June 23, 2022


Red and Rover: Fun’s Never Over. By Brian Basset. Andrews McMeel. $11.99.

     Simple, charming, nostalgic, with a timeless quality in both its sensibilities and its art style, the endearing Red and Rover strip by Brian Basset is an antidote to pretty much everything harsh in modern life. Of course, matters were not as uncomplicated and delightful as the strip makes them out to be at the time in which it is apparently set. That would seem to be the 1960s, since Red takes Polaroid photos and he and Rover watch Star Trek on an old-fashioned TV with a rabbit-ears antenna on top. But those who remember the Sixties as being far from sedate are scarcely the audience for Basset’s strip, which takes place in an almost-real suburban world in which very little of consequence exists except for the titular boy and dog.

     In fact, this is almost entirely a two-character strip: in Fun’s Never Over, Red’s parents appear occasionally, his older (teenage) brother shows up once in a long while, and a couple of neighbor kids are in one brief sequence; but as a whole, this is about as boy-and-dog-focused  a strip as will be found anywhere. And that gives Basset plenty of time to explore all the ins and outs of a very special relationship, one that is frequently idealized because it is, on so many levels, ideal.

     Just when it seems that Basset cannot possibly come up with another adorable interaction between boy and dog, he comes up with one. There is the scene where Rover watches Red eating breakfast, eyeing the bacon hungrily – so Red creates a Lady and the Tramp moment by eating from one end of a bacon strip and letting Rover chomp from the other. There is the end-of-school-year scene, in which the three poses of the human-canine happy dance are perfectly balanced. There is Red’s failed attempt to spit a watermelon seed upward and then catch it in his mouth, leading Rover (who “speaks” to Red through thought balloons) to comment that Red is sure to grow out of doing stupid things, while Red – in something unusually close to a real-world observation – replies, “Not likely. Grown-ups lead the world in doing stupid things.”

     Basset’s simplicity in his drawings and stories is quite deliberate. He certainly could complicate matters if he chose to. In one strip, when Red’s croquet ball does not quite go through the wicket, Basset has Rover – inside a panel of his own – lift the entire panel in which Red and the ball appear, so the ball rolls where Red wanted it to go. The two-level drawing is perfect, and perfectly clever, and it further deepens the relationship between boy and dog – a success in and on multiple levels. Most of the time, though, Basset keeps matters much simpler than this. Red at one point shows off his new school shoes to Rover, who comments that the shoes are so shiny that they will stand out to the teacher, who may call on Red for questions Red cannot answer – so Red gives them to Rover for some wearing-in chewing. Elsewhere, Red asks Rover what dog Rover would spend a whole day with if he could pick any dog from any time period, real or fictional, and Rover, after thinking for a bit, replies, “My mother.” That somehow seems to be exactly what Rover would say (or think). And then there is the strip in which Red explains he had a super-strange dream the night before, because he was on the Moon – and when Rover asks what is so strange about that, Red replies, “You were back here on Earth.” That encapsulates the inseparable boy-dog bond in exactly the right way.

     There are occasional other outer-space strips in Fun’s Never Over, as befits its apparent time period. In one, for example, Red and Rover get into their cardboard-box spaceship for a voyage to Pluto – so both don Disney-style “Pluto” ears. But even in these strips, Basset repeatedly returns to the underlying theme of the unshakable bond between boy and dog. For instance, Rover asks Red whether, when humans colonize Mars, they will bring dogs with them; and Red, after thinking a bit, says he is not sure, but “I know I couldn’t live on a world, any world, that didn’t allow dogs.” And that is really the foundational message of Red and Rover: this world, our world, whatever its faults and flaws, is one in which humans and dogs coexist – to the enormous enrichment of both species, at least when people and canines treat each other with some level of the mutual admiration and adoration exhibited again and again throughout Basset’s comic strip.

No comments:

Post a Comment