Fox Bunny Funny
Andy Hartzell’s story, FOX BUNNY FUNNY, is a fable about secrets and wanting to belong in an anthropomorphic world filled with foxes and bunnies that mirrors our own world and experiences. Here the foxes rule the world; their simple and wholesome culture glossing over the cruelty of their nature. Life is filled with grim possibilities for bunnies, but it’s just the natural order of the world, right? No one in their right mind would want to be any thing other than a fox.
We’re first introduced to our hero as an adolescent fox cub riding his bike home from an adventure, a bag slung over a shoulder. His little escapade ended for now, he stops at the Foxville market and picks up some fresh bunnies for the family dinner. All seems normal until a nosy cashier manages a quick peek inside the curious bag before he snatches it away from her prying eyes. Hmm.
He joins a group of older cubs for a little mischievous bike riding fun. There’s definitely something odd in that bag. Curiosity about the bag gets the better of them, but he scampers away in the nick of time. He’s wily enough to hide the bag behind a bush and sneak it into the house later when everyone is busy.
It’s a good old-fashioned family: a doting mother with a penchant for gossip, a reserved, authoritarian father, and a younger brother with whom tension exists. Despite acting like a typical family, Hartzell gives us a couple of clues that our fox doesn’t fit in with his family before revealing on the chapter’s last page the contents of the closely guarded bag. It’s as shocking as if your mother caught you watching gay porn as a teenager!
The revelation earns the young fox an extended trip to a Cub Scout type camp on steroids. At the camp he’s placed with a couple of older, red neck acting cubs and forced to participate in activities designed to reinforce “appropriate” male behavior such as bunny target practice. Despite reluctance, he makes a perfect score and earns praise from his peers. Hurrah! He fits in.
Hartzell reveals a fully realized, placid Bunny culture when the foxes and their troop leader deliberately seek out Bunnyburg to terrorize its residents. The other foxes run rampant while our cub reacts to their cruelty with caution and sadness. Separated from the pack, he has a vision that leads to an epiphany when he encounters a small group of timid bunnies first hand. It’s all too short lived when the pack confronts him and he affects a startling transformation with grisly consequences.
Years later the rewards for his change that fateful day is a solitary life filled with dejection. His dull routine is interrupted one night by the mysterious appearance of a strange bunny like creature that taunts him into following him on an unexpected journey through unfamiliar places. The trek ends when the fox reaches the surprising city of Funniopolis where foxes and bunnies, (and something in between and very remarkable) of all persuasions readily mingle on bustling streets. All the freedom and subversion of norms overwhelms the fox’s narrow mindset. He blacks out and with the help of some well-meaning and insistent bunnies undergoes a radical conversion of inversion. He finally embraces his inborn bunny nature to become a funny!
In my readings of this book I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the topics it touches on. There are the obvious themes of conformity. It also works on other scales as metaphors for freedom of individual expression, alienation, assimilation, separatism, bigotry, religion and faith, the nature of the outsider, cultural roles of the victor and victim. That’s quite an accomplishment for a story that doesn’t contain a single word. Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that. Yes, Hartzell made the choice to let his drawings convey the plot and emotion. I believe the idea behind this was to allow readers to easily interject their own experiences and feelings in to the narrative.
The art is clean and crisp. His panels are nicely composed and story flows easily with a six-panel layout. Hartzell reserves exceptions to this for the end of the story where other compositions are required to emphasize the radical differences. An interview I read here after writing the majority of this review confirms my suspicion that Hartzell is a cartoon fan. Hartzell also confirmed there that “Funny” in the title is a combination of fox and bunny and is symbolic. The book is perfect bound with French flaps (the two covers fold back inside about three inches) and become part of the end papers that are printed with an interlocking design of fox and bunny heads—and a lone funny head.
Please note that in writing about the story I tried not to spoil it by including an overly detailed synopsis. After finishing this review I did read another that seemed to give away too much of the story in my humble opinion. Plug in the book title if you feel you must know more before considering this book.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who knows of a person (young adult or older) who may have trouble coming out and accepting themselves as different, sexually or otherwise. This book should have the most appeal to readers of indy and small press books (Owly comes to mind though FBF is definitely not for children) or perhaps the Vertigo book Fables.
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