WHITE BOX HERO: Junior Carrot Patrol by Rick Geary
Everybody here at "Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader?" is the type of comics nerd to spend two hours flipping through a quarter box of comics with the hope that there will be at least something sorta cool in there. Every once in a while, the nerdity pays off and you end up with something greater than you could've ever expected...a white box hero!
I first looked at this issue as a gamble for under a dollar. I decided to go for it half as a joke and half because it was so cheap. I picked it up one day months later when I was unbelievably bored. I had no idea who Rick Geary was but by page two, I was hooked. After I was done, it gave me that strange feeling when you know you’ve just read something that sums up a lot of shit for you. Geary’s writing and art encapsulate a model for a day to day existence and relationships into this tightly packed adventure comic.
You’re introduced to Chuck, Ethel, and Dusty, the three members of the Junior Carrot Patrol, from the very start. Geary gives a brief background on each. Even though each member has a predefined role--Dusty is a hippie, Ethel is a scientist, and Chuck is a hard nosed cynic--the characters never feel flat or clichéd. They tread the line between adulthood and childhood similar to Peanuts, Home Movies, or even South Park. They think like adults, discussing dreams and the meaning of it all, but don't have any adult responsibilities. This gives them freedom, but it’s not a freedom they squander. They've banded together in a pact to “uphold the cause of irrationality and nonsense in this uptight world” and whether they succeed or not, they always aim for this goal and work hard towards it.
Their pact is particularly meaningful because there is a sadness to them, especially when they talk about their parents. Dusty’s parents are “caught in the upwardly mobile thing” and pretty much leave him alone. This allows him to roam free but implies that his parents don’t really care about him. Geary shows them smiling but without any real eyes. There’s just two straight lines and it looks similar to the bullies, the “Chain Gang”, that show up later.
Chuck’s parental situation is much worse. Geary writes, “His parents are shadowy figures that compel him to watch television for hours on end.” This panel is truly creepy and its shadows reinforce its description. We can’t tell what Chuck’s parents even look like! He's shown completely as a shadow and they loom behind him. No other character or panel is treated like this and putting it early in the story sets a strange tone that's carried throughout. Dusty the narrator comments later that this causes Chuck to have a hard cynical look at life, but he also focuses on the positive that Chuck has become a trivia expert. The focus on parents is an extreme undercurrent in the story, and only takes up two panels.
The rest of the issue is focused on their exploits as they jump into photographs and teach pets to fly. It’s the little touches of these exploits that make them meaningful. Each one has some sort of problem that goes along with it. Some of the animals aren’t so good at flying shown as a hound dog clinging to a tree. The photograph of Winston Churchill they jump into isn’t exactly pleased to see them.
It goes back to the underlying sadness of their parents and extends it to the world they inhabit. The emphasis is on underlying because whatever goes wrong or whatever screwed up dream one of them has they plow right through it and on to the next adventure. It’s not ignoring their problems but just dealing with them and moving on. It’s their childhood confidence that propels them but it's their focus on living and thinking that makes then admirable.