Fuzz and Pluck
by Ted Stearn
One thing you have to be ready for if you read Fuzz and Pluck, you’re going to laugh. I semi-guarantee this – if I can offer guarantees as a book reviewer, I would like to guarantee Fuzz and Pluck with this statement: it’s funny. I stand behind that statement. Let’s look at it: a plucked rooster and a discarded stuffed bear walking down the road. Yes, this is very much a part of it. They embark on their journey. “I’m tired,” says Fuzz. “Oh come on,” Pluck demands, “what do you think you have two legs for?”
When all other avenues to truth and justice are exhausted and a man must amuse himself, yet he has ideals – beliefs about life and beauty – lofty things, that must be delivered with due justice and truth, he has no other recourse than to make art. An artist must not go lax on his ideals, no matter the subject. Be your subject a plucked rooster, justice must be done by it. Be it a stuffed bear, okay, take comfort. Let’s examine a moment the relationship between Fuzz and Pluck. The perfect passive aggressive couple: Fuzz and Pluck. A pissed rooster – hey, he’s a plucked rooster: he’s good reason to be angry. And a stuffed bear, prone to doubt and insecurity. The repartee between these two is funny because they are exaggerations of our own inner poles: between the part of us who wants to get things done and now – and has the necessary aggression to do what needs be done – and that part of our self that has doubts, lacks initiative and wants to be safe, protected, and hey, maybe the sex object of a rich suburban housewife.
So, two diminutive talking animals, Fuzz and Pluck, are the heroes of a journey the artist measures against the yardstick of great literature, great heroes. Now you’re asking for it. The greats, yes, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Ted Stearn draws the parallel in the afterward. Pluck in plate armor abreast Rocinante and Fuzz napping on a rock. Fuzz and Pluck are the essential picaresque heroes. They have no social standing; they have nothing. All they have is their lives, and in the society Fuzz and Pluck find themselves, that’s worth as much as they are useful to others. When they enter the city and are turned out for crossing the bridge without a vehicle, they are forced to resort to the only thing available, their wits. They are rogues, and yet they are our heroes. Given their condition, they are forced to seek one thing, to quest for one elusive goal: their freedom.
Fuzz and Pluck are imprisoned shortly after entering the city – and their lives before were mere lucky breaks, escapes from death and abandonment. They found each other in a dump truck, and as Pluck said to Fuzz: “Who the hell are you?” Thrown together by chance and bound by destiny, they are falsely convicted and sentenced to slavery. The story develops through the funny predicament of their relationship to their captors, and the urgent necessity to escape. And escape they do, but they are still wearing the collars that marks them in public as runaway slaves. Here they meet the ascetic ape who is starving himself of bodily desires to reach freedom through spiritual union with the absolute oneness of the universe. Pluck takes issue with this approach to freedom, but he accedes to the expedience of losing enough weight to slip out of the collar.
It is fitting to see Fuzz and Pluck play the part of Don Quixote and Sancho in the “severely abridged” version at the end of the book. Captured while returning from war, Cervantes spent five years as a slave. It was not a trivial matter to be a Spanish solider in the 1570’s. His aspiration was to board the ships for the new world (conquistadors read the very novels that Cervantes lampoons in Don Quixote). Cervantes seems to caricature himself and say, I was a perfect fool of chivalry and knighthood, conquering in the name of God. He threw himself into battle and got his left hand blown off (afterward he was known as El Manco, the one-handed). Don Quixote is the holy fool; he says the most lucid truths and entertains delusions. He at once gives voice to the ideal and lets us laugh at the way ideals imprison him in foolhardy pursuits. When the ideal makes even one’s body a kind of prison to overcome, when we are trapped, there is art.
The book often hailed as the first modern novel reads as if it’s written to entertain its author. Each chapter continues the amusement of following the knight errant, and the first book contains a strange amalgam of stories Cervantes had no luck publishing elsewhere. It works because the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho enchants the reader to follow their adventure from incident to accident. To draw my comparison with Ted Stern’s book and match sword with word, I must say: the artwork is great. He is using the old style. The same Renaissance that brought us the novel, also birthed the vanishing point and one-point perspective to create the illusion of a worldly stage. Ted Stearn is an artist with pedigree. You must consider the tradition he inherits: prephotographic reproduction. He is a purveyor of rendering objects in the round by shading the observed effects of light as if falls on three-dimensional forms. You see the actors move about the stage as if illuminated.
Ted Stearn has all of cartooning’s best graces. The cat can draw a bird and make the page sing. Thankfully, he’s a poet, a dreamer, an artist. Yet, there’s more: he has the discipline to harness his thought, those funny ideas that you laugh at for a while. He spends hours and hours and days and days rendering the pages to communicate his humor. And he plays in those moments of design and page creation. There is humor is the way he draws and constructs the narrative on the pages. The action follows Fuzz and Pluck through each episode to create a narrative that is more than a collection of shorts.
When our heroes find a respite from trouble at the end, Fuzz says, “Whew! I’m so glad we found a job at last, are you?” “Oh yeah,” Pluck murmurs from behind the counter of Lardy’s restaurant, “I’m on top of the world.” Ted Stearn works in Hollywood as a storyboard artist on King of the Hill, Drawn Together and Squirrel Boy. And whenever he can return to the drawing board to express the artistic ideals unique to him, Ted Stearn draws another adventure of Fuzz and Pluck. A collection of the next five episopes, Fuzz and Pluck in Splitsville is available at Fantagraphics, or check: www.tedstearn.com to see his work. The storyboards you won’t recognize from the crosshatching technique used in Fuzz and Pluck, though you’ll see how he employs his storytelling to translate humor to kinetic action. His sketchbook pages evidence his eye for observation and drawing from life, and there’s recent installments of his great picaresque characters Fuzz and Pluck.
– Arthur Smid