"There are some things that are so serious you can only joke about them."
– Physicist Neils Bohr
So an intelligent dinosaur, a physicist in a jester's suit and an evil assassin walk into a bar…
There are a few comics that are so completely unique, so thoroughly odd and unique and so uncompromisingly themselves that they defy all categorization except to say that the creation is amazing and funny and philosophical and deeply, deeply disturbing — all at the same time.
Rob Walton's Ragmop is one of those uncategorizable comics. And that's what makes it so wonderful. Equal parts sci-fi satire, exploration of physics, tribute to Looney Tunes comics, promulgator of conspiracy theories, satire of the Vatican, exploration of how women are treated in modern society — *whew* — I'm only partway through my list of things that are explored in this comic and I barely feel like I've scratched the surface — this comic is really quite mind blowing.
Top Shelf's digital release of the 422-page new edition of Ragmop is a long awaited and overdue collection of this great, odd and thoroughly idiosyncratic 1990s black and white series. Ragmop was a self-published series back in the day, a lovingly produced comics creation from cartoon animator Rob Walton that thoroughly explored so many of his obvious obsessions in comics form — you can get just a small hint of those obsessions listed above. Walton had trouble finding an audience for his extremely quirky personal viewpoint — there's a bitter joke in this collection about how he sold only 200 copies of his last issue and 50 were to his mother — but thankfully the advent of digital has allowed Walton to revise and update his book a bit while bringing it to a whole new audience.
This is a graphic novel that was well worth reviving, the sort of creation that makes other comics creations seem paltry in comparison. This story is rich on so many levels.
It's rich in laughs. Walton is obviously a student of Looney Tunes cartoons, displaying scene after scene of characters referencing, talking about or otherwise lampooning classic scenes from Bugs Bunny cartoons. One of my favorite early scenes has two characters comparing the Chuck Jones Looney Tunes cartoons with the Robert McKimson cartoons — thoughtful and controversial thoughts for anyone who loves their 'Toons!
Ragmop is rich in pop culture references. The first chapters alone have references to Dr. Seuss, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Reservoir Dogs, The Wizard of Oz, the Thing from Fantastic Four and oh so many more. It becomes a bit of a game as you work your way through this book to figure out one pop culture reference after the next. Oh look, for instance, there on page 287 are references to The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, bad '50s alien movies, the eye in the pyramid conspiracy and the assassin of John Lennon. The whole story works like that — it's full of endless pop culture references that weave and spin in and out from each other, creating a dizzying and complex world for readers.
That world is made even dizzier with its knowledgeable satire of Vatican affairs and politics. Yeah, the Pope gets involved in this whole crazy story, and his favorite assassin gets involved and God Himself also gets involved, portrayed as — well, you're just gonna have to read this story to get that reference because I ain't gonna spoil God for you. But this whole Vatican element is pretty eye-popping and mind-expanding.
Then there's the exploration of quantum physics and String Theory (or M Theory if you prefer), an idea and concept that gets a broad and deep discussion in this comic and motivates an important plot point. I actually learned a fair amount about String Theory when reading this book, making it a far cry from the sort of Star Trek physics that I expected in this book. Talk about mind-expanding entertainment!
And then there is yet one more level of complexity to this story: a very complex and incisive view of the men and women (almost all men) who run the world. Walton's approach to the politics in this book is sharp and intense and really very depressing. He's always looking to lift the lid off of the world that we live in on a daily basis and expose us to a deeper world about which we might not be aware. It's a really dark and intense vision, and it would be fascinating to hear Walton talk about how his perceptions have changed since this book came out. I'm hoping I can grab him for an interview sometime pretty soon so we can discuss exactly that subject.
And yet with all that depth and complexity — and would you believe this graphic comes with two full tightly-spaced pages of endnotes that reference works by such thinkers as Richard Feynman, the Bhagavad Vita and Howard Zinn? — this book is still really fun and wonderful and full of laughs? I loved many of the main characters in this book, and you could never claim that Walton doesn't like heroic heroes and really evil villains.
Ragmop is a heady and exciting mix of all kinds of genres, thrown together in a blender and delivered as a frothy mass of thoroughly engrossing (and rather exhausting) comics. It's cheap on Comixology, and digital comics should be all about discovering great stuff that you never knew existed. So do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks on this thoroughly unique comic.