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 her typical Wombat practicality, wit and 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, and quite abruptly. Although there was a proper "The end" message, so we've got nothing to complain about.

Character page here. Contributions welcome.

Tropes used in Digger include:
  • Abuse Is Okay When Its Female On Male: Starkly 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.
  • 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 Guys Want Bad Girls: 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.
  • Aint No Rule

Jhalm: "Honoured Burrower. Skulking though 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."

  • 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.
  • Amazon Brigade: Justified. They're hyenas.
    • Also when Digger eventually does go questing, it's with two other females and... err... a shadow creature of indeterminate sex.
    • In fact, most of the major characters are female or, in the case of the Shadowchild and the statue of Ganesh, not indicated to be male or female.
  • 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...
  • 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 passes out midway through what was probably meant to be her World of Cardboard Speech. The fact someone broke of the shaft let the head shift and get lodged under her collarbone did not help, she needed immediate and major surgery and was incapacitated for a realistic period of time, and may now be addicted to poppy milk.
    • She gets better!
  • 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "The trader Samuel who was master of unspeakable arts? Who knew dark secrets of sorcery, necromancy, and accounting?"
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • Badass Adorable: Digger, Shadowchild, Ed... Aw hell, 90% of the entire cast.
  • Badass Normal: Forget gods, magic and daemons... REMEMBER TUNNEL SEVENTEEN! Grim Eyes and Surka also certainly count.
  • 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 pull on ropes that force 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.
  • Beneath the Earth
  • 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 Badass and Cool Old Lady age granted wisdom to keep her from becoming like her mother.
      • Said mother is a real special (and by "special" I mean "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 lead 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Brick Joke: "Are you a talking deer?"
  • Chekhov's Gag: 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.
  • Buffy-Speak: Minor example:

"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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dead for Real: Goodbye, Ed...
  • 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."

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..." {{[[[Written Sound Effect]] 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 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."

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?"

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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Jhalm and Grim Eyes.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Blood-tail's Envy of her sister does not end well.
  • The Homeward Journey
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: A lot of problems later on the the plot arise from the fact that gods appear unable to end their own lives... especially when their worshipers won't let them.
  • If I Can't Have You: Bloodtail 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 Bloodeyes instead, so Bloodtail 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. Bloodtail 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?"

"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."

  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Little Skin Painter and Blood Eyes, because of the way hyena biology works.
  • 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.
  • Tunnel King: Digger.
  • The Un-Reveal: 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 true name. But in the end, he chose "Ed".
  • Unsound Effect: Everything from "swoon" and "stab" to "Sounds of distant ethereal chanting!"[1] and "Somewhat more disgruntled ethereal chanting." Usually with notes explaining why these were chosen over more traditional sound effects.
  • {{[[[Written Sound Effect]] 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.

  • Verbal Tic: Grim Eyes used to roll her r's in the beginning, but she does it much less often now.
    • Judging by Boneclaw Mother in her Big Damn Heroes moment, they either roll their rs when they're really ticked, or their words partially become growls.
    • The skin lizards have one. They do. Yes.
  • 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 Also Loonies. 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.
  • What Measure Is A Non Hyena?
  • 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: 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 lay ahead, all the while worrying that she was 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 tribes counsel and The One Guy.
  • World of Snark
  • 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.