This one is going to be a bit different from the webcomics I usually promote here at BW Media Spotlight due to the subject matter. So if you find anything in that warning disturbing you may want to come back tomorrow for something else or look around the site for something you might like. However, note that if I’m promoting this in Internet Spotlight it’s a comic worth checking out.
Also this comic involves anthropomorphic animals, also referred to as “furries”. If THAT bothers you, this won’t be for you either. But I bet some of you are curious as to how you can do a frank discussion on child abuse with “funny talking animals”. It actually might be the best way to cover this story.
T. Rodriguez’s Forest Hill doesn’t make light of this topic, nor it is for “shock value”. And there is also more to the comic than that, as Rodriguez has created an interesting mythos outside of the subject matter involving “Man” and their relation to this world. Humans do not appear anywhere in this story. The comic ends up the better for it and it’s approach to the subject, while not what Rodriguez had planned when he started, is pretty much where it should be. But this is probably not a comic for most kids.
Forest Hill is the story of two families: the Locket family– single father Colin, his daughter Tanya, and his son Hunter–moves to Forest Hill because he is opening a new branch for a store chain in town. Events lead them to cross paths with the Velox family–single mother Flora and her son, Kaleb. In this story, the Lockets are foxes and the Veloxs are rabbits. Colin’s wife passed away due to illness while Flora’s husband was killed in a war. While the focus seems to have been intended for Tanya and Kaleb, all the characters have been at the front end of this, although currently Flora is more involved with the current plotline than Colin.
It starts when Kaleb is seriously injured defending Tanya from the school bully, Benni Subak (not knowing that Tanya’s quite the scrapper). The two form a friendship of sorts (Tanya has a crush on the cootie-fearing boy, or “kit” as children are called in this world) and this leads to Colin and Flora forming a friendship and…a potential relationship? They do “hook up” at one point but whether they’re a couple or just otherwise cubsit for each other hasn’t been indicated just yet. Probably because of the web of sexual abuse and pedophilia that is about to force some interesting choices and fates for the characters, as Flora confronts a situation from her own past.
The first thing that stands out about Forest Hill is the mythos that is created. “Man” is treated like “God”, as they somehow created the anthros of this world and disappeared. The world itself seems stuck in the 1990s. There are no cell phones but there are pagers. The TV is SD 4:3 aspect, no widescreen. They have their own currency symbol in place of “$”. Words like “person” or “somebody” are replaced by “beast” or “somebeast” as denotes the rise of the animals to sentience. But this isn’t (currently anyway) some science fiction story about animals trying to learn their origins or in some obvious post-apocalypse scenario. They’re just living their lives trying to figure life out. Flora grew up in a commune but appears to be the equivalent of a Christian while the Lockets are “Jewish” and Kaleb’s best friend and his family speak with a typical Mexican, Spanish, or Latino accent. One of the Sunday strips features a Star Trek type sci-fi show where the characters find a object they believe to be humans but Flora turns it off for being potentially blasphemous. (She should see what the actual Star Trek cartoon did with the Devil. Speaking of which I wonder who their “Satan analog” is?) I don’t think Man is thought to be the same as we see God but they’re certainly revered and followed like a religion, though there are atheists as well.
The other is where the story has gone, which Rodriguez says he hadn’t intended it to go. You do hear writers discuss how a story can get away from them, as if the characters have taken over and now the writer is basically telling their story. Some of the best stories come this way. Kaleb deals with the results of the attack by Benni and you think he’s going to be the antagonist, but it turns out he’s a victim himself, and things change. Then you draw in a racoon girl Hunter’s age (preschool) named Talitha, which is what is currently going on, and how she affects the story and her ties to Benni (who is an otter in case your curious). And as I said, Flora has some demons in her past that she has to confront.
But like I said, none of this is played for laughs or for shock value. Rodriguez covers these topics with all the importance, honesty, and seriousness the topics of child abuse, bullying, and sexual abuse deserves. Nudity that isn’t blocked is rare, swearing is the barest minimum, and events are suggested but not actually shown. There is humor to off-set the darker themes, but it comes from beasts living their lives, kits who don’t know or understand what is happening to them (which sometimes makes the humor hit harder), and it all comes naturally. And each character has his or her own personality. No one world view is treated anything differently than “this is what this person believes” and the reader decides what’s right. Except for the pedophiles and child prostitution of course. Even the two pedophiles we’ve met thus far (three if you count the flashback) treat their own sick perversions differently. Benni’s dad is a visually horrible person while Tali’s dad is better at hiding things until events catch up with him. You’ll hate them both but for different reasons and because they’re horrid beasts. The kits also act like kids, not adults in kid/kit bodies.
The big question some of you have probably asked throughout this review is how can using furries benefit a comic about such a harsh subject matter? If anything, the cute animal people may actually be what helps the subject matter be easier to deal with. Arkada of the review show Glass Reflections recently reviewed an anime that was so dark, bloody, and depressing most people wouldn’t be able to handle the subject matter. However, the art style was in that cutesy “moe/chibby” style created in Japan, balancing the darker themes with a lighter visual tone and making everything more palatable. It’s a way to bring in the advantages of a “comic relief character” in a story where such a character would actually hurt the tone of the story rather than help. To paraphrase Arkada, the spoonful of cuteness helps the tragedy go down. This may not have been the story the writer intended but it turns out to be the best accident these themes could ask for.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, keep your own kits off of this one and check out the comic for yourself. If this doesn’t sound like the kind of comic that would interest you (and I was surprised I got into it, if only to see the kids come out of all of this and the bad adults and bullies get punished), then maybe you should check out some of the other comics in the site’s footer. And you’ll have to take my word for it that this comic good and a good approach to some very bad subjects.