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Magazine / Muse Magazine

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No relation to either the trope or the band.

Muse Magazine is a monthly publication put out by the Smithsonian Institution. While the magazine is targeted at kids in the 10-13 age range, its intelligence and clever writing make it appealing to people of many age groups. It's best described as a "general knowledge" magazine—if you can think of it, they've probably run an article on it. ...Yep. ...But of course. ...They've done that. ...Don't act so surprised. ...That's generally how "everything" works. In addition to articles, they run excepts from books, lists of interesting Web links, and lots of reader-submitted content.


But the magazine's wittiness isn't its only draw. You see, every page of the magazine is inhabited by the Muses. Not the classical Greek muses you may have heard about—worldwide muses, for a more "modern" era. Did the Greeks have muses of "bad poetry" and "software"? In addition to one full-page, full-color comic each issue (drawn by Larry Gonick, who also wrote The Cartoon History of the Universe), they litter the margins of all the articles, providing additional information... and snarky commentary. Anything can happen in their world, and frequently does. In fact, they've got a history and mythos all their own within the bounds of the magazine.

The Muses are:

  • Kokopelli: The "leader" (sort of), Kokopelli is the Muse of Tricks. An insufferable jokester, he, in his own words, "likes making life interesting for his friends." Despite his Arizonan origins, he likes nothing so much as the classic "Pie in the Face" gag.
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  • Urania: The only Muse to also be an actual, historical Greek muse, she retains her Greecian status as the Muse of Astronomy. She often plays "straight woman" as opposed to the manic Kokopelli. She enjoys staring off into the night sky (of course).
  • Feather: Although he's lazy and gluttonous, this South American muse nonetheless has a killer green thumb. He's the Muse of Plants. When he's not tending his garden, he's probably out lounging about somewhere... or eating his Trademark Favorite Food, donuts.
  • Chad: A Gadgeteer Genius, he's the Muse of Hardware. No matter the situation, he's always coming up with a new invention. They're prone to working about as often as they're prone to catastrophic failure. But he dauntlessly continues work on his inventions. Rarely seen without his wrench.
  • Aeiou: The Muse of Software, so she's often seen with Chad. She doesn't speak—instead, she expresses her feelings by waving around her huge, noodly arms. Crraw is her interpreter. And before you ask: No, we don't know how to pronounce her name either.
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  • Pwt: Although Pwt is the Muse of Animals, Pwt seems to be more obsessed with catching them than actually looking after them! Crraw is a favorite target. Frequently manic. Pwt is also a source of much confusion—both because it's hard to pronounce "Pwt" if you're not Welsh, and because Pwt's gender is about as clear as mud.
  • Bo: The most laid-back of all the Muses, Bo is the Muse of Trivia. She even has her own section in the magazine devoted to interesting snippets of facts. She's also a cow. But then again, nobody seems to mind... or, for that matter, even notice.
  • Crraw: Pwt's favorite least favorite person, Crraw the crow is the Muse of Bad Poetry and a frequent writer of it. He's got a snarky attitude and a love of being annoying. He does, however, serve a purpose: He's the one who interprets Aeiou's hand gestures.
  • Mimi: Based on the magical spirits of Australian Aboriginal lore. Quite possibly the Only Sane Muse, Mimi's main goal just seems to be surviving the insanity of her fellow muses. She's the Muse of Getting Along With People. She's also surprisingly normal. Also, she's got a nice outfit.

In 2005, the Muses appeared in a Spin-Off novel, Kokopelli & Company in The Attack of the Smart Pies, in which the Muse characters help a little girl with a Wicked Stepfather.

This work and these characters provide examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob
  • Affectionate Parody: The Muses did an issue-long one of The Lord of the Rings.
  • All-Loving Hero: Mimi, the "Muse of Getting Along With People", is usually seen trying to get the cast to put aside their differences and be friends. She rarely succeeds.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Pwt's oddly ambiguous gender was a Running Gag in the early days of the comic, but seems to have ascended to near-canon status.
  • Art Evolution: In the first issue, for instance, Feather was drawn more ornately.
    • Chad's head went from long and skinny to practically ball-shaped.
    • Meta example: When Urania explains perspective to Pwt.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • In one issue, Chad, fed up with the inefficiency of packing fruits in boxes because of their varying sizes, creates Nu-Froot, a cultivar of identically-sized, cube-shaped fruits. Unfortunately, because of the process used to make them, they are incredibly hard and impossible to bite into.
    Chad: (seeing Feather trying to eat a Nu-Froot) Careful! You can break a tooth on those!
    Feather: Ugh! Don't you ever do this to doughnuts!
    • In another issue that included an article on the founders of Google, Chad creates a "Search Engine", a highly advanced robot equipped with the ability to find any lost object. It turns out to be good at finding things, but it takes "leave no stone unturned" a little too literally, destroying everything in its path trying to find a missing sock.
  • Black and Nerdy: Chad is a Mad Scientist whose new inventions frequently cause trouble for the cast.
  • Bungling Inventor: Chad, whose inventions and experiments always turn out horribly wrong, either because of design flaws or the antics of the other Muses, usually Kokopelli. Some examples include his Nu-Froot cultivar that grew fruits too hard to bite into, his genetic tweakulator that turned an ordinary toad into a rampaging skyscraper-sized Kaiju monster, and his "Search Engine" robot that completely destroyed his lab in an effort to find a missing sock.
    Chad: (sitting in the wreckage of his lab) And now for my next billion-dollar idea...the broom!
  • Bunnies for Cuteness: At an indeterminate point in the magazine's history (a few years before its 10th anniversary), there was a massive fight between readers in the Muse Mail section about whether cats or dogs were better. To quell the battle, the editors decreed that any passages advocating the debate would be replaced by "cheerful little hot-pink bunnies", which remain icons of the magazine to this day.
  • The Cameo: In the comic included with the 10th anniversary issue, the human protagonist from the spin-off novel appears as a store clerk.
  • Caption Humor: Widespread, and some got downright snarky. From an article on toilets:
    "Your typical outhouse. Not a lot of privacy, but it's got a great view."
    "A deluxe portable outhouse with its own wheels. Just make sure you wear your seatbelt."
    "The entrance to the Paris sewers. OK, OK, it's no Magic Kingdom, but we'll take what we can get."
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Kokopelli is not a villain, but sometimes he seems to take a little too much delight in making everyone's life miserable. On one occasion, he got upset when Chad published a fake newspaper article about him giving up pie throwing and donating pies to homeless orphans.
    Kokopelli: This says that I care about people! That I'm actually a good person!
    Chad: So?
    Kokopelli: SO?! My reputation is ruined! WAAAAAHHHHH!!!
  • Chinese Girl: Aeiou. Where in China you have to be born to get horns, we have no idea.
    • Though technically, she's Mongolian.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The entire cast is basically playing Hot Potato with the Cuckooland Ball.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Bo pukes up Pwt's cow chow after finding out it contains beef byproducts, an alarmed Crraw's response is "What? Don't you like Vitamin A?"
  • Cute Mute: Aeiou.
  • The Ditz: Feather.
    Chad: (holding up a magnifying glass) I love mysteries!
    Feather: Don't eat that glass lollipop!
    Crraw: Aeiou says that computers used to be the size of houses.
    Feather: Houses got bigger, eh?
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Pwt.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first issue had the title in all capital letters instead of lowercase letters. Also, Aeiou spoke normally like everyone else.
  • Everything's Better with Cows: Bo.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In an article about the invisible gorilla experiment, Mimi appears in the margins talking on her phone to Urania, not noticing the gorilla right behind her. One page later, she's been trampled into the ground, saying (paraphrased), "I had no minute I was talking to you, and the next thing I knew, something big and hairy was stomping me!"
  • Nine-Token Band: All the Muses come from different parts of the world, and represent different cultures.
  • F--: When Kokopelli had to look after a robot baby that Chad invented, he did such a terrible job taking care of it that his final score was -10.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: The Muse Mail page, where the Muses themselves respond to most (if not all) letters written to the magazine. As you might expect, it gets manic very quickly.
    • They obviously can't publish all letters in the magazine, but if you write, one of the Muses will send you a postcard.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Pwt seems to be a subversion. Pwt's the Muse of Animals, but is mostly just seen antagonizing Crraw.
  • Funny Animal: Feather, who is, as you might expect, an anthropomorphic bird.
    • Feather supposedly wears a mask. He once took it off in front of Kokopelli.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Chad, who can build anything. Not always well, mind you...
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: Four boys (Kokopelli, Chad, Crraw, Feather), four girls (Aeiou, Mimi, Bo, Urania), and Pwt.
  • The Generic Girl: Mimi.
  • Genre Savvy: In an article about the use of fingerprints in forensic science:
    Kokopelli: Urania, would you touch this pie tin?
    Urania: No, I will not! You would just pie me and claim that I did it to myself because my fingerprints were on the tin!
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • One strip had Chad put a toad into a "genetic tweakulator" machine in order to make it able to better adapt to its environment, which has been rendered uninhabitable by global warming. It turns the toad into a 50-foot-tall Kaiju monster that starts destroying a nearby city to get revenge on the humans (and kidnaps Urania).
    • In an October issue, Feather dresses as Kokopelli for Halloween. His costume is so convincing that when he arrives at the door of Chad's house, Chad thinks he is Kokopelli and attacks him with a superglue-filled hose and a bag of feathers in revenge for the previous years' Halloween pranks. Subverted in the last panel, when it turns out that "Chad" was actually Kokopelli himself in an equally convincing Chad costume, who knew exactly what he was doing the whole time.
  • Historical In-Joke: Urania's the only Muse who's also, well, a muse.
  • Horned Humanoid: Aeiou.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Bo eats some cow chow made by Pwt that, unbeknownst to her, has been made with beef byproducts. When she finds out, she is not pleased.
  • Long Runner: The magazine's been going 15 years and counting.
  • Mr. Seahorse: When the Muses are trying to bake a birthday cake for Kokopelli, Crraw donates some eggs.
  • Nice Headdress: Mimi's is so cool that, in a marginal in one issue, a few of the Muses copy it.
  • No Fourth Wall: In one comic, Urania and Pwt realize that they're surrounded by white frames. Urania also discovers perspective at one point. All of the muses seem to realize that they're in a magazine, and not just in the mail room. In "A Surfeit of Coneys," for example, Paul Baker notes how the Muses discuss reader reaction to the Hot Pink Bunnies. Various other examples of wall breakage occur from time to time.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: All the Muses' designs are different, to reflect their different cultures. In particular, Kokopelli, who seems to be black all over.
  • Noodle People: Aeiou's arms are as long as her body, and seem to bend at random. They're how she "speaks".
  • Only Sane Girl: Poor Mimi...
  • Pie in the Face: Koko's favorite prank.
  • Playful Hacker: Aeiou.
  • Road Runner vs. Coyote: Pwt has an obsession with trying to catch Crraw. It's not clear why... other than that Crraw is just annoying.
  • Serious Business: The March 1997 issue featured a vaguely pro-vegetarianism article, and had a photo of a calf on the front cover with the caption "Please Don't Eat Me!" The cattle industry and some politicians threw a fit, and the following issue's Muse Mail had about three pages of angry letters.
  • Slapstick Knows No Gender
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is it Crraw or Craaw?
  • Talking Animal: Bo (a cow) and Crraw (a crow).
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Feather and donuts. Mmmm, donuts.
  • The Trickster: Kokopelli. But of course.
  • Trickster Mentor: Kokopelli himself has his moments. In an article about an American Revolution-era court fight over taxes, Feather questions why people care so much about money. Kokopelli asks him to pay back ten dollars that Feather supposedly borrowed from him. Despite Feather's protests that Kokopelli never lent him anything, Kokopelli continues to goad him about the money until they start beating each other up, then asks, "By the way, does this answer your original question?"
  • The Unpronounceable: Aeiou already has one, but then she was revealed to have a twin sister named Bcdtghjklmnpqrs.
  • The Voiceless: Aeiou. Only Crraw seems to know how to interpret her arms.
    • This is a result of an early Retcon: in the first couple of issues, Aeiou could talk normally like everyone else.
    • And when Aeiou first became mute, Mimi translated for a few issues.
  • World of Weirdness: The wild and crazy landscape of Kokonino County, which may even be a reference to Krazy Kat in both name and style.

Attack of the Smart Pies provides examples of:


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