Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, she attended Middle Tennessee State University where she achieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Tyler became interested in the underground comics movement while pursuing a master's degree in painting at Syracuse University in the early 1980s. This interest brought her to the underground comics hotbed of San Francisco.
Her first comics publication was the 1987 story "Uncovered Property", in Weirdo. Tyler's short slice-of-life stories and her distinctive artwork brought her critical attention as one of a growing number of female artists shaping the direction of underground/alternative comics in North America in the 1980s; she appeared in the influential feminist anthologies Wimmen's Comix and Twisted Sisters. Her first solo book, The Job Thing, was published in 1993.
While she prefers black and white art, Tyler began incorporating more color into her comics in the 1990s. She produced short comics for publications including Zero Zero.
Tyler also performed live comedy under the alias "Marion Linthead" with the Rick & Ruby Patio Show at LA’s The Comedy Store, the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and the Clunie Center in Sacramento.
Her second solo work, Late Bloomer, with an introduction by Robert Crumb, was published by Fantagraphics in 2005. It's a career highlight collection including both previously published and new material. In his foreword, R. Crumb says, "She's tops in my book. One of the best artists alive and working in the comics medium. Her work has the extremely rare quality of authentic HEART. Hers are the only comics that ever brought me to the verge of tears."
Tyler's most recent completed project was a trilogy. You'll Never Know is her search for the truth about what happened to her father during World War II, and also about the damage his war had on her future relationships. The New York Times called it " a vivid, affecting, eccentrically stylish frame built around a terrible silence." Book One: A Good & Decent Man was released in May 2009. Book Two: Collateral Damage was released in July 2010. The final installment of the trilogy, Book Three: Soldier's Heart, was released in October 2012.
Tyler lives in Cincinnati and teaches a class on comics, graphic novels and sequential art at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. "Tyler can pull out almost the entire history of comics in this country, everything from 1930s classics to 1950s comic magazines teaching aspects of African American history (regarding Harriet Tubman and Crispus Attucks) to an original of the first issue of the iconoclastic Mad Magazine."
She has also brought her current book theme, military service, into the classroom.
Another cartooning endeavor is a series of one-page stories called "Tomatoes" for Cincinnati. Based upon her experiences of growing tomatoes and friendships in the heart of the city, "Tomatoes" appears monthly on the inside back page.
Tyler is also a Residency artist in the Arts Learning Program with the Ohio Arts Council.
In 2015, Tyler voiced Tayo and Bongbong Tayo the Little Bus from the third season onwards, as well as voicing other characters in the show.
In 2016, Tyler spoke at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Art Museum on "... the unique challenges of autobiographical storytelling set in real time with real characters." She also spoke at The Society of Illustrators.
DAAP Galleries staged a major one-woman exhibit of Tyler's work which included "...written entries of her ascent into illustration, accompanied by artworks and sketches from throughout her career," and "...eclectic 3-D creations...A flashing, multicolored light inside of a star rotates along one wall. An interactive piece called the “Ego-Meter” asks viewers to pull a string that raises a wooden face up the meter. A creepy baby doll spins around on a stick...an excellent job of showcasing an inspirational artist and professor at UC".
Tyler lives with her husband, the cartoonist Justin Green, who she met in San Francisco in the early 1980s; they have a child together.
In 2016, Carol Tyler received the Cartoonist Studio Prize from the Slate Book Review. With fellow recipient Sergio Aragones, she accepted the Master Cartoonist Award from Cartoonist Crossroads Columbus.
You'll Never Know, Book I: A Good & Decent Man, Book II: Collateral Damage, and Book III: Soldier's Heart have been nominated for many awards in the comics industry, including eleven Eisner Award nominations for Best writer/artist non-fiction, Best graphic album, Best Lettering and Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, 2 Harvey Awards, and 2 Ignatz Awards. The series was named as a finalist for the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In 2016, "A Soldier's Heart" brought Tyler another nomination for an LA Times Book Prize. It also received an Ohio Arts Council Excellence Award.
In 2010, it was named one of "The Most Memorable Comics & Graphic Novels of 2010" by NPR's Glen Weldon. It ranked #5 on Rob Clough's Top 50 Books of 2010 at High-Low. It also made the "Best of 2010" lists at Comic Book Resources, Robot 6, and Politics and Prose. Best American Comics listed it as a "notable comic" in 2011.
Tyler's piece "The Hannah Story", published in Drawn and Quarterly, was nominated for a 1995 Eisner Award and is on the Fantagraphics list of Top 100 Comics of the Twentieth Century.
In 1988, Tyler was awarded the inaugural Dori Seda Memorial Award for Best New Female Cartoonist from Last Gasp.