Happy (Day After) Saint Valentine’s Day, beloved readers!
Some of you forgot the holiday is named after a saint, didn’t you? Oh, commercialism, you’ve done it again.
Anyways, to commemorate this day centered around courtly love and discount chocolates, I present you with this webcomic about two lovers, deeply enamored of one another, determined to be together despite overwhelming opposition and disparate backgrounds.
NO! Not Romeo and Juliet…
Kevin & Kell
Written and drawn by Bill Holbrook, an old player in the comics game, since 1995, Kevin & Kell is a family sit-com comic centered around Kevin, a uncharacteristically bold rabbit who works as a sys-op, and his new wife Kell, a strong-willed business-wolf who works as a professional predator in a world of sentient animal people. Sharing their household are Lindesfarne, Kevin’s adopted hedgehog daughter from his last marriage, and Rudy, Kell’s surly teenage son. The couple also have a baby together (BIOLOGY BE DAMNED!) but since its birth is a bit of an early arc, I won’t spoil it. As a wolf and rabbit falling in love and starting a family is otherwise unheard of in their world, the family has to deal with all manner of prejudices and biases as well as the typical travails of family, school, and work life, usually through the use of classic newspaper-style comedy.
The art for K&K is wonderfully charming, bringing that nostalgic feeling of reading the Sunday paper and going straight to the funnies. Initially all in newspaper black and white, the comic begins shifting into color around…. this strip (sorry, they use a calendar archive without strip numbers). Shortly after, the comic transitions into a full color palette. The comic follows the usual paper comic pattern in regards to paneling and layout, even updating with a special extra length strip every Sunday. The only real issue I have with the art is that on occasion, particularly when there’s a dramatic closeup to a character’s face, the art can get a little messy and confusing, resulting in characters looking rather odd and more than a little freaky. Also, I’m not sure why, but I sometimes get the feeling that certain characters like Kevin and Rudy are drawn either by different people or in different styles than, say, Kell and Lindesfarne. As a whole though, the art is great and does the job nicely, especially for a strip that updates as often as it does.
The story also follows the newspaper template of similar comics, e.g. Foxtrot, and the like. A family of lovable oddballs that deal with various problems (realistic or otherwise), as their personalities play off of each other’s or those of the other characters. At this point, we’ve looked at a couple of comics featuring anthropomorphic characters, but they did so sans explanation; the characters in those comics are simply talking animal people. This is, of course, perfectly fine, they are, after all, comics, a sister media to cartoons and no one questions why Felix the Cat, Bugs Bunny, or Mickey Mouse can talk. They just do and they just happen to be drawn as animals. Kevin & Kell, however, is one those series that feels it needs to explain why the cast is a bunch of animal people. In doing so, the comic gets a bit convoluted and more than a little out there, but one could argue that that’s par for the course when a series lasts as long as this one has. Personally, I thought that particular plot-twist was as a bit of an ass-pull. I also consider it the exact moment Kevin & Kell jumped the proverbial shark, but, then again, that’s just me.
The comedy is good, especially in the earlier parts of the series. However, there are only so many different spins on “animal stereotype” jokes out there and, as years’ worth of strips goes by, they end up feeling somewhat tedious. It’s not just the animal jokes, either. Much of the comedy is done through the characters sitting in front of a computer employing visual jokes dealing with the nature of a sys-op’s job or just the internet in general, which kind of limits the audience’s enjoyment to people who know these things. Then again, it is a webcomic, so it’s probably a safe bet that the people reading the jokes will get them. Still, the parts of this comic that I found funny, I found really funny, even with the overused jokes.
The drama – and the comics does have drama (what family doesn’t?) – is a little hit and miss, depending on the situation, but overall, it’s very strong and compelling. You have your
predictable typical high-school drama (bullies, exams, teen romance, etc) for the kids and adult drama (work issues, in-laws, exes, child-rearing, ad nauseam) for the adults, but there are also extremely compelling and fresh issues, like characters undergoing life-changing surgery in order to be truer to themselves, friends falling apart due to said changes, taboo romances, social norms being challenged, and struggles to find acceptance in a hostile world. Sadly, such enticing drama is undermined by the fact that the main characters and their friends never seem to face any real, lasting consequences. No matter what the problem is, it’s always resolved, even if only temporarily, a few strips later. This is an entire world where people fall victim to the food chain all the time. I’ve lost count of how many people get eaten in the comic (as a source of comedy, no less), but nothing ever befalls the cast. Problems get resolved with disappointing ease, usually through a contrived convenient turn of events and if there’s an antagonist that isn’t associated with the cast, they usually end up eaten with nary a mark on or against our main characters. All of this weakens the conflict. There can be no drama without a sense of danger for the characters or something important to them.
There’s something to this comic (trust me, I’ve read. It. All.), but I myself can’t place what it is. It feels like just when you’re getting bored with it, it introduces a new character or plot twist just to keep you interested… and, by Jove, if it doesn’t seem to work. The comic can even feel a bit mean-spirited considering how nothing bad truly befalls the good guys while the bad guys are always punished, oftentimes with sadistic ease. The more I read this comic, the more I felt it come across as false; the teens don’t face any issues of sexuality or pregnancy, doubly odd considering they’re animals. The problems they do face are more like elementary or middle school issues. The animals have their own society, but, oddly enough, it’s still virtually identical to a suburban human culture, which I felt gave us a lot of wasted potential. Still, the moments that ring true in this comic, truly funny, truly dramatic, are what kept me reading and I recommend it if only for those.
Kevin & Kell is written and drawn by Bill Holbrook. This comic, including all images used here, belongs to him. There is an About page summarizing the setting of the comic as well as a Cast page with bios on the characters. Kevin & Kell updates daily.