Until recently, “Fraggle Rock” was the forgotten youngest sibling, stuck in the shadow of “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street.” It lasted four seasons on pay cable in the 1980s, and none of the characters ever showed up anywhere again. The show was Jim Henson at his hippie-est, with feel good themes, environmental messages, and deep spiritual insights into the human condition.
I have no idea why I liked it as much as I did at the time.
Today, with the series available on DVD for new generations to discover, there’s a bit of a Fraggle Revival going on. To top it all off, Archaia released the first issue of its new “Fraggle Rock” series this week, and it’s pretty good. The stories aren’t anything deep or shocking or surprising. The three stories in the book are cute, well told, and simple. It’s a solid book for a younger reader, with some things in there to delight the adults, too.
“Fraggle Rock” #1 leads off with a 20 page lead story written by Heather White, in which Red challenges Gobo to spend a night in the Gorg garden, leading to complications and lessons being learned. That All-Knowing Trash Heap dispenses wisdom like a giant green Pez dispenser might offer you morsels of sugary goodness, while Mokey offers up some sanity in a sea of crazed Fraggles. Some of the gags are forced, and the pacing feels a bit off here and there, but the overall story is sound and fits in with the established “Fraggle Rock” style. The story works very hard at approximating the look and feel of an episode of the original series.
The art by Jeff Stokely (with all-important colors by Lizzy John) is wonderful in a warped way: Picture Daniel Acuna or Joshua Middleton doing a Henson comic, and you’ll get an idea for the style. Stokely seems to use photo reference for the Fraggle heads, but everything else is an interpretation of the characters, including more cartoony hair and hands. John’s colors sell the whole thing, fading the backgrounds out while shading in the characters appropriately. In fact, only the character outlines are in solid blacks, while everything else is color held. It’s a style that works very well for this comic.
The second story, “Time Flies,” shows what happens when a Gorg loses his watch, and the Fraggles discover time. When everything becomes a race in Red’s mind, craziness ensues for six pages. Cook’s art is much different from Stokely’s. It’s more traditionally penciled-and-inked, more cartoony and expressive. Cook takes the Fraggles out of their puppet confines and realizes them as creatures made for a comic page. Imagine something between Sergio Aragones and Stan Sakai, with a bright dollop of color. It may take your eyes a page or two to adjust to these different interpretations of the characters, but it’s well worth it. They’re convincing as actors on the page, and cute as all heck.
Jeffrey Brown’s story might just be the most effective and complete in the book, and it’s only four pages. “Red’s Big Idea” shows us another of Red’s inventive ideas. This time, it’s a Fraggle Segway. The results are predictably off-kilter, but the short four-page story grabs you quickly and doesn’t waste a panel. The Fraggles are drawn unapologetically in Browns’ own style, giving this more of an indie comic feel, but with very vivid colors from Michael DiMotta.
For long-time “Fraggle Rock” fans, this book is a no-brainer. It can’t be missed. For someone new to the universe, it might take a little longer to warm up to it, but there’s some seriously good cartooning and comic book storytelling in the book. It’s rare to find an anthology with three stories as strong as this one.