The thing to keep in mind while reading the various Boody Rogers comics collected in the oddly punctuated collection Boody. (Fantagraphics Books) is when exactly it was they were created and published: Between 1948 and 1950.
That’s during comics’ so-called Golden Age, and well before underground comix movement of the 1960s or more current post-modern comics that might revel in the sort of weirdness that permeates these stories and radiates outward from the pages. To say they’re “ahead of their time” would be an understatement; they seem like they were drawn just last week.
The collection is put together by Craig Yoe, who seems to be everywhere at the moment (His Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster also just dropped, and garnered plenty of mainstream media attention for the obvious reasons). So unsurprisingly, it’s a beautiful-looking book.
It has the dimensions of a Golden Age comic (Er, as far as I know; I’d have to ask my grandfather to be 100% certain about that), and a cover assembled of some of weirdest single panels within, across which the sub-title “The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers” appears, alongside visual justification for the word “bizarre.” The original comics have been restored, but nothing has been done to hurt their integrity; that is, they’re not recolored or noticeably retouched, so the bright, brilliant original color schemes remain.
After a three-page biographical sketch of Rogers by Yoe, who knew the late artist personally, the book dives into short humor stories from Rogers.
There are five Sparky Watts stories, which follow the character originally conceived as a Superman type. Sparky was blonde and bespectacled, and hung around with his friend Slap Happy, who has gigantic feet, and a professor, who must bathe Watts regularly in cosmic rays, or he’ll shrink down to insect size.
In two of the stories included, that’s exactly what happens to Watts, and Rogers draws strange sequences involving creatures that are supposedly common bugs, but look more like things that might have come to Dr. Seuss in a fever dream. The other three Watts stories tell a longer, continuing story about he and Slap Happy’s pal Hattie, who is so small his entire body is concealed under his hat, save for his out-sized calves and feet.
Also garnering plenty of pages is Babe, “The Amazon of he Ozarks” and “The Darling of the Hills.” She’s a big, beautiful blonde bombshell who lives in a hillbilly parody with her pipe-smoking ma, her two-pipe-smoking pa, and a variety of hounds, hogs and a turtle. Super-strong and super-fast, she’s sought after for both here beauty and her athletic prowess by city folks, and has strange adventures close to home, like one in which she’s abducted by a society of centaurs who use women as horses.
Rounding out the collection are a story starring another country character, Jasper Fudd, and a teen comedy strip starring a boy named Dudley and his dog.
What’s remarkable about the work, beyond the obvious (Roger’s skills as a character designer an cartoonist), and the fact that they were written and drawn so long ago that today they seem influenced by the comics artists and works they preceded by decades, is that Rogers clearly wasn’t sitting down at a drawing table and thinking, “Okay, what kind of fucked up story can I draw today?”
The individual stories all fall into the category of humor strips, mostly pretty common sub-genres like hillbilly comedy or teen comedy, and its only Rogers’ style, execution and personality that make them seem so bizarre.
The Dudley story, for example, is about a little kid and his older, teenage brother’s gentle conflict over record albums that culminates in a dance contest. It’s the sort of story that has probably been done scores of times before and since, but the slang Rogers writes, and, even more so, the explosive contortions the dancing teens undergo elevates the story into whole new territory. What could be just another Archie sort of story becomes both a typical teen comedy comic and a sort of parody of a typical teen comedy comic, simultaneously.
You can see examples of Rogers’ half-transformative effect on his own comics in every story in here. Squint your eyes or tilt your head, and it’s easy to see any of these as a plain, old, generic, hardly-worth-collecting-story. Provided, of course, that someone else entirely had drawn it.
You can download an entire 12-page Sparky Watts story, in which he encounters strange bugs and microscopic creatures, here. Zack Smith interviewed Yoe about the book for the main site back in January, and you can read it here.