Bow-Wow, the cartoonish golden-haired pup with wide eyes and inquisitive eyebrows who first peered out at readers from the cover of Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash (Harcourt) in 2007, is back in a big way this fall. The spirited, tail-wagging protagonist, modeled after Newgarden and Cash’s own Australian terrier, returns in a new adventure, and under the umbrella of a new publisher. The 64-page wordless picture book, Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors (Roaring Brook/Porter, Nov.), follows Bow-Wow on a mission to retrieve his bed, which has been snatched away by the mischievous – and toothy – ghost cats who live next door. The title has already made a critical splash before it has officially shipped. “He’s back with a bang,” says the book’s editor, Neal Porter. “Much to my delight, the first four reviews have been four stars.”

For fans smitten with Bow-Wow’s first outing, and the six Bow-Wow concept board books that Harcourt published between 2007 and 2009, the wait for a follow-up full-length outing may have seemed long. But the intervening years certainly didn’t seem like a lag to Bow-Wow’s creators. “It did take us a while to come up with a story that was strong enough,” explains Cash. “Our original editor at Harcourt left and it ended up making sense to go to a new house,” she says. “We knew Neal from when he was on the jury for the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show in 2007, when Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug won the Gold Award.”

As Porter recalls, the Bow-Wow art “really stuck out” as an Original Art Show entry. “It made a huge impression on me,” he says. “We editors are sometimes insular, working on our own projects with tunnel vision, but I got that old feeling of envy, that someone else had published the book and I hadn’t.”

Within a year or two after their initial connection, Newgarden and Cash came calling on Porter. Newgarden notes, “We had sort of been developing another series in between, and we had approached Neal with that. But he was really behind doing a new Bow-Wow book first and we had an idea that we were kicking around for a while.” According to Cash, “Neal immediately said yes. The book took a long time – but it’s 64 pages!”

Porter credits the wait to the creators’ estimable work ethic. “It’s been in the works for a long time,” he says, “But it speaks to their perfectionism. They are painstaking, so careful about every millimeter that appears on the page. It was an uncommonly long gestation period.”

Double the Artists, Double the Fun

Pre-Bow-Wow, Cash and Newgarden had each been established in their own career, Newgarden as a cartoonist and a writer for TV, film, and multimedia, as well as the creator of such novelty items as the Garbage Pail Kids, and Cash as an author, illustrator, and graphic designer with a focus on projects for children and such clients as Nickelodeon and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. But the pair, who make their home and have their studio space in a former funeral parlor in Brooklyn, and effortlessly play off each other in conversation, were eager for a collaboration.

“We had wanted to do a project together,” says Cash. “Mark said, ‘What do you want to draw?’ and I said, ‘Our dog.’ ”

Both artists believe that some early false starts were helpful in crafting the wordless format for Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug. “We had worked on a couple of picture books and the criticism from anyone who saw the drafts was always, ‘too many words,’ ” Newgarden recalls. Cash notes, “We wanted to do something where we would never hear that criticism again.”

Cash and Newgarden say that they’ve always assisted each other on their individual projects by showing their work along the way and offering feedback. But a true collaboration was a bit different in its day-to-day rhythms. “Our strengths are complementary and we have overlapping skill sets,” says Cash. “Mark is good with story breakdown, and strong with expression and body language. I’m good at things like drawing a house that looks like a cat’s face.”

One of the keys to their successful professional partnership, according to Newgarden, is not working in the same room. “We have our own studio spaces that are adjacent to each other. We may have 35 meetings during the day, but we keep that separate space. We wind up with something that neither one of us could have accomplished on our own.”

The book itself became a third partner in the collaboration. “Often the book tells us what to do, what’s working, what’s not,” says Newgarden. “In the new book, the story took an unexpected turn and we knew it was not going to be 48 pages anymore.” As additional inspiration for their latest title, Cash and Newgarden joke that living in a neighborhood that has experienced sweeping change in recent years has meant they’ve become “experts on nightmare neighbors.” And Cash says that their adoption of a “mischievous kitten who sometimes drives us crazy” sparked key elements of the story. Luckily, Porter was on board with the project’s detour. “Sometimes you just need more room to tell the story,” Porter says. “You’re not aware this book is 64 pages as it reaches its satisfying conclusion.”

Page count and creative challenges aside, all parties involved relish working in the wordless format. “It’s harder than working with text because so much relies on telling the story visually that there is more demand on the images,” says Cash. Newgarden adds, “It influences how we go about the books. We want a clean, seamless look that gets right to the content. We had to be sure that each line held its own and advances the story.”

Cash points out that continuity is a big issue when working solely with images. “We had a floor plan and had models,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that the elements of the story would work logically even though it’s a fantasy. It was like working on a feature film.”

Porter, who has edited numerous wordless titles in his career, notes, “It’s safe to say that I love wordless picture books. It’s visual storytelling, 100 percent. I love watching kids ‘read’ without having to rely on words. But wordless books are often perplexing to parents. They can be stymied without the guideposts that text provides.”

Porter, Cash, and Newgarden also share an enthusiasm for how empowering a wordless book can be for readers, who can craft their own storytelling experience any way they like. The format can offer a more engaging way for adults and children to share books, too, as they explore and talk about the images. “That kind of interaction is invaluable,” says Porter. “It should be encouraged and fostered, even given the lack of time we all have.”

But Bow-Wow’s appeal certainly stretches beyond aficionados of the wordless format. In the years between the two Bow-Wow picture books, Porter believes the publishing landscape has changed in some significant ways. He cites the proliferation and popularity of comics and graphic novels for young people, and a desire in the marketplace for “books that cross over,” as factors in the warm reception for Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors out of the gate. “People are appreciating the style,” he says. “More and more of the work I see is influenced by graphic and comic techniques. And Bow-Wow bridges that world. It appeals to readers regardless of age.”

Newgarden and Cash say that they definitely have plans for another Bow-Wow book, but that it’s still too early in the process for them to share any details. In the meantime, they are pursuing individual book projects. Cash is writing a memoir of her alternative childhood experience living in a commune with her family in upstate New York. Newgarden’s How to Read Nancy, a volume that introduces the basics of comics (reading, creating and understanding them) and is based on an essay Newgarden wrote with his co-author Paul Karasik 25 years ago, will be released in November by Fantagraphics. And whenever Bow-Wow’s ready for his next outing, his fans will likely be waiting.

Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-59643-640-4