Doc Rat

Doc Rat wrong advice
Doc Rat giving Quarrydog advice he really, really comes to regret. Click the pic to begin reading online. It’s a big story, running from 09 May to 09 December of 2014.

Picture an Australian doctor, who is also a cartoonist. His anthropomorphic comic is published often in Aussie medical journals, and also online as Doc Rat.

Most of the time it’s medical humor or awful, awful puns (this guy must be a riot at parties). But beginning in 2014 he undertook an epic series that delved deeply into cultural ethics, as one of his characters was obliged on pain of familial disgrace, to take part in a killing ritual he wanted no part of. The resulting conflict challenged the society of Doc Rat’s world, resurfacing in the comic at unexpected times. It’s great stuff.

Also in Doc Rat’s world is a full development of something our own culture has only barely grasped; the weight of an apology. This is another theme that resurfaces throughout the series.

Even though he’s busy with a medical practice, the author publishes very often so I make a point of keeping caught up. His blog is worth reading too. So far I’ve found an amazing review of Watership Down, and unexpected insights on Zootopia.

If there’s a Zootopia II, Doc Rat should be one of the characters.

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  • Even more honorable mention: I found Endtown through Doc Rat.

 

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Endtown

Endtown comic by Aaron Neathery
Linda’s a topsider, just hit by the mutant virus and turned into an animal form. Had to run for her life from other topsiders and has taken refuge in Endtown. To pick up that storyline, click the pic

(4/n in a series on comics and cartoons that I enjoy. If you’re tired of superhero movies that concentrate on amped-up violence with some tacked-on human-interest story, this series is for you.)

Endtown is a post-apocalyptic comic, but perhaps the strangest and most original apocalypse imaginable. Most of the Earth’s surface has been destroyed by advanced weapons, and humanity has been hit by a mutagenic virus.  The few remaining un-mutated humans live in environment suits their entire lives… hunting down and killing mutated humans. The latter have taken refuge in underground shelter communities of which Endtown is one.

In these animal forms resides so much humanity, but they are transformed by their animality as well. No one knows why one person becomes a cow, another a koala, and another a wolf. And some individuals were changed into nightmare forms scarcely capable of description.

Endtown is exhibit ‘A’ that Hollywood needs to look to web comics for new ideas. It would take many books and movies as explanatory metaphors for this series. Like maybe the Wizard of Oz, The Matrix, Mad Max, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and To Kill A Mockingbird to name a few. Yet it feels like a natural tale from the storytelling mind of Aaron Neathery, with characters that invite empathy*.

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  • *How do you know when you’re a Fan? When you start to care what happens to the characters of a story. (Also when you buy the author’s work or send them some $$ on Patreon)
  • Of the three modern anthropomorphic comics I will review in this series, Endtown is the grimmest but by far the most creatively wide-ranging. I sometimes think that Endtown is 200 years before Doc Rat, which is another 200 years before Zootopia.
  • Seriously, tinsel town, back a dump truck full of money up to Aaron Neathery’s driveway and see if you can’t work something out. (And if you screw it up, the topsiders are coming for you!)

 

Steven Universe

Some of the enormous cast of Steven Universe
Some of the enormous cast of Steven Universe – click to embiggen

(This is third in a series on comics and cartoons that I enjoy. They’re not in any particular order except that some of them will be harder to write about so I’m leaving those toward the end. If you’re tired of superhero movies that concentrate on amped-up violence with some tacked-on human-interest story, this series is for you.)

The back-story is that Steven is an irrepressible kid whose mother and father were an alien and a human. His mother was the leader of a rebel remnant group that came to Earth some thousands of years ago, and became the planet’s adoptive protectors. Three of that group remain; Amethyst, Garnet, and Pearl, and together with his human father Greg Universe they are raising Steven. His mother Rose Quartz, having taken human form, had to choose between her own existence and Steven’s. This becomes an  important plot point later.

For a show with such simple (if beautiful) animation, it has deeply imagined characters and mythology. All of the characters have complex needs and flaws, and perhaps because of that complexity you will see none of the stereotype of bumbling fatherhood or zany antics for their own sake. The show does one thing really well; it imagines how an actual loving family might work against insurmountable odds. Even if three of them had taken human form as a comforting illusion to the others.

You could almost pick a character at random to illustrate this point, but their leader Garnet will suffice. She is immensely powerful, but quiet and reserved. And yet it is obvious how deeply she loves Steven and how that love is returned. Imagine if your mother were a hyper-intelligent pile driver with a deadpan sense of humor.

OK one more example: Pearl was literally built for entertainment, as a singer and dancer. After four thousand years of combat she is kind and sweet and still looks gracile and delicate but her body count would fill a stadium. The scene where she teaches Steven’s girlfriend Connie how to fight with a sword is lovely and chilling.

Much of the conflict in the show comes from the fact that the rebels’ home world has not forgotten and does not forgive. But they are not a monolithic evil either. One of my favorite characters (see if you can figure out why) is Peridot, an exiled technician whose growing appreciation for Earth has put her at odds with Homeworld and all its sadistic and lethal power.

Much has been written by others about SU’s dissolution of formal gender concepts, and this is one of the most refreshing things about the show. Until you take in a story where gender doesn’t define much of anything, it’s difficult to appreciate just how in our world it defines far too much.

Like another cartoon that I will write about later, SU has inspired tons of fan fiction and some truly awesome art and music. And thinking about it, inspiration may be a good measure of the cultural value of a franchise. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s very little Bugs Bunny fan fiction, fan art, or fan music.

There’s a whole lot more and I could go on for hours, but Steven Universe is a splendid cartoon that I cannot recommend too highly.

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  • To reiterate, LET YOUR KIDS WATCH STEVEN UNIVERSE. Watch it with them.
  • Greg Universe looks like Homer Simpson if Homer had magnificent hair, but two humans could not be more different.
  • Video: “What’s Up With Steven Universe” describes the characters and cartoon style.

Dumbing Of Age

Becky's dad comes to campus with a gun
Click to visit the beginning of this story line

(Second in a series on comics and cartoons that I enjoy)

One of my daily reads is Dumbing Of Age, an ensemble cast comic about college freshmen. DOA is a long-running comic by David Willis, one of the most accomplished web comic artists out there. He maintains something like a three-month buffer of completed comics – and this isn’t his only strip.

DOA is a web comic about redemption, as the characters try to get past the fears they’ve learned and the pain they’ve caused and experienced themselves. The main character, Joyce, is autobiographical to the artist and reflects his upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian environment.

Being an ensemble cast the story lines jump around a bit, interweaving through many connections. But in spite of the famously glacial pace of the main timeline, there’s plenty of action. One of the characters is a college-age superhero, another an ex-juvenile delinquent. A journalism major who takes herself too seriously, a maybe-autistic student, and…

The strip isn’t called “Dumbing Of Age” for nothing. None of the characters is unusually wise or mature, making personal and interpersonal mistakes while reflecting the mistakes their parents made bringing them up.

The artist David Willis does meticulous research on everything that appears in the strip, from actual locations in Bloomington, Indiana to the authentic issues of various characters. And it shows in the strip. But the comment section offers as much as the strip itself, having become a forum for gender issues, neuroatypicality, religion, suicide prevention, academic integrity, and… much more. It’s practically tailor-made to many of my own interests. So I rate it A+, highly recommended.

Strong Female Protagonist

 

Allison Green and the mysterious professor
When you can punch out a giant robot but should you, and does it even make a difference? Click to visit the beginning of this exchange.

(This is first in a series on comics I read and cartoons I watch. From that list I pretty much chose this one at random. If you’re tired of superhero movies that concentrate on amped-up violence with some human-interest story tacked on, this series is for you.)

Allison Green is in her mother’s womb when the Earth is shrouded in bizarre storms. Not that thunderstorms are unusual, but that they cover most of the Earth’s surface. The strange phenomenon begins and ends, with little apparent damage. For just over a decade, it is only a scientific curiosity.

And then the cohort of children who were at a certain stage of gestation during the storm reached puberty, and things began to happen. Many were transformed into strange forms, or developed unusual abilities. A few could become invisible, or read minds, or communicate with animals. Allison became the most famous. She developed super-strength, and near invulnerability. She is literally a Strong Female Protagonist (SFP).

So far the story is pretty standard comic book fare, covered well by Marvel, DC, and a few other publishers. And those comics do a good job of speculating on the lives of super-powered individuals, provided they were quite rare. In the SFP world, though, thousands of individuals around the world are ‘dynomorphic’, having a modified gene and sometimes very different appearance or abilities.

SPF is a comic about making better use of power. There’s still plenty of villain punching, but how we use our power – superhero, individual nerd with a computer, or nation-state – is something we all have in common.

Allison’s power is pretty much that of 1950’s Superman. Pressed into service as a teenager by a government desperate for help with the dynomorphic crisis, she was essentially a child soldier, with all the baggage that implies. By the time she goes to college she has tossed aside the protection of her secret identity and has figured out that punching the bad guys is fraught with detours and opportunities for unforeseen consequence. She is also generalizing the lesson of watching her father slowly dying from cancer, that there’s only so much good you can do in the world with your fist. To make any real change, you have to do something much harder.

So, is SFP just the Marvel and DC universe with a lot more feminism? I have no doubt some readers will think so. But the shift in perspective is completely worth the trip. Because many “radical” ideas, are simply pointing out that the status quo we all accept as normal is a pretty radical departure from justice and basic humanity. The really difficult problem is how to get back there.

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  • Strong Female Protagonist starts here
  • Second in this series is Dumbing of Age
  • My parents told me that at about age four, I worked out that the pictures in the Sunday comics made up a story, and right then started to learn how to read. I don’t remember any of this of course, but comics have always had a special place in my heart. As an adult I found out they can carry quite serious content, which grew into a standing addiction to graphic novels and web comics.