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THE AMERICAN RABBIT REENGINEERED:
FEET ON THE GROUND IN A GROWNUP WORLD

Thirty years after appearing in children's books, a children's movie, and merchandise for children, a cartoon rabbit takes on war, poverty, and financial deregulation

Pop artist Stewart Moskowitz has given me the amazing opportunity to redevelop my favorite cartoon character, The American Rabbit. He agreed it should be a comic unlike anything ever seen, and after more than a year in production, I showed him the first installment. It took him a while to get back to me, so my optimism was slipping until he called to say the adaptation was "spectacular".  So on to publication...


I became interested in working with The American Rabbit partly because he's an unusual figure among cartoon characters. Though his period of publishing and merchandizing was brief and he's been essentially absent for many years, he has lived on as a mysterious "cult classic". Why did he disappear and why is he now reappearing in such a changed form?  If a large corporation owned the rights to the character, no such questions would ever emerge. Instead, the rabbit's creator, Stewart Moskowitz has retained the rights to his character and, being an artist, he enjoys doing things on creative whim more than being sensible and ordinary.

 

The American Rabbit was born in 1968 when Stewart was selling small paintings on the street, on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. The rabbit eventually reached a seemingly finished form in 1975 with his appearance on a very popular poster, an image that would turn into  the artist's trademark over time. Two children's books appeared several years later, along with a feature length movie, The Adventures of The American Rabbit (Stu wrote the first of the two books and did not write the movie). With the introduction of plush toys, a lunch box, and numerous other items for children, the market for this character seemed well defined.

 

Some thirty years after the movie's appearance (critics panned it but kids enjoyed it) I was busy working on numerous graphics tasks for Stewart Moskowitz Media. I asked Stu about putting The American Rabbit into something new, and at the beginning we agreed it would be much more fun to create something unexpected and unusual than to do what sensible business-minded people would do.

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Stu's concept sketches of Penny's face couldn't be easily matched among the  archive of public domain comics that I had collected. The face I eventually chose, from panels drawn by Emil Gershwin, depicts a Penny that is several years older, with a more solid jaw to reflect her fierce determination.

Stu suggested a supporting character to pair with the rabbit. He thought a young woman would work well, and we eventually arrived at Penny. We decided to take away the rabbit's ability to fly, and we abandoned his origin stories from the book and film as well as his alter ego, a mild mannered reporter. 

And over the course of many discussions, we pushed The American Rabbit into a completely new atmosphere to see if he can breathe there. We wanted a comic that is surreal and peculiar, but we didn't want pointless wandering or a confusing story. Youngsters will not find much of interest in the new comic; the abundant metaphors and cultural references will bore them whether understood or not. The violence would probably be more cryptic than frightening to a young reader, and there is no raunchiness -- this is not Fritz the Cat -- but the comic is clearly for adults. Fans of the books and movie have grown up, and now The American Rabbit is returning to tell them one last story. 


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