Rebecca Dart’s Rabbithead
Comic books are not just written for children and young adults these days; there are good amounts that are geared toward more mature audiences. The appeal of comic books has not seemed to diminish in this vast growing high tech world. Some popular traditional types of comics include manga, super hero, fantasy, horror, action/adventure, and humor. Comic books invoke our feelings in a masterful way; they are a beautiful merge between narrative and art. We read comics for entertainment, excitement, fun, and to emerge us the picturesque world that the author wants us to see. In this essay I want to discuss and analyze the genius of Rebecca Dart’s comic, Rabbithead. Rabbithead was geared toward more mature readers, although this comic has aspects of most long-established comic styles, it is anything but traditional. Dart’s unique narrative style breaks away from the norm, and allows the reader to feel more involvement with the story.
Respectively, a little bit about Rebecca Dart. She is a comic book artist and an Animator. Dart was born in Simi Valley California in 1973, but now resides in Canada with her husband. Dart has been in the animation industry since 1997. She designs characters and specializes in designing locations and backgrounds for TV series such as Pucca, Ned’s Newt, and Mission hill. Being a comic book writer is a hobby Dart enjoys to do with the little spare time that she has. (Dart Bio) Dart got her inspiration to write Rabbithead from an old polish film called The Saragossa Manuscript from 1965, she also use to tend to a rabbit farm. (Dart interview 1) Rabbithead was nominated for an Ignatz Award under the category of best new talent. (Dart Interview 2)
Rabbithead is an experimental wordless comic about a human-like creature with the head of a rabbit. The comic follows this humanoid-rabbit’s life journey of discovery tragedy and comedy. The cover has a striking image of the protagonist with her saddled steed standing tall and confident, automatically we have respect and have a yearning to relate to the character; the image also has a luminous glow with a clever color pallet to boot. When we open to the first page you notice the story starts off as a single strip on a white background with stark black lines on either end, the content of the strip begins with the rabbit and her ambiguous snake-horse like mount riding through a forest, the rabbit spits, the saliva takes on a life of its own dividing into 2 new organisms; they begin to grow and branch off creating 2 new parallel story lines. Soon, a plethora of new mythical characters emerge. Each character branches off and starts a fresh miniature story and eventually there are seven parallel story lines that later fold in on themselves toward the ‘end’ and starts over where it began, with the closing panel is identical to the one in the beginning. By having a multitude of miniature plots concurring, we can choose which to read first. This narrative structure gives us a sense that we are controlling our own destiny and becoming the narrator.
At first glance this comic seemed daunting. The flood of stories that collected on the pages made it difficult to choose which line to read first. I found myself captivated by the simple yet informative ink drawings that filled the pages. The art is not very complex, but each box was carefully designed and represented. Every line stroke was thoughtfully and suggestively drawn. Each character that was introduced was drawn with a fantasy- grunge look. Even though the characters are all fictional, they portrayed in a very endearing and believable style. I skimmed though quickly at first to get my mind ready for the strange and wonderful layout of the comic, and then went back and carefully re-read each story by itself, which all cleverly came together in the ‘end’ of the comic.
Dart’s Rabbithead is going against the grain with the rules of a well organized story according to the Aristotelian tradition. The Greek philosopher; Aristotle states in his Poetics
And a whole is that which has a beginning, middle and end: a beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, but after which it is natural for another thing to be or come to be; and end is the opposite, something that is itself naturally after something else, either necessarily or for the most part, with no other thing naturally after it; and the middle is that which it itself both after something else and had another thing after it. Therefore, well-organized stories must neither begin from wherever they may happen to nor end where they may happen to nor end where they may happen to, but must have the look that has been described. (Aristotle)
Aristotle is simply saying: a plot must have a beginning, middle and end. It is so obvious to us that a story should have this that we don’t even think of having another way to represent a dissimilar style. Rabbithead challenges this narrative tradition with the layout of the comic. It is unique in that the story begins and ends the same way. The humanoid rabbit finds herself at the grave with the shovel just like the first line of the book. Once reading you will find that there is no end to the story line, it cap loop eternally. Aristotle would have his mind blown! I feel Dart used this circular tactic as a way again, to involve us in the story. By revisiting the beginning of the tale we are invited to be the narrator and guess what the reality of the story is.
Along with the circular narration, Rabbithead has visually confusing parallel story lines. In a novel is very common to have a sequence of events occurring simultaneously. We don’t notice this so much in books though, because usually the segments are broken up into chapters, keeping the narrator in charge and controlling how the novel is read. In Rabbithead, Dart gives us the information about the overlapping story lines in an order but I believe it was her intent to allow the reader use their imagination to choose which story to follow and in whichever order they choose to read them in. Like the Russian novelist, Vladimir Nabokov states in his essay Good Readers and Good Writers
Since the master artist used his imagination in creating his book, it is natural and fair that the consumer of the book should use his imagination too. (Nabokov 632)
When Dart emerges the reader in seven small story lines running simultaneously with in the main plot I feel she is doing exactly what Nabokov feels is proper, passing the torch on to the reader, allowing them to become the narrator. The small story lines can be read in any order and each is successful because each story has its own arc but is not a dire necessity for the whole of the main plot. For each individual story in the book however, this does follow a beginning middle and end, all the characters have a beginning, life, middle, living, and an end, dead mostly involving the characters eating and being eaten by each other. For example one of small stories with its own comic strip sequence is about a bug family, which lives inside of a scull of the creature that was evolved from the morphed spit from the very beginning of the story. The family raises their little bug baby into a rebellious teen bug, then the story suggests they put their kin though an education, and shortly after it graduated they send him out into the world, packing, literally with the image of the little graduate holding a stick with a package tied at the end. Once the bug steps foot outside their home, the scull, he doesn’t get too far before he gets snatched up by a bird-like creature, the creature evolves into a phoenix like monster and ends up becoming an important tie to the end of the entire book’s development. The interesting thing about each mini story though, is how equally important each of the story lines is for the main story. Once the bug was eaten the story folded and the extra comic strip collapses on top of the line below it. They are organized in a way that each mini story and character no matter how insignificant it seems while reading is critical for the overall organization. At the same time Dart is writing like a ‘chose your path’ type of comic, perhaps playing a game with the reader. The short stories can be understood without knowing the entirety of the story.
Interestingly enough Rabbithead has no actual human characters throughout the story. Most of the characters can described as being almost related to creatures and organisms that we would transmit to in the nonfiction world. A lot of comic writers and animators tend to use anthropomorphic qualities in their characters.
Charles Darwin, an English naturalist states in his The Origin of Species:
One of the most remarkable features of our domesticated races is that we
see in them adaptation, not indeed to the animal’s or plant’s own good, but
to man’s use or fancy. (Darwin)
We like to characterize animals, take certain qualities that are only assumed as human qualities and use them with animals or plants, in this particular circumstance, in stories to make it easier for us to identify with the characters. A lot of children’s books also use this technique, such as Aesop’s Fables, particularly The Wolf and the Lamb. The wolf character is similar to Rabbit head, where the character has a humanoid body, walking up right, and has a head of an animal. There is a certain ‘fakeness’ that the characters have that makes it easier for use to read and relate to.
Schopenhauer, a German philosopher wrote,
The true work of art leads us from that which exists only once and never again, I.e.; the individual, to that which exists perpetually and time and time again in innumerable manifestations, the pure form or Idea; but the waxwork figure appears to present the individual itself, that is to say that which exists only once and never again, but without that which lends value to such a fleeing of horror: it produces the effect of a rigid corps.
What I think Schopenhauer is saying is that a piece of art can reveal stories that the viewer is able to relate to, but since it is not an exact replica, like a wax statue, so instead of being eternal is it merely a replica. I think this is what Dart is experimenting with in Rabbithead with the use of anthropomorphic characters. Rabbithead the character has just enough humanoid qualities for the reader to relate to but just enough so we the reader doesn’t believe it to be a carbon copy. If Dart had used a human instead of the fictional character the story would have been harder to relate to or not quite as interesting. The rabbit experienced the world as we do but still holds the animalistic qualities; this makes the comic more interesting. Rabbits do not have the range of emotions that she was given in the comic, if she were human the reader wouldn’t have had the same empathetic reactions to the story. Perhaps Dart wanted the viewer to have an sympathetic relationship with the character for the story to flow, thus creating a character with charming qualities; if the character had a human head, would we care about her more, or less, would it be too close to reality? Further toward the middle of the story of Rabbithead, we are introduced to characters that are more human than Rabbithead herself: they are the antagonists of the comic. The characters kill her steed and chop off Rabbithead’s long ears. Was Dart trying to give us a moral to the story? Did Rabbithead have a deeper meaning? It is possible that this portion of the comic Dart wanted us to relate to them in a more realistic way and might want us to put ourselves back in the story and feel the wrongfulness of hurtful acts toward innocents. As Humans we are capable of brutal acts, perhaps this is the meaning for Rabbithead?
Dart’s story telling is eternal. We jump though portals of comic strips into alternate realities though out the never ending story, everything is changing and adapting with the current events. This makes for an interesting narrative style that leaves us thoughtfully guessing and keeps us engaged for read after read. Like Nabokov said,
In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second or third or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards the book as we do towards a painting. (Nabokov 633)
Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. Joe Sachs. Newburyport, Massachusetts: R. Pullins Company, 2006. 28-47 Print.
Dart, Rebecca. Interview. Vandermeer, Jeff. Bookslut.com. Nov 2006. April 22 2011
Dart, Rebecca. Interview. Rolston, Steve. Inkstuds.org. April 5 2006. April 22 2011
Dart, Rebecca. Bio. Indyworld.com. April 22 2011
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. 1859. New York: New American Library, 1958.
Nabokov, Vladimir. “Good Readers and Good Writers.” The Norton Reader an Anthology of Nonfiction. Brereton, John C., and Peterson, Linda H. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. 631-635. Print.
Schopenhauer, Arthur, and R. J. Hollingdale. Essays and Aphorisms,. [Harmondsworth, Eng.]: Penguin, 1970. Print
Not sure why my MLA format doesn’t transfer over properly to the website but enjoy!
Below is a previous entry which my essay was evolved from.
Rebecca Dart is a comic book artist and an Animator. Dart was born in Simi Valley California in 1973, but now resides in Canada with her husband. Dart has been in the animation industry since 1997. She designs characters and background for TV series such as Pucca, Ned’s Newt, and Mission hill. Rabbithead is a wordless comic Dart illustrated in 2004 on her off time from animation. She got inspiration from working on a rabbit farm and an old polish film called The Saragossa Manuscript. Dart felt by keeping it wordless it would have a wider range of communication; there would be no language barrier. Rabbithead was also nominated for an Ignatz Award under the category of best new talent.
Rabbithead is a comic about a human-like creature with the head of a rabbit, the comic follows her life journey of discovery tragedy and comedy. The story starts off as a single strip beginning with the Rabbit with her horse-snake mount riding threw a forest, she spits, it splits into 2 new organisms and they begin to grow and branch off creating 2 new parallel story lines. Soon a plethora of new mythical characters emerge. Each character branches off and starts a fresh mini story and soon there are 7 parallel story lines that later fold in on itself toward the ‘end’ and starts over where it began.
Here are the first 5 pages of the comic to get an idea of how the layout is done:
At first take of this book I was very confused to how the story was playing out, once I realized the layout it was much easier to follow and found myself re reading pages over and over to get the whole of the story.
Aristotle said “And a whole is that which has a beginning, middle and end: a beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, but after which it is natural for another thing to be or come to be; and end is the opposite, something that is itself naturally after something else, either necessarily or for the most part, with no other thing naturally after it; …Therefore, well-organized stories must neither begin from wherever they may happen to nor end where they may happen to…”
Dart’s Rabbithead is going against the rules of a well organized story according to what Aristotle thinks. Rabbithead challenges this with the layout of the comic. It is unique in that the story begins and ends the same way. Once reading you will find that there is no end to the story line, it cap loop forever. Dart manages to have 7 small story lines going simultaneously with in the main plot line successfully. She is successful with keeping the reader engaged, each mini story is a shocking, or unexpected experience. For example one of small stories is about a bug family (that lives inside of the scull of the morphed spit from the beginning of the story) The family raises their little baby into a teen then to an educated bug and sends it out into the world, packing. The bug doesn’t get far before it gets snatched up by a bird like creature, the creature evolves into another phoenix like creature and becomes important to the stories development. The interesting thing about each mini story though, is how equally important each of the story lines are for the main story. They are organized in a way that each mini story and character no matter how insignificant it seems while reading is critical for the overall organization. At the same time Dart is writing like a ‘chose your path’ type of comic, perhaps playing a game with the reader. The short stories can be understood without knowing the entirety of the story.
Since this is so wordy, here are some of Dart’s illustrations I got off her live journal.