Comics archivist, scholar, fan, collector and all-around knowledgable maniac Craig Yoe has been releasing a tsunami of delightful books over the past year or so, and among my favorites is the recent Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers (2009, Fantagraphics), providing a handsome sampler of curious comics by Gordon G. “Boody” Rogers (1904–1996).
My own introduction to Boody Rogers came, not via his comics (oddly enough), but via his autobiography. I was always intrigued by a hand-lettered ad that repeatedly appeared in The Comics Buyer’s Guide weekly back in the 1980s, and I saw a friend’s copy of the book Boody was self-distributing, Homeless Bound (1984, Pioneer Book Publishers). It didn’t do any good to beg or whine: by that time, the ads were no longer in the CBG. I tracked down my copy years later during a book sale at a library during a visit to Texas, and it’s had a treasured spot on my personal library shelf ever since.
Rogers opened his illustrated autobiography with a memorable curtain-raiser:
“Mr. Marshlo was beyond a doubt the nastiest, dirtiest, filthiest bastard I had ever had the displeasure to see! He owned a cotton farm near Childress, a small West Texas town which I claim as home base. The last water Mr. Marshlo ever had on his head must have been when he was christened, but it had long since disappeared! He wore a shaggy beard that bore evidence of this last several meals. It usually had coffee stains, dried gravy, eggs, butter, and sometimes a few beans tangled in it. Just looking at him would make a strong man throw up! He was a rag-tailed, holy mess!”
And so it began… Homeless Bound, and my romance with Boody Rogers‘s work. There wasn’t much about Boody‘s cartooning career in the book—an anecdote here, and a digression there—but it sure was an entertaining read, and one came away feeling like you’d spent a week or two shooting the breeze with Boody himself. His personality came through in spades, and the man was a charmer and a born storyteller.
Thereafter, I kept my eyes peeled at every book nook and yard sale I stumbled through. I lucked into gold once, and only once, more: a pretty good condition copy of a regional Texan paperback Rogers had illustrated, Wichita Falls: A Lady with a Past (1978, Western Christian Foundation, Inc.). There wasn’t much Boody in the book, but what there was I savored, and Glenn Shelton‘s text was brimming with enough lurid historical lore to prompt a revisit or two over the years.
It was tough to find any comics with Rogers‘s work. It was tucked away in the fat, 64-page potpourris of titles like Big Shot and solo (I think) Rogers titles like Babe, Dudley (“The Teen-Age Sensation!”) and Sparky Watts, all pricey 1948-1950 Pre-Code oddities that seemed scarcer than chicken teeth and finer than fur on a frog, judging by their prices (when they could be found at all).
What I could scrounge up was always inventive, imaginative and antic, a weird fusion of hillbillies, monsters, babes, bodacious rednecks, and completely insane (and often quite protracted) gags, brimming with vivid action. Rogers was a natural, and his cartooning still entertains and astonishing (at times with its sheer audacity). The influences are self-evident—Fontaine Fox‘s Toonerville Folks, Al Capp‘s Li’l Abner and Bill Holman‘s Smoky Stover prominent among those, though I also detect (go ahead, call me crazy) a whiff of Harry G. Peter (Wonder Woman) at times—but it’s distinctively Boody‘s own universe we’re wheeling through, with its own look, flavor, and sense of style.
The few I stumbled upon at comics cons over the years were either too expensive or missing pages (centerspreads were frequent casualties, instantly dropping four full pages of story out of the center of a vintage comic, but rendering it affordable if you brought it to the dealer’s attention), but I found a few and fell in love with his ramshackle but surprisingly cohesive fantasies. One dealer in particular tempted me more than once with a rare late 1940s comic featuring a Boody Rogers “Sparky Watts” story in which Sparky and his chrome-domed pal Slap Happy enter a microscopic realm populated with micro-monsters worthy of Ted Geisel, including a phallic cyclopean saurian-sorta critter with ears on his hips. I could never afford the damned comic, but I’m thankful to read it at last in Boody—it’s the second story in Yoe‘s collection.
There’s fourteen stories in all in this anthology, beautifully scanned, restored, and reproduced in all their four-color glory. You’ll meet Babe, “The Amazon of the Ozarks” (the strip with the biggest debt to Li’l Abner, one of a number of “hillbilly” comics Capp inspired), Sparky Watts and Slap Happy, Max Von Glamor, Mrs. Two-Ton Gooseflesh, Hattie and Bonny Pinfeathers, Cousin Fanny Hawgfat, Dudley (“The Prince of Prance!”), Jasper Fudd, and a wild menagerie of mutants, monsters and microbes (including the two-part Sparky Watts tale I was tantalized with over two decades ago, and another in the “Kingdom of the Talking Bugs”). There’s a lot of fun to be had in these pages.
My sole complaint, really, is the lack of any attribution for the stories themselves. As with many of the recent Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly collections, the lack of any archival source information is frustrating, an oversight that ill serves serious comics scholars, researchers (and teachers like me). C’mon, let us know where and when these gems were originally published!
Boody properly showcases a sizeable enough collection of complete comics stories by the wildman inkslinger from Texas, finally elevating Rogers into the pantheon he’s always been part of—if only enough folks had been able to access his work. At last, they can!
So, make room, Milt Gross, Basil Wolverton, John Stanley and the rest of you all-ages-appropriate comics humorists/fantasists of yore: Boody is here at last, and he’s stompin’ his way into the hearts of a new generation!
- SR Bissette, Mountains of Madness, VT