Bit player takes center stage in <em>Ralph Wiggum Comics #1</em>

When Disney bought Marvel Comics in 2009, much of the coverage of the move cited the publisher's catalog of 5,000 characters. DC Comics, which was founded a few decades earlier and had gobbled up the character catalogs of many other publishers over the decades, must have a catalog of characters even deeper.

The cast of The Simpsons hasn’t grown quite that large, despite its 23 seasons and over 500 episodes, but there are an ever-increasing number of name characters within the city limits of Springfield, most of whom should be capable of supporting their own comic book. At least for one issue, right?

Case in point: Ralph Wiggum, Lisa Simpson’s dim to the point of zen nothingness classmate and the son of incompetent Police Chief Wiggum. The malapropism-spouting bit player usually only gets a cameo in episodes, when he appears at all, but those appearances tend to be the funnier bits of the episodes (and I say that as a lapsed fan who thinks the show might have climaxed a good 10 or 15 seasons ago, and started running on fumes a few seasons back).

Of course, on the show, Ralph works in small doses. Can he work in bigger doses? Bongo Comics gave us the chance to find out this week, with Ralph Wiggum Comics #1, a 25-page one-shot full of short stories starring Springfield’s most guileless resident.

The book contains a half-dozen strips of various lengths, and drawn in various styles that filter that of the show’s slick and polished versions of Matt Groening's original designs through those of the contributing artists.

The most individualized takes come from Sergio Aragones, who contributes three short pieces: A silent, one-page gag strip, a two-page gag strip and a character-crammed Where’s Waldo?-like page titled “Where’s Ralph?”, featuring an elaborate drawing of a prison riot featuring four Simpsons regulars amid scores of gray-clad, yellow faced Aragones-style prisoners (I’m somewhat ashamed to say it took me a frustrating five minutes to finally find him).

Mike Kazaleh draws one of the longer pieces, “The Man of The House,” written by Mary Trainor, in which Kazaleh’s looser, sharper-edged Simpsons-style Ralph cheerfully, inadvertently destroying the house.

Carol Lay's “Ralph Wiggum’s Day Off" also features a loose interpretation of the character designs, and smaller figures in bigger, more empty settings. And, finally, James Lloyd and Andrew Pepoy draw the most on-model version of Ralph and company, in the Jesse McCann scripted “Ralph: The Role Model,” in which the title character does battle with an actual magical leprechaun.

As a publisher, Bongo is almost single-handedly keeping kid-friendly, all-ages humor comics of the sort that used to be abundant on drugstore racks alive, and there’s something precious about their books (along with those of Archie Comics, who have owned this game for decades now and, increasingly, BOOM!, who are just now getting into it), as if they’re the comic book equivalent of an endangered species.

Some of them, like this perfectly new reader friendly example, serve as great reminders about why these sorts of comics are worth having around—they’re fun, they’re funny and they can be shared with just about anyone, regardless of age or their knowledge of fictional worlds, character biographies and rules.

This particular comic book is just a half-dozen funny little stories about a really dumb kid. They’re competently, energetically, occasionally even lovingly cartooned. They’re brightly colored. And, amazingly enough, this issue only cost $2.99, despite being full-color, boasting 28-pages of comics and a two-page letter column, and being almost completely ad-free, save for a house-ad and an ad for Free Comic Book Day at the very end of the book.

Setting this one down, it almost seems strange that comics like these are the rarer, more specialized sort in the North American direct market of comic hobby shops, while the darker, murkier, more generically written and illustrated, more expensive, more narrow-cast comics featuring 1/4-to-1/6th of a complete story are the norm.

While Ralph Wiggum Comics may only be a one-shot, it looks like Bongo is going to continue to explore The Simpsons’ deepening character catalog. The fine print calls this issue Simpsons One-Shot Wonders: Ralph Wiggum Comics, and there’s a back-page ad for Bart Simpson’s Pal Milhouse #1, which the next issue box (Hey, Simpsons comics still have next issue boxes! I used to love next issue boxes!) calls it the next issue of Simpsons One-Shot Wonders.

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