When I went to pick up the first issue of the comic book Bee and Puppycat, the (I’m estimating) 50-something shop-owner remarked bemusedly, “There seems to be a lot ‘kids’ books that are meant for adults these days.” He’s not wrong. Adventure Time seems to have as strong of a following amongst twenty-somethings as it does children. The Bee and Puppycat comic book definitely straddles that line as well, although it falls more on the mature side. The cartoon from which it stems—viewable in full here; it’s only ten minutes long and, as you will read below, I highly recommend it—lands on the adult-intended side even more so, but maintains a style that would usually stand with cartoons on kids’ networks.
So what gives? Why is there a series in a traditionally child-intended art style (not just animation, but the colorful and clean design) that has some mature content—both graphically and emotionally? Well, there is the literal through-line of Natasha Allegri, who created Bee and Puppcat and works on Adventure Time. Less definitively, though, the tools to create stories in any medium are becoming more open than ever, and I think this has resulted in an obliteration of rules and divisions. The art style—and animation in general—isn’t just for kids shows; adults enjoy some aspects of child-intended programming for a reason; “High Art” and “Low Art” aren’t so easily discerned, especially in terms of quality; etc.
But most importantly, the access to the means of production has allowed for new voices to enter every field of storytelling. In a basic sense, that means that there are more people telling more stories. In a more important sense, this means that people who have, throughout history, been denied the opportunity to tell stories are now allowed to share their works with a massive audience via the internet. Comics Alliance’s Juliet Kahn wrote a great article recently about how a defining quality of Bee and Puppcat is its unadulterated femininity, which represents a perspective that has not exactly been championed over the past several centuries in popular media. I have to agree with Kahn; Bee and Puppycat feels so unique because it embraces femininity, a set of traits that are diverse and integral to the identities of much of the population, but rarely deemed as positive in mainstream media. To have them comprise the fundamentals of a narrative is even less common.
This makes me wonder why Bee and Puppycat feels conflictingly adult- and child-like. One possibility is that we define femininity as childlike. The bright colors, the attention to important relationships (in this case, between a human and animal), the whimsical yet frustrated reaction to rejection in a business-like world: all of these things seem to be in line with kids’ movies, but maybe that is only because women, traditionally, have been considered child-like?*
Consider, for instance, the scene where Bee attempts to get a job at a temp agency (starts at 2:50 in the video): the color palette changes dramatically to greyscale, and Bee is notably out of place in this world. The hiring guy says there’s nothing there for her, so she takes all the candy and leaves. This representation of authority and rejection of it is stylized in a way that reflects the children’s animation influence, but in reality it’s a matter of perspective: Bee does not fit in this world, and instead benefits from the personal relationship she has with Puppycat. This concept only seems childlike because her disjuncture with that environment and reaction to it is not the way it is traditionally portrayed in media (see: Fight Club, American Beauty). In reality, it’s an adult concept with appropriate stylization.
My point here is that Bee and Puppycat reflects the removal of barriers from the content of stories, how they are told, and the resultant intended audience. It ignores our expectations of what style, character, and plot must mean, and instead explores these qualities naturally in order to form a cohesive tale. Allegri succeeds because she has an artistic vision and does not compromise. If I might add beyond that, the result is charming, hilarious, and engaging.
Rarely have I seen a story like Bee and Puppycat, and the result allows for more interesting humor and thoughtful story because it’s different. It’s unexpected. Add in the fact that the writing is amazing; the voice acting, of the highest calibre; and the animation, visually splendid, and you have a cartoon that shows exactly why the possibilities granted by the internet are so important. Bee and Puppycat is something different, and if you allow yourself to sit back and enjoy it, you might not think of it as a kids’ tale meant for adults, but a cartoon that ignores those words entirely for what it truly is: a story.
*This is not a recent claim. Those interested in more info on the idea of femininity as childlike can look as far back as (and much further than) Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, written in 1792.