Monday, August 24, 2015

The Guide to Werewolves, Part IV: Dog Boy #1

Makes Robin plus Fang’s end joke look like a comedic masterpiece

Dog Boy was picked up by Fantagraphics Books in 1987. Created by writer-artist Steve Lafler, the Dog Boy character had already experienced a small press success under Lafler’s own Cat Head Comics imprint. After a seven issue run, Lafler signed on with Fantagraphics to continue his adventures. Fantagraphics Books is known for publishing some of the best independent underground books of the 80’s, including the award winning books Love & Rockets and Ghost World. Sadly Dog Boy isn’t up to the caliber of those two books.

What is Dog Boy? I am asking myself too. It’s the story of an anthropomorphic dog and his anthropomorphic dog girlfriend. Mostly there’s relationship humor played for broad sitcom laughs by someone with a terrible sense of pacing. It contains mildly anti-establishment and counter-corporate themes without any philosophy underpinnings to back those positions up. To quote from its own letter pages “Dog Boy (sic)… was, as usual, a ton of insane fun. I’m never sure that I understand it all…”. Like this reader, I’m not sure if I understand it all either. The first story in this issue rambles round, picks up steam, heads for a fairly obvious mistaken motivation ending and then suddenly stops short of actually telling any kind of joke. Like the reader above, I find myself perplexed and bewildered.

The book starts with Dog Boy’s pal, Alfred Knoot driving aimlessly across the country side while drinking. Because it’s rebellious to drink and drive and the counter culture doesn’t need to follow any rules. While he makes a pit stop to pick up more beer, Alfred thinks back to his morning commute and his impulsive decision to ditch his job.

Yes, it is nuts to work for a decent wage so you can afford necessities and still have money left over for things like beer and other luxuries. Anyway, Alfred’s epiphany leads him to rush to the nearest pay phone and call his boss. Also, I’d like to mention that the artwork for this book is leaps and bounds above the standard B&W books of the day. Whatever other critiques I have of the book, at least it looks nice.

And with that, Knoot chucks all his responsibilities and goes for an extended drive. Next issue watch as Knoot files for public assistance and gets kicked out of his apartment. All is going well with Alfred’s immature ducking of responsibility until he runs afoul of a group of bikers. And not just any bikers, mind you…

Note that being surprised while driving drunk may cause your eyeballs to pop out of your head. Glad I never drink and drive. It would cost me a heck of a lot in eyeglass repair bills. Wait a second, here. Just who are these “werewolf bikers”? I’m not expecting the dose of social commentary that gets laid on me. Why they are all corporate shills!

Marketing Executives, Stock Analysts, Bank Officers and various other white collar workers are all evil shapechangers. Why it all makes perfect sense! They are working together to prevent anyone else from climbing the social ladder, squashing the spirit of independence and viciously gutting anyone out walking their dog after 11 PM on the night of a full moon. They are keeping the man down! And by that I mean they are eating him and not regurgitating any of the pieces. Also they support state run lotto, but that’s a different problem entirely.

Where is the title character of this book though?


We leave Alfred to catch up with Dog Boy, who happens to be waiting for Alfred at their neighborhood drinking establishment. When Alfred doesn’t show up, Dog Boy decides to leave the bar and head home. He even muses that for once he won’t show up late and drunk, which has been pissing off his live-in partner, Dog Girl.

In the meantime, Dog Girl has tied one on herself and suddenly finds herself in an amorous mood. Here is part of the big misunderstanding setup being put together: Dog Girl is drunk in the apartment wearing lingerie, Dog Boy’s keys fall down the sewer. Next up, Dog Boy decides to climb up the side of the building because he doesn’t see any lights on in his apartment and the bedroom window is open a crack. We return to the werewolf biker story at this point. They drive Alfred into a cactus and then get ready to cook him in a giant pot. Because you can carry giant pots around on motorcycles.

After Hulking out, Alfred steals a bike and motors away with the gang in hot pursuit. He comes across a completely random plot element that gives away where we are going to end up.

That’s right, Albert ends up in the city’s sewer pipes. Some part of me is saying that sewer pipes all end up dumped into waterways or at chemical treatment plants, but that must be my corporate, establishment mindset at work. Surely some sewer pipes end up funneling waste out into the desert/country. Maybe I should toke up and not worry about it. Anyway, Alfred loses the werewolf bikers. Then he decides to climb out and see where he is. Before getting out of the sewer he makes a startling find.

That’s right, he’s come up under Dog Boy’s apartment building. Not only that, he’s got Dog Boy’s apartment keys. Even a five-year-old could see the comedy of errors type pathos that this situation has a potential of creating. But Lafler is no five year old, and I mean that in a bad way. Let’s add some more fuel on the fire first.

Dog Girl has a semi-automatic weapon trained on the window. You know, if Tarantino were scripting this Dog Boy would end up full of holes and dropping three stories. Instead Dog Girl’s shots all miss. Then we get the high comedy of Dog Boy breaking in at the same time Alfred opens the front door. How does everyone react? In the most bizarrely out of ordinary way possible.

I’d rather have a joke about how slow-witted Robin is than an ending like this one. To say the story doesn’t have a payoff is underestimating how let down I really felt here. I can’t understand why anyone would buy stories that ended like this. And the second story isn’t any better. It is a story about a real dog that is playing tricks on Dog Boy. In the end he finds out there are witches living under his basement stairs. After clobbering them, he takes one final peek under the stairs to be sure he’s gotten them all. What does he find?

YES. YES IT DOES MATTER! It absolutely matters. When you tell these stories they need to have a point! An ending. The audience deserves that. Something relevant to the story at the end that wraps things up. You know, that part after rising action. The climax. Just like in sex. You wouldn’t want people to sex you up and then not let you climax, would you Mr. Lafler? Would you?

Obviously he would. And so would his readership, since Steve claims that more than 400 pages worth of Dog Boy stories have seen print. I guess I just don’t get it. Unfortunately, not getting it for me means I wouldn’t buy the book anymore. But someone else will, obviously…

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