13 December 2008

When You Emerge

Andy Hartzell's Fox Bunny Funny, published last year by Top Shelf, is another graphic novel that challenges traditional markers of reading age. It's wordless. It's about funny animals--or at least looks like it fits into the cartoon genre called "funny animal."

But it's about major issues that usually come up in adolescence and early adulthood. And there's more than a little cartoon violence and blood-letting, as this preview shows.

The book follows a fox growing up in a society divided between foxes and the bunnies they prey on. All along, he's secretly attracted to bunny society, and in fact wishes to be a bunny.

A blurb on the book from Leroy Douresseaux says the book "challenges the reader to think about himself, but also about his relationship to his own group and others." A blurb from Tom Knechtel says it "speaks powerfully about our insistent need to belong." And the front flap states: "What happens when a secret desire puts you at odds with your society? . . . When you emerge, you'll find yourself gazing at our own fragmenting society with new eyes."

While I admire the attempt to tell and market a story to as wide an audience as possible, I don't think Fox Bunny Funny really applies to all questions of group identity and being at odds with society.

The central character is a fox who starts by dressing up as a bunny in front of his mirror; his mother sees him and gets upset. On the book's final pages, that fox undergoes surgery to turn into the bunny that was inside all along. There's a glimpse of a secret fox-bunny hybrid community, but the larger society of foxes remains the same.

This isn't an allegory for growing up in a minority ethnic group (which would put the whole family in the same situation). Or having unusual political or religious ideas (a situation not affected by surgery). It's not about reforming society.

Fox Bunny Funny works for me only as an allegory about an individual's non-normative gender and/or sexuality, with the foxes embodying both a homophobic society and a stereotypical masculinity. And the solution, at least for the book's protagonist, is surgery and life in a separate community.

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