The strip’s premise is often described as “‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ but with two Dads.” Specifically, the strip’s about the Parker family:
- AJ, a grade schooler who occasionally gets into mischief (pulling pranks, etc.). AJ’s other interests include video games and superheroes.
- Magnus, AJ’s pet bull mastiff. AJ can understand what Magnus is saying, though nobody else can (played as “Doctor Doolittle”- or “Calvin and Hobbes”-like). Magnus tends to play the voice of reason to AJ, showing more common sense or questioning some of AJ’s decisions. That said, Magnus also enjoys taking part in plenty of AJ’s antics. He also likes tacos.
- Alex (“Dad”), AJ’s father. Alex is (until recently) a stay-at-home father, and the usual one to discipline or directly deal with AJ’s mischief. Alex’s other interests include cooking, making cosplay costumes (more on that below), and reading.
- John (“Pop”), AJ’s other father. John (until recently) was the main breadwinner for the family. He’s also more easygoing than his husband, plus the main parent seen playing video games. John also seems to get some of the more dramatic storylines in the strip, including a recent one related to job discrimination.
Other characters include:
- Ebony: An African-American girl and friend of AJ. Ebony lives next door with her mother, who’s a friend of Alex. She’s apparently a genius inventor; an early storyline involved AJ entering a video game through a device of hers, and bringing back a dragon egg. (Said egg hatched, with the baby dragon now Ebony’s pet.)
- Loca: Another classmate of AJ and Ebony’s. Similar to “The Simpsons”‘s Nelson Muntz, she’s the school bully-turned-sort-of-friend of AJ’s. Loca’s home life might explain some of her behavior.
- Aunt Rochelle: John’s sister, who skews toward boorish behavior, to everyone’s annoyance.
- Aunt Roz: A longtime friend of Alex and John, and AJ’s honorary aunt. A trans woman, Roz seems to get along OK with Rochelle (even moving in with her as a roommate at one point).
The strip’s world is a mix of fantastical elements and down-to-earth storylines. For the former, there’s the aforementioned pet dragon, and a storyline involving Rochelle suggesting magic also exists. For the latter, there’ve been a few storylines delving into John and Rochelle’s family being troubled, particularly their estranged father. More recently is a storyline about John facing job discrimination due to being gay (leading to Alex taking on a job).
Another aspect of the strip I like is that the parents are also interested in geeky activities. John’s into playing video games; Alex enjoys making cosplay costumes; both parents like sci-fi, comics, and horror (they once argued over whether “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” was better); and Halloween is a major deal (per the cosplay). Often, I see parents (or adults my age) in cartoons either: are oafish dolts; hate things like video games/comics/sci-fi; or are boring nags. Thus, it’s nice to see characters over 30 (or over 40, if we take seriously the remark from a jerk Alex met at his job) interested in such stuff.
- The aforementioned “Star Trek” vs. “Star Wars” argument.
- The family’s Halloween pranks.
- Apparently Donald Trump has a cereal brand in-universe (which the Parkers don’t buy).
- An ongoing storyline (starting here) about John finding a new job, only to lose it due to discrimination.
- That time AJ turned their house into a “living museum” demonstrating what a typical gay family’s life is like.
- Aunt Roz making a Janet Jackson song reference to Ebony, while explaining about coming out as a trans woman.
- That time AJ and Magnus use a Ouija board to investigate whether Aunt Rochelle’s apartment is haunted (and Magnus insisting repeatedly ghosts aren’t real).
- A few storylines about John’s dysfunctional family.
- The storyline of how AJ was born.
Image from “AJ & Magnus: All Together Now.” Art by Simon Steel.