I’ve gotta admit, writing about a teenage superhero can be frustrating at times. The frustration comes from a mistake I made in classification.
Despite the YA classification Dogboy was never intended for kids.
When I launched Den of Thieves I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know the market. Every piece of advice I found said that if you had a teenage protagonist you had to list it under Young Adult or it wouldn’t sell.
But what about the scene where Blaze gets his tongue cut out? What about the baby that gets crushed by the crowd? What about the teenage superhero who used knives as his main weapon? Would that really fly in YA?
Apparently so, at least according to my research. So I packaged the book and marketed it as YA, and it sold well. The people who tried it enjoyed it for the most part, but what frustrates me are the people who won’t give it a shot because they think I wrote it for children.
Let me repeat: Dogboy was never intended for kids.
Some might point to the fact that the first few books don’t have many curse words as proof it was written for children. Nope. Plot device and stylistic choice. So, in the name of proving my point:
Dogboy was never intended to be read by damn kids. Darn it.
Anyway, now that you know what Dogboy isn’t, let’s go through ten reason you should give a shit about him.
Countdown? Sure. Why not?
10. Demon’s Dare features a big brawl on a roller coaster – It’s awesome!
9. The setting is a big part of the plot – Colta City is a timeless old town. Like Gotham City from Batman: The Animated Series or Fawcett City from the world of SHAZAM! it exists in a limbo between an idealized past and the modern world. There are computers and cell phones but people say “swell”. I based the stylistic presentation on old boy’s adventures like The Hardy Boys, Danny Dunn, and others. It wasn’t a only stylistic choice though. A great, old evil changed Dogboy’s world decades before Den of Thieves starts around 2005.
8. It’s a story about what happens when somebody who shouldn’t be a superhero becomes one – Bronson Black/Dogboy is a big fan of superhero comics, so when he gets superpowers he knows just what to do. A 14-year-old shouldn’t be allowed to dictate or enforce law and order. When I originally created Dogboy a decade ago it was with one aim: demonstrate that the concept of a teenage superhero was mostly BS. At his core, Dogboy is bad at being a superhero. He makes bad choices a lot, and he fails just as often.
7. The “big bad” is my version of the trickster god archetype – You know this archetype, right? One of my favorites. Examples include The Great Gazoo, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Puck, and Bat-Mite. These characters have seemingly limitless powers and a penchant for mischief. When I set out to create a superhero I knew a trickster god had to be there from the start. In the first two books you run across the word Willowwood a few times. First in the trunk of magic tricks Duncan Black leaves his son, and then from the lips of Duncan’s former business partner Wylie Morgan. In Demon’s Dare Willowwood is revealed as a “multi-dimensional theater professor” and the source of Dogboy’s powers. He’s a cross between Charles Nelson Reilly and Stephen Tobolowsky. I think I might be in love with him.
6. Dogboy isn’t the first superhero in his world. He’s the last. Before Colta City got frozen in time there was a thriving community of superheroes, as rich and diverse as the Marvel or DC universes. Something happened. They aren’t around anymore, and they aren’t coming back any time soon. The Golden Age of superheroes is over and nobody even remembers it. Sure, there are artifacts. Dogboy read a Spring-Heeled Jack comic Eye of the Scarab for example. But it’s over. It’s done. No more heroes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other people with powers though…
5. The Colta City Shadows – In Den of Thieves Dogboy’s girlfriend Cindy spends a big chunk of the book investigating Mayor Lane, who she suspects has been abducting low-income kids from the west side of town. Turns out those suspicions have weight. When she gets too close she’s abducted then taken to a facility below City Hall where the mayor is giving these kidnapped kids superpowers. She breaks out, but not before befriending a boy name Axle. When they meet up on the outside they (and a few others) band together to stop Mayor Lane once and for all. After several adventures they start calling themselves the Colta City Shadows, and get matching outfits too. Oh, and a damn hovercraft.
4. Plenty of fun for fans of comics and superheroes – The reason I wrote a superhero adventure series is because I love superheros. It’s no surprise that there are a ton of references. I make fun of existing heroes by creating parodies (i.e. Bayou Wraith = Swamp Thing). I also have a lot of fun playing with the practical side of superheroing: Where does a teenage superhero keep his costume? How hard is it to keep a secret identity? What happens when you annoy the people you save? I also play with the cognitive dissonance required to protect the law by breaking it.
3. Mr. Horum – I love Mr. Horum. Most readers do too. He’s the owner of The Old Curiosity Shop, a magic supply store at 523 S. 4th Street in Colta City. In Den of Thieves he gives Bronson a job, and eventually lets him sleep in the shop after a falling out with his uncle Randolph Black. He’s a hoot, and based on an actual magic store shopkeep I met when I lived in Philadelphia. Speaking of Philadelphia…
2. Colta City is Philadelphia – Philly was the first “big city” I moved to after wrapping college in West Virginia. I felt a bit like Clark Kent stepping off the bus. The sights (homeless people). The smells (caramelized onions). The sounds (car horns). I wrote the original Dogboy screenplay while I lived there, so a lot of Philly informed Colta City. Dixon Park combines Love Park and the Ben Franklin Parkway when they have a concert on the art museum steps. The mayor was involved in a corruption scandal. I also spent a lot of time on the trains which is why the subway system features so heavily in the first book.
1. Dogboy isn’t the main character of Dogboy Adventures – Yes, his name is in the title. I would even argue he’s the main character of each individual book. But the series as a whole is telling the story of Cindy McNeil, a girl who’s been a grownup since her dad disappeared one day when she was four. She’s also Bronson’s girlfriend. Dogboy Adventures, in the end, is the story of how the mangy masked crime fighter changes her into… Actually, that’s a spoiler. Up until now she’s been pretty shitty to Bronson. She’s selfish. She lies. She uses her powers to erase Bronson’s memories whenever he gets close to discovering the truth about her and the Shadows. In her mind he’s too “goody two-shoes” and he’d just get in the way of her revenge on Mayor Lane.
I hope if you hadn’t considered a journey to Colta City before this post changed your mind. Eye of the Scarab is coming out serialized through the month of December, and River of Time is due out next year. And just in case it hasn’t sunk in…
Dogboy was never intended for kids so if you’re an adult you should probably give a shit.