The tiny talking infants return in their own ongoing series, starting with Rugrats #1. Can the humor of this ’90s classic translate to the modern era?
Immediately upon opening Rugrats #1, one will notice writer Box Brown’s use of the childhood imagination that formed so much of the show. The book opens with Phil and Lil appearing as a pair of attacking Reptars that must be foiled by Tommy and Chuckie. Later, Tommy imagines himself as a pro wrestler. It’s charming material that should appeal to both younger audiences and older readers.
Box Brown also demonstrates patience in the script. Rather than rushing to bring all the core cast together (to say nothing of later additions like Dil and Kimi), Brown focuses primarily on the relationship between Tommy and Chuckie. Brown does a great job capturing the voices of these infant friends and that will help to put older readers squarely in the nostalgia seat. The smaller focus doesn’t always help, though. Phil and Lil feel like minor roles at best, and while that was true of the show many times, it would have been nice to see a stronger balance in this initial outing.
Lisa DuBois’ artwork is a fantastic adaptation of the cartoon’s looser style while still doing a great job telling a story within the comic book medium. Without the flow of a cartoon, it’s up to DuBois to convey the expressive movements of the young characters and she succeeds with the use of body language. Whether it’s Tommy’s tenacity or Chuckie’s anxious running, DuBois’ characters have a liveliness that comes off the page that is further bolstered by Eleonora Bruni’s rich palette.
One thing that Rugrats #1 struggles with is the change in time. It’s been over twenty-five years since the cartoon debuted in 1991, and the issue seems to struggle with knowing what to update and what not to. Being a licensed comic, Lisa DuBois may not have had much leeway in redesigning the adult characters, but they unfortunately seem trapped in a late 80s/early 90s aesthetic that is dissonant with the updated setting involving cell phones and social media. For younger readers, this is (hopefully) a non-issue, but for the adults visiting this series for nostalgia, it points to a larger concern: what is Rugrats in a world where the housing market has crashed and job security seems to be a long-lost myth? Even as a Midwestern guy, I found myself shaking my head and thinking, “It isn’t like this anymore.” In that way, the nostalgia of Rugrats #1 has a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Is It Good?
Rugrats #1 is entertaining, but lacks a definitive punch to make it memorable. For fans of the franchise, this should scratch that nostalgia itch, but it might also sting a little. At its core, though, creators Box Brown and Lisa DuBois have done a great crafting a book that can be read by children and adults and leave them entertained. Hopefully future issues will have a stronger angle on the material.