This summer has been among the most emotionally daunting of my life, but one of my comforts, as it was in childhood, has been watching television, especially cartoons. For me, cartoons have always been a way to watch unique adventures with fun characters, beautiful animation, and when done well, a lot of heart. Last year, catching up with Steven Universe took up my summer, and this time, it has been the Cartoon Network show Craig of the Creek, created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin.
It tells the story of the titular Craig Williams—who lives in the fictional suburban Baltimore/DC-area town of Herkleston, Maryland—and his two friends, Kelsey and John Paul “J.P.” as they have several ventures in their creek. It’s a kid utopia with characters that are a cross between the kids from Recess, in terms of the weird political hierarchy, and the kids from Ed, Edd, and Eddy.
Craig is a cartographer and is slowly creating a detailed map of the creek, expanding it throughout their journeys, which leads to trouble as the overarching plot kicks in about the other side of the creek that’s ruled by a tyrant kid king. That storyline is a slow burn, so most of the story is dedicated to both exploration and character development for Craig, his friends, and the world around him.
Craig has such a diverse cast of characters that it feels beautifully inclusive and thoughtful. I love his two best friends. Kelsey is basically living her life LARPing as a knight with her pet bird, Mortimer. She self-narrates at times, loves reading adventure novels, wants to be an author one day, and is the only child of a widower. J.P. is like a better-written version of Ed from Ed, Edd, and Eddy. He’s not very bright, but he’s imaginative, kind, and would do anything to protect his friends.
Basically, they are all my sweet babies and I love them.
What’s also so important is watching a Black family be front and center on the show. We have his overachieving brother, Bernard, voiced by the brilliant Phil LaMarr; his amazing parents, Duane and Nicole (voices by Terry Crews and Kimberly Hebert Gregory respectfully); and his adorable younger sister, Jessica (Lucia Cunningham). Race isn’t addressed directly on the show, but it’s filled with a beautiful normalized Blackness, from Craig’s grandmother being involved with Civil Rights activism to all of Nicole’s great hairstyles and the fact she wore a subtle Howard University sweater, implying she may have gone to an HBCU. His family unit just gets to exist and that maybe even more of a utopia than the creek.
Also, his entire family is brown. While I do love The Proud Family for nostalgic reasons, the fact that the darker-skinned women were often coded as “ghetto,” while Proud family women were lighter-skinned, is something that is especially jarring now. There’s an upcoming episode called “Sparkle Cadet,” about a young magical girl who comes to the creek, and the internet got all its feels watching this dark-skinned Black girl get a magical girl transformation sequence.
”I am the Champion of Feeling and Positivty!”
— Neysha (@La_Ney_sha) June 27, 2019
I would never want to be a child again, but I do, especially during a depressive episode, long for the optimism that I had as a child. When you’re young, there’s a sense of hope that every day will lead to something new, and there’s a deep visceral feeling that as long as you have your friends, it’ll be okay—especially during the summer. As I’ve been working on my mental health, Craig of the Creek has been a warm blanket that’s helped me stay grounded, especially because I’ve been able to watch it with someone I love. If you love cartoons, good stories, and amazing characters, this is the show for you.
(image: Cartoon Network)
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