Rebel by Fred Fredericks

Categories:  Reviews

by Fred Fredericks
Scholastic Book Services


“Meet REBEL–the wild, mod teen who’s the rage with teens everywhere!”

“What a crazy crew! You’ll laugh through every madcap cartoon adventure!”

My local renegade bookshop Arise! Resource Center & Book Store will close its doors this weekend.  It’s sad for anyone who has passed through the Minneapolis underground within the last 17 years to see this monument to anarchy and activism give up the ghost.  Members of the collectively run shop are restructuring though and will renovate and reopen the shop as a new creation — Boneshaker — but what will that new shop mean to former Arise! volunteers?  Or customers?  Will they continue to stock zines and minis which were their best selling items? Will they still support local cartoonists by hosting release parties? Will their dollar bin still be as excellent and jam-packed with jems like it was this week when I picked up Rebel and the 1995 Osseo High School yearbook?

I bought Rebel on an impulse. The girl at the counter was so excited to see it again that she generously threw it in for free. She was delighted by this book ready to share.  So am I.

This book is so painfully dated but so beautifully illustrated, so completely unaware of its own cornball structure, so classically prone to predictable punchlines — basically, Rebel is a hipster’s wet dream.

Rebel is a pre-ironic comic book from a time when comics for kids were chiefly “madcap romps” populated by archetypes.  It’s the kind of source material that has inspired loving (or disaffected) parody from artists like Dan Clowes or Tim Hensley.  ‘Til now, I’d really only read underground comics from that era, never the mainstream or serialized stuff, so it was really illuminating for me to have found this book.  It’s easy to think that what’s going on with comics now is super-great simply because diversity within the genre is so explosive and inspiring, but if the recent Popeye and Peanuts and re-prints teach us anything, it’s that there’s plenty to take away from past comic works — if not in terms of story, at least in terms of art.

Our boy Rebel is a leather-clad high school musician.  The book jacket promises he’ll a rebellious trouble-maker, but he’s actually quite tame.  In fact, Rebel is always trying to convince his zanier, chubby hippie friend Wreck to stay in school!  Staying in school is a big theme in Rebel.  Sometimes Rebel, Wreck and their other pal Groover will hang out with girls, but relationships aren’t nearly as important as being a committed student.  Thanks for the message, Scholastic!

Rebel appeared in Scholastic’s Scope magazine for decades [source].  It may yet live on in those pages.  The author, Fred Fredericks, has cartooned in different styles over the years, but this black-and-white book looks like it was penned with a nib in a loose, cartoony style.  It’s evident from the pages that he is a seriously talented cartoonist.  Each page is really lovely.

I believe he authored much of the book, but some of the ideas for strips came to him through write-in gags from the public.  Each kid who wrote in got a credit within the comic, which is a really sweet thing to do.  I bet those kids never forgot participating in Rebel.

I wish I knew more about Fredericks’ work and life as a cartoonist.  He’s probably someone with a huge following, but because I only really know about indie comics, and he’s not making indie comics, he’s been totally off my radar.  He still works in syndicated strips and mainstream comics (as an inker) but from what I can tell has never produced his own personal projects.  The internet tells me he has drawn Mandrake the Magician for over 40 years — a newspaper strip comic created by Lee Falk (The Phantom) which Fredericks has written since 1999 following Falk’s passing.

There’s a subtle kind of snobbery within indie comics because our “graphic novels” double as “literary comics” but it’s impossible to deny the allure of a great cartoonist with a long legacy of beautiful work.  Even if you discover that artwork in a corny little book like Rebel that instinct tells you not to value much because it was free.

Rebel is out of print but might be available through aggressive ebay searches or used-bookstore hunts.

Still, Fredericks has an enormous body of work under other titles which I encourage you to check out.  You can read recently released Mandrake the Magician comics via King Features Syndicate.  Or, if I know you and I trust you, I’ll let you borrow my copy of Rebel.

Sarah Morean

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