TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1445 (07/27/01)
"This may be my first opera, but I know 'Bugs Bunny' when I hear it."
-from Robb Armstrong's JUMPSTART (July 2, 2001)
The above quoted comic strip may prove useful as a litmus test to determine one's Cartoon IQ. If you instantly got it and started laughing out loud, you, my good friend, are a bona fide toonhead. If you didn't, well, there may be hope for you yet, but you need to do some hard time at Cartoon Network.
"Getting it" is a phrase which bears manifold interpretations, only one of which is correct. In its purest form, it denotes true understanding of a subject. In less immaculate usage, it has often been corrupted to mean "you're buying into this the way we want you to buy into it." Therefore, when one is not "getting it," it may be that one is just not "getting it" the way the author or speaker wishes one would. On such differences, polite discourse turns and, having turned, turns again.
To every thing, there is a season, be it rabbit, duck, or even baseball. My beloved editors have decreed that this week's edition of CBG shall be reviews season and have thus encouraged myself and their other columnists to devote ourselves to critiquing items of interest to our readers. That works for me.
The same outfit what publishes this fine newspaper is also the publisher of KIDDIE MEAL COLLECTIBLES by Robert J. Sodaro with Alex G. Malloy ($24.95), a 208-page trade paperback which strives to be "a comprehensive guide to fast-food toys and premiums." Though I'm not conversant enough with this area of collecting to gauge whether or not the authors reached that goal, I have no doubt that they've created an entertaining and useful work on the subject.
I'm a parent and a comics accumulator; I stopped considering myself a collector when I realized it had been five years since I last made any attempt to catalogue my stuff. This may be a chore I leave to my heirs, knowing that the effort will keep their memory of me alive for years and years and...
In any case, as parent and accumulator, I have visited a great many fast-food establishments and come away from them with a great many toys and premiums. A quick glance around my office confirms the presence of a Superman figure who launches skyward from a base resembling his "S" symbol, two phone booths which spin to reveal Superman within their confines, a coffin from which the Wolf Man pops out menacingly, a Batman Beyond backpack hanger of the villain Inque, a miniature Mystery Machine from the Scooby Doo cartoons, a plastic replica of an Egg McMuffin which can be transformed into a dinosaur, and some kind of robot dog which doesn't do anything but which has a magnetic nose to which I can affix a bone. Okay, Inque and the Mystery Machine don't do anything either, but at least they look pretty cool. Anyway, thanks to this book, I can now identify all of the above except for the dog. If no one claims it in thirty days, it goes to the pound.
KIDDIE MEAL COLLECTIBLES is more than mere lists of items and their estimated value. Sodaro and Malloy lead off with articles on how to collect fast-food premiums, the "burgers and toys" wars, the hobby as seen from the perspective of a fast-food franchise owner, comic-book super-hero premiums, and Star Wars premiums. I learned a lot from them and enjoyed myself while doing so.
The "meat" of the book are the profiles of the leading fast-food premium vendors, followed by lists, prices, and many photos of the various toys these establishments have offered over the years. I had an "Oh, wow, I didn't know that" moment when I read the real reason why Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC, just one of the fascinating bits of trivia in this section.
There are also shorter chapters devoted to the less prominent fast-food franchises, drinking glass and cup premiums, and various web resources, fan clubs, and magazines. Again, I can't speak to the utter completeness of this volume, but, to an outsider like me, it sure looks as if they haven't missed much. My only complaint is that the book lacks any mention of those ADVENTURES OF THE BIG BOY comics, which the Big Boy restaurants started giving young diners in 1956, and which they were still giving them as recently as 1996. I would consider those comics books to be the predecessor of all fast-food premiums and, as such, they deserved a place of honor in KIDDIE MEAL COLLECTIBLES.
That slight aside, I do enthusiastically recommend KIDDIE MEAL COLLECTIBLES to those who collect fast-food premiums, to those who accumulate fast-food premiums, and to those who haunt garage sales in search of treasure. I also wouldn't rule it out as a fun gift for collectors of all ages and intensity; my kids have been lurking outside my office waiting for me to finish this review so that they can get their mitts on this book. Excuse me while I try to hand it to them without losing any fingers.
An exceptional graphic novel from England has hardly received a mention in the American comics press. ETHEL & ERNEST by Raymond Briggs (Knopf; $21) is a loving look at the author's parents from their meeting in 1928 through their courtship and marriage, their 41 years in the same house, and their deaths, just months apart, in 1971. Though the focus is always on Ethel and Ernest, the reader also experiences the world around them: the Depression, World War II, the technological advances of the 20th century, and their son's own journey from child to adult.
Though it isn't a page-turner in the traditional sense, ETHEL & ERNEST engages the reader from the start. It flows like a river, driven ever so gently by its natural dialogue, friendly drawings, and soothing colors. Even if the midst of loss, the shadows take on a strangely comforting hue. At the end, I wished I'd had the chance to meet these ordinary people who made such an extraordinary impression on me.
British critics were effusive in their praise for this work, citing the "sheer charm...and surefootedness of its character" as they predicted that it would become a best-seller and also deemed it a masterpiece. THE TIMES wrote that, through ETHEL & ERNEST, "You'll learn more about the changes of the last century than you will in most history books."
Briggs is an internationally-known author-illustrator who has won many awards for his children's books, including THE SNOWMAN and FATHER CHRISTMAS. I also recall with admiration his WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, a darkly comedic work set in the aftermath of an apocalyptic nuclear war. WIND introduced me to Briggs, but ETHEL & ERNEST made me his faithful reader. I'll be looking for more of his work and heartily recommend you do the same.
Looking for summer reading which will make you laugh and make you think? Allow me to recommend the Oni Press collections of Judd Winick's FRUMPY THE CLOWN comic strip. These two volumes, FREAKING OUT THE NEIGHBORS and THE FAT LADY SINGS (softcover, $15.95 each), present the entirety of the comic strip Winick did after appearing on MTV's THE REAL WORLD and before PEDRO AND ME and THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY WEEN made him a comics creator to be reckoned with.
FRUMPY never appeared in many newspapers and only ran for two years or so, but, in that time, Winick created an outlandish hero, "a cynical, anarchist clown," surrounded him with reasonably normal people, and then made his readers love them all. You'll laugh out loud at many of these strips, while others will leave you feeling all warm-and-gooey inside.
I loved these books. So did my just-turned-13 son Eddie. I'm guessing you'll love them, too. They're heart-warming, outrageous, suitable for all ages, and, though not inexpensive, worth checking out. Go ahead; you're so cute when you giggle.
This is where I abandon any pretense of objectivity and urge you to buy Pam Bliss' DOG & PONY SHOW (Paradise Valley; $12.95) and George Broderick's STARDUST AND THOR: HEROIC TAILS (Comic Library International; $12.95). You'd see through my facade quickly enough anyway, what with my having written introductions to both of these wonderful collections of suitable-for-all-ages comics. You're as smart as you are cute.
Bliss, who I once dubbed the "queen of small-press comics," is a cartoonist who, from her first deceptively simple mini-comics to this first trade paperback, has continually grown in her craft and ideas and talent. To quote from the DOG & PONY SHOW introduction, an amazingly perceptive and witty piece
From the start, she made her comics about things that were of value to her: animals, human and otherwise; history, natural and otherwise; whimsy, wit, and wonderment. She blazed a personal path on her journeys in cartooning and has emerged as a unique voice in comics art.
This book, this DOG & PONY SHOW, is a "suitable for all ages" comics carnival. Pam has gathered her remarkable cast of creations and presented them in entertainments which are fanciful, profound, and quite often both.
She gives us the simultaneously accident-prone and omniscient Diggby; the dignified adventurers of the Travelling Travelall; the strong and silent Radiation Man; the irrepressible Sparky the Dog; and, my newest favorites from Pam's ever-growing repertoire, Those Kids! The wildest of these concepts still strikes a familiar note with readers; images from just outside our peripheral vision. The most mundane of them is wondrous; things right in front of us that we never looked at quite that way.
Although DOG & PONY SHOW is available at some comics shops and through some distributors, your best bet might be to order it from Bliss herself. For a Paradise Valley Comics catalog, send a self-addressed and stamped envelope to
I'm equally enamored of Broderick's STARDUST AND THOR, one of them a man of incredible powers who heroically battles the forces of evil and the other one who wants to chase his tail and drag his butt across the carpet. This guy and his dog aren't exactly Batman and Robin, but they dispense justice with a whole lot more smiles on their faces and in adventures which are as delightful in content as they are unique in form. To quote from this trade paperback's perceptive and witty introduction
Look at the "secret origin" of Stardust and Thor, a ten-page story told sans caption or dialogue. Expressive faces and staging lead the reader through the changes of fortune and location of the Captain and his little buddy. It's a tricky way to tell a story, but George pulled it off so well that the how of its telling didn't impress itself on me until I'd finished reading it...
Forget about that "art form" stuff when you read this book the first time.
Let the wonderful characters and stories take you away to that special place where the good triumphs over evil because it is nicer, where time is measured in the joyous wagging of a tail, and where the pizza is always just hot enough.
When you come back to the book for your second time, then you can marvel at the craft of this cartoonist, how he mixes the common and the remarkable, how he nods respectfully to the madcap cartoons of his youth, how he plays with and parodies the super-hero genre, and how he puts so much meaning into his stories without being all showy about it. This is solid work, artfully and honestly made by a creator determined to restore the bright-eyed exhilarating joy of comics to a world sorely in need of same.
STARDUST AND THOR: HEROIC TAILS is available through Diamond and other distributors. You can order it directly from Broderick by sending $15 (includes postage) to
2049 Alfred Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Having thus offered you opportunities to part with a hundred bucks of your doubtlessly hard-earned money, I think it's time you and I called it a week. Thank you and be sure to tip the editors on your way out.
ADDENDUM? NOT THIS WEEK!
Okay, here's the deal. Although I usually add about 1000 to 1500 words of stuff to these CBG reprints when we post them online, I'm not able to do so this week. I'm busy dealing with this small flooding problem at Casa Isabella, which, though small, threatens my accumulation of stuff...and I'm also busy juggling my ridiculous schedule so that I can attend the Wizard World convention in mid-August. Check back with me next week and I'll let you know how I did with both endeavors. Later, kids.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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