MAYBERRY MELONPOOLI first became aware of THE ULTIMATE MAYBERRY MELONPOOL when it was mentioned on Ain't-It-Cool-News a few months ago. The idea of the book was enough to intrigue me. It's like a special edition DVD for comic strips. At its root, it's a collection of Steve Troop's zany comic strip about some aliens who have crash-landed on earth and their often genre-related adventures, complete with a telepathic dog and a 220-pound hamster. But it's much more like the ultimate history of this still young strip. Troop guides the reader through his college strips, explaining all the internal politics involved with it, as well as the evolution of the characters. Then there was the extremely low budget Mayberry Melonpool movie, which still looked like something from Henson's Creatures shop, judging by the stills included in the book. Finally, the strip made its way to the Internet, where it resides to this day. Yes, you can get your daily dose of Mayberry and the whole gang at Melonpool.com Every strip is annotated with anecdotes, behind-the-scenes stories, and alternate punch lines and running gags.
There is a problem with a collection like this. If you're not already a fan - and I wasn't until I picked up this book - it's going to be difficult to get through the beginnings. The early Melonpool adventures were amateurish. I'm sure Steve Troop would agree with me. They were done in college. So the fine touches aren't there yet. The art isn't refined. The lettering is often jagged. The characters are changing personalities very often. It's tough to get a feel for it all.
When you get to the Internet strips, though, you can see the refined designs kick in. The characters start to attain a certain "cuteness" that's necessary to sell this strip. The characters are much more consistent. The storylines riff on established sf franchises like never before. The BACK TO THE FUTURE storyline is enough to make your head whirl, but in a very nice way.
Did I also mention that Image published one issue of a MAYBERRY MELONPOOL comic series? It didn't sell too well, and issues 2 through 4 were cancelled. Some of those covers and panels appear in this book, such as Jae Lee's cover. Troop was also a comics colorist for a time in the early 90s.
When I talked to Troop in San Diego this year, he mentioned that he had enough material ready to go to fill up a couple more books. So if you all go out there and pick this one up, maybe he can justify printing the second volume. I'd like that.
Frank Cho is, very quietly, one of the most impressive pen-and-ink artists working in any medium today. His daily syndicated comic strip, LIBERTY MEADOWS, features physically entertaining funny animals, as well as a gorgeous gal and believable male. His previous work includes good girl art and lush landscapes. But it's LIBERTY MEADOWS where he's made his name so far.
It's a humorous daily strip revolving around a group of animals living in a habitat for animals who have lost their homes to man. They're neurotic. They're crazy. They're silly. And the vet has a crush on the animal psychiatrist, the buxom black-haired beauty Brandy.
Cho mixes both verbal humor and visual humor really well. Jokes are built on knowledge of pop culture in some cases, while other times the humor rests on the visualization of the characters doing silly things, from attempting to fly to dancing. Of all the strips reviewed in this column, this has the most dynamic art. Cho doesn't restrict himself to the classic three or four panels to a tier gag format. His Sunday strips resemble the latter CALVIN & HOBBES strips in their variety of format. The dailies often use various sizes of panels.
There are three issues out of the series so far. Each issue collects eight weeks of the daily strips, with the censored punch lines put back in. My local paper doesn't get the strip. I can't vouch for the hilarity of the censored punch lines, but these strips are hilarious. And the book is nicely packaged, too. The cover is cardboard. The interior paper is a nice white paper, not newsprint. Inside covers are taken with editorials and ads for Cho's other works. There's even a letters column and a Sunday full-color reprint on the back cover.
The strip is based on a rowdier college strip Cho did. Some changes were in order. The best and most obvious example is that the character of Frank is now a human veterinarian, and not a duck. This was done as a concession to the syndicates, who might not have appreciated the undercurrent of bestiality from the college version, wherein the human and the duck were dating. The college strips have been repackaged and reprinted, too, as UNIVERSITY2. (That's "University Squared," but I don't get that superscript 2 character here. . . ) The situation isn't exactly the same. In the book, the characters are now college students, running amok on campus. Quite honestly, I like the syndicated comic strips better. There's a better maturity to them. Not ever gag is about beer and frat parties and picking up chicks.
The 80 page trade paperback will set you back $11.95 while the monthly comic will get you for $2.95.
…Just when you thought I'd manage a column that didn't involve Erik Larsen! DESPERATE TIMES is a comic strip done by ace letterer Chris Eliopoulos. It first appeared in the back of THE SAVAGE DRAGON (and still does), before moving into its own short-lived (4 issues) series, and into its eventual collected form. It's cleverly titled in the indicia as "DESPERATE TIMES TRADE PAPERBACK" and can be had for the paltry sum of $15. This one collects all four issues of the comic, 20 backup strips from THE SAVAGE DRAGON, a Terry Austin-inked pin-up, a brand-new 11 page story, and fan art. (Full disclosure: I have a bit of fan art in there. It's my first printed artwork. Pretty cool. Thanks, Chris.)
This is the story of two guys, Marty and Toad. 20-something slackers. They can't get dates. They have difficulties shopping. They have all those typical social problems with the 90s. They also have a pet three-toed sloth named Kennedy, who's best known for his laziness and propensity to drink. And Marty's sister's boyfriend doesn't ever take off his Doofus (read: Goofy) costume. Hilarity ensues.
You can clearly see the evolution of the strip here. Eliopoulos' art starts off with lots of thin lines and matures to vary the line weight a bit and polish off the characters. They're still works in progress. Eliopoulos is still experimenting with the character designs and ways to tell the story. But it's always straight-ahead storytelling, told in a newspaper strip format. Sometimes this means three tiers of three-panel strips. Others it means two sets of four-panel gags on a page. (There are a couple of exceptions. The new story, "It's a Dog's Life" has slightly more irregular gags. And the first issue of the comic was less a collection of strips and more an attempt at more traditional comic book format storytelling. With the second issue, Eliopoulos went back to straight gags.)
It's really a funny strip and the kind of stuff that could be enjoyed by more than just the usual comics crowd. Buy an extra copy for that non-comics reading friend. It's $14.95 for close to 150 pages' worth of stuff.