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TOE & SO LONG (review) —“Many doors lead to the same place”

Creator: Jacob Michael Campbell

Illustrator: Alexis Vivallo

Crude Rose 2023

AN ADOLESCENT DREAM plays with images of doors scattered in the distance across a rolling meadow, and zooms in on two traveling partners on the move, a doughboy‑guy with sharp toes and fingers named Toe, and a curly cat named So Long, searching “seemingly always” for a door, a threshold, a place to call home; and preferably, that smells right. The new independent strip TOE & SO LONG, by creator Jacob Michael Campbell and illustrator Alexis Vivallo, lured me in despite, or perhaps because of the crude rendering, barely even a cartoon with its collage of cut-out shapes, but looking eerily like a scene I too have seen, near age 16, dreaming about doors and the inhabited rooms beyond, and sniffing around.

The pair’s first adventure drops through a door into what looks like a modern office with employees listening to an information video about office protocol and upcoming events. The pair debate whether this is a dystopia or a utopia. Everyone there seems fine with it. Like most offices, strangers are not welcome, and Toe & So Long are quickly apprehended and detained. The scene is made to look like a police state, yet also plainly resembles real life in modern work settings, where subordination, exclusion, and force is the way work gets done. Sorry about that. You have to come with me.

The wayward heroes are invited to speak with the big boss, who of course turns out to be the computer, a nice guy who has big plans that could include Toe & So Long. We have some very nice positions for you. Interested?

As dreams do, we jump behind the screen right away, and see how the big-boss computer operates from its outer space platform. Any life and resources within reach are doomed to extinction. The interstellar imagery reflects our own oceanic globalism, urbanized on space platforms, while industrial giants dominate the earth, stripping all, chunk by chunk, and lust for more in the yet untapped wilds, while happy employees chew away content with constant entertainment and smart machines.

Toe & So Long quickly discover the flattering invitation, “I want to use you” means really, “I want to consume you”—and discard. This is one’s fate when corporate ethics control public life. Waste is discarded. These ethics are playing out now in Oregon, where a southern city has made it illegal for homeless people to stay anywhere in the city limits; court action instructed the city to rescind its punitive measures, yet the city appealed to the US Supreme Court to support its right to sweep away anyone it does not want around (ironic, since Oregon was long ago one of the first states in the union to make vagrancy not a crime). As vagrancy rises to horrific proportions close by me, for humans, animals, and all forms of life, it looks like a crime to me. Something criminal.

Toe & So Long think so, too. They rebel. Burst out, and see the machine is a dragon: a friendly enough‑snake thing, perhaps an uroboros, never to be vanquished, only tamed.

This is an uncannily clear vision coming from a youthful dream. Evidently, these conditions are clear enough to our children growing up, maybe not quite distinct, but helped along by scenes in their dreams, and art from others like these two artists with their avatars Toe & So Long sharing their adventures; only just now resting a bit, exhausted, on the meadow again, with unexplored doors stretching away in the distance, and only So Long alert enough to keep sniffing around where we ought to try next.