Why I Love Rick and Morty Comic Books and Why You Should Too

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Fans of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty cartoon series have been waiting for season 4 to arrive, and—finally!—this November it’s happening. If you’ve already binged seasons 1–3, and crave even more Rick and Morty, then you’re in luck. Oni Press has plenty of Rick and Morty comics to hold you over until season 4 gets here.

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November. Rick and Morty is returning in November. @adultswim

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Rick and Morty, How to Sum It Up? Awwwww Geez!

Rick and Morty has science fiction you’d see in movies such as Blade Runner or The Matrix Trilogy or Interstellar, as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the added bonus of twists and turns you’d find in The Twilight Zone. It also has zaniness on par with Being John Malkovich, Mad Max, Weird Science, Fight Club, and pretty much every David Cronenberg movie, especially The Fly, but let’s throw in Scanners and Videodrome for good measure.

Rick and Morty 49

The household tensions, parents debating, and sibling rivalries also make Rick and Morty feel like a family sitcom, especially the relationship between grandpa Rick and his grandson Morty, characters directly inspired by Back to the Future’s Doc and Marty—fun fact, before becoming Rick and Morty, it was a Justin Roiland cartoon about characters named Doc and Mharti. In addition to that Back to the Future element, countless other references and influences make defining Rick and Morty difficult because it’s one big—huge huge!—mash-up. Dan Harmon & Justin Roiland, and their stable of writers and directors, have created a buffet of what Marshall McLuhan would call hot and cold media, this is a post postmodernist cartoon for media omnivores.

Polymaths will love it, and let’s not forget the kids, they absolutely adore Rick and Morty. No matter who you are, part of the appeal is the depth because Rick and Morty comics is like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where you want to take apart and analyze every single element, every character and situation and possible outcome—time travel be damned! Trouble is, you might have a hard time taking apart Rick and Morty and analyzing its components. It’s immense and crazy and so much more.

An Entertaining Calamity

There’s no simple way to categorize the show because Rick and Morty is funny, vile, sad, absurd, grotesque, science-y, and thrilling. It’s also highly entertaining. Regretfully, I came to Rick and Morty late, practically on accident. I say accident because I watch cartoons. I seek them out not only because I’m a parent with two children, but also because I’ve always loved cartoons. I grew up watching everything from Scooby Doo, Where Are You! to Captain Caveman to G.I. Joe, as well as Transformers, ThunderCats, He-Man, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Batman the Animated Series, The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Pinky and the Brain. I even watched Freakazoid! and The Maxx during their limited runs.

Let’s not forget The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, Daria, and Beavis and Butthead. And when it comes to the new stuff, Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, Teen Titans Go!, We Bare Bears, Clarence, Uncle Grandpa, Craig of the Creek, Steven Universe, and Over the Garden Wall, are just a sampling of the cartoons I watch. You could say I love cartoons—others might say that I have a problem.

The Quest for More and More and More Rick and Morty

As a long-time cartoon watcher and cartoon fan—cartoon junkie?—it took me far too long to discover Rick and Morty, but when I did, it was at peak Rick and Morty, season 3. At the tail end of summer 2017, I’d read about how Dan Harmon, who produced Community, had a cartoon on Adult Swim. Immediately after reading this, I raced to the television, searched for Rick and Morty, found an upcoming episode, set the DVR to record, and then went about my day. Almost two weeks later, I finally got a chance to sit down, unwind, and watch.

I grabbed the remote, scrolled to Rick and Morty on the DVR, season 3 episode 3, and hit play for “Pickle Rick” to begin. OHHHHH! GEEZ! I laughed—at one point, so hard that tears erupted from my eyes—and enjoyed it so much that right after watching it, I re-watched it again. Ever since then I’ve been addicted, a fan who’s watched—and re-watched—seasons 1, 2, and 3 over and over and over.

Then the longing set in. Re-watching each episode in each season was rewarding, but after multiple viewings I needed something new—a bigger hit for this cartoon junkie. Summer 2018, almost one year since discovering “Pickle Rick” on Adult Swim, I came across the Rick and Morty comics from Oni Press. New adventures. Fresh jokes. Absurd situations. Salvation! Rather than a finely threaded three-act narrative that unwinds from cover to cover, each comic is more of an anthology with different stories packed into a single issue.

The artists and writers capture the spirit of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty cartoons with all the disgustingness, technological-wackiness, fun & games, and at times sadness you see in the cartoon series. The bonus? Not only has Oni Press produced, as of this writing, 50 issues of its Rick and Morty comics, but they’ve also released special issues featuring some of the show’s stand-out characters: Lil’ Poopy Superstar, Jerry, Krombopulos Michael, and of course, Pickle Rick, among others.

Pickle Rick

From Screen to Page

For a cartoon I could best describe as neither The Simpsons nor Family Guy, but rather, a show so absurd and shocking that it makes The Simpsons look as wholesome as The Andy Griffith Show, the creators at Oni Press had a big challenge when it came to adapting Rick and Morty for print. But they’ve done it, and done it well. It’s loyal to the source material. The characters are all there, including ones on the periphery. The tone is right. The stories entertain.

The one thing that might be jarring for some readers—aside from some unpleasant situations—is that from one comic to another and sometimes from one story to another in a single issue, the art varies, but truthfully, that’s part of the comic book’s charm. Most comic book readers already know that it’s nice to see different art here and there. Fans of Batman will read anything with Batman, whether the art is by Frank Miller or Jim Lee or Greg Capullo. The same happens here, you’re reading Rick and Morty comics and want to read it no matter who’s drawing it. Different art makes reading and looking at comics all the more engaging, especially when everything clicks into place.

Rick and Morty 48

Some Smooooooth Laughs Up Their Sleeves

One place where the story and art and coloring clicked together nicely was in Rick and Morty number 48, “Hit Me, Space Baby, One More Time.” This oddball story finds Morty transformed radically, requiring a different approach to the art and coloring than I had seen in other issues, but it works. Artist Marc Ellerby’s Space Baby Morty has a galactic color scheme that fills his entire body so he looks and feels otherworldly. For this nebular look and feel, writer Kyle Starks suggested Marvel’s Eternity for inspiration, and colorist Sarah Stern said she had fun with the research and creative process.

“Eternity is generally presented as a humanoid void through which a starscape is visible, so that seemed like a logical place to start! I went and had fun with a few textured brushes on a new canvas in Photoshop, and made a large digital image of a galaxy with some planet
s and stars and a bit of color blended in so it wasn’t a flat black. Then wherever Marc drew our boy I just made a layer mask over him and arranged the galaxy in a way that seemed right without interfering with his expressions. And voila!” The end result is an other-dimensional Morty who’s colored using what Stern calls “a quick, fun, relatively simple solution” that’s visually rich, not to mention funny.

Like the cartoon, each comic book is chock-full of laughs. Some jokes smack you in the face, but you might have to work hard for others because the artists and writers have packed a lot in—sometimes for their own entertainment. Writer Karla Pacheco came clean about gags she wrote into “Teenage Wasteland” from Rick and Morty number 48.

“My favorite bit was probably the school assembly in the gym, because Ian (art) and Crank (lettering) did a great job cramming all my dumb jokes into a very small space. Especially the GET JAZZED FOR STATEWIDE HEPATITIS SCREENINGS banner, and the smooth jazz sound effect. I spent a lot of time calculating the exact number of O’s and Z’s for that, and it makes me laugh every time I see it, because I am very easily amused. Smooooooth Jaaazzzzzz.” Good fun, or as Morty might say, “Ha ha ha ha. Aw, gee.”

All images courtesy of Oni Press.

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About Jason TselentisJason Tselentis is an associate professor of design at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.View all posts by Jason Tselentis →