If you find you can’t submit your entry using the competition form, then until we rectify that, simply go to the Contact page. Don’t forget to identify your name and home city.
Jarrad’s inadvertently revolutionary posters were based on one particular poster I saw a couple of months ago, in the university district of Carlton, here in Melbourne, I was intrigued by it. Although it implored me to Smash fascism, beyond that it was remarkably short on instructions. And I always find that pictures of adorable cats soften every message, so that made it doubly perplexing. I could imagine Jarrad wanting to spread joy and love, but messing it up in his own tangle-footed way. How far can this seven-year-old boy and his crew push the world to the brink of disaster in the name of peace?
And here’s a sketch of Quarrydog, dressed up as a medical student. Yes, of course he’s only thirteen – I’ll have to be drawing Doc Rat for many more years before he reaches university age in the story. But we can dream, can’t we?
Zootopia, in my opinion, is possibly the most nearly perfect animated move ever made. Simply put, in every single aspect it scores top marks. The look, the scope, the vista. The digital know-how to give an aspect as complex and intricate as if a real camera had filmed a real crowd in a real city. The animator’s craft so perfect and subtle and nuanced that if more fair to call it not character animation but animated characters acting. The flawless control of pacing. The beautiful, melodic, urban multicultural music score. And not least the writing .
The script of Zootopia is a masterpiece, and its writers – Jared Bush, Phil Johnston et.al. – deserve to be immensely proud.
I could talk for a long time about the significance of Zootopia as arguably the first ever big-budget movie in the modern anthropomorphic style: animal characters who take ‘human’ roles but whose animality is an integral part of the premise. And there may come a time when I do. I would enthuse at length about the shrewd sequence of logical cause and effect that propels the story, the many witty devices, the deftly-crafted humour and the richness of what I call “the emotional symphony”.
But for brevity, I’ll stick to one single aspect: Apology. Because of all the qualities of the writing that stand out, the place of apology in the storytelling of Zootopia bears a maturity rare in this category of family-targeted movies.
Yes, the vibe’s about holding on tight to your dream. But what is neatly slotted into the screenplay’s background is a precious lesson in life – how to make good on your mistakes. How broken things – and broken people – can be fixed.
To me, what nailed it were the two episodes with Gideon Grey, the boy fox who was (rabbit) Judy Hopps’ childhood bully. He terrorized her, beat her and walked away unpunished. Fast forward many years. Hopps stays true to her dream and enlists in the police academy, becomes the star graduate officer and sets out as a trailblazer for rabbitkind as Zootopia’s first bunny cop. She expects to treat others fairly and to be treated fairly, regardless of species. But while she has her successes, she also has a major public screw-up, brings what she sees as disgrace to her uniform and shatters her own dreams of making the world a better place. She tried, she failed, people got hurt, and she withdrew to the ambitionless safety of her small-town family home base.
Enter the grown-up Gideon Grey. Bigger and hungrier than ever. Shock and panic, then relief. The brain-dead bully really has grown up, not just physically but also emotionally and, dare I say, spiritually. No, he did not need to be beaten up to teach him a lesson. There was no place for retribution, score-settling nor any other comic book ‘justice’. This simple soul had found his own peace. Most importantly, he (alone or with counselling) had come to his own insight, had recognised his fault and attended to it. In so doing, he had found peace, and thereafter his every step upon the earth propagated this peace to others.
This is an astonishingly rare piece of storytelling, and on experiencing it my heart lifted and sang. The ‘villain’ took it upon himself to find his own insight, the insight that could never be forced into him with a fist. Guided by his insight, he explained to Judy Hopps his past screwed-up-ness, frankly apologized and… well, that was that.
It was sincere. Hopps was disarmed by the apology, and so was I, because quite plainly in the recent years Grey had been more than corrected. He had been healed.
What makes Zootopia a masterpiece of writing is what happens next. Grey unwittingly points Hopps to a clue that can help her get back on the trail of her major case, so off she races to the city. But subtly, what Grey has given her as well, in his own salt-of-the-earth manner, is the object lesson that you can make good on your mistakes. He is spiritual healing personified. Even when the mistakes are ones for which other people have paid your price.
And it’s then you start to realize that Hopps is a flawed character, just as was Grey. As a child at the movie’s outset, her uncalled-for public taunt of the bully at the school concert was an act of hurt that was no less excusable than his standover attack on her. And her Zootopia Police Department press conference blunder could be laid on the doorstep of her ingrained, bucolic prejudice. Just under her surface, under her gently smiling tolerance courses racism in the antithesis of the values she claims to hold so high. Not that she ever would have recognized it as such, even when told.
Grey was paradoxically ahead of Hops in the wisdom stakes. He taught her that insight heals, and with this reflection, she healed herself, her severed friendship with Nick Wilde, the damage to her mishandled case and the people of the city. And then, in the natural course of these things, adventurous crime fighting ensues, and justice is ultimately delivered.
Wrapping up, Hopps’ finishing speech to the next generation of police college graduates evidences her new moral maturity as it recaps the above and delivers her lesson on sound, workable values in a complex world. Oh, I do so sincerely hope that storytelling and scriptwriting of this calibre will be the future benchmark for all such motion pictures.
What I strive for, at least in the more serious periods of the Doc Rat stories, is a lesson in fixing wrongs, in making amends, and in healing. I try to manifest the notion that true reconciliation heals both parties, and likewise the healing of both parties is a precondition to reconciliation.
In the ‘Jennerverse’ world of Doc Rat, I have often set apologies formally in the rabbit ceremony of charonta-lamba. But the full formal ritual is not always needed. The skill can be applied at any time of making things right again. Rabbits do it on the hop, so to speak. The knowledge of the principles is the important thing – what it means and what it takes.
Apologies have the power to create peace.
I couldn’t have put it any better than the way in which it was dramatized in the story of Zootopia. I take my hat off to Messrs Bush, Johnston and the story writing team. Well done indeed.
Doc Rat first appeared on Monday, June 26th 2006. I am proud to have continued to bring a strip to my readers five times a week since then. Almost without a break. There are some occasions in that span when for technical, personal or other reasons there has been a break of some weeks, but apart from those minor gaps I have worked strenuously to keep the show on the road.
We are now well past the two-and-a half thousand mark. For the first 500, I drew them on paper. These works, in centimetres, were of the dimensions 24 x 7 – a wry joke I set for myself to remind me of the amount of my life this project threatened to claim (or at least once I added my Doc Rat duties to my main duties as a full-time doctor). The subsequent strips have been created on a Wacom tablet, running Corel Painter. My goal with going electronic was to preserve the hand-drawn feeling, so that a reader would be hard-put to tell whether what they were seeing had been crafted with ink on paper or digital ink on a screen. Certainly, though, going electronic allowed me a lot more flexibility to correct and clean up my lines, resize heads, redraw without erasing the life out of paper, and of course type in the text instead of having to letter by hand. I originally thought I would be able to create strips faster on the tablet. As it turned out, I am doing them better, but sadly not any faster than before.
Time and practice has made Doc Rat much better, actually. Even though the first strips still hold up well enough, they are necessarily early works of a person with ten years less experience.
Which brings me to the archive. Since the web site’s program was reincarnated in WordPress a few years ago, it has been a long-term goal of mine to restock the ten years of archives. The admirable Wolf Bylsma has done a lot of this, but there is still more to be done. I’m working on it.
The fannish discussion site, The Cross Time Cafe, took Doc Rat on board as one of its works for ongoing conversation. I recommend you give it a look.
The form of Doc Rat grew as the characters developed more complete lives of their own. Small story arcs became larger story arcs, and there were stretches of serious drama in amongst the usual minefield of funny jokes. That’s just how it turned out. Life is laughter and tears. My goal has been that if I am to tell a joke, I tell best joke I can. If a story, the best story I can.
Ben has gone from a single man to engaged, married and a father. Daniella and he have faced peril and death, as have many of their friends. Societal change has been on the agenda, as it is still. It’s a case of healing the small things and the big things.
I hope you have enjoyed Doc Rat for as long as you’ve been reading it, up to a decade. Now, prepare yourself for Ben’s big surprise. (Note: as the 26th will be a Sunday, the surprise will have to be revealed on Friday 24th. Okay?)
The winning entry is from Lucius Appaloosius, of Mystic, Connecticut, USA
The May-June 2016 competition is now open.
Jenner can now be followed on Twitter. All of the current daily strips, some of the past ones and the occasional whimsical musing. Follow Jenner with @DocRatComic.
The winner: Josh H. Knight, Midland, Texas, USA
– Alun Rundle, Newport, South Wales, UK
“The Doc’ gave me thith prethcripthion againtht my lithp, but I don’t think it’th working.”
– Tiger T
“Can you calculate the total for me? I’m a cobra, not an adder.”
– Melkior, Victoria, Australia
“Well, the bill seems OK, but you know I’m a lousy adder”
– Valerie Falconer, Penarth, Wales, UK
“I was told this is to detoxify my body. Is that safe??”
– Max Goof, Dublin, Ohio, USA
“Prescription for Aricept … fangs for the memories…”
Tristan Black Wolf, Syracuse, New York, USA
“I wanted to pick up a few fang-you notes.”
– John Reynolds, Concord, California, USA
“It’th right on the tip of my tongue…”
– Michelle Gaudette, Medway, Massachusetts, USA
“Please tell me I’m immune to my own poison! I bit my tongue when I saw your bill!”
– Phil McCarty, Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA
“I bit my tongue.”
Timmie, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
“Our secretary’s real near-sighted, you see. So there I was by the stapler …”
– Dave Neil, Idaho Falls, Idaho
“Ith to help control my lipth.”
– Kim Squire, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
“It’s a layoff notice. Jenner is replacing the cartoon.”
M Henry, Reidsville, North Carolina, USA
“…for a course of small-squealing-rodent replacement patches.”
March-April 2015 caption competition is now open for entries!
Go to the “competitions” tab.
Is Ben Rat an M.D.?
Well, no. You see, that’s American. In Australia, the initial graduate qualification is M.B.,B.S. – “Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery”. Of course, that’s still basically the same thing. Ben has the M.B.,B.S., and then some extra letters to represent further post-graduate qualifications.
Being a doctor has a lot in common with being a teacher. Indeed, the original meaning of the word doctor was a learned person who imparts knowledge. I’m talking about medical doctors, but of course there are many other forms of doctor in the academic world. Some doctors have Ph.D. after their names. In fact, a witty and live-spirited American scientist of my acquaintance used to boast that as a doctor of philosophy his three post-nominal letters outranked doctors of medicine with their two. That was until he saw my business card, and registered my twenty-eight. We’re friends to this day, although he sometimes still looks at me in a funny way,
Medical doctors and teachers both have a very human job. To perform well in their craft, doctors must elicit information, compile it into some sensible order and then, with a base of knowledge, come up with a correct answer, after which they finally – and this is where the teaching skills come in – impart that answer in a way that gives the patient the understanding and skills to take the problem to its resolution.
The best treatment doesn’t treat, it empowers the receiving person to self-treat. It renders the patient more capable and less prone to needing care. The best consultation is when the patient walks out the door happier, smarter and stronger than when she walked in.
So, do doctors like teaching? Ha! Just try to stop them! Ben educates and empowers his patients in the course of his consultations. He has also taught formally, in a voluntary capacity in some community education functions.
Daniella is a doctor of dentistry and works with patients. As you know, she also teaches dentistry to students as a lecturer at the Bluegum University. And she teaches Tae Kwon Do at the community centre.
Both Doc Rat and Doc Wolf started teaching Quarrydog the basics of doctoring. Mary started teaching Ben and Danni Secret Bunny Business.
All are passing on knowledge, an interpersonal service practised with skill.
The reason I introduced Simon/Quarrydog as a young character who wanted to become a doctor was, in part, prompted by the fact I also teach medical students from Monash University. I do this in a one-on-one situation in my rooms, as I work through my daily consultations. And yes, teaching is satisfying. Successfully transferring skills to someone, to enrich that person’s capacity, is an intensely rewarding thing to do.
Here’s to the world’s teachers. May they ever be recognised.
A lot has been spoken and written, and more still will be be uttered, about the breathtaking and sub-human savagery unleashed in Paris in the past day. Others will comment about the sadness, the fear and the evil; I’ll add my voice to the chant, but I’ll not try to outdo anyone in grief.
Instead, I’ll say that as a doctor, my job is not just to save lives but to enrich them. When people wonder why they are alive, part of what I do is to step in and help them try to make sense of it. When they ask why they should keep going, I use what small wisdom I have to guide them.
And so, in Doc Rat, I try to spread the philosophies I have learned, bought by years of my own experience and the life experience and losses of many, many other people. Anthropomorphic animals may not look as if they are seriously taking on the real world problems of the environment, overpopulation, racism and terrorism, but in a sense the issues that bunnies, mice, wolves and foxes face in the Jennerverse are still fixed with the same tool kit as we may use on our own problems.
“No-one should want to hurt anyone,” cried Flopsy. And that’s true. Whatever the pressing problem that brings people into conflict up against other people, no one should ever want to hurt anyone. No-one should feel happy to have hurt anyone. The moment anyone can feel okay about having hurt someone is the moment that person has become more animal than human. That person’s punishment will be worse than anything we can inflict in revenge, because a life not connected to other souls is a shallow life without meaning.
Indeed, you don’t have to have reached the stage of hurting someone to become sub-human. You can be sub-human just with the preparedness to hurt, the preparedness to disregard. Conversely, the preparedness not to hurt and not to disregard, even to our cost, that state of mind is the membership dues we pay for the privilege of calling ourselves an individual of the human race.
“Quarrydog says “It’s not okay to hurt people.” Boss Alpha Blutenstein says “Sometimes the violence we accept for granted in our own generation will look shocking to the next.” Broken people, broken things and broken relationships will be fixed, not discarded, by Doc Rat and the other healers, and when their recipients build up the strength to do so, they say “Thank you for saving me.”
We only have one life to walk our mortal journey. Sometimes, the lives of some of us will be unfairly brought to an end by the physical strength of others. Violently, in fear, in regret, in terror. I have no answer to redress that. But I can only say that to mean anything at all, our mortal journey must also be a human one. Those of us who call ourselves human know we are this or we are nothing.
And so, what is the means by which the pen counters the bloody might of the sword? In the face of face of a massacre of people for the simple reason that they were there? Only this dearly-bought wisdom: It is impossible to feel okay about taking a life and still be truly human.
The greatest self-punishment of a killer is to exist empty and damned.
Sit back and enjoy the continuing adventure of Quarrydog, as he deals with his role of bringing peace to a divided society. Doc Rat and Nurse Mary have to stitch together the torn fabric of… Look, this comic is part social activism and part funny jokes, okay?
For the next two weeks, there will be a break in the story line, while I build up a bit of a stock of strips to carry me through the coming month. I have a commitment to attend a doctors’ convention here in Melbourne and then FurWAG in Perth. With those two requirements, if I try to keep up with the current story strips, I am going to fall short.
So, I will have to put Doc Rat on hiatus. Sorry. But to keep the site interesting for you, I will be showing you every day some examples of my rough drafts and commenting on how they relate to my creative process.
For those of you who are on the edges of your seats wondering what’s going to happen to Quarrydog, I can only give you my apologies and ask you to hold on as the timer ticks down.
To all my devoted readers, I bid you welcome to the brand new Doc Rat web site. I know the wait has been excruciating, but you will certainly find this new production has been worth the anticipation.
Why the change? Well, the program for the original Doc Rat site had been outpaced by the advances in today’s operating systems, as a result of which they no longer let it perform to its best standard. That’s why people like you were having problems with it. Naturally, this was not good enough, so it was time for a change. A big change.
I thank my webmaster Wolf Bylsma for his sterling work in creating our new home, often against difficult odds. And the wonderful Level Head for bridging the gap in the interim with his mirror site, archive and postings on the Cross Time Café discussion forum.
So what will you find in the new Doc Rat site? Well, it’s like Ben and Daniella’s nursery – good enough to start off with, with a touch of work to go. We haven’t finished stocking the archives yet, but that will come with time. Things will keep getting better.
Okay, mates, it’s time to become fair dinkum agents of the Rat and start spreading the word:
“The doctor is in.”