I have a totem. A familiar, if you will. A spirit animal that is with me always, a nurturing friendly presence that helps to define, while at the same time disguising me. In some ways it is akin to the daemons of Philip Pullman, in others closer to a superhero’s secret identity. If you have seen me on the internet at all, you have seen my familiar too. I allow him to represent me out in the world.
I’m talking about the rabbit. More specifically, I’m talking about Frank Kozik’s Smorking Labbit, who in different guises serves as my avatar, my game face.
I have been fascinated by rabbits for a very long time. Mankind has an ambivalent relationship to them. On the one hand we view them as coote widdul bunnies, and keep them as pets, and wail like the world has ended when a fox gets into the hutch and chomps them up. At the same time, they are pests, turning verdant grassland into desert, breeding exponentially, causing massive damage and subsidence as they dig out their runs.
In myth and popular culture the rabbit is seen as both trickster and messenger. I’m thinking of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, the herald to new and psychedelic experiences. This figure reappears in the Jefferson Airplane song of the same name, and in The Matrix. When Neo is invited to “follow the white rabbit”, you know he’s not going to be led to the nearest McDonalds.
As trickster, of course, the popular embodiment is Bugs Bunny. Ostensibly, his battles with Elmer Fudd are simple hunter/prey stories. Except we know that the end to the story will not be Elmer sitting down to wabbit stew. But there’s a sheer glee to proceedings, and you know that Bugs delights on getting one over on his foe. He’s not looking to get away from Elmer. He’s looking to beat him. Br’er Rabbit’s adventures in the Song Of The South have a similar resonance. In those tales, though, danger is a little closer to the surface. You get the feeling from reading the stories that Br’er Rabbit is really thinking on his feet, surviving on his wits. If he fails, he’s dinner.
Finally, of course, there’s Roger Rabbit. He’s motivated by love of Jessica of course, but also by a creative urge. Witness the point where he and Eddie Valiant are handcuffed together. He can free himself, of course. But only when it’s funny to do so. This speaks very clearly to me as a writer. Going through hoops purely for comedic or dramatic effect – that’s me all over.
All these characters are masters of disguise too. They are fluid, ever-changing, trying on new clothes and faces in a whirl of re-invention. Bugs is especially mercurial, and his penchant for cross-dressing is well-known, and has led to endless internet discussion on his sexuality. I’m not so sure. I think it’s more the case that he’s bursting to constantly try new ideas, new ways of winding up Elmer, and he knows that dressing up as a girl is one way of getting a rise out of his enemy. Erm, figuratively speaking, of course. Although the question should be asked…
Me neither. Jessica Rabbit, now…
Ahem. Yes, well, moving on.
Frank Kozik is an American artist best known for his concert posters, coming out of the underground rock scene of the early eighties. But to me his most enduring creation will always be the Smorking Labbit. It embodies everything I love about their mythic qualities. It can be cute and decidedly not at the same time. And, because of the nature of the drawing, open to reinvention and reinterpretation. This really speaks to me. I love the idea of my disguise being able to wear a disguise. He can be custom fitted for different events and fora.
This here is the classic black labbit, sweet but a bit fierce. My icon of choice, and possibly ink someday.
This little fella is was up until recently my Facebook … face…,
Until I replaced him with this Kent Culotta image, which somehow seemed a bit more me.
And this chappie is ideal for SF and steampunk forums.
This is really just scratching the icing on the metaphor. Do an image search on smorking labbit and you can see how multifarious my little daemon can be.
One last story, which in a way describes where the rabbit idea came from in the first place. When TLC and I first started seeing each other, we were living a five minute walk apart. It was easy for me to spend more and more time at her place, until I had practically moved in. At which point I discovered that her flatmate had coined a nickname for me.
I was “Bobsy Rabbit, the lodger.”
It’s all been downhill from there, really.