Standing, L-r: Kell, Kevin (with their characteristic foodstuffs). Seated: Their family and friends. Artist: Bill Holbrook.

KEVIN AND KELL

Medium: World Wide Web
Originally distributed by: CompuServe
First Appeared: 1995
Creator: Bill Holbrook
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He's a rabbit. She's a wolf. Their families and friends thought it would never work — as a marriage, at least, tho it did hold out some promise as a brief predator/prey …

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… relationship. Yet, Kevin and Kell Dewclaw have been happily married since the mid-1990s; and tho their highly heterogenous household (which includes not just their varied kids, but the two mothers-in-law as well) has had its share of conflicts, not once has a member of it eaten another one. Unless you count the baby, Coney, keeping their home free of vermin.

Kevin & Kell wasn't quite the first online comic strip. But of the ones still extant late in the first decade of the 21st century, only Argon Zark predates it. And it's certainly the one that's run longest as a reliable daily. It began September 3, 1995, as a downloadable feature of CompuServe's Funnies Forum, and has since graduated into several domains of its own — including one that runs it in German. It's the creation of cartoonist Bill Holbrook, whose Safe Havens and On the Fastrack had both been syndicated for years by King Features before he started experimenting with Internet comics.

This is the second marriage for both Kevin and Kell, and each brought in a teenager from the first one — Kell, a wolf/fox hybrid named Rudy (no relation); and Kevin, an adopted insectivorous hedgehog named Lindesfarne. As the story opened, Kell was pregnant with the one baby they have together, Coney, who turned out mostly a rabbit except for being voraciously carnivorous. At first, Kevin and Rudy competed for the role of the family's alpha male, but Kevin won out. Also aspiring to the position was Kell's brother, Ralph, whose early attempts to eat Kevin met with such dismal failure, he eventually submitted. The family was extended to include Lindesfarne's boyfriend, Fenton Fuscus (a bat) and Rudy's girlfriend, Fiona Fennec (a long-eared fox), whose father, George, wound up marrying Kevin's sister, Danielle. Kell works for Herd Thinners Inc., whose CEO, R.L., is currently married to Kevin's ex, Angelique, who has had herself surgically transformed into a rat. Kevin originally ran an on-line forum, but when that became less lucrative, launched an Internet service provider, Hare Link, which now employs several of the other characters.

But the cast is actually larger and more complicated than that.

A persistent element of the storyline is a so-called domestication gene, which afflicts many of the comic's canine characters (including Kell and Rudy), making them, among other things, comfortable wearing collars. And yet, Kell claims direct descendancy from The Big Bad Wolf of legend. If so, the relationship must go through (the Disney version of) Big Bad's son, Li'l Bad Wolf, who gives evidence of having a serious case of domestication.

Kevin & Kell has branched out into print — not just a dozen or more books from Plan Nine Publishing (Accidental Centaurs, General Protection Fault and other online comics), which collect every episode to date, but also in the form of a more traditional newspaper comic. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution carries it as a regular comic strip. Also, a role-playing game is available.

When Kevin & Kell started, the idea of a regularly-produced comic available only through the Internet was untried, in fact virtually unheard-of. Its success proves that such a thing can function not only as a viable means of self-expression — it can be commercially viable as well.

— DDM

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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Bill Holbrook.