Digger: Go help who? How do we even know what side we're on? And if this is some kind of raid, I'm pretty sure both sides are going to be stabbing first and asking questions later, if at all.
Digger is a black-and-white webcomic by Ursula Vernon. It starts off with a disoriented wombat named Digger-of-Unnecessarily-Convoluted-Tunnels getting lost far from home, and her attempts to get back. Along the way she encounters hyena people, dead gods, the shadow of a dead bird, a talking statue of Ganesh and some crazy veiled monks. She reacts to all of it with unshakeable Wombat-ly practicality, a bone-dry wit, and occasional resort to outright sarcasm. She also knows a heckuva lot about digging and architecture.After having been hosted on a subscription site for most of its existence, it is now completely free to read. So go read it. Preferably from the beginning.Started in February, 2007. Ended on March 17th, 2011, to the tears of many; though the ending was written just as it had originally been planned, it left enough open questions that some felt it was abrupt. Digger won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2012 and the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature in 2013.A successful Kickstarter campaign was recently held for it, with the aim of collecting all six volumes into one omnibus. It has the dubious claim of fame of being the only such Kickstarter, ever, to offer foam pickaxes and pear sculptures as add-ons.Character page here. Contributions welcome.
Digger contains examples of:
Absurdly Dedicated Worker: The Dead God Underground has so-called "cold servants", implied to be vampires, which ceaselessly force its heart to beat in order to keep it alive.
Action Girl: Grim Eyes and most of the hyena women. To a somewhat lesser extent, Digger herself. Though really, by hyena standards the trope would be "Action Guy". Amazonian culture at a genetic level...
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Gender-flipped. A character clearly states that even after all the horrible domestic abuse, he never stopped loving his partner. Which, all things considered, makes it far, far more tragic. Added tragedy is that the situation wouldn't have gotten half so bad if his spouse hadn't been pushed over the edge by her own sibling.
Jhalm: Honoured Burrower. Skulking through the woods, I see? Digger: Is there a law against it? Jhalm:Several. But as you are unlikely to be either poaching or soliciting the sale of unnatural acts, I doubt we could make the charges stick.
Alien Lunch: Digger ends up eating liver as part of a hyena funeral. As she's an herbivore, it makes her very ill.
All Trolls Are Different: Especially Surka (who, admittedly, is only a professional troll, and not born as one), but the 'normal' trolls are pretty strange, too. The cartoonist has actually explained where their design came from: she started wondering why trolls would hate goats so much, and eventually decided they must be the distant ancestors of domestic goats. Imagine how wolves would feel about Chihuahuas if they understood their relationship, and you have the general idea.
Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: A hyena dying in the course of a hunt is not a major issue, but if a hyena dies at the hands of another hyena, the dead's honour is determined by who avenges her.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Upon entering this strange land, Digger very quickly accepts the idea of talking statues, sentient shadow creatures, and hunting hyena tribes. But rats being something other than ordinary rats? No way... (And they aren't)
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "The trader Samuel who was master of unspeakable arts? Who knew dark secrets of sorcery, necromancy, and accounting?"
There are only two unavoidable things in world: death and taxes. In other words, mentioning necromancy and accounting in one breath can be actually plausible.
Art Evolution: On the first page, Digger is drawn in a noticeably different way. Grim Eyes the hyena has also undergone some heavy changes from her first appearances. Not even past the first chapter, the style that the comic is drawn in is noticeably different, becoming less detailed and more cartoony. Most notably, Digger goes from having slight, visible breasts under her vest to being more stocky and cylindrical.
Art Shift: The scenes narrated by Ed are drawn like cave paintings, shifting from the "megascribble" style of the regular panels.
A possible subversion; Digger is forced to do this at one point to become an honorary member of the Hyena tribe, but is horrified by the idea. Turns out her fears were justified; she then gets very, very ill.
The hyena tribe also has an inversion of this in one of their origin stories. In hyena mythology, hares were originally carnivores and descended to herbivorism.
Said mother is a special (for "special", read "really, really tragic") example; her sister took advantage of a rough patch in her life (see various other examples of what a rotten bitch Bloodtail is) and ended up driving her to madness that led her to abuse her husband. But in between her patches of madness she was kind, loving, and genuinely remorseful that she'd just smacked her husband and didn't really understand why she did it.
Murai: It may sound strange, honored Digger, but I do not believe they are malicious. I do not doubt that they would skin us, but they do not seem to mean any harm by it.
Book Ends: A (probably) unintentional example with the chapter covers. Chapter one doesn't have one, because Ursula didn't know she'd be writing a multi-chapter work, and she never went back to do one. Chapter twelve doesn't have one either, because she didn't want to break up the action, and was looking forward to the opening page she used for that particular chapter (though there's some agreement that it makes a good cover on its own). Consequentially, the first and last chapters are also the only ones without titles.
The vampire squash, which first appears to be nothing more that a weird, random tidbit. But later, when Digger is being pursued by the cold servants, she intentionally runs into a field of the vampiric vegetables so that they'll deal with her pursuers.
The Rant: On the off chance that anybody thinks that this is the end of a dreadfully cunning six-year plan, conceived when first I wrote the lines about the lefthand names of God and purple ink - let me just say "BWHAAHAHAHAHA...no."
Brown Note: If you value your sanity, do not look directly on the face of the Black Mother.
"I have this rock, the rock is bad, you thought I was bad, but it's really the rock, and...um...so what's with the rock?"
Carnivore Confusion: Digger tells the Shadowchild that it is wrong to eat anything that can talk, while hyena people do not share this belief — anyone not in their tribe, talking or not, is not considered a person, and their funerary practices involve eating the liver of their deceased comrade, who was considered a person. Chalk it up to Culture Clash.
Catch Phrase: "Blood and shale!", "Mother of moles...", and if a Face Palm can be considered a catchphrase...
The Cavalry: The hyenas, for Murai at the temple of Ganesh. According to Boneclaw Mother, she would like to have a worrrrd with Jhalm. They're the cavalry because Jhalm wants to arrest Digger despite her doing nothing wrong.
Though the author admits that she was writing by the seat of her pants during the point where most of these were introduced, so she didn't actually intend to use them when they were first introduced. The ones she did plan on being Chekhov's Guns are straight examples, of course.
Church Militant: The Veiled, after a fashion. They're more of a police force than military, and are at the disposal of multiple deities rather than a single faith.
Combat Pragmatist: Ed, of all people, when he realized there was no help for Blood Eyes and he had to kill her to save their daughter from her abuse. She was a powerful warrior and he was a puny skin-painter... so he killed her in her sleep, before she could fight him off.
A Crack In The Ice: On the quest, Digger and Murai fall into a crevasse in a snowfield as cryptically prophesied by the slug. Murai breaks her arm, and Grim Eyes and Shadowchild are barely able to save them.
Cross-Cultural Kerfluffle: Between Grim Eyes and Herne. Because Grim Eyes is from a matriarchal culture, she treats Herne as a member of the weaker sex - tries to help him with things that require heavy lifting and such. Herne is far less than appreciative.
Culture Clash: Given the very different values of hyenas, humans, wombats, demons and gods, it's a wonder anyone can relate to anyone else at all.
"Oh, well. Here Ed is being worried it was being something strange."
The Statue of Ganesh also gives a few stonefaced deliveries.
"Since I am capable of neither hermaphroditic reproduction, nor of moving myself about by means of a slime trail, I daresay that slugs can do many things that I cannot do. I confess, however, that I do not feel any particular grief over this lack."
Digger: "Okay, yeah, maybe, but a really crappy crossbow. It doesn't have a crank... so you have to draw it... manually... so while you're reloading I can... walk right up... and..." [Thud!] "Ow."
Given that immediately after, she remains analytical enough to describe having a crossbow bolt embedded in the shoulder as "reasonably excruciating," it is clear that she retains her deadpan even when being improbably Bad Ass.
Grim Eyes also has the scent of the Determinator about her in the way she pursues Digger after their first encounter. Even after they become allies she can still seem to find Digger uninvited any time she likes. Given Spotted Hyenas will chase prey until it is too tired to defend itself or until it dies of sheer exhaustion, this is Justified.
They are also hyenas. Undead hyenas, which are even worse.
Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: The People, ritually cannibalistic bipedal hyenas who consider any non-hyena sentient fair-game when hunting, who turn out to mostly be very nice people once you get to know them, especiallyEd, who after all does start off trying to eat Digger, and a few comics later serves her tea. And the Statue of Ganesh: although infinitely compassionate Digger instinctively feels all gods are dangerous and best not meddled with but is eventually forced to grudgingly admit the Statue of Ganesh is a good guy. Ursula Vernon likes this trope. A lot.
Dug Too Deep: How the story started, and arguably its entire premise. It is however of course reconstructed, as unlike the dwarves of Moria, wombats are Genre Savvy enough to know there are some things in the deeps you leave the hell alone!
Easter Egg: On several panels, an observant reader can spot things like a snail tagging a rock in the background with "Gastropodz RULE!" or a fish ostensibly swimming home from a birthday party (he was wearing a little hat, you see).
Embarrassing Rescue: Digger tried to justify why she saved Grim Eyes from going over the bridge. She lists several valid reasons, and then ends with "because you just don't let people fall off bridges." Both find this a little awkward.
Digger: And, hey — speaking of gods! The acolyte — with the eyes—? Murai: The ones in the full hoods? There's only a handful like her. Most of them are normal. I was an acolyte myself. Digger: There's more like her? That have their— their eyes sewn shut?
The Faceless: The Veiled (no surprise there...) and to a lesser extent, Boneclaw Mother.
Facepalm: Digger does this a lot◊. It's rather hard to blame her, considering.
Fantastic Racism: Hyena people do not consider other sapient species and races as people. Also, all but one of the human guides from a particular village refused to escort a crew that included non-humans.
Fantasy Kitchen Sink: In this universe there are trolls, dead gods, "Jesus", magic, a "Virgin Mary" (who may or may not be an evil witch as well), Ganesh, demons, talking animals, and deer-minotaurs made from herbal pills.
Fate Worse Than Death: The hyenas have one. Exiled tribe members have their name "eaten", making them a nonentity in their culture.
Associating with them is traditionally taboo, but once Digger's gotten to know some of the still-legally-people hyenas, the tribe's matriarch expresses gratitude that she's shown him friendship, because the circumstances under which he was exiled were unusual, and hard on everyone.
Four-Temperament Ensemble: Let's look at the questing team: The Shadowchild (sanguine), Grim Eyes (choleric), Murai (leukine), and Digger (melancholic). Surka is another choleric, though she doesn't appear as often as Grim Eyes.
From a Certain Point of View: Digger and Murai start their journey around midnight to avoid Jhalm, whom the Statue of Ganesh told they'd be leaving at dawn.
Murai: Lord Ganesh, I do not understand... you lied to the Captain? Ganesh: On the contrary, my child. It is always dawn somewhere.
Later on, with Boneclaw Mother; "there isn't much I can do for Skin Painter any more. But it seems to me that I might have a relative at a distant tribe named Edwho fell heroically in battle with a demon not long ago, and it's only appropriate for me to honor him." Digger was adopted into Boneclaw Mother's tribe, and in a way, the wombat was family to Ed... and aren't Digger's biological relatives a long way off? Heeeeey...
Funny Animal: Done with accurate biology and their own appropriate cultures building off these facts.
Furry Comic: Sort of. Includes more humans and emphasis on humans than typical for the genre, and dodges most of its other tropes, but there's plenty of furry sapients wandering around as well, including the protagonist, and they're treated as more than just "fuzzy humans".
God Couple: She-Is/He-Is. Before a demon messed it up, anyway...
God of Evil: The Black Mother. Arguably He-Is, although he doesn't want to be.
If I Can't Have You: Blood-Tail courted Ed when he was just a young skin-painter, but he didn't much appreciate the fact that she was only courting him because he was a surviving firstborn, which in hyena culture makes him a living good luck charm and status symbol. He fell for her mildly unstable but genuinely loving sister Blood-Eyes instead, so Blood-Tail manipulated her sister's instability until she posed an active danger to her daughter, forcing Ed's hand; she is to this day incredibly smug that her brother-in-law was made an Unperson (as the law of the tribe states must be the punishment for killing your spouse), but no one, besides no one, is actually in any way deluded about what really happened. Blood-Tail is not a popular lady.
I'm a Humanitarian: Whatever you say about the hyenas eating other sapient species, they're not hypocrites. What's more, the way they explain their funerary cannibalism has several anthropologically recorded parallels. No doubt due to Ursula having a bachelor's in anthropology before deciding to pursue art.
Subverted, actually. One can't make a prophecy about them directly, but they're still fully covered by fate and won't be breaking any other prophecies.
Internal Retcon: Discussed, where the myth of a goddess and the good man, where the good man walked across the path of the moon. It gets an extra myth added stating that the Good Man was killed by his mother, and that the mother became a mad ruler of the town.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Subverted. Digger starts off the story with no short term memory of why she is digging, what happened, or where she is; but the missing period is typical for real-life drug-induced amnesia (in her case, caused by an underground gas pocket that has drug-like effects).
Matriarchy: The hyena tribe are mostly a Patriarchy Flip, though with a few original elements as well. Males can hold important posts, but it is shown to be far from the norm: there is only one male, Owl-Caller, on the Elder council, and he is extremely deferential to Boneclaw, whereas the female elders argue with her as near-equals. Justified, since this is howReal Lifespotted hyenas operate, with the highest ranked adult male below all females and juveniles in female's care.
Mauve Shirt: Skull Ridges is a named character who is important in the plot at several points, and is a good friend of Grim Eyes. Oh yeah, and she dies to save Digger before she gets so much as a pixel of screen-time.
Mind Rape: "The Thing" may be a mild form of it. One of the Ganesh statue's comments implies that "The Thing" is just Boneclaw Mother chewing your sorry ass out so thoroughly that it gives profoundly unpleasant personal insight.
Mood Whiplash: Ed has just died. Then the Skin Lizards show up with a light, and announce thus: "It is a bug on a stick!"
Even the harmless old male healer has a creepy name. Would you take your medication from a guy called Owl-Caller?
Even Digger's honorary hyena name, Little Mother of Earthquakes, is like this. It's even better since it's taken from the name of a goddess that causes earthquakes.
Nay-Theist: Most wombats, it seems, are aware that gods and magic exist, but believe that the world would be better off without them, and generally make an effort not to get themselves involved with divinity or magic.
Odd Job Gods: Kind of. The Veiled work for all gods, and their specialities are "comparative theology and hand-to-hand combat". Specifically, a few of of the gods mentioned in passing appear to be less-than omnipotent cosmic super-beings, such as Falls-From-Heaven, a god so horrified by the evils of man that he continually faints.
Where he lands, groves of exceptional peaches with soporific qualities grow. They are prized by chefs and assassins alike.
Odd Name Out: Not a name thing, exactly, but Lady Surka, the professional bridge-troll, lists some of her past jobs as dishwasher, assassin, and pirate queen.
Of the People: The People - which is to say, the tribe of hyenas who call themselves "The People" - consider other races fair game when hunting, but they will adopt others under exceptional circumstances, such as when Boneclaw Mother tells them to and no-one wants to argue with her.
Our Demons Are Different: Demons can be evil, but the one that gets the most screen time is actually very innocent. It eats shadows. The way Ed explains it, a demon is an "all-thing", beholden to its nature and rarely actively malicious. Fire burns, not because it likes to cause ruin, but because it's fire; demons are similar.
Shadow (Shadolescent? Shadult?) later explains that all previous demons have either been born feral or raised by others of their own kind, and that thanks to Digger, it is the first one to have been raised to be "good". It plans to do something about that.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Aside from (over)using magic in their construction projects, what we know of the dwarves seems to fit this. Aside from being Funny Animals, wombats also fit the stereotype fairly well.
The Quest: Eventually, Digger sets out to perform a mercy killing on a dead god.
Refusal of the Call: Subverted. Digger knows she'll take it in the end, she'd never be able to live with herself otherwise, but she's bloody well going to stomp around kicking stones and brooding about it for a while first.
"What's a trope?" "I'll tell you later." "Am I a trope?" "No."
Sacred Hospitality: The first sign we see that the hyena who will eventually be called Ed isn't a complete monster is his reaction to Digger apologizing for accidentally invading his home: he tries and fails to give her a formal greeting and invitation to stay the night.
Hyena: Let it think... In— In— Under the eye of She-Is-Fiercer, be... be welcome to its home. Ah... H-h-hospitality will be given and... something... hearth— hearth— something—
Hyena: *ashamed* It can't remember. It used to know. Been too long since it said them, or since someone said them to it. Mousie stays anyway, maybe? Even without the words?
Sealed Evil in a Can: Sweetgrass Voice. Interesting in that the "can" in this case is a living body, which the evil cannot exist without.
Shout-Out: Ursula Vernon makes numerous references to her other works in Digger.
Whatís better is that the first time this happens, the comments reveal the audience is distracted by arguing about whether it was a simile or a metaphor Digger was distracted by. It was a simile dammit!
Shown Their Work: Specifically, the bits about hyena biology and their absurdly high infant mortality rates for first births, and the mythology created about it. Lots and lots of random anthropology, too, since the creator has a degree in it.
A lot of the comments are the audience showing their work, from unpicking wombat axioms to dyeing cloth to anthropology to whether it was a simile or a metaphor.
Snark-to-Snark Combat: Since about half the cast is made up of Deadpan Snarkers, including the protagonist, this happens often. Most prominent, though, are some of the exchanges between Digger and the statue of Ganesh.
Speech Bubbles: Most characters have black text on white speech bubbles, but the Shadowchild has white on black speech bubbles, the cold servants speak in white-on-black with their sentences broken up into multiple bubbles (like so), ghosts speak in translucent bubbles, the god Ganesh speaks in blocky bubbles, the skin lizards speak in an entirely different font from everyone else, and when a character is whispering the edge of the bubble is in dashes.
Ed too — ever since he was exiled, he never talked to anyone before Digger came along (presumably because no one but the hyenas would know where to find him, and they consider him to be unclean since his name was eaten when he was exiled). After seventeen years of silence, he simply forgot how to speak and the syntax he uses is his best guess.
Suicide Mission: The statue of Ganesh sends Digger and Ed underground to deal with an undead god. He doesn't expect either of them to survive the task.
Supernormal Bindings: The dead god underground is bound by chains made by dwarfs of impossible things, in a probable shout out to Norse Mythology. In order to make sure the chains are also proof against mundane threats such as earthquakes or lockpicks, a wombat is also hired as a consultant.
Survivors Guilt: Digger has quite a bit after Ed falls to his death. Talking with Boneclaw Mother and learning from the Statue that it honestly hadn't expected either of them to survive at all, much less win, helps.
Third-Person Person: The hyena eventually called "Ed" only refers to himself as "it" until given the nickname, and even then only slowly transitions to using that name for himself. Since his original name was eaten when he was ousted from the hyena community, he doesn't consider himself a person, and he's been alone in exile so long he seems to have forgotten altogether how language structure and syntax work, including first- and second-person pronouns.
"The thing that constantly astonishes me about doing Digger is how things I thought of two seconds before drawing the comic develop such a life of their own. Five hundred pages later, Ed is far and away the most beloved character in Digger, his culture's been fleshed out in bizarre and intricate ways, but at the time I drew him, he was just some drooling hyena monster that I decided to throw at Digger because I couldn't get the muzzle right when I tried to draw a bear."
Troll Bridge: Surka the professional bridge troll. She's actually a shrew, although she has a couple of popular trolls on hand too.
Truth in Television: The creation of the Black Mother, in particular the reasoning devised by the refugee children, is based on a La Llorona mythos that emerged among children in Miami shelters. Ditto about the high infant mortality rate of the firstborn cubs of hyenas. And the myth of vampire squash, although in the comic it actually happens. And the extremely rugged backsides of wombats.
Ursula Vernon stories are often large amounts of Shown Their Work for some of the more ridiculous aspects of biology and mythology.
[STAB!] Footnote: "Actually, the sound of a wombat being stabbed is a scratchy noise of bristles scraping on steel, followed by a rather unpleasant "Squlorp" noise, followed by a damp smack of hilt. But "scratch-squlorp-squithud!" lacks a certain pithiness.''
Viewers Are Geniuses: The jokes are often pitched with the presumption the readers will know as much about geology, anthropology, comparative theology and pre-modern industry, cloth-dyeing/pigment use, lead-smelting and healing as Ursula. As the comments show, a truly scary amount of the readers do know this stuff.
Given the somewhat...odd tangents the commenters go on, there's a good argument that the Viewers Are AlsoLoonies. For example, when Digger said, "if that's true, then I'll eat my pickaxe. Without salt," Ursula probably wasn't expecting a long list of alternate condiment suggestions from her fans.
An early one happens towards the end of the second chapter. Up till then, Digger has been exploring in a rather happy-go-lucky manner, finding out all the weird things about the world she's in, and, though she does brush with danger a few times, she always manages to escape unscathed. But then she comes across a village that's undergoing a bandit raid, finds an insane priest curled up in a terrified ball, and is shot in the shoulder before her companion eats the shadow of her assailant, knocking him into a fatal coma. It's basically the story's way of saying that things are going to get serious and the plot is going to start rolling in full force.
And then, an even more dramatic one at the very climax of the story... Most fans' reactions to it are probably, "Ed, you're okay, right? Ed? ED?!"
Wild Child: Digger at one point suggests that Shadowchild is more or less the demon version of this. Also, apparently wombat children occasionally wander away from the warren and end up being raised by moles.
Digger asks Murai if humans have something similar, and Murai blandly replies that "wolves are more common with us."
With This Herring: In a bit of a subversion, before setting out on a journey Murai, a veiled monk character, decides to travel extremely light, bringing little with her but a begging bowl. Digger, on the other hand, spends hours packing, checking and double-checking her supplies, armed with knowledge of exactly what lies ahead, all the while worrying that she is underprepared. She was.
Digger: You're taking your sandals, your robe, and a begging bowl? No food? No money? No first aid kit? Murai: I am a servant of the god, honored Digger. The god will provide all that is needful. Digger: Yeah. Okay. See, what I think you're failing to grasp is that your god did provide, and what he did provide was me. So you're going to corner whatever passes for a quartermaster in this joint, and you're going to get a blanket, a first aid kit, and a couple of pounds of trail mix, got it? And a knife. And tinder and flint. And I suppose it's too much to ask that anybody's heard of crampons around here...
Women Are Wiser: As with most things about the hyenas, gender-flipped. Owl-Caller is easily the least weird member of the hyena tribe's council and The One Guy.
Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: According to Word of God, the majority of chapter one, since she didn't realize she'd be writing a massive, multi-chapter epic. This includes the introduction of characters who would go on to become important members of the cast, such as Ed and the Shadowchild. Lampshaded by Ursula herself, who comments in one strip, "If it wasn't for the seat of my pants, I'd have no plot at all." The plot does get more structured from then on, however.