Kekionga is a genre series, though nobody, least of all me, is sure exactly which genre it is. As such, it is is populated primarily by archetypes. All the main characters are members of familiar archetype classes, and my goal as a cartoonist is to make them into real people. Here they are:
Josef is the main character in Kekionga, at least according to Josef. Every story with Josef in it is automatically a story about Josef. Josef is a creature of mystery; all we really know about him is that he is strange little animal from another dimension. His origin story, such as it is, is told in the minicomic Bud and the Bugs from Dimension X, which is the very first story in the current Kekionga continuity.
Josef seems to be intelligent, and he almost certainly understands everything that people say around him. He communicates in goofy monosyllables that some people, primarily Bud, Jack and Iowa, can interpret. His main motivations are hunger and curiosity: although he is only about the size of a fox terrier, Josef can take prey as large as a deer, and he also enjoys mice, raccoons, tacos, calzones, orange soda, lo mein, and chocolate chips, in or out of cookies. And he sticks that white snout of his into everything. Josef always has an opinion.
Longtime readers, and anyone who reads the Kekionga series from the beginning, will notice that Josef’s ears get larger with every story for the first few years until they reach a more or less stable size at about the time of the above drawing. I can only explain this by saying it sometimes takes time to get to know your own characters.
Archetypically, Josef takes the place in the Kekionga stories usually occupied by a Dog. He eats more insects every year than the rest of the cast combined.
Bud is Kekionga’s local Wise Teacher. He’s an Esoteric Master from a Distant Land, exactly the right person to train a young hero. And he doesn’t want any part of it, being long retired from the Hero’s Mentor business. But even Bud, with all his ancient wisdom, can’t resist the power of the narrative for long. He draws the line at being called Sensei, Master or Guru, however. It’s just Bud, thanks. Bud is also the owner/operator of Kekionga Salvage, a big junkyard out at the edge of town,where a variety of unusual objects can be found. Visitors (not all of them people) come from near and far (sometimes very far) to find the exact thing they very much need. Bud himself is much, much older than he looks, and can turn his hand to just about anything.
Bud is not only the oldest character in the cast but the first to be created. He appeared very long ago in my sketchbook, a battered Buddha in work clothes smiling in a very mellow way at a large dragonfly. Sort of Kekionga in a nutshell, really. The next thing I knew he was picking apples in an orchard, and Josef was scampering around, and I had finally found my story. Everything else came later.
Jack Swann is the “secret identity”of Kekionga’s classic all American Superhero, Foursquare. He was a student at Sauk Trail when he “discovered” his powers, but he has since dropped out and devotes himself to learning his craft while working for his mentor, Bud (who calls him “Soup”), at the Junkyard. He lives alone in a little white house in an obscure neighborhood. Jack is everything a young hero should be: courageous, idealistic, humble, dedicated and rather naïve. He is not profoundly educated, but he is far from stupid and never afraid to see the obvious truth that everybody else is delicately avoiding. His solid good looks attract attention from a variety of sources, but he is (of course) devoted to his Best Girl, Iowa.
Foursquare has four basic powers: he can fly, hide himself or other things behind an obscuring cloak, protect with a barrier, and wield a blast. He is also very strong and more or less indestructible. Powering all of this takes a lot of fuel, and Jack is constantly eating.
Iowa Ginsberg, a lady and a scholar, is Our Heroine, and the Superhero’s Spunky-But-Sensible Girlfriend, and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, all in one. She is both very smart and possessed of an abundance of common sense (a rare combination, that) and nothing seems to faze her.
Iowa is a student at Sauk Trail State, where she majors in several esoteric subjects in the humanities, but her main academic focus is her Assistantship with Professor Lykander in the Archives. She is well on her way to becoming a Librarian with a capital L.
Iowa shares an apartment with Gale and Shelley, drives a little red MGB, and loves Jack Swann to distraction, the big lug.
(My own Mentor, Matt Feazell, gave Iowa her first name.)
Every genre story needs a Werewolf Librarian. Well, maybe not, but Kekionga certainly has one. Professor Gideon Lykander (Sauk Trail’s academic librarians have faculty status) is in charge of the Archives of Sauk Trail State University, which are housed in the basement and sub-basements of the Noakes Library and are considerably larger and more … complicated than one might expect from a medium sized state school. Gideon is a full fledged esoteric Librarian, and has the vast store of general knowledge to prove it. The snappy wardrobe and high levels of snark and sarcasm are his own distinctive contributions to the role. He is also a werewolf. In his “human” form he is a tall, slender, physically unassuming guy with a lot of body hair and long sharp fingernails, but that form is actually about 10% wolf, giving him the enhanced senses and some of the strength, and he is much tougher than he looks. As a full wolf, his other form of choice, he calls himself the Mighty Moondog. He has full control over his transformations (although he’s always tempted to a lupine frolic by the tug of a full moon), and is the same person whatever shape he wears.
Iowa’s roommate Gale (she doesn’t have a last name, although she sometimes uses either Darrow or Jones), is an Unfrozen Cave
Girl Woman. No, seriously, she is. She was on display in a side show and everybody assumed she was a fake, but Bud and the Kids! thawed her out. Now she is “in residence” at Sauk Trail State while she brings her education up to date– she’s a major asset to the departments of History and Anthropology, as well as to all the women’s varsity teams. Just look around campus for a tall strong young woman (Iowa teases her by calling her a “giantess”), wearing her hair in a ponytail with a bone in it like any classic Cave Girl. (Woman). Gale’s outdoor skills are unmatched, and she talks a bit like Tarzan.
Every fictional small town needs a Retired God. Anpu may very well be Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead, but he doesn’t particularly like being asked about it. It’s all a lot of water under the bridge as far as he’s concerned. These days, Anpu enjoys a peaceful retirement, wandering around town in the form of a stocky middle aged man crossed with a black jackal, watching the world go by, making sardonic comments, and smoking an endless chain of cigarettes. Since he isn’t exactly human, the last activity doesn’t do him any harm. Don’t try it at home, though.
Jessie is Kekionga’s Immortal Child character. No one who knows exactly who or what Jessie is, ghost or spirit or psychic memory, has ever revealed the truth, and she remains a legendary figure who appears just often enough (primarily to children) to ensure that she is never forgotten. Jessie lives in a spooky old house on the edge of town, wears a locket no one has ever seen open, and if she wants to give you a message, she gives you one red rose. This is all very satisfactorily mysterious. (To learn a little more about Jessie, read some comics about her here.)
Those Kids! (and yes, there is always an exclamation point) are Kekionga’s version of the classic fictional pack of nosy/pesky neighborhood kids, running half wild around town, into everybody’s business and seeing things that even the best grownups seem to overlook. Those Kids! are great friends, and although they quarrel occasionally, they are very loyal to each other and respect each others’ differences, quirks and strengths. Mostly, though, they are busy having pretty close to the ideal childhood. The Kids’! headquarters is the Fort they’ve built in the Woods; they also have an auxiliary Clubhouse in an old bus in the Kekionga Salvage Junkyard. For now, at least, Those Kids! are permanently between 11 and 12 years old, the perfect age for having adventures.
“Nothing that happens after we are twelve matters very much.” –J.M.Barrie
The girl with the braids and the bib overalls is Moose, who is brave and strong and loves figuring out how things work, from machines to stories to people’s hearts and minds. She wants to be a writer, of course, and will probably be a good one. Moose narrates a lot of the Those Kids! stories. She is quite level headed, but prone to the occasional flight of fancy. Many people assume that Moose is a fictionalized version of myself as a girl. This is incorrect– Moose is the girl I very much would like to have been.MURPHY
Murphy is Moose’s cousin; their mothers are identical twins. They actually look quite a bit alike, although Murphy is a tall, thin, dreamy boy with a cloud of red hair, in counterpoint with Moose’s brown haired sturdiness. Murphy loves to draw, often illustrating Moose’s stories, and he is also a keen reader with an appetite for fantasy, science fiction and anything cool and esoteric. He comes by the last taste honestly, as he is a weirdness magnet of the first order. Many of the Those Kids! stories start with, or focus on, weird things that happen to Murphy.
Lee is just exactly as brainy and geeky as you might guess at first glance, but he is also surprisingly bold and has the makings of a true leader. Above all Lee is a practical guy, determined to take his already large collection of book knowledge and make it work in the real world. It takes some convincing to get him to accept anything “weird”, but when he does he copes with it effectively. He is a sharp dresser with a distinctive personal style and often wears well polished saddle shoes. Lee’s parents are both scientists and his older sister is a former child prodigy and current genius engineering student.
Nina Berry is the granddaughter of the famous old Professor Berry who knows much of Kekionga’s secret lore. She has learned a lot from the old man, including a great love of all kinds of old stories, especially the ones about her home town. Many of these are surprisingly relevant today … On the surface, Nina is a “good girl” who all adults consider an excellent example for others—she cultivates this image because it’s excellent cover for all the adventures and mischief she likes so much. Nina is clever as well as smart, and surprisingly sneaky. Nina goes to a private school, St. Cuthbert’s, instead of to Memorial Elementary with the rest of the gang, which she tends to resent.
Pounce’s parents follow mysterious careers that no one can talk about, and she lives with her rather mysterious grandmother in a very mysterious house, so it’s not surprising that Pounce is a bit mysterious herself. She loves the outdoors and nature, gets along great with all animals, and excels at finding things. Pounce never gets lost, and nothing makes her lose her cool. People are used to her wearing jeans, hiking boots, and her beloved Mexican blanket vest, and when they see her in a black dress that makes her look rather like Wednesday Addams, even her best friends don’t recognize her. Pounce is like that—she has natural camouflage.
Mr. Spit is a nickname, of course, the nickname of that kid with the spiky hair and the ski-jump nose. Mr. Spit’s real surname is Miller, and his initial is C. and if you ever figured out what his real first name, well, you won’t like what happens then. Just call him Mr. Spit, and nobody needs to get hurt. Mr. Spit really is as tough as he looks, but he’s honest and loyal too, and he’s got strict standards and a deep seated sense of fair play. Only bad guys have anything to be afraid of. Bud is not the only person who thinks Mr. Spit may grow up to be a hero. Right now his interests are collecting bright shiny things, making snarky comments, and skateboarding.