Neil Swaab’s comic strip Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles is pretty much the same as Jim Davis’ Garfield. The only differences are the details and the degree.
Garfield is, of course, about an overweight house cat and his often adversarial relationship with the loser human being he lives with. Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles is about a teddy bear and his often adversarial relationship with the loser human being he lives with.
Garfield’s human foil is a stay-at home cartoonist named Jon who never seems to be working, and is always complaining about his inability to achieve what he wants in life. Mr. Wiggles’ human foil is a stay-at home cartoonist named Neil who never seems to be working, and is always complaining about his inability to achieve what he wants in life.
Much of the humor in Garfield is derived from the lead character’s vices: His laziness, his gluttony, his selfishness and his readiness to hurt others in his life, emotionally or physically (usually by throwing something in Jon’s face, or kicking Odie off a table). Much of the humor in Mr. Wiggles is derived from its lead character’s vices: His drug problem, his many sexual deviances, his pedophilia and his readiness to hurt Neil (usually by hitting him in the genitals, or sexually violating him while he’s sleeping).
Yes, Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles is basically just Garfield, with punch lines like “Also, one time a magician raped me” or “Have you ever seen a donkey cry blood?” instead of “I hate Mondays*” or “Not before I’ve had my coffee.”
Hmm…You know, maybe Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles isn’t that much like Garfield after all…
I assume that’s more than enough to let you know if Swaab’s strip is for you or not. It’s certainly something of an acquired taste, seeing as it falls somewhere between Tony Millionaire’s Maakies and Johnny Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix on the Completely Fucked-Up Comics Scale. Of course, given that it makes its home in nine different publications, and that Swaab has just published his third volume collecting the strip, plenty of people have acquired that taste, and I often find myself laughing at it, at least as often as I’m wondering why I find this terrible, terrible subject funny (I actually had some trouble finding strips to post in this review that were Safe-ish For Work).
Swaab’s humor is obviously willfully outrageous, and occasionally the simple fact that he thought to try to tell a joke about a particular subject is even funnier than the particular strip the joke in question might appear in.
The Garfield comparison was perhaps a bit of a reach, but a great deal of Mr. Wiggles’ extremely subversive quality actually comes from the way it replicates the format at beats of a daily family newspaper strip. A strip like Garfield and its ilk.
Most of Swaab’s strips feature the two leads simply standing in a blank panel and exchanging lines for three to five panels, with a punch line in the final one, so it looks, reads, works and feels a bit like any of the classic comic strips you grew up with…except for all the swearing, talk of venereal diseases and the episodes in which Jesus appears.
In that respect, the strip reflects its star: It seems likes something from your childhood, something innocent and innocuous, sweet and harmless. At least until you get to know it.
*Garfield’s hatred of Mondays has bugged me since I was like eight-years-old. Why did he hate them so, since he didn’t go to school and didn’t have a job? How were his Mondays any different from his Tuesdays or Fridays?
If you’d like to get to know Mr. Wiggles better, check out the archives at mrwiggleslovesyou.com, and if you’d like to get to know Swaab’s work better, check out the art section at neilswaab.com. Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles Vol. 3 features 200 strips, plus an activities section including Mr. Wiggles paper dolls, a maze, a crossword puzzle and a spot-the-difference-between-these-nearly-identical-images-of-prostitutes page.