“You looking for an answer or an argument?”
— Birdie Coonan, All About Eve
With its adorable animals and wordless storytelling, Andy Hartzell’s Fox Bunny Funny (Top Shelf) could be mistaken for a simple allegory about being true to yourself. It’s a lot creepier and more complex than that, with none of the certainty allegory usually offers.
It’s about a fox who, against all societal norms, yearns to embrace his inner bunny. His family is aghast, and truth be told, so is the fox. Received knowledge tells him he’s a freak, and the conflict between his deepest feelings and the prevailing culture can be agonizing. Hartzell certainly doesn’t flinch away from illustrating the manifestations of that conflict, and the consequences of the fox choosing to pass for “normal” are gruesome in ways that take full advantage of the Wild Kingdom dynamic.
In other words, Hartzell is blending human concerns without fully anthropomorphizing his cast of critters. It’s tricky storytelling, though its cleverness and visual appeal don’t diminish or trivialize the subject matter. Anyone who’s read a fair amount of the work of Osamu Tezuka will recognize the juxtaposition of familiar, even friendly cartooning tools with deeper, darker issues.
And Hartzell steadfastly refuses to fall back on moral clarity. If the fox’s attempts at passing tear him apart, his path to transformation is also challenging and frightening. Polarity and anxiety aren’t only found in the rigid constructs of fox versus bunny; the gray area, the place where creatures are freer to express and explore, has its own difficulties and sometimes contradictory rules.
It’s a challenging piece, one that Hartzell has executed with emotional frankness and a wonderfully fluid design sense. He seems to want an argument, and he sets the stage for a rewarding and complicated one.