Rocko’s Modern Afterlife

It’s 2020 and those born in 1990 are turning 30, and in turn, 90s nostalgia is at its peak. We have the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Funko—the company that will license anything—is delivering a steady stream of 90s-inspired toys. And now here comes Rocko’s Modern Afterlife, resurrected in comics form by BOOM! Studios imprint kaBOOM!, pairing well with Netflix’s Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, which debuted in 2019. Corporate synergy is here to feed us our favorite sugary treats from the 90s (Kellogg’s Cinnamon Mini Buns, anyone?) and like good consumers, we’re here to gobble it up in nostalgic bliss.

Rocko’s Modern Afterlife is, of course, a licensed comic, putting a post-apocalyptic spin on all your favorite characters from Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life. The whole O-Town gang is here: Rocko, Heffer, Filbert, and more. And the comic successfully recreates the frenetic feeling of the original cartoon. Reading the book brought me right back to those lazy summer afternoons sitting on the living room floor, drinking Sunny Delight, and watching hours of television. Nostalgia at its finest. 

The plot follows the basic structure of the cartoon. Unassuming Rocko is living his modern life, wanting to be left alone, but gets sucked into some situation he really would rather not be a part of. In this instance, it’s a virus that is spreading throughout the city, turning everyday citizens into brain-eating zombies. Only Rocko can make things right again, though he’ll need the help of his pals. Without surprise, they save the day and everything is put back to the status quo by the end. While the plot itself isn’t all that interesting, what might draw readers is the layers that writer Anthony Burch weaves in, commenting on social issues such as incels and how the internet can be a toxic place. The jokes work too, which helps. A comedically timed “m’lady” stands out as one of my giggle out loud moments.

The art is here to mimic the original cartoon, and on that point Mattia Di Meo delivers. Panel for panel, this book looks like an exact replica of what I watched on television two decades ago. This is all a good thing, from the cartoon style to the candy palette of colors. It is engrossing and without the art the nostalgia probably wears off sooner than one would expect. 

There is one problem though, and that is the audience. Who is going to read this book? Most people in their 30s that I know have moved on from this chapter in their life. They might go back to watch a few episodes, but pick up a licensed comic? Probably not. Are kids interested in 90s cartoons, for a heaping dose of everything old is new again? Maybe, but I have my doubts. The problem with Rocko’s Modern Life is that it was so very much of its time. It fits in with a lineup of other cartoons that, when watched in their original airing sequence, made sense and spoke to a generation of children. When taken out of context, thrust into a new medium (although, it should be noted, Rocko creator Joe Murray’s original concept was a comic), and published under an imprint typically known for comics marketed to children, the comic loses some of its nostalgic sheen. 

On the whole, Rocko’s Modern Afterlife does succeed at something so many other nostalgia efforts get wrong. You can’t go back and relive the past. The 90s have come and gone. It was a unique time of risky children’s television programming and the internet was in its infancy. The book ignores that nostalgia to some extent by bringing its characters into the 21st century and giving them 21st century problems. This 34-year-old millennial reviewer thinks that if today’s kids knew what’s good for them, maybe they’d look back at the cartoons my generation grew up on. To which they’d probably reply, “OK, boomer.” And rightfully so.

Rocko’s Modern Afterlife
By Anthony Burch and Mattia Di Meo
ISBN: 9781684154883
BOOM! Studios, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 years old

  • Franco Vitella

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Franco is Acting Manager of Mobile Services with the Toledo Lucas County Public Library in Ohio. He serves as a Board Member at Large for ALA's Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table and is a 2020 ALA Emerging Leader

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