11.15.2018

Bongo Comics: In Memoriam



BONGO COMICS:
IN MEMORIAM

November 2018 will be the first month without a Bongo Comics publication since 1993. Disney acquired The Simpsons earlier this year and while I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty more Simpsons comics in the years to come under its new owner Disney, an era has definitely come to a close.  

They first premiered in the midst of the 90s comics boom, and as the quality of the flagship show dropped off after season 7 or 8, the comics have been the only real place to enjoy pre-Season-7-or-8-quality Simpsons fare for anyone looking for it.

The sad news has occasioned some wonderful tributes, such as this by Gail Simone - a writer who got her start at the company - or this good-lord-this-is-what-I-wanted-to-read-for-years-about-Bongo overview/ farewell/ oral history at filmspringfield. Anyone seeking substantial information about the company should go to either of those posthaste; what follows is nowhere near as visually and textually informative. 

But if it's random asides and pics of the comics I took from my phone you're looking for, let then let us proceed apace, arms-akimbo.

The first Bongos I ever picked up were in 2002:

and
"Kif, I have made it with a woman. Inform the men."

The occasion was a visit to the since-closed Atomic Comics near my then-new apartment. I'd seen Simpsons comics at supermarkets and what not (Bongos and Archies being the only comics you could find outside of comics shops by this point) but never picked any up. Seems weird in hindsight. Like many, I lived in a Simpsons bubble for most of the 90s; how did I never pick any up, even accidentally? But outside of The Sandman and assorted Alan Moore or Grant Morrison projects, I bought few comics altogether in the 90s. (I say this often enough where I can't tell if I repeat myself everytime comics come up or if it's actually relevant information. Anyway: I've made up for it - and how! - since.)

I enjoyed them, particularly Futurama #14:


First, the set up.

Great set-up! A comic you can read 7 times (1 for each character and then all the way through) is pretty much the opposite of how comics are made in the decompressed era. This appeals to me in general. And added throughout is an intermittent 7th panel of Scruffy, the USS Planet Express Ship's janitor. 


I did not include each and every one. But you get the idea. Inevitably:
Anti-punchlines like this almost always land with me.

I was not a regular reader from that time on, although these 4 issues, but when I heard the news they were closing up shop, I made a conscious effort to pick up at least all the Simpsons-related material they they were putting out in their final months. Problem was, my local wasn't really keeping up, so I ended up having to order a lot of it. And once you order one, well - now I've got them lying in stacks all around the place and keep bothering my wife with "look at this panel!"s and various Simpsons voices. I've been totally Cuckoo for Bongo Puffs these past few months.

Speaking of which, the voices-in-your-head (ahem) aspect of these things is one of the best parts about Bongo. I have LLOL more times than I can mention reading these things, and often it's because you can't help reading certain things in the distinctive voices of the Simpsons cast. And this definitely improves the jokes. Take this last panel of "Judge Dredd-neck," for example, (Bart's and Milhouse's unauthorized entry into The Springfield Redneck Zone drags them into a blood feud between Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's clan and his Cousin Merle's) from Summer Shindig #7. 


It's funny just as a Cletus thing to garble but also as the sort of amusing mash-up of character/setting humor and subverted reference (in this case Dredd's catchphrase) that 90s Simpsons did so well. Twas a time (Cletus voice again) of less discriminatin' taste. 

I took most of these pictures from my phone, which is a first for the Omnibus. I'm working on streamlining the process. It was more successful in some spots than others.


Still working out some lighting issues.

One of the first four Bongos I bought up there was a Bongo Super Heroes. I was at first reluctant to engage with this side of the Bongoverse. I think it was just the jawline similarities with other characters on The Simpsons. But then I started looking at it like an alternate universe to the Simpsonverse, with if-not direct counterparts (although this is explored in Simpsons Super Spectacular and elsewhere) then just broad visual strokes. Sort of like Futurama. I'm glad I got over it, because there's a lot to love here. The amount of intelligent parody and loving attention to comics history in Radioactive Man alone is worth the price of admission.


If 1963 and Futurama had a baby, it would look like Simpsons Super Spectacular.

Ian Boothby wrote a great many of the company's stories, but he was certainly not the only one. You can see Ty Templeton's credit up there and along with the aforementioned Miss Simone Bongo published work by Max Davison, Sergio Aragones, James Lloyd, and so many others. (Apparently Batton Lash is a real person? I always thought that was a psueodnym for Groening or something.) Please don't take my Labels as a comprehensive list. But a special chapeau to Ian Boothby, who wrote many of my favorite stories, including the Futurama / Simpsons Crossover Crisis. 


This isn't from the crossover, just one of Bootby's many great moments.
He and his wife do the horror comics from The New Yorker now.


THE ONE-SHOTS

Starting in 2012, Bongo began releasing one-shots of individual characters from the Simpsons-verse, the first of which, Ralph Wiggum Comics, now commands a heftier price than all the others. As a result I haven't picked that or a couple of others yet, but this series more than any, perhaps, conveys the Bongo appeal. Always funny, always with something like a pair of 3-D glasses or bumper stickers that say "DON'T BLAME ME - I VOTED FOR KODOS" and loaded with great illustrations parodying the best of all media:


Like Octopussy. Or Garbage Pail Kids. Or other Gen-x-childhood-y media too numerous to mention.
 

I haven't read a bad one of these yet, but Duffman Adventures was a particularly unexpected delight.


Later that issue: "Case closed, huh Duffman?"
"No..."
Best Duffman joke ever.


ALL GOOD THINGS...

Simpsons #245 wrapped up the Bongo Era of Comics in fine fashion, with a tale that had more than a few sly references to its own history as well as the show's.


This gag below fittingly referenced the events of the very first issue.
The plot centers around a mutated rabbit that Lisa gets from the pet shop (All Creatures Great and Small and Cheap) that gets violent every time it sees a Bongo logo.
Lisa must solve the mystery, but it comes down to Maggie to save the day.
I don't know if this was a reference to some internal-Zardoz-inspired gag with the Gibbon Gone thing or just a Zardoz reference. Either way, though, it was not expected and very appreciated.
Thank you, Mr. Kane. I will miss The Bongo Beat.

STAMPS

It's funny, I never had time for these sorts of things as a kid but as an adult I feel this curious pull to clip them all and mount them in protective plastic and album display. I am resisting this pull... successfully, so far.


~

So long, Bongo, and thanks for everything.

10.31.2018

Weird Fantasy (1950 - 1954)


EC's sci-fi and fantasy line of comics have delighted me since I first discovered them via the reprints (thank you Russ Cochran) I began buying back in the 1990s. I recently re-organized my bookshelves and, like any other well-adjusted 44 year old out there, put all of my ECs (and my Bongo Comics, but that's a story for a different post) above the computer for easier access. 

If you're unfamiliar with EC, I implore you to google or otherwise explore the subject. It's such an important and entertaining chapter of comic book history. All I intend to do here is share some panels that caught my eye over the past few weeks. Chances are you don't need any of this, but here's the broadest of backgrounds:

- When Max Gaines, one of the big comics guys of the Golden Age of comics, did and left his company to his son William, Gaines the Younger William immediatel sets about publishing a crazy run of kick-ass awesomeness, including but not limited to Mad, Weird Science, Tales from the Crypt, and Vault of Horror. Light years ahead of the rest of the market and widely imitated.

- Tying the proliferation of violent comics to the rise of adolescent crime - and fudging his statistics to prove it - Dr. Fredric Wertham earned the enmity of generations of comics-readers to come for successfully getting Congress to do what Congress does best: ruin everything for everybody. The newly established Comics Code made most of the EC's comics unpublishable, and the company became a one-magazine (Mad) operation. 

Oh, so much more to the story, but moving on to:


1.
SOME VISUAL ATTRIBUTES OF EC

Here let me switch from EC in general to Weird Fantasy specifically. Here are some of the things you find in damn near every story of the series.
Short skirts (and not just for the ladies) and bug-eyed monsters. And other you-know-what-you're-getting-into illustrations.
Word balloons or captions that push everything else out of the way.
And finally, the twist, ironic ending.

The twist ending is of course no invention of EC's, but the company employed the technique so memorably (one might even say pathologically) that the AV Club once had a game of guessing the ironic twist at the end solely from the first few panels. They weren't the only ones; the two are tied together in the popular imagination. Or so many learned people have said. (If you want to know what unlearned people say - one in particular - then read on, Macduff!)

I bring all this up only to say: there are certain trade-offs a modern reader has to make to engage with any Golden (or very early Silver) Age material, even stuff so ahead of its time than EC. 

Enough blather? Good! Let's move on to:


3.

SOME TITLE PAGES


I'll do a cluster-credit at the end, but this is obviously Harvey Kurtzman.
There's a lot of Stephen King on this page.
Not the Steve Coogan/ Rob Brydon show. Or the Peter Fonda movie. Or: any other Trip.


4.

These two stories need to be read to be fully appreciated. "A Man's Job" imagines a future where a radical feminist movement so profoundly rocks the order of the world that men undergo a biological change.

...

It's all such a twisted parody of 2018 that I don't know what to say. Not so much "The End" but it treads a similar path through suddenly explosive political terrain. A passing comet renders every man sterile and every woman barren, so in a last-ditch effort to save humanity, the men open a portal to the past, picking Grand Central Station in 1950 as a logical enough point to snatch folks.


But, their calculations are (gulp!) ten feet off.

I wish this story had been brought up more during the Great Bathroom Wars of recent memory. "Don't you realize we're committing suicide?! I'M NOT MAD, I'M FROM THE FUTURE!!"


5.

Damon Knight's short story "To Serve Man" first appeared in November 1950 of Galaxy Science Fiction. The Twilight Zone episode adapting it came out in 1962. Weird Fantasy #7, which featured "Come Into My Parlor", came out in 1951. It is by no means an adaptation of "To Serve Man," but the similarities are unmistakable. Of course, both have their roots in the sort of devil comes to town, grants wish, but with a twist the protagonist only learns at the end in innumerable other tales.


This guy's instant reaction is great.
OH BUT IT IS, STEPHEN.

6.
SOME RANDOMS


~
I'm not quite sure why I 'capped this one.
~
Nor these. Sheesh. My screencapping ethos has failed me. All the weirder because there are a dozen more sci-fi-y panels I thought I'd grabbed but apparently did not. I probably saved them to the wrong place. Kind of kills the whole "Scenic Route"ness of the entire post, doesn't it? Nothing but the best here at Dog Star Omnibus, Inc.!


7.
FOUL PLAY

I pulled my copy of Grant Geissman's Foul Play ("the art and artists of the notorious 1950s EC Comics!" Side note: I always bristle when people say "EC Comics." I know it's more or less entered the lexicon that way but it's like when people say "MLB Baseball." The "Baseball" is already in the "MLB," Jerk!) off the shelves. Whereupon I realized that the softcover binding is already starting to come undone on this thing. Ditto for my other EC book that I bought at the same time maybe 10 or 11 years ago. What the hell. I have softcover books of comparable size from the 1960s that are still together. Let that be a lesson to me: always get the hardcover.

Still two wonderful books, though. Loaded with interviews, behind-the-scenes (and some exclusive) artwork, essays, you name it.


The two sections on Joe Orlando and Wally Wood - who were friends and collaborators and two of the brightest stars in the EC-and-especially-Weird-Fantasy firmament - are especially great.
A painting by Joe that hung in the EC offices for years.
Bill Gaines was a generous boss, and he organized yearly trips to exotic locales for his regular MAD contributors. As a thank you, Joe painted this street scene from Port-Au-Prince and added his boss as a vendor hawking busts of Alfred E. Neuman and back issues.

Revisiting this book reminded me of the powerful "Judgment Day" story, as well as the even more powerful behind-the-scenes stuff behind it. First some panels from the story - if I did my job right, there should be no plot summary required.

The tour eventually goes to the "blue" robot factory.
I love the gold robot's reaction. Probably a familiar refrain in the early 1950s from certain quarters.

I just want to say a couple of things about the above. Notice how it's straightforward but not particularly heavy-handed (for 1950s comics context, I mean - basically, all caption-writing in the Golden/Silver Age was as over-the-top as possible.) It's morally courageous - particularly for the early 50s, when Jim Crow was still the law of the land - without being shrill or obnoxious. It's basically the most Star Trek-y episode ever. 

Compare/ contrast to any similar tale told since the turn of the century. It's so ridiculous how this topic has become just a blunt instrument with which to bludgeon your political opponents and endlessly trigger your fellow travelers. Indeed, a comicscube tribute - typically, for that site - does just that under guise of celebrating it.

Now (to further contrast then and now) here's how that went down behind the scenes. (For the full story, see here.) After the whole brouhaha with Congress and Wertham, the industry was now under the thumb of the Comics Code Authority, led by Judge Charles Murphy, who, to put it mildly, really had it in for EC. When the story was submitted to the CCA, Murphy said forget it, you've got to change the last panel, the astronaut can't be black. Feldstein said the last panel was "the whole goddamn point of the story." Murphy said sorry, change it (and don't curse at me.) Feldstein, keeping his cool, said, Judge, it really seems you're not listening here; we were promised a fair hearing when we (EC helped set up the Comic Magazine Association of America, the immediate forerunner to the CCA) agreed to this. Murphy said "There's nothing to discuss here; change it." Feldstein wouldn't give in and went to Bill. Bill called Murphy on the phone and threatened to hold a press conference; there was absolutely no way they were backing down. Murphy said okay, fine, but you have to remove the perspiration in the last panel. We can't have "black skin glistening."


Bill stared at Al; Al stared back at Bill. They both stared at the speakerphone. "Fuck you," he said and hung up. EC published the story with no alterations, but the victory was somewhat Pyrrhic. After standing up to Congress and realizing this sort of fight would be replayed every month he was in business, Bill cancelled the entire EC line except for Mad. 

If anyone is confused, the Judge Murphys of the world not only still exist; their objection (and their censorship) just seems to have become preoccupied with the skin color of the creators of the comic, not the astronaut in the last panel. 

And to them - and to the Judge Murphys - I have similar sentiments to Bill and Al. Ray Bradbury said it best:


Happy Halloween, kids, and long live EC.