Art critique

Mr. Boop, the Psychosexual Webcomic That’s a Scathing Criticism of Copyright

You can’t sum up the webcomic Mr Boop better than its first panel, which emerged from what looked like the internet’s rampaging identity on Feb. 28, 2020. “My wife Betty Boop is really hot,” says Alec, the strip’s bespectacled, grinning protagonist, a cartoon avatar for real writer and artist Alec Robbins.

His wife, you see, is Betty Boop. She is really sexy.

At first glance, Mr Boop might not seem so different from the webcomics that largely defined the rise of the genre a decade ago: imperfectly drawn pan

els, a constant flirt with copyright infringement and a horny, endlessly forgiving hero based directly on the author.

But Robbins doesn’t just channel tropes from a largely bygone era of fanfiction; he arms them, delivering pitch-perfect satire of a very specific era on the internet with layers that only reveal themselves as the story unfolds. More than 216 comics, several videos and an alarming free-to-play visual novelRobbins – a writer and comedian whose credits include stints on I think you should leave and The Eric André show – starts with a blunder about a guy who’s married to Betty Boop and steers it into a hilarious, sometimes existentially unsettling interrogation of what’s fascinating in fandoms and dumb in human rights law ‘author.

But Mr Boopit is the initial call was tied directly to the internet – new tapes debuted on Robbins’ Twitter feed, where everything can still be read for free – the comic has a different weight in Silver Sprocket’s sumptuous new hardcover edition, which also collects a series of guest strips and artfully adapts the original video ending for the written page. It’s the new best way to read the best comic I’ve read in 2020.

I had about a million questions when I finished Mr Boop Last year. Alec Robbins is here to answer a few of them:

Cartoonist Alec Robbins, eating Chipotle while dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog.

Cartoonist Alec Robbins eats chipotle while dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog.
Photo courtesy of Alec Robbins, surprisingly

Of all the fictional characters you could have married over the internet, why Betty Boop?

It was never anything else. It wasn’t, “Oh, it would be fun to do a comic about being married to a fictional character. Who would it be? That was never the approach. It always came from Betty Boop. There was a bar called the Winchester Room which had a life size statue of Betty Boop. I would pose for a photo with it to make my friends laugh. And from there, I was inspired to tweet, once in a while, something like “Damn…Betty Boop is really hot.” I just loved the thought of this character who was so uniquely designed to be a sex symbol but is mostly remembered by grandmas now.

So how did this inside joke turn into this psychosexual webcomic?

I did a sketch once just to make my friend laugh. I just texted him. But one day I finished work and, sitting in my car after work, I had an open notepad on my phone and I wrote 40 Mr Boop suddenly undresses. They came so naturally. When I started drawing them, it was like rocket fuel.

The comic didn’t work long before you expanded the universe to other fictional characters: Bugs Bunny, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Peter Griffin. At the 45th comic, Alec and Betty Boop have an orgy with Goku, Jessica Rabbit, Fred Flintstone, Gardevoir de Pokemon…

Oh my god, I took it so seriously, which characters would be in it and which wouldn’t. Once you open this shell, you play with all the archetypal characters that people have well-known sexual obsessions with online.

Some are ironic, like Sonic or Shrek or SpongeBob. Some are obvious, like Jessica Rabbit. But there are those in left field. Like, if you’re familiar with Pokemon fans and how they end up sexualizing certain characters – I knew there was something with Gardevoir. If you saw someone drawing excited Pokemon art, Gardevoir is probably one of those you’ve seen.

And you need it personal. Ranma and Gina from Porco Rosso – when I was younger and watched anime, it resonated with me. You must include your own favorites. I also had to make sure I was in the crosshairs. I don’t want to appear, ever, to make fun of anyone. So I added some of my vices too.

Book 3 has this whole meta-narrative about Betty Boop’s dad enforcing his copyright and breaking up his marriage to Alec. And that’s a question I’ve been asking myself since the beginning: in writing a comic that incorporates so many very recognizable fictional characters, did you run into a real copyright problem?

Perhaps. I don’t know if I should speak. My answer is a “maybe” wink.

You have a scene where Mickey Mouse shows up with an erection and says, “Walt Disney really hates it when I, Mickey Mouse, go to orgies.”

I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about copyright. I can tell you this. There was a fear. And I finally stopped worrying at all. Fear actually allowed me, when nothing happened to me, to be braver than ever. And the more I’ve been – once it’s in regards to copyright infringement, with Mickey Mouse as the holy grail of this – I’m even more protected. This is a very valid criticism of this world.

The ending really dives into utter horror – until a video finale that incorporates the End of Evangelion song “Komm, süsser Tod.” How did you decide when and how to conclude the comic?

There are a few drawings that I changed because I was like, “That’s me uncomfortable.” I have the most reservations about book 4. To this day, I’m kind of like…was this the right cap for everything? That certainly makes sense, but I was very concerned about the statement I was making. I don’t want the ultimate statement of Mr Boop be that it is bad to fall into fantasy worlds and enjoy them.

It’s a pretty definitive ending, but would you ever go back to the Mr Boop universe? We know that Alec was previously married to Samus Aran and Gina from Porco Rossobut we know almost nothing of these relations.

Perhaps. I like having a button on it, especially with the hardcover. But it was so much fun. I miss it. I didn’t think it ended prematurely, but a lot of other people think so. I was really invested in not letting it drag on too long. There’s no reason why I can’t come back to it.

Finally, I’ve been wondering for months: when Sonic the Hedgehog speaks in Mr Boop, I hear the voice of Jaleel White in my head. Is it correct?

Yes. It’s the canon voice for me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.