AILSA CHANG, HOST:
One of the freshest reboots in the world of comic books is based on a cartoon that debuted back in the 1960s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FLINTSTONES")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Flintstones, meet the Flintstones. They're the modern Stone Age Family.
CHANG: This isn't "The Flintstones" that you remember. NPR's Mallory Yu recently caught up with writer Mark Russell at San Diego Comic Con to find out more.
MALLORY YU, BYLINE: Mark Russell has gotten a lot of raised eyebrows in reaction to his "Flintstones" comics.
MARK RUSSELL: I don't know if this should be a mark of shame or a mark of pride. But I feel like every positive review of "The Flintstones" begins with an apology. Like, I know you're not going to believe this. Or please don't hold this against me, but I really like "The Flintstones."
YU: And Russell himself wasn't sold right away either.
RUSSELL: But the more I thought about it, I thought, well, the kind of the perfect platform for me to to write my feelings about the fundamental errors of civilization.
YU: And that's on brand for the 47-year-old writer. In the past, He's published a somewhat absurd retelling of the Bible called "God Is Disappointed In You." And his comics work is mostly satirical - poking fun at politics, religion and cultural institutions.
RUSSELL: I consider human history to be a comedy. And that's largely what it's about - Earth, a dark comedy.
YU: But before he could tackle that dark comedy...
RUSSELL: I really wanted to just start with the characters and make them relatable and sympathetic because they're basically just living their lives.
YU: And Russell credits artist Steve Pugh with bringing humanity to his characters.
RUSSELL: You can see the personalities really in the design. Like, Fred's like a big beefy guy who looks like he played football in high school and has kind of let himself go since then. But he's got a lot of, like, love and sadness in his face.
YU: Fred's an Everyman in Russell's Bedrock, a veteran haunted by his actions during the, quote, "Paleolithic Wars." And remember this?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLINTSTONES")
ALAN REED: (As Fred Flintstone) Yabbadabbadoo.
RUSSELL: Yabbadabbadoo, I just sort of turned into like a nonsense mantra to help them deal with the PTSD and stress of everyday life.
YU: And Russell says he was able to bend and twist "The Flintstones" world like that because he didn't have a lot of childhood nostalgia for the cartoons.
RUSSELL: Nothing was sacred. In fact, that was kind of a mission. Like, this is not going to be some reverential homage to "The Flintstones."
YU: So Fred works for a terrible boss at a terrible job, trying to make just enough money to afford the latest household appliance. Or as Russell calls it...
RUSSELL: The exploitation of animals is free labor, which, to me, it's like they're the interns of the prehistoric world.
YU: Russell says he remembers being horrified as a child by the fact that a camera in "The Flintstones" world was a bird whose only purpose in life was to chisel a picture into some rock. To emphasize that horror, Russell often makes a point to focus on the animals. He gives them personalities and inner lives but not names.
RUSSELL: They just conceive of themselves as their function - sort of not too subtly of commentary on us and how we think of ourselves.
YU: The animals refer to themselves as garbage disposal, coat rack, vacuum. And they struggle to find meaning outside of their assigned purpose.
RUSSELL: The meaning that you get from your life is not going to be what you find from your function or from how good you are at the job you've been assigned in life. It's really about the strength of the connections you form with your fellow appliances.
YU: The rest of "The Flintstones" gang - Wilma, Betty and Barney, Pebbles and Bam-Bam - are in Bedrock too. And their relationships, the lessons they learned, form the basis for what Russell really wants to say with his reboot of "The Flintstones."
RUSSELL: Caring for people who mean nothing to us - that's really the goal of human civilization if it's going to aspire to be anything more than just a place to get cheap snake meat, like it is "The Flintstones."
YU: For Russell, that means looking at the world and asking, what could we be doing better? And how can I make that funny? Mallory Yu, NPR News, San Diego.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCOTT BRADLEE'S POSTMODERN JUKEBOX'S "THE FLINSTONES")