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Webcomic / Digger

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Wombats really love their bracing.

Shadowchild: Should we go help?
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 Wombattish 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. (NOTE: As of 2017 a handful of pages may not display properly, but can be viewed complete on the Wayback Machine.) A full backup can also be found here.

Started in March, 2003. 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 held for it, with the aim of collecting all six volumes into one omnibus. It has the dubious claim to fame of being the only such Kickstarter, ever, to offer foam pickaxes and pear sculptures as add-ons. Another Kickstarter was held for a 10th anniversary collection from Underthing Press, a publishing imprint founded by Patrick Rothfuss with the goal of reprinting Digger.

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. (Though really, by hyena standards the trope would be "Action Guy", as they have a sort of Amazonian culture at a genetic level…)
    • To a lesser extent, Digger herself; while she might be primarily a digger and engineer by trade, she can knock some heads together if she needs to.
  • Ain't No Rule
    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 Gender Confusion: Initially averted with Digger herself, who is always identified as female (when her sex is relevant at all), despite being a furry, cylindrical member of a species nobody else in the story has ever encountered. She had barely visible breasts in early pages, but the artist phased these out later. However, the trope is played straight for the hyenas, with several characters expressing inability to determine their sex. This is Truth in Television: hyena sexes are difficult to tell apart even for those familiar with them.
  • 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.
  • Alliterative Title:
    • Chapter 4: Metaphors and Machinations
    • Chapter 5: Of Warriors and Wombats
    • Chapter 8: The Unspeakable and the Unspoken
    • Chapter 9: The Mad and the Misunderstood
  • All Trolls Are Different: Especially Surka (who, admittedly, is only a professional troll, and was 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.
  • Amazon Brigade: Justified. They're hyenas — the females are larger and stronger than the males.
    • Also when Digger eventually does go questing, it's with two other females and a shadow creature of indeterminate sex. In fact, most of the major characters are female or, in the case of the Shadowchild, not indicated to be male or female. But then again, it's complicated because Grim Eyes has a 'male' role in hyena culture while Ed has a 'female' role.
  • Anachronic Order: Not in the story itself, but the page numbers on the site are notoriously confused, which can impede an Archive Binge somewhat.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The story ends just as Digger is setting out for the long journey home, leaving open the possibility for further adventures before she actually gets there. The Omnibus Edition includes a short story chronicling one such adventure involving Digger's interaction with a dragon and the dragonslayers that are after it.
  • Animorphism: Digger meets a man named Herne (named for an English folkloric figure) who ended up with a deer's head. ("There was an accident with an herbal supplement, okay?")
  • Annoying Arrows: Subverted. After defeating all but one of the bandits raiding the village single-handed, Digger is shot in the shoulder with a crossbow at close range. Just when it looks like Digger is going to shrug it off and beat up the guy who did it, she collapses midway through what was probably meant to be her "No More Holding Back" Speech. The fact someone broke off the shaft and got the head wedged under her collarbone did not help; Digger needed immediate and major surgery, was incapacitated for a realistic period of time, and may now be addicted to poppy milk. (She gets better! ...Eventually.)
  • 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: Digger calls herself on this. Digger very quickly accepts the idea of talking statues, sentient shadow creatures, and hunting hyena tribes. But rats being something other than ordinary rats? That's what finally drives home to her how far from home she is.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • "The trader Samuel who was master of unspeakable arts? Who knew dark secrets of sorcery, necromancy, and accounting?"
    • Another, which overlaps slightly with Genius Bonus- when Digger first meets Vo, he comments that he thought wombats were fictional, "like dybbuks and cameleopards." The latter is the scientific term for a giraffe.
  • 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.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: 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.
  • Badass Adorable: Digger, Shadowchild, Ed. Hell, 90% of the entire cast.
  • Badass Normal: Forget gods, magic, and daemons... REMEMBER TUNNEL SEVENTEEN! Grim Eyes and Surka also certainly count.
    • It should also be noted that Surka is a shrew who is roughly six inches tall.
    • Pretty much every major character (apart from maybe Shadowchild) is this. Even Boneclaw Mother, though she does her best to keep it a secret.
  • Battle Cry: REMEMBER TUNNEL SEVENTEEN! Complete with Pratchett-esque origin myth.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Inverted; the heart is not beating on its own, nor is it a sign that its owner is alive. Instead, a team of slaves pulling on ropes are forcing it to beat and keep an otherwise dead god alive against his will, even though the rest of him has rotted away to bones. When the protagonist skeptically lampshades this, pointing out that the heart isn't even hooked up to anything, she receives the explanation that it's the metaphor of the thing that makes it work.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: At the end of the comic, it turns out the bandersnatch would not go overland because "the Shadow" asked it not to. It didn't mind obeying, since it was asked nicely, and "hardly anyone asks us nicely."
  • Beneath the Earth: Digger's initial tunnel that she used to reach the area the story takes place in is connected to a substantial cave system. Most of the driving conflict comes from down there.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: When Herne is first asked about his deer-headed appearance, he first claims that a deer raped his grandmother. Then he admits it was a joke and starts to claim, "Actually it was my grandfather who had this unnatural—"
  • Big Bad: Sweetgrass Voice. Curiously, though, it only really appears near the climax of the story.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: How in the name of She-Is-Fiercer did Grim Eyes grow up even approaching normal? The best bet is that Boneclaw Mother raised her herself and used sheer badassery and age-granted wisdom to keep her from becoming like her mother.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Fellowship Has Ended. Ed died and can't even be buried or mourned properly by his people, the Shadowchild has lost its innocence and has left to try to save others of its kind, and Digger will have to live with the trauma and horrific things she has seen. However, Sweetgrass Voice is defeated and He-Is has finally died in peace, Boneclaw Mother will ensure Ed is remembered by his tribe in some fashion, Shadowchild has avoided becoming monstrous like other demons thanks to Digger's mentorship, and thanks to the efforts of the friends she made, Digger finally gets to go home.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: A "truth is stranger than fiction" example, as the dimorphism shown by the hyenas is completely normal for real life Spotted Hyenas.
  • Black Comedy Rape: The deer-headed Deadpan Snarker Herne shuts down questions about his appearance by claiming that a deer raped his grandmother, which causes Digger to go a bit bug-eyed. The truth involves some dodgy herbal supplements.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: As Digger starts to tune Boneclaw Mother out in the funeral speech, she starts to perceive the speech as this.
    Boneclaw Mother: Blah blah blah honor blah blah respect blah blah Skull Ridges...
    Footnote: Purely from Digger's perspective. Not even Boneclaw Mother would do that.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The skin lizards, at times.
    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.
  • Break the Cutie: Ed's backstory. To make a long, tragic story short, he put up with an insane, abusive wife (whom he still loved) for years, was eventually forced to kill her when she began abusing their daughter, and was banished for doing so.
  • Brick Joke: "Are you a talking deer?"
    • Comes up again at the very end when Samuel's bandersnatch refuses to continue by request of a shadow. "It was a very polite shadow." "It asked us if we could talk."
  • Brown Note: If you value your sanity, do not look directly on the face of the Black Mother.
  • Buffy Speak: Minor example:
    "I have this rock, the rock is bad, you thought I was bad, but it's really the rock, what's with the rock?"
  • Carnivore Confusion: Digger tells the Shadowchild that it is wrong to eat anything that can talk, but the hyenas 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.
  • Casts No Shadow: If Shadowchild eats something's shadow, it's literally been eaten. Apparently having no shadow is usually enough to make a person fall into a coma and die; what happens if they don't die isn't specified, but probably isn't good.
  • Catchphrase: Digger has quite a few. "Blood and shale!", "Mother of moles...", and "As my distant relative used to say". Not to mention the facepalms.
  • The Cavalry: The hyenas, who show up to stop Jhalm from fighting past Murai and going after Digger at the temple of Ganesh.
  • Chariot Pulled by Cats: Samuel the trader's caravan is pulled by a two-headed creature called a Bandersnatch (of The Hunting of the Snark).
  • Chekhov's Gag:
    • The vampire squash, which first appear to be nothing more that a weird, random worldbuilding 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.
    • One dropped all the way back on page two is picked up almost at the climax of the entire story.
      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 ""
  • Chekhov's Gun: All over the place. 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.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Black Mother was created when street children adapted their own version of a myth. (Especially tragic, to the point of horrifying, when you realize that the whole process that created her is based on an elaborate set of "secret stories" created by homeless children in Miami.) It is implied that this was not a unique case.
  • 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 tore out her throat in her sleep when she couldn't fight back.
    • Despite her reputation, Boneclaw Mother is old and frail and knows it. When she needs a way to deal with Jhalm, she puts fast-acting poison on her claws.
  • Cool Old Lady: Boneclaw Mother, despite being blind and frail, still manages to keep the other hyenas in check. She's also a bit dirty-minded as well.
  • Could Say It, But...: Boneclaw Mother, quite late in the comic's run and during the climax. "Were I a crude old woman..."
  • 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 and tries to help him with things that require heavy lifting and such. Herne is far less than appreciative.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Played for laughs in the story of Lung the Quick, the sculptor who carved the Statue of Ganesh. During his career as Imperial Sculptor, he was only allowed to carve unicorns, as the Emperor believed himself to be one. By about unicorn #5, Lung was completely fed up, but you don't say no to the Emperor, so he psyched himself up to work on further unicorns by imagining increasingly complicated and implausible deaths for his employer—he was at "trapped between two trees and trepanned to death by confused woodpeckers" by the time the Emperor kicked the bucket. (His Imperial Majesty died after eating a blowfish-and-nightshade buffet under the mistaken impression his unicorn powers would protect him.)
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Digger. Ed also manages it, occasionally.
    "Oh, well. Here Ed is being worried it was being something strange."
    • Herne.
    • 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."
  • Determinator: Comes close to Why Won't You Die?. Digger's initial response to being shot with a crossbow quarrel is:
    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 badass.
    • 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 that real-life Spotted Hyenas will chase prey until it is too tired to defend itself or until it dies of sheer exhaustion, this is Justified.
    • The Cold Servants are also Determinators.
      "It—is—foolish—to run. We—do not—tire."
  • Didn't Think This Through: A dramatic example. At the final climax, everyone is hurried and under pressure, and no one realizes until it's too late that Ed breaking the chain while standing on the heart would result in him falling to his death.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?:
    • The People, ritually cannibalistic bipedal hyenas who consider any non-hyena sentient fair game when hunting. They turn out to mostly be very nice people once you get to know them, especially Ed, who starts off trying to eat Digger but ends up serving her tea just a few pages later.
    • Also the Statue of Ganesh: 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.
      • Embarking on her journey with Murai, and having been somewhat more brusque than usual with the Statue, Digger learns the being she was just surly to was not the usual Statue avatar but the actual spirit of Ganesh Himself speaking through His representation.
  • Doctor's Orders: The hag is willing and able to defy anyone, even the statue of Ganesh, when it comes to her patients.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: "Ed is not being sure if taunting ancient evil is being the best idea..."
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Averted with Ed being beaten by his mate, which is much more of a Tear Jerker than a source of comedy. Of course, a large part of this has to do with the usual sexist gender stereotypes being reversed in hyena society.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Digger removes the masks from the cold servants here, revealing that they are hyenas.
  • Due to the Dead: Ed gets a pretty good one.
  • Dug Too Deep: How the story started and arguably its entire premise. It is, however, a Reconstruction, as unlike the dwarves of Moria, wombats know there are some things in the deeps you leave the hell alone.
    "Generally we don't cut [gods] loose. Presumably if you've been bound in the bowels of the earth with a giant serpent dripping poison into your eyes, someone had a damn good reason!"
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Complete with Taking You with Me for last words: "NAME IS ED!".
  • Easter Egg: On several pages, 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).
  • Eldritch Abomination: Ganesh tells Digger a story about a... thing... called Famine, describing it as an elemental — of a type of element that does not exist in our world.
  • 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.
  • Euphemism Buster: Digger attempts to tell Grim Eyes about Murai's mental problems, but Grim Eyes can't make sense of her euphemism, so Murai cuts to the chase.
    Digger: The ladder goes all the way to the bottom of the mine shaft, but there are no landings, if you get what I mean.
    [Beat Panel]
    Grim Eyes: …I haven't got any idea what you mean.
    Murai: She means I'm crazy.
    Digger: And they wonder why I don't bother trying to be tactful…
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • "Heh. Forgive our manners, little creature — that we may well kill and eat you is no excuse for rudeness."
    • Even after descending into a paranoid, delusional, spiteful Knight Templar, Jhalm still has enough common sense to not want to have kill one of his own Veiled.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Hag has no other known name. Nor does the statue of Ganesh.
  • Eye Scream:
    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?
  • Eyedscreen: All the time. Once with a squash.
  • Exotic Equipment: It's made clear that the hyenas are... anatomically correct as far as spotted hyenas go. Likewise, Digger is an anatomically correct marsupial, and so is thoroughly squicked by placental mammal reproduction. Fortunately, this is not the sort of comic where those points are given too much detail.
  • 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.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: When Digger is trying to get directions from trader Samuel.
    Samuel: Maps? There are no maps. I go by dark ways, unclean ways. If such a map existed, it would be beyond price. Nameless cults would battle in the low places of the earth for such a prize. Dreamers would starve themselves in endless visions seeking its location. Such a map would have to be drawn on the skin of a black he-goat, in virgin's blood, with a brush made of dragon's eyelashes. The cartographer would go mad, and it would profane the hands that touched it.
    Digger: I can get you a pencil and the margins of "101 Goat Diseases".
  • Fantastic Racism: The hyenas 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, and the one guide who did agree had a deer's head.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Good Man is fairly clearly based on Jesus, and the Black Mother on a story about a group of street kids who created a derivative mythology.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: In this universe there are trolls, dead gods, magic, "Jesus", a "Virgin Mary" (who may or may not be an evil witch as well), Ganesh, demons, talking animals, and deer-minotaurs that happen as a result of herbal pills.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The hyenas have one. Exiled tribe members have their name "eaten", making them a nonentity in their culture.
  • Footnote Fever: Useful for those hard-to-translate wombat homilies.
  • Foreign Queasine: Digger ends up eating liver as part of a hyena funeral. As she's an herbivore, it makes her very ill.
  • 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.
  • Freaky Funeral Forms:
    • Digger and Shadowchild both have problems with the hyenas' tradition of funerary cannibalism.
    • Digger is horrified when she realizes that the underground creatures will skin Ed's body, but has no other way of burying her dead friend.
  • Friend or Foe?: In chapter 2, Digger and Shadowchild come across a village that's been hit by bandits. As they make their way through, they hear fighting in the distance. Shadowchild wonders if they should go help, but Digger points out the difficulties in determining the alliances of strangers in the heat of battle, instead opting for them to carefully pick their way along and look for any survivors they could help.
    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.
  • 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 Ed who 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.
  • Funny Background Event: Plenty. Look around carefully in big panels where the main characters are not centered.
  • 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.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The statue of Ganesh does not have the authority to overrule the Veiled as the Veiled serve more than one god. He-Is has his hands literally tied, and that's the least of his problems.
  • Good Is Not Nice:
  • Got Me Doing It:
    • Before Digger tells soon-to-be-Ed her name, he refers to her as "Mousie". She catches herself doing the same.
      Digger: Nah, don't worry, Mousie doesn't— [pause] (Must be contagious.)
    • Over the course of the comic, Ed gradually picks up and starts imitating Digger's snarky sense of humor.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Blood-Tail's envy of her sister did not end well.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Said almost word-for-word by the shadowchild.
  • Hold the Line: In the final arc, Murai stands guard at the temple door to delay Jhalm and his men for as long as possible while Digger goes on her quest.
  • The Homeward Journey: Digger's end-goal throughout the series is to get home.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: A lot of problems later on in the plot arise from the fact that gods appear unable to end their own lives, especially when their worshippers won't let them.
  • "I Can't Look!" Gesture: Digger turns away as the Cold Ones are being pummeled by the vampire squash.
    Digger: I can't look.
    Surka: [watching eagerly] I can!
  • 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 nobody in the whole tribe is actually in any way deluded about what really happened. Blood-Tail is not a popular lady.
  • I Know Your True Name: Hyenas don't appear to consider anyone without a proper hyena name a person. Fine if you're not a hyena: they'll just kill and eat you. If you however had a name and did something to get it taken away...
  • I Owe You My Life:
    Grim Eyes: If the Elders say I may hunt you again, I will warn you first.
    Digger: Errm...Thanks?
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
  • 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.
  • Immune to Fate: A downplayed example with Helix's bloodline, with the exception of oracular slugs. Also, you can't make a prophecy about them directly, but they're still fully covered by fate and won't be breaking any other prophecies.
  • Innocent Awkward Question: The Shadowchild doesn't know what it is, and has a habit of asking if it is some thing it's just heard about, such as various animals and objects. During Digger and the Shadowchild's first run-in with the hyena tribe, the hyenas learn that Digger was the guest of an outcast of the tribe — an unthinkable taboo in their culture — and call her a pervert. Cue this whispered exchange:
    Shadowchild: What's a pervert?
    Digger: Tell you later.
    Shadowchild: Am I a—?
    Digger: No!
  • 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.
  • I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Shadowchild doesn't realize that other people can't stretch themselves out into frightening-looking shapes.
  • Just in Time: When Digger et al. return from their mission to the monastery.
  • Kill the Cutie: Ed, who dies to break the chains holding He-Is's heart aloft and kill the god (and Sweetgrass Voice with him).
  • Kill the God: The climax of the story involves performing a mercy kill on He-Is.
  • Lady Land: Ursula did do her research on hyenas.
  • 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).
  • Limited Wardrobe: One of the few examples that makes any sense in context — Digger is trapped far from home, and so only has one vest with her, the Veiled all have identical uniforms, the statue of Ganesh's clothes are carved as part of his body, and the hyenas' concept of clothing seems to end at loincloth + warpaint + lots of necklaces = awesome.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: There's a human village not too far from a pack of (sapient) hyenas. And of course, the main character is a wombat.
  • Loud Sleeper Gag: On the journey to the monastery, Digger notes that "Grim Eyes snored like a mole with a busted snout."
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Digger is a direct descendant of Descending Helix She lampshades this. In addition, Ed is Grim Eyes' father.
  • Made of Iron: Digger has some aspects of this. Of course, she regrets it later.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: On occasion.
  • Mama Bear: Digger and her maternal instinct to Shadowchild.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: The norm with hyenas. Justified due to hyena society being matriarchal.
  • 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 how Real Life spotted 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.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Descending Helix is a direct ancestor of Digger. Thus they share at least some of the same DNA...
    • A lot of hyena names evoke this: Grim Eyes, Skull Ridges, Blood-Tail, Owl Caller...
    • Digger-of-Unnecessarily-Convoluted-Tunnels does seem to have a truly amazing ability to get herself into an unnecessarily convoluted adventures and inadvertently keeps digging herself in deeper.
  • The Medic: The Hag and Owl-Caller.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Murai is moping about her past hardships and the transient nature of her destiny. Then Shadowchild appears, announcing, "I ate a sock!"
    • Ed has just died. Then the Skin Lizards show up with a light, and announce thus: "It is a bug on a stick!"
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • Grim Eyes, Blood-Eyes, Blood-Tail, Shadebones... most female hyenas seem to have them. Even the benevolent ones like Boneclaw Mother. And unless they like you, you'd better run really fast.
    • 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.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Sort of inverted. Wombats seem to have rather unpoetic names that reference their occupational habits and skills. Similarly, some hyenas have names that indicate their professions (e.g. Owl Caller, a shaman who probably speaks to birds) but often seem to be based on a physical feature (Grim Eyes, Bloodtail).
  • 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. Based on some of the hyenas' talk, this isn't an entirely uncommon point of view.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted here.
    • And here as the after-effects of a herbivore having eaten part of a carnivore's liver work their way through.
  • No Name Given: "Ed" is unusual in that at one point he had a real name, but it got eaten. Digger decided to name him Ed because she refused to call him "it", as he did.
  • Noodle Incident: Used frequently for one-shot gags. Example: Homicidal big toe?
  • Not in Front of the Kid: When Shadowchild asks Herne about his deer-headed appearance, Herne starts to repeat his false claim that his grandmother was raped by a deer. Before Herne can get out the word "rape", Digger drags him away by the ear to have a talk with him.
  • No Title: The first and last chapters are the only ones without titles.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: The vampiric squash. (No, they don't exist, but they're based on a real Baltic legend.)
  • 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. This can't help the problem any.
  • 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.
  • Offerings to the Gods: The Statue of Ganesh receives offerings of food from the faithful, but, being rather more interested in the gesture than in their worldly substance, readily tells Digger to help herself to the food when she arrives at the temple in a bad state.
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Veiled run across Digger on a bad day, and wisely decide not to bother her.
    Digger: Listen up, buddy. You've got a sword, but you've also got orders to take me alive. I've got a pickaxe, but I don't really care whether you live or die.
    Veiled: Meep.
  • Only Sane Wombat: Digger feels this way throughout most of her journey.
  • Organ Autonomy: The Hag is sufficiently skilled at surgery to re-attach severed body parts, but they do have a slight tendency to go evil and try to kill their owners. As she points out, this is more of a problem with arms than with earlobes, which rather than trying to throttle you just wiggle aggressively. Specific mention of a suicidal re-attached toe that tried to stub itself at any opportunity is made.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: When you think about it, Grim Eyes's early life really sucked. When she rejects her father in a later strip, it's like a sucker punch to the tear ducts for both her father and the reader, and for some a serious case of Fridge Horror.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons can be evil, but the one that gets the most screen time is actually very innocent and mostly just 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 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.
    • Given that demons can eat shadows and seem to only partly exist in the universe's dimension, they are clearly very strange entities indeed.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Aside from (over)using magic in their construction projects, what we know of the dwarves seems to fit the trope. Aside from being Funny Animals, wombats also fit the stereotype fairly well (though they're a lot more practical about their construction methods).
  • Our Vampires Are Different: For one, they're squash — based on real Balkan folklore, believe it or not.
    • There are also more ordinary vampires — the cold servants.
  • Planet of Hats: Aside from their love of applied geology, wombats seem to be defined by their pragmatism and reasonable approach to everything.
  • Poisoned Weapon: Boneclaw Mother prepared for if she failed to talk Captain Jhalm out of deciding to kill a wounded girl protecting the shrine. She put poison on her left claw and got into melee range — all it would take was one swipe.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Averted; you're lucky if they're a full sentence. One prophet notes a particular prophecy as remarkable, since it's "with a verb and everything!"
  • Protagonist Title: The comic is named after its main character, Digger.
  • Proud Warrior Race Girls: The hyenas.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The—cold servants. They just—follow—the commandments—of their—god. Whose—blood—sustains them. No—matter—what.
  • The Quest: Eventually, Digger sets out to perform a mercy killing on a dead god.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Boneclaw Mother is very good at delivering these to the deserving, to the point her granddaughter treats it like magic. ("Do the Thing!") Ganesh defuses a threatened one, however, by saying that any such insight could only be a benefit.
  • Reconstruction: The story parodies traditional heroic antics with a heavy dose of realistic consequences. But then the characters go do the same things, noting the complications and succeeding with planning and preparation.
  • Refusal of the Call: Defied. 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.
  • Reinforce Field: Dwarves have a bad reputation in-universe for shoring up their Underground Cities with unreliable spells rather than build them to be structurally sound in the first place.
  • Running Joke: The Shadowchild.
    • "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?
  • Save the Villain: Lampshaded during the troll bridge story, when Digger saves the at-the-time antagonistic Grim Eyes from falling off said bridge.
    Digger: Now, I could probably work up a good explanation for why I caught the hyena, who had, after all, been trying to kill me for a while now. I could tell you that I was hoping to earn her gratitude or point out that Surka was still attached to her ankle. These are all good and valid reasons. The fact is, though, that when people fall off cliffs, you grab for them. It's just a reflex.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Sweetgrass Voice. Interesting in that the "can" in this case is a living body (for a given value of "living"), which the evil cannot exist without.
  • Shout-Out: Ursula Vernon makes numerous references to her other works in Digger.
    • Ed's cave art contains an Easter Egg shout-out to Conspiracy of Mammals.
    • The hyena people first appeared in her Black Dogs series before appearing in Digger.
    • The first view of the library shows that it includes, among many volumes about chickens and assorted other topics, copies of Alice in Wonderland and The Sandman.
    • The Librarian Vo organizes a series of firsthand accounts about Ursula Vernon's Gearworld and mentions the T'Chang empire that was briefly visited in Black Dogs.
    • And Ursula's book Nurk features the eponymous shrew frequently referencing the journal of his illustrious grandmother, Surka.
    • Ed the hyena, to The Lion King (1994) (the other hyenas have more exotic names).
  • Shown Their Work:
    • 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.
    • The Skin Lizards' description of making purple dye is a fair rendition of the (rather nasty) process used to make Tyrian purple, the original royal dye. Ed's proposed alternate dye uses false indigo, which Vernon grows in her own garden (though she hasn't made dye from it herself).
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!
    Sweetgrass-Voice: Do you have any idea how long twelve thousand years is?
    Digger: I know it's not long enough to make a good rock.
    • When Sweetgrass Voice offers to restore the skin-painter's eaten name, the skin-painter replies, "Has a name! Name is Ed!"
  • 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.
  • Starter Marriage: Wombats accounted for these, by having marriage contracts last 1 through 5 years with the option to renew.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker:
    • The—cold servants—communicate—in—an unusual—manner. One—speech bubble—per—concept. Telepathy—is the—favoured—fan—theory.
    • Ed, too — after being exiled, he spent seventeen years not speaking 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 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 enchanted chains made by dwarves, in a probable shout-out to Norse Mythology. In order to make sure the chains were also proof against mundane threats such as earthquakes or lockpicks, a wombat was also hired as a consultant.
  • Survivor's 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.
  • Take Away Their Name: Hyena culture features this as punishment for the most heinous of crimes. Ed had his original name "eaten" when he was cast out of his tribe for killing his wife because she was abusing their child. He considers his name to be gone, and we never find out what it was; however, the protagonist gives him the new moniker "Ed", which he gratefully receives. In an unusual twist, he still remembers his name perfectly well — there was no supernatural process to make it unrememberable or unpronounceable — but still considers it eaten and gone.
    Digger: But can't you remember what it was?
    Ed: Of course it remembers! It remembers the rabbit it ate yesterday too, but rabbit still gone. Memory not life. Name dead, eaten, gone.
  • Take That!: Among the feats ascribed to The Good Man by the people of Saltlace are healing the sick, raising the dead, speaking to wild beasts, and converting politicians...
    Digger: Okay, now I know this is a myth!
    Murai: There may have been some creative embellishments. It's been a thousand years.
  • Talk About the Weather: Digger's response to being told that the statue of Ganesh had, one time, actually held the god Himself.
  • Tastes Like Chicken: Surka supposes that gods taste like chicken.
  • Team Dad: The statue of Ganesh and Boneclaw Mother.
  • Team Mom: Digger herself for the journey arc.
  • They Have the Scent!: The cold servants let out a distinctive cry in the distance as they pursue Digger and Grim Eyes.
  • 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.
  • This Is Wrong on So Many Levels!: Digger has this reaction to Shadowchild's first memories.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Little Skin Painter and Blood Eyes, because of the way hyena biology works.
  • The Treachery of Images: The Statue of Ganesh discusses this when it and Digger first meet: it is an artistic representation of the actual god Ganesh, which yields it a greater physical presence but far less divine power. "It is both more and less".
  • Too Much Information: When the Oracular Slug is telling his backstory:
    Oracular Slug: Coupla hundred years ago, see, there was this local druid chap. Madder than a mayfly. Hairier than a caterpillar. His back looked like the underside of a sheep.
    Digger: I don't think I need this level of detail.
    Oracular Slug: Too bad.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Digger starts wearing Ed's necklace after he dies.
  • Trial-Period Dating: The wombats are so pragmatically minded that their standard marriage contract has a fixed term with the option to renew.
  • Troll Bridge: Surka the professional bridge troll. She's actually a shrew, although she has a couple of actual 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 often contain large amounts of Shown Their Work for some of the more ridiculous aspects of biology and mythology.
  • Tunnel King: Digger's name is very apt. She's an expert digger and finds digging things like root cellars and drainage ditches fun.
  • The Unreveal:
    • The true name of Sweetgrass Voice. Turns out "most mortals are incapable of even hearing the names of demons, never mind such niceties as pronouncing them." (With the exception of armadillos, of course.)
    • Also, Ed's original name, which was eaten when he was exiled. Ed still remembers his name, but never uses it because it's still gone. In the end, he chooses to go by "Ed".
  • Unsound Effect: Everything from "swoon" and "stab" to "Sounds of distant ethereal chanting!"note  and "Somewhat more disgruntled ethereal chanting." Usually with notes explaining why these were chosen over more traditional sound effects.
    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.''
  • Verbal Tic:
  • 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.
  • What Measure Is A Non Hyena?: Hyenas don't consider non-hyenas people (and thus are fair game to be hunted and eaten, among other things). This isn't absolutely insurmountable, though — Digger, for example, is formally adopted into the hyena clan, and Grim Eyes ends up getting along with Murai and Shadowchild fairly well. She's also fairly amiable towards Herne, but in an incredibly condescending way, and he doesn't share the sentiment.
  • Wham Episode:
    • 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: Subverted. Before setting out on a journey, Murai, a Veiled monk, decides to travel extremely light, bringing little with her but her clothes and a begging bowl. Digger (who was assigned to escort her) rejects this idea and spends hours packing, checking and double-checking her supplies, and learning about 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.
  • World of Snark: Pretty much a trademark of Ursula Vernon.
  • Worst Aid: The Veiled who find Digger with a crossbow wound seem to think the best way to deal with the bolt is to snap the shaft off. It's not. The surgery to get the bolthead out makes Digger's injury significantly worse.