Nickelodeon and Boom Studios are teaming up to bring you yet another modern-day update of a classic Nicktoon. Read on to find out how this one stacks up, and note that there will be some minor spoilers!
Written by Box Brown
Illustrated by Lisa DuBois
Colored by Eleonora Bruni
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Hang on to your diapies, babies! We’re teaming up with Nickelodeon for all-new Rugrats adventures with the most intrepid toddlers to ever bust out of a playpen! Tommy, Chucky, Phil and Lil have noticed something-they are being watched. Somehow their parents can see every little thing that they can do. They’re going to have to find a way to have fun while avoiding the electronic eyes of the babycam!
A timeless concept enters the current day: How do babies see the world, and what adventures do they get up to when their parents aren’t watching? However this comic came about, the peculiar creative team of award winning writer Box Brown with comics newcomer Lisa DuBois on art raised a few eyebrows, mine included. And I’m happy to report that almost all of their decisions on developing Rugrats as a modern comic worked out for the best.
Brown and DuBois had fascinating ways of updating everything to the present day. And by that, I’m mainly talking about how they left so much exactly as it was. The team realized that not much needed to be changed, from the character dynamics to the character designs. Retaining the character dynamics makes sense, as human interpersonal relationships will always remain the same, but somehow, in the last 25 years, we’ve also circled back to the fashion styles of yore. Stick a smartphone in his hand and suddenly 90s icon Chaz Finster becomes a modern-day hipster, complete with suspenders, bowtie, and pencil thin mustache. DuBois realizes this, and her subtle updates to the designs — in Chaz’s case, removing the pinstripes on the shirt and making the mustache a little thinner — bring them to the modern day seamlessly while staying instantly recognizable.
To further bring things into the modern day, the entire issue deals with the babies interacting with modern technology. It’s all suitably adorable: Tommy attempts to outsmart a baby monitor with a crayon picture of himself, and Chuckie retreats into a fortress of his own design when he thinks a drone is a malicious bird. Moreso, this concept allows a direct method of dealing with the hurdle inherent in using the “Rugrats” concept today: If so much of Rugrats is about what happens when the parents aren’t watching, how do you deal with the fact that cameras now allow parents to watch their children at all times? In addition, this also gives the book a clear and unique direction beyond just this story: How are children today reacting to technology? How do they start interacting with it? How is their development affected by it? These are all questions that couldn’t have been answered even at the end of Rugrats’s initial run, meaning Brown is guaranteed to cover completely new ground.
If anything, I’d say the one negative to the writing is how the adults’ dialogue occasionally comes off as too on-the-nose. They’re all tech-obsessed, and a lot of the phrases they use make sense in the situation. But then there are moments where they’ll use one too many slang tech terms in a row, or act just a little too excited about certain technologies for someone their age. It’s an admittedly minor complaint, and it never overshadows the great work Brown does with the characters and concepts, but it’s worth mentioning.
As for the bits that have stayed the same, all characters act exactly as they did in the past. Brown immediately understood the nuances of everyone’s personalities, and he was further able to showcase his knowledge by focusing primarily on Tommy and Chuckie in this issue. Tommy is the brave hero, always planning a fearless mission, while Chuckie is the cautious, anxious one. Together, Tommy forces Chuckie to stand up to threats, and Chuckie brings Tommy back to take a more measured, analytical approach to things. Brown has figured out exactly what makes these characters so timeless.Continued below
Likewise, DuBois has a blast with every page. There are multiple scenes where the babies enter fantasy worlds, and she goes wild with the environments and costumes. She and colorist Eleonora Bruni also occasionally use a certain effect in some panels where the background will be a pattern of colored line-doodles, calling back to the Klasky-Csupo aesthetic. The art’s one negative, if you can call it that, is that Tommy can get expressive to the point where he stops looking like Tommy Pickles from Rugrats. But this is more an aspect of DuBois’s personal style and redesign of the character than it is a flaw. Tommy never gets off-model for the looks that DuBois has established, even if he’s sometimes a bit far from his original cartoon design. In any case, his iconic oddly-shaped bald head is always there, and the character’s expressiveness is part of what makes this comic so much fun to read, so it all works out in the end.
Beyond all of these pluses, there’s also the personal level on why this comic hit me so hard: I was a rugrat back when the show first aired, now I’m one of the parents. (Okay, maybe I’m on the younger end of the generation, but the parents in this comic are clearly modern-day millennials!) And I think that’s all done on purpose. The creators had to have thought of it in developing the book, and their cumulative creative choices subtly communicate that.
Brown and DuBois have updated the Rugrats concept seemingly effortlessly. In case you couldn’t tell, I loved reading this comic. Even if you’ve never watched the show, I’d say this is one to check out if the idea of babies being confused about technology appeals to you.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – Successful far beyond the nostalgia factor, Brown and DuBois directly tackle concepts only a modern-day “Rugrats” comic could with a high level of intelligence and charm.