Reality Check

  One of the most plagiarized, referenced, quoted, and asked-about single-panel cartoons of the early 90’s was the one depicting a canine sitting at a computer, commenting to his companion, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” That potential to obscure and play with the truth using electronic communication is one of the inspirations behind Reality Check. Except in this case, we’re talking about a cat.

 This is an “all-ages” book, meaning that there’s nothing in it that’s particularly inappropriate for early- and pre-teen readers. (The near-future technological slang may be over the heads of some middle-aged adults, however. {grin}) I found the all-ages bit a little hard to believe when I heard the premise of the series described, however: a teenager named Collin Meeks has a female cat named Catreece, who logs herself into the “virtual internet system”, where she appears as a cat-like humanoid woman with no clothes… and flirts heavily with Collin. But it’s all pretty harmless. The flirting never gets beyond a little purring to embarrass Collin, which kids would probably just find funny.

Another thing that’s hard to believe (just from looking at them) is that the first few issues of this series were originally released in black and white. Usually when black-and-white art is colored, someone just turns the white spaces into yellow spaces, green spaces, blue spaces, etc. But the makers of Reality Check have a computer and they know how to use it, which enables them to redo the art in color as if that were the plan all along, adding fades, textures, patterns, and shading that’s more sophisticated than most in-color-all-along books. I’ve never actually seen the black-and-white Reality Checks, and I have a difficult time imagining them. The color threatens to take over and distracts a bit at times, but generally supports the art pretty well.

The art is unabashedly influenced by Japanese manga. The characters feature the pointed chins, largish eyes, and rubbery mouths popular in Japan, and Tavisha Wolfgarth borrows some of the visual shorthand and conventions used in manga (e.g. a drop of water hanging from a person’s head to indicate anxiety).

 But back to the story. As you might guess, when Catreece shows up in the virtual reality environment of the internet, and starts interacting with Collin (who knows who she really is) and his friends (who don’t)… hijinx ensue. This stuff really is fun, watching the innocent-but-enigmatic and playful Catreece use the nebbish Collin as an unwitting foil for her antics. It gets even more fun when there are others to play off as well, such as when Collin goes on a “virtual field trip” for school in the story “Around the World in 80MB” (issues #4-6) and the whole virtual internet is under attack by puffy-cat computer viruses. This kind of comedy of errors goes back to Shakespeare and even Chaucer (in the English literary tradition) and is used ad nauseum on TV sitcoms, but Rikki and Wolfgarth keep it fresh and fun.

None of this is at all possible, of course. You’re not expected to believe it. So just suspend your disbelief, accept that the internet is populated by anthropomorphic cats, log in, and enjoy the antics of Catreece in this fun series.

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