I’ll get this out of the way first; the comics of Boody Rogers are bizarre. Not in an offensive way like Ho! or Arcade of Cruelty. No, Boody’s comics (collected in Boody by editor Craig Yoe) are bizarre like a fever dream is bizarre. Even with a conventional narrative structure intact, rare is the moment you can predict what will be on the next page or even in the next panel.
In the book’s introduction, Yoe gives an overview of Rogers’ life and work in the world of comics.
Bizarre, wacky, weird, wild and sexy — these are just a few of the adjectives that describe the cartooning of Boody Rogers. Before there were underground comics, Boody Rogers dug deep into breaking the rules; before their was low-brow art, Boody created art that hit hard below the brow. Rogers’s pen and ink outré raucousness was wrapped into great stories, beautifully drawn art, and hilarious gags.
While Boody collects a variety of strips from Rogers, the majority are from his long-running series Sparky Watts and Babe. All the adjectives listed above certainly apply to the work in this collection. It’s hard to believe that Rogers was writing and drawing these comics at the dawn of superhero comics. Babe, the character that gets the bulk of the attention in this collection, is an Amazonian hillbilly. Sparky Watts is a silly, over-the-top parody of Superman, a boy bombarded with cosmic rays with skin so strong he has to shave with a blowtorch. Both are artistic and narrative gems, and I can see why they were inspirational to Art Spiegelman, Johnny Ryan and Robert Williams.
I’ll admit I’m not much of a connoisseur of Golden Age comics, but this book makes me want to seek out more. On the surface, the comics are pure retro cheesiness – punny jokes, bright colorful art, and stories wholly told in a handful of pages. Bubbling below the surface, however, is a subversive streak. Certainly, the character of Babe is a bit sexier than your average 40s comic character. Sparky sends up the conventions of superhero comics before they were even firmly established. The art, particularly in Sparky Watts in the Kingdom of the Talking Bugs, looks like a technicolor acid trip.
Unfortunately, the collection of the comics in this volume leaves a bit to be desired. Yoe didn’t include a table of contents, and the order of the included work doesn’t seem to take chronology or character into account. The collection goes from a Babe story, then Sparky Watts, then a later Babe, Dudley, then inexplicably back to an earlier Babe book. At various points, characters refer to earlier stories that haven’t appeared in the book yet, or aren’t included at all. While a reader can work around this, a few notes for the reader or a change in ordering could have prevented this editorial whiplash.
Quibbles with editorial choices aside, the work is beautifully reproduced and represents the most complete collection of Boody Rogers’ work available. If you’re willing to put in a bit of extra work as a reader, Boody rewards you with some truly unique work, and a much different perspective on the earliest American comics.
Boody, edited by Craig Yoe – 19.99 – Paperback – ISBN 9781560979616 – Fantagraphics Books