Review by Frank Plowright
Teen Dog is the synthesis of every cool kid in high school film or TV show Jake Lawrence has ever watched. The back cover lists John Hughes movies and 1990s cartoons like Kim Possible, but there’s also Happy Days in there, and a lot of daily three panel cartoon strips like Dilbert or Garfield. These are features that have massive followings, yet none of them is considered high art or high comedy, and that’s the problem Lawrence has. As a graphic novel Teen Dog isn’t going to reach that audience. Unless copies can be placed in school libraries where kids not looking for any great sophistication or wit might chance on them.
Teen Dog originated as a web comic, which accounts for everything being in one and two page snippets. These pages feature big panels with a very simple art, no backgrounds and static posed figures, looking as if each took under five minutes to draw. Again, there are very successful precedents, and sometimes you’ll swear you hear the ghostly echo of a laughter track or a rimshot.
The ur Teen Dog strip comes early in the book. Titled ‘Deep Thoughts’. Two girls are looking at Teen Dog sitting on a hill in the distance staring at the sky. Over three massive panels they consider Teen Dog mysterious, and theorise that he’s considering the secrets of the universe. Cut to a full page illo of Teen Dog whose thought balloon reads “Neat. That cloud looks like pizza.” Jokes recur, like the surreal state of Teen Dog’s locker, or Thug Pug’s jealousy, and friends Mariella and Sara act as Teen Dog’s sounding board, but not once does the strip transcend the obvious and the predictable.
If this all sounds like the graphic novel for you, head to Lawrence’s blog and sample a few strips before buying.