Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers edited by Craig Yoe

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Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers
Edited by Craig Yoe
Fantagraphics

craigyoeboodycover“Now Boody could write funnier than Elzie Segar,” writes Craig Yoe in his intro, “create more excitement than Milton Caniff, draw more amazing than Frank Frazetta, ink slicker than Wally Wood, make sexier girls than Dean Yeagle, letter better than Artie Simek, and his comics were loonier than Fletcher Hanks’s.” One can, of course, forgive Yoe for the touch of hyperbole—after all, as the editor of Boody Rogers’s first official anthology, one would certainly hope that the author was among his biggest fans.

Anyone doubting Yoe’s initial bout of enthusiasm—or perhaps chalking his a bit of tall tale yarn spinning up to an attempt to keep with Rogers’s wild west upbringing—will, hopefully be won over a page later, when the other describes his first encounter with the artist’s work, in amongst a pile of Little Lulus and Supermans and Uncle Scrooges, spread out on his childhood bedroom floor. Such youthful memories certainly place Rogers in good company—among easily some of the most influential books of that golden age. By the end of his introduction, there’s little room for doubt. Yoe unquestionably considers the late-artist to be one of the medium’s greats, and, as the book opens, the reader is ready to play along with the premise that Rogers is, perhaps, the era’s unappreciated genius—a producer of work too far ahead of its time to be sufficiently appreciated by the huddled pulp-reading masses. After all, the Arf Forum-editor certainly knows his stuff when it comes to vintage cartooning.

Over the next 100-odd pages, Yoe presents Rogers’s work unbroken, with no editorial interruption, seemingly content to let the short stories speak for themselves. It’s a mixed blessing of sorts—while more insight into the artist’s career and personal life, and perhaps a chronological timeline of the work being presented would undoubtedly be welcomed, there’s also something to be said for the desire to let the work stand uninterrupted. Besides, this be the first—and perhaps only (depending on sales)—collection of Rogers’s work, there’s no doubt a desire on Yoe’s part to cram as much into the book as possible.

Like Paul Karasik’s Fletcher Hanks’s book before it, the clean, largely untouched reproduction goes a ways toward preserving the pulpy presentation of these pages. The large benday dots, the bleeding colors, the faded pages, the printing errors are preserved in all their glory, serve as a celebration of the inability to separate the artist from his shoebox beginnings.

The work presented in Boody largely alternates between two primary strips. The first is Babe, something of an Appalachian Amazon, a beautiful blonde superwoman, spawned by mountain people, who performs consistently amazing feats of athleticism, but who cannot escape her parents and the repulsive numbskull to whom she is betrothed. The influence of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner is unmistakable, as Yoe happily points out in his intro. Sparky Watts is the other included strip, the story of a bespectacled shrinking man; his bald-headed, giant-shoed sidekick; and a mad scientist.

For Rogers, these absurd conceits are merely the setup. In fact, by the time the artist introduces plots revolving around talking monstrous bugs and human-riding centaurs, it’s easy to accept such early character development at face value. But, where an artist like Hanks have since come to be viewed by many as a prime example of comics outsider art, there’s a certain pervasive sense of self-awareness in Rogers’s work. The artist seems fully conscious of his own absurdity and completely willing to milk it for as many laughs as possible.

Perhaps it’s also his comedic sentiments that lend a certain sense of timelessness to these pieces, making them infinitely more readable today than many of their pulpy contemporaries, which is to say that the value of the of the work collected here extends beyond mere historic curiosity to actual reading enjoyment all of these years later.

Rogers was certainly skilled as penning a fantastic humorous piece, and his imagination was clearly light years beyond many of his contemporaries. The art, too, offers a consistency and versatility absent from many other funny book artists of the time. It’s easy to see why his work has made him something of a cartoonist’s cartoonist, having been anthologized in the likes of Raw Magazine. Some of his appeal can no doubt in part be chalked up to the fact that—like Hanks—he spent many decade as a industry secret amongst cartoonists, but pinning appreciation solely on that fact is discounting his skills as an artist, storyteller, and pioneer.

For someone like Yoe, it’s no doubt difficult to divorce Rogers’s work from those early childhood experiences, but even for those of us discovering the artist for the first time, there’s a lot to love in these pages, hyperbole or no.

–Brian Heater

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