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The class reunion doesn’t go so smoothly in ‘Saved by the Bell’

by  in Comic News Comment
The class reunion doesn’t go so smoothly in ‘Saved by the Bell’

Being a teenager is all about discovering new things, and one of the things I discovered as a teen in the early 1990s was comic books.

The guest-creator period of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC and TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the latter half of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s Batman comics, the death and return of Superman (and the “Reign of the Supermen” that came between), the first few issues of Spawn from upstart publisher Image Comics – these were my introduction to a medium that 14-year-old me would be surprised to discover I’m still writing about on the Internet 25 years later (but not as shocked as he would’ve been by the very existence of the Internet, of course).

Another thing I found at the time was a TV show that was seemingly on a good four hours every weeknight, between the end of cross-country practice and the time I took my bath, thanks to syndication and the explosion of cable channels: Saved by the Bell.

I was probably outgrowing the target demographic by the time I stopped watching comedy, but it was practically unavoidable. I liked the idealized, fantasy version of high school and enjoyed looking at the girls, having had a particular crush on Lark Voorhees, who played Lisa Turtle.

At the time, I would’ve probably loved a Saved by the Bell comic book*, because I was so fascinated by the medium. It was the ultimate medium, as far as I was concerned, and any intellectual property — a term I didn’t know back then – would only have been improved by being in that format.

And now, 20 years after I graduated from high school, there’s a Saved by the Bell comic book in my hands, thanks to IDW Publishing’s distribution agreement with Lion Forge Comics, the online publisher that has been producing licensed comics based on old TV shows, including this one.

Better yet, it features artwork by Chynna Clugston Flores, a favorite artist of mine who is probably still best known for her Oni Press series Blue Monday. She drew the covers of all eight issues/chapters included in the IDW collection, and the art for every other issue, with Tim Fish illustrating the issues she didn’t. They’re all written by Joelle Sellner, who’s worked on several other Lion Forge comics and plenty of animated series … and has apparently watched even more Saved by the Bell than I did.

As much as I might have liked it 25 years ago, however, I’m afraid I found the book pretty disappointing today. Part of that is due simply to confusion of address; I’m not sure who it’s for, exactly, but I’m assuming it’s not actually me. And part of it to is because the quality isn’t particularly high, which was probably the most disappointing aspect, as I expected pretty great things from Clugston Flores.

It’s a kinda-sorta reboot, if only in that it’s set in the modern day: The kids have cellphones and laptops, vlogs and “Baytube.” This is their freshman year at Bayside, and A.C. Slater is the new kid in school, with the first issue/chapter devoted to his first encounter with Zack Morris and their early rivalry for the affection of Kelly Kapowski. After that initial story, the status quo is immediately settled into that of the earlier seasons of the show.

Other than the calendar, however, nothing has really changed: The cast has the exact same personalities (as one-note as some of those may be), they have the same relationships with one another and they look the same … for the most part.

The likenesses vary from character to character, with only Zack and Screech looking extremely close to their TV counterparts in every story by both artists (the girls look sadly interchangeable, and were it not for the context, there would be no way to tell they were supposed to be teenaged versions of Elizabeth Berkley or Tiffani-Amber Thiessen).

Oddly, the fashions and Max decor still look remarkably late-1980s. Maybe retro is in with California teenagers these days? I don’t know; I’m an Ohio thirtysomething.

The stories and artists’ storytelling reflect the show well … maybe too well, as there doesn’t seem to be any real advantage taken of the switch to a new medium. Sellner’s plots are no deeper or more realistic than those of the teen-sitcom variety, and almost blandly all-ages (Clugston Flores drawing a bikini car wash should be at least as sexy as an Archie Comic, shouldn’t it?).

This is apparently meant for little kids – it’s part of Lion Forge’s Roar Comics kids’ imprint – but I’m not sure why a kid would be particularly interested in comic based on a TV show from their parents’ youth. (Then again, kids today are super-into Full House, so again, there’s a pretty good chance I don’t know what I’m talking about here.)

This isn’t Clugston Flores’ best work, and it’s evident from the covers in the back of the collection how much better she can draw than she often does during the stories themselves.

The online origins of the comic are quite obvious from the way it looks in print, as each page seems clearly chopped into two tiers, a much-wider-than-necessary gutter between the top and bottom half, making it look and read a little like a comic strip collection.

Overall, it’s OK, but it’s just OK, and I want more than just that from my comics these days. That’s one thing 14-year-old me and present-day me would have to argue about.

*I had no idea Harvey Comics actually published a handful of Saved by the Bell comics in 1992 until I started writing this, but now I kinda wish someone would collect those comics, because they look crazy.

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