I was getting ready to review Paul Montani’s Welcome to the Rat Race except it had disappeared. I found it in my #4 child’s room (the 14-year-old). Turns out he grabbed it and was working through it. At this point I know: When Ben grabs a comic, it’s probably good.
Now that I’ve got it back, I can proceed. When I met Paul Montani at the Rhode Island Comic Con, he told me that he didn’t intend to write a comic. He just started writing the 4 panel strip for his amusement and that of his Facebook friends. It turned out to be popular, so he launched the strip on a webpage. And now, the first 100 strips are collected into one handy little volume.
Paul is part of the growing trend of webcomic producers. The webcomic is for the most part an attempt to replicate the 4-panel newspaper strip without having to sell your soul to the syndicates. While I have been critical of the Big 2, they are, I understand, less cutthroat than the world of newspaper syndication. With the advent of the internet, creative voices no longer have to beg, nor worry about which papers are carrying or dropping them. The cost factor also drops, and now it really is an issue of time. And of course love.
There are some really good, funny and inventive webcomics out there, I will try to get to them. But, for now, let’s focus on Rat Race.
Rat Race is a smart and funny strip about 3 lab rats given intelligence when Steve blasts them with his brain waves. One becomes a scientist, one a sardonic layabout and the third an immature thrill seeker.
Snarky anthropomorphic animals have long been a staple of movies as well as the comics page. I have long been a fan of Pogo, Bloom County, and of course Pearls Before Swine. Rat Race fits right in. It is both original and familiar. The set up and pacing are familiar to any reader of a newspaper comic strip. The characters are also of a type. The human character Steve is a smarter, though still socially awkward kin to Jon Arbuckle of Garfield. Doug, the lazy, sardonic rat, generally acts as the break on Harvey’s pretensions to be human. Carl is as likely to tape himself to a drone and fly around the neighborhood as he is to sign up his fellows up to boy band competition.
The strips are light, fun and better than half the stuff I see in Long Island Newsday. Nothing important, or deep, just the joy of watching Paul put his rats through their paces, as they annoy and sometimes humiliate their owner.
Check out his webpage and buy his book. We need to support and encourage this guy to continue producing this strip.