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CCI: 25 Years of Swords and Cheese Dip

by  in Comic News Comment
CCI: 25 Years of Swords and Cheese Dip

Sergio Aragonés was greeted by a sea of Groos at Comic-Con International in
sunny San Diego Thursday afternoon. As attendees entered the room for the
panel celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the cheese dip-loving barbarian,
Gary Grossmann of GROO.COM handed them Groo masks with instructions printed
on the reverse: “Please don’t wave this mask around before the panel starts.
Put the mask in front of your face when Sergio is introduced and every time
he starts to talk. (At least the first few times.)” After the initial
surprise of seeing about a hundred Groos in the audience, Sergio whipped out
his camera to capture the moment.

Moderator (and Groo writer) Mark Evanier introduced the panelists, including
letterer Stan (Usagi Yojimbo) Sakai, colorist Tom Luth, and Groo’s original
colorist, Gordon Kent. Evanier said “there are a lot of anniversaries in
comics‹the tenth anniversary of this and the 20th anniversary of that‹but
when is the last time you were at a panel for the 25th anniversary of a book
that included every damn person who ever worked on it?”

After the applause died down, Evanier continued, “after years of coming here
with excuses for why there’s no new Groo, we are very happy to be here today
to announce that there will be more Groo.”

The Groo 25th Silver Anniversary Issue will be available in August. Aragonés
describes it as “a complete story about the Plague.” In September, the first
issue of a four-issue miniseries will hit the stands.

“Stan’s lettering it upstairs,” Evanier laughed. Sakai confirmed that he is, in fact, lettering pages for the miniseries at the convention.

The series will revolve around environmental concerns; Aragonés explained,
“the scientists in Groo’s time don’t know about things like global warming;
they don’t know why pollution is a problem, but they know it will be one if
they keep it up.” As always, Groo enters the situation and immediately makes
it worse. “Groo is not the hero of the book,” Aragonés said, “he’s the pest.
He’s the worst thing that can happen!”

Dark Horse is resuming the publication of the Groo collections with “The
Groo Parade.” Previous Groo collections have been named alphabetically
beginning with Groo Adventures and continuing to The Groo Omnibus, with each
book containing four issues’ worth of material. Beginning with the Groo
Parade, the books will contain eight issues, and the price will increase by
about 50 percent, Evanier explained, “and we’re going to keep devaluing the comics
until they’re damn well free!”

Aragonés discussed the Groo Alphabet book, for which Mark Evanier has
written an epic poem for the Minstrel to recite, with a groo-related
character, location or event for each letter of the alphabet, all
illustrated, of course, by Sergio Aragonés.

Other upcoming Groo material includes the long-planned Groo/Conan crossover,
a Groo/Tarzan crossover, and a Groo Treasury reprinting long-unseen material
from the Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics runs of the character, including
“Groo For Sale,” a very early appearance that has never before been seen in

Discussing the Groo/Conan book, Aragonés said, “Groo is my hero, I don’t
want him to lose; the Conan people don’t want him to lose, so who is going
to win if they fight? Then I remembered ‘Rashoman’, so now we can do it,”
suggesting that the Groo-Conan confrontation would be seen from both points
of view and with differing opinions as to who emerged victorious.

While working on the Groo/Conan project, Dark Horse began lobbying for
another book, this one to feature a meeting with another licensed property
they currently publish: Tarzan. Aragonés says he’s not sure how to make the
story work, but that they will think of something.

“Tarzan is one of my favorite characters, but it’s not an easy crossover like Conan. Conan makes sense; they’re both barbarians, but Tarzan, I don’t know how it fits.

Another long-awaited Groo project that was discussed was the Groo movie,
about which Evanier remarks, “we’re not dying to do it tomorrow,” stating
that they are happy to reject offers that involve making changes to the
character or casting inappropriate voices (the film will be CGI). The
creators recounted several anecdotes regarding casting and production
suggestions from possible producers, including shooting the film as
live-action with Will Farrell (whom Aragonés described as the least funny
person on the planet) in the lead role, or turning Groo into an animated
property “like Family Guy,” to which Aragonés replied “no, no, we want it to
be funny.” Aragonés is understandably protective of his character; “I love
Groo. I want [the film] to look like our Groo.”

The Groo screenplay has been completed and an elaborate presentation
including character designs and production art has been created, and the
team is in talks with a studio, which they declined to name.

“We’re not supposed to mention the studio, Katzenberg will get mad,” said Evanier. He went on to explain the economics of feature film production and the huge commitment a studio has to make to a film, saying “you’re talking about 150
million dollars; I look at that and think why don’t you just give each of us a million and forget the whole thing. You’ll be happier, we’ll be happier.”

Asked who he would cast as the voice of Groo, Aragonés was adamant that it
not be a recognizable celebrity voice. He said that he thought Groo sounded
like the late Aldo Ray; a tough, raspy voice “without a New York accent,”
but that he was sure Mark Evanier would cast a talented voice actor who fit
the role and would not distract the audience by being a famous personality.

“Don’t ask me to believe Woody Allen is an ant,” he said.

In response to a question about possible video-game versions of Groo, the
panel explained that the movie process locks up ancillary uses of the
property, since movie producers are not going to want to make a film if they
can’t generate additional revenue from tie-in products, so any Groo games
will have to wait until the film is in production.

Stan Sakai, a graduate of the University of Hawaii, is continuing to produce
his monthly Usagi Yojimbo comic, as well as working on a special, Usagi
Yojimbo: War of the Worlds,in which martians attack fuedal Japan. Aside from
Usagi, Sakai is doing an Incredible Hulk comic, of which he says: “They told
me I could do whatever I want, use whatever characters I want, and I thought
‘Samurai Hulk.'” Marvel has also asked him to do a cover for another comic,
which will feature Spider-Man in an oddball classic, the “fish in the face”

“It’s Doc Ock hitting Spider-Man in the face with a fish at an aquarium. Scott Shaw! will love it.”

Discussing his contribution to Groo, Sakai explains that when he receives
the pages to letter, they are in rough pencil sketch form, with only
indicated speech balloons and a script to give him any idea what’s going on.

“I don’t get to appreciate the beautiful inking that you all get to see,”
Sakai remarked to the colorists at the other end of the table. When Tom Luth
replied that he gets to enjoy it when it’s published, he responded “but then
the color ruins it; that’s why Usagi is in black and white.” Mark Evanier
then asked the two artists if they’d like to take a swing at each other.

An audience member asked “what is that thing on Groo’s chest?” After
Aragonés said that it was a buckle, colorist Gordon Kent responded “a
buckle? If I’d known it was a buckle, I wouldn’t have made it blue!” Evanier
joked that it’s a videocassette, and Aragonés laughed about the letters and
e-mails that were received when Evanier made that same joke in a letter
page; people wrote to scold them that videocassettes didn’t exist in Groo’s
time. Evanier remarked that “reading Groo causes people to lose their sense
of humor.”

Asked which issue is his favorite, Aragonés said that it was issue #100,
wherein Groo learns to read.

“I cried when I did the part about the library catching fire; this stupid guy [Groo] began to understand something of the value of learning. I’m very proud of it.” Sakai said his favorite issue is the all-pantomime one because he had nothing to do with it and could enjoy it as a fan. Kent said his favorite was the one he worked on. Evanier said his was “probably an issue of Crossfire.”

Aside from Groo, Evanier and Aragonés said that there will soon be a collected trade paperback of the Magnor series which they did in the ’80s, to be followed by some new Magnor comics, mostly so that he wouldn’t have to keep explaining the meaning of his personalized MAGNOR license plates.

“I tell people it’s RONGAM spelled backwards, but that doesn’t seem to satisfy them.”

Evanier concluded the panel by saying that they would continue producing
Groo “as long as people buy it.”

Photos courtesy of Sergio Aragonés.

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