By Jonathan Edwards
This book. This fucking book. I completely missed the announcement for it, so I was surprised to see it pop up as one of this week’s releases. I also just didn’t really know how or why anyone could do a Rugrats comic in 2017. Yeah, it was a popular show (I watched it myself back in the day), but I can’t say I’ve heard anyone clamoring for a revival, let alone as a comic book. I don’t know, I could be wrong. Either way, curiosity still got the better of me, so I decided to give it a look. And boy, was it a painful experience. Rugrats #1 does not invite us back to the wholesome children’s cartoon world of yesteryear. Oh no. Instead, it evokes those rose-tinted memories and nostalgia only to stomp all over them with the unceremonious cynicism of shitty and superficial social commentary.
The initial ‘imagination sequence’ (or whatever you want to call those times we see the world the way the eponymous Rugrats do) is somewhat decent if nothing at all special. The problems begin shortly thereafter with the introduction of the adults. Now, you could probably argue that the parenting in the original Rugrats cartoon was never the best. The kids got into way more shenanigans than they probably should’ve been able to if they were paid proper attention to. However, one thing was constantly made irrevocably clear: the parents loved their kids, and they were honestly trying to be the best parents they could to them. Here, they are all portrayed with the exact same terrible characterization: hyper-obsessed with the internet, social media, and getting new technology as well as never shutting the fuck up about how much better their lives are and how much more they can get done now that said technology lets them put in the bare minimum of effort with their kids. It’s a horrendously mean-spirited direction to take these characters, and it completely betrays the type of people they’re supposed to be.
However, this book also attempts to leverage this bullshit by having Tommy and the gang actually notice their parents acting weird. But, it does so by having them realize it’s the technology doing it. Granted, they think Chaz’s drone (I’m upset I had to write that) is a ‘mean bird,’ but Tommy realizes that Stu is monitoring him with a camera inside a stuffed pig in his room. Okay, yes, technically Tommy isn’t specifically aware that it’s a camera and just thinks Stu’s somehow seeing him through the pig’s eyes or something, but he still tries to draw a picture of himself to put in front of it. So really, what’s the difference? And more importantly, where’s the fucking imagination and innocence that’s supposed to pervade the babies’ perspective and worldview? I mean, the little bit we do get this issue is little more than window dressing with none of the heart or charm that made it work in the cartoon.
Alright, so I kind of lied when I said the problems start when the adults are introduced as characters. Really, they start with the very first panel and the art. I’m sorry, but this issue just looks bad. The original Rugrats designs work as well as they do because they’re so specific to the animation style of the cartoon. Here, it looks like some effort did go into recreating the more noteworthy idiosyncrasies of each design. Some work alright in this style, but most of them don’t, and it’s a bit difficult to pin down a single overarching reason why. For one, while the original designs of the kids certainly had relatively large heads when compared to those of real children, it still felt proportionate because of things like Tommy’s large diaper and Angelica’s wide skirt balanced them out. Here, it’s like the designs were slimmed down as much as possible but still with the larger heads, making them all particularly disproportionate now. As for the adults, a lot of the time we see them in these weird wide shots, where the perspective makes them all look weirdly short. Additionally, the pencils and inks are simplistic in nature. Chuckie manages to get by due to the sheer number of design elements his character maintains, but Tommy is barely recognizable, especially when he’s not wearing his trademark blue shirt and diaper combo. Finally, the coloring is really disappointing. The palette is alright, but the colors themselves are pretty flat, and it makes everyone and everything look like it might be made of plastic. Worst of all, the backgrounds (which were already sorely lacking in detail) devolve way too frequently into a single solid color or a gradient. It’s not enjoyable to look at in the slightest, and it comes across as just plain lazy.
If I haven’t made myself abundantly clear by now, no, don’t buy or read this. In addition to all of the betrayal and bastardization going on, the story isn’t all that interesting either. So far it’s nothing more than a one-note and ham-fisted riff on a single, debatably negative, aspect of contemporary life that has to degrade its adult characters to caricatures in order to try and make a point. If you’re a fan of the original Rugrats, I would urge you to go back and watch the old episodes and/or movies if you’re feeling nostalgic. And, I would actually say the same to anyone unfamiliar with the series but interested in seeing what it’s all about. Because no matter who you are, there’s nothing for you here.