pop culture stuff and playing guitar, so it all finds its way in there. As for Teen Dog and Mariella’s relationship, since I was a kid, there have always been strong, influential women in my life, so I think Mari being Teen Dog’s BFF is definitely an extension of that.Â
Each generation has its own crop of highly influential teen shows. Were there any particular shows, movies or cartoons that influenced “Teen Dog?”
[It was] mostly John Hughes movies for me, but I saw them long after they came out. I mean, “The Breakfast Club” came out four years before I was born. Still, I think I’ve seen it approximately a billion times (at least). Plus, you have “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller,” which I mentioned earlier. Hughes was just so good at writing teenagers. The dialogue in “The Breakfast Club” kind of blows me away every time I watch it. You knew kids who were like John Bender or Allison Reynolds and you knew teachers who were like exactly like Principal Vernon. I think, as a movie, it still holds up pretty well in 2014.Â “Dazed and Confused” is another big one for me from when I was a teenager. I really love that film. It captures a lot of themes that I want to put into these comics.Â
Cartoon-wise, “Daria” is so important. As a weird 13 to 15 year old, I was always so pumped when “Daria” would come on TV after getting home from school. It’s kind of a big deal of a show It’s super funny for starters, and you have two great female protagonist best buds who are smart and cool. I love that. I wish there was more of it.Â
Aside from that, I’m all about coming-of-age movies. Even if they aren’t specifically about teenagers, they still influence “Teen Dog” in many ways because at its heart, “Teen Dog” is about friendship. “Stand By Me” and “The Sandlot” — a big movie from my childhood — are good examples of that. I think more recently, “Community” has had a pretty big impact on me in that while it’s fairly grounded, it can still get weird. Dan Harmon created a great little world there, fun and positive and full of pals which is exactly what I want “Teen Dog” to be. “Community” seems to have a lot of John Hughes influences in it as well, which is maybe why it resonates with me so much. We’ve come full circle I guess!Â
You talked about John Hughes and his spot-on teen dialog. When it comes to “Teen Dog,” are you going for a tone that would fit in with the modern kid or something a little more retro?
I don’t think I’ve casually dropped a single “bodacious” into any conversation (yet) but there is certainly a retro vibe to it all. I think a lot of those words that were popular back in the ’80s/’90s are always coming back around. Maybe not bodacious so much — a real shame — but kids still say “rad” and call their friend “dude.” “Teen Dog” really has a place in both of those categories in different ways, but it leans a little more towards the retro.
To some extent in modern comedies, the schlubby loser has become the lead, while back in the ’80s and ’90s, it was the cool, slick guy.Â Why is it important for you to bring that kind of character back to the forefront in “Teen Dog?”
It’s certainly a callback to that time in pop culture without a doubt. With Teen Dog there’s no ambiguity to what he’s about, when you look at Ferris Bueller or John Bender, you know what you’re going to get almost instantly. High school is about identity and everyone is trying to find their own. Mine was the kid with the band t-shirts desperately in need of a haircut. I think a cool guy fits that high school setting a little more comfortably. I understand why schlubby guys are kind of the go-to lead now, because they are relatable. But I also think when people see a “cool” lead that, if they don’t see themselves in them in even in the smallest way, then they at least see themselves wanting to be more like them, even if it’s just that they wish they were a little bit more confident.
What’s your writing and drawing process like? Do you outline story first and then work on the art?
My whole comics-making process has changed so much in such a short time. I used to draw and write basically at the same time, sometimes having a very vague outline of what I wanted to do written down, but now I write everything first. I write a lot, more than will ever go into a comic just because it’s so helpful for me to have extra notes on page layout, the setting — basically anything I think will be useful. Then, once I’m done writing, I draw until my hand falls off. I think this way works a lot better than my old way of doing things, it definitely feels like a more fluid process.Â
Would you say there’s a message in “Teen Dog” that you’re trying to convey? It seems like it might be something along the lines of “Seize the day” or “Look for the rawness in every day life.”
I really like that phrase “look for the rawness in every day life,” and there are elements within “Teen Dog” that resonate with that. There is also a message of seizing the day. “Teen Dog” is about getting the most out of life, certainly. It’s about fun. I think that’s what it really comes down to: just some friends having a blast. I like stories that are just unapologetically positive. I love that. So yeah, the overall message in “Teen Dog” is that it’s good to have fun, it’s good to enjoy life and squeeze every drop out of it, because when you’re a teenager you do a lot of worrying — at least I did. I want “Teen Dog” to be a sincerely positive adventure and something people can lose themselves in for a little while.
“Teen Dog” #1, written and drawn by Jake Lawrence, hits on Sept. 10 from BOOM! Studios.