In honor of the little-known Geek's Holiday called "Free Comics Day," I was going to cheat and use the opportunity to post one of my earliest comic books, a collaborative effort with one of my best childhood buddies. But, whoops! That was yesterday.. so as an added bonus, I'll give a brief page-by-page commentary on these antediluvian doodles.
This was the second issue of my Frogman series, which I probably began in 1992 or 1993 after being inspired by a picture in a kids magazine called "The Fun Zone," published by the makers of "Highlights for Children." I can find no info on this short-lived magazine online, and I only have the first two issues, having somehow lost the 3rd issue containing the image in question.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tv show was another obvious influence on the look and feel of the characters & their adventures.
This comic book, as near as I can place it, was done in the summer of 1996, though the original was probably done in summer of 1994- but more on that shortly.
The cover is illustrated with a beautiful rogue's gallery, showing all the villains our green heroes will be encountering in this story- top row, left to right: John Python, Comodo Dragoon, Mocassin Watersnake; bottom: Beatle Bombadier and John Garter.
Take note also of the explanation of why this second edition was drawn, and beware aspiring comic artists of having Koolaid around while creating your masterpieces, and be sure to protect your originals from same!
Page 1- here we see the wrap-up from the previous comic, episode 1. Pop the Cop rewards the civilian heroes for their work in capturing a villain called Beetle Bailey (not sure WHERE I got that name!) who in more recent versions of the tales is known only as The Beetle.
Also- you have to love the juvenile logic at work here- to a young and vivid imagination, the only thing you need to get to Africa is a car with the ability to jump "from island to island to Africa!"
Page 2- Before going on weekend trips overseas, even superheroes should check their mail. Nothing like a letter from a villain to kick off a scene full of banter and witty repartee.
Page 3- Note the funny discoloration in panel 6- Ah, white-out!- truly the best friend of any young comic artist who insists on drawing in ball-point pen without first penciling his panels.
Page 4- This is probably the only time Tadpole, alias Todd Pole has ever had his glasses off, and had his eyes visible. apparently I didn't like the look as I chose to magically cheat the cheaters back to their rightful place in the next panel.
Page 5- Any good comic book adventure worth its salt is full of trap doors and hidden passageways, and the automobile-ready trap-door tunnel in panels 6 & 7 is the first of several such devices in this story.
Page 6- in panel 5 we have the introduction of another Frogman gadget, the Froggy Flashlight, though where they keep such equipment with no visible pockets or utility belts must clearly be another of their magic frog powers. Still, they ought to have come more prepared, and had spare C batteries in the glove compartment.
Page 7- "Double Dragon Handheld Video Game!" is thankfully the only true pop culture reference in this story.
Page 8- At last our heroes have reached the villains' lair, which like any good hideout, is located in a completely inconspicuous and permanently lightning-storm-shrouded castle.
panel 6 is good for an unintentional laugh too; as you can see, my efforts to arrange the staging of the panel so everything was clear and visible rendered the space between the prison wide enough that all the prisoners could easily have slipped through and escaped without the inept assistance of Frogman.
Page 9- I'm not sure what's going on in panels 3 and 4, except it seems to be inspired by the defiance of natural laws seen in the work of Tex Avery et al, where characters can just as easily pop in from the sides or top of a frame as from the bottom like most normal cartoons.
A word of explanation may be necessary for panels 7 & 8, so I'll break it down for you:
Comodo Dragoon has a dehydrator gun (note the "Slurp!" sound effects), and is turning the prisoners into shriveled prunes, conveniently outside the frame of the panel. the Tadpole comes to the rescue with a Super-Soaker, overloading the dehydrator's capacity, causing it to explode and temporarily incapacitate Dragoon.
Page 10- Tadpole scientifically rehydrates his pals with the super-soaker, causing unavoidable damage to Horny Toad's leather jacket. Then, seeing the guard John Python coming around the corner, makes a puddle on the floor that Python naturally runs right into, dropping the keys to the wide-barred cells. Mocassin appears, unexpectedly but is quickly subdued by a solid right to his diproportionately large chin (maybe it just instantly swelled on impact?)
Page 11- Another secret passageway, depicted as well as could be expected in the space provided, this time a tunnel, conveniently labeled "Pipe Down," in a weak attempt at creating a pun.
In the original draft, this was the end of Part II, a wonderful cliffhanger where the heroes get to Treefrog's house-on-a-cliff via his suction-cup-footed "Treeclimber Caprice" only to realize they'd left the lone girl on the team, Sally Mander, behind at the villain's castle.
The second half of this two-parter was called, appropriately enough the "Return to Dragoon Lagoon," though neither part ever depicts said lagoon, we just have to assume the castle was built on a swamp, in much the same manner as the one in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
Page 12- Our absent-minded heroes, in their distraction over their lost female companion, have left the villain and his idiot side-kick alone in the "front compartment of the Treefrog Caprice. Apparently this car was loosely inspired by the VW Bug, with the engine in the rear, and a modified trunk space in the front. Also, apparently the suction-cup feet of the Caprice are attached to long heavy cables.
Adding to this. somehow Dragoon is able to wedge his head into a hole in the steering column, and appearently still has room to get his hand through as well, and can to a certain extent operate the vehicle! Don't ask me to explain any of this, as I'm as much dumbfounded at this point by my own storytelling as you are!
Page 13- Aha! a bit more looney-tune inspire action, as we see a silhouette-hole in a brick wall indicating that Mocassin has gone out of the car and flying through the wall...
"Some Time Later" Dragoon returns and has Sally Mander in peril once again, this time in the Star Wars/Pit and the Pendulum inspired Acme Smasher room, complete with claustrophobia- confirming closing-in-walls. Suddenly, a Deus Ex Machina, in the form of a new character appears!
This is Vortex, the robot, who was part of another, uncompleted storyline Josh and I had devised, under the inspiration of our mutual love of Legos, and specifically, a then-new lego space theme called "Spyrius," a group of spacemen who operated with the help of giant robots.
I owned the Recon Robot, and he had the Robo-Guardian, and I had actually created Vortex's design (along with a whole collection of frogman-spinoff characters) with lego pieces. Maybe if I'm feeling sufficiently nerdy sometime, I'll show you how to make your own Vortex action figure...
We had developed a storyline where Dragoon came back with an army of giant robots, and apparently a few of these robots, including Vortex, had been sentient enough to rebel against the command of Dragoon, and come to the aid of Frogman and his gang of heroes.
Note also, Vortex was colored with the depressingly misnamed "Gold" colored pencil, and then a "glow" had been drawn around him to compensate for the lack of shine in his actual color. Also, it was only natural to a young mind that a robot should have a hand shaped like an electrical outlet, and that plugging into one would give him access, a la R2D2, to the controls of the Acme Smasher.
Page 14- Dragoon apparently had the foresight to place a remote-controlled trap-door exactly where he was standing, just in case a robot magically appears to thwart his evil plans. His shouting the line "I'll be baaaaaaaaack" as he fell through his own trap-door was actually stolen from an animated cartoon I'd seen a couple years before, the first cartoon Adventures in Odyssey, The Knight Travellers, in a scene performed by the veteral voice performers, Hal Smith and Tony Jay.
In panel 5 we have an attept at depicting a character in a state of shock, which would be understandable considering the pychological trauma Sally has just been through. And yes, just in case the CIA is reading this, yes- Acme Smashers ARE torture, and no, you can't have one.
Page15- The gang derides Sally's story of a robot hero as the product of a troubled mind, and Frogman's cousin Treefrog tries ineptly to play the supportive boyfriend.
Page 16- Now that Sally is safe once more, everyone goes their separate ways- Treefrog takes Sally home to rest, and Frogman and Tadpole go after Dragoon and his henchmen with Horny Toad. Too bad Sally wasn't around in time for Vortex to reappear!
The gang splits into two groups, and Vortex and Horny Toad quickly find another of Dragoon's traps.
Page 17- Vortex and Horny Toad spend a whole page in the trap, complete with two "later..." captions, before Vortex suddenly remembers he has a mini helicoptor blade in his belt and we get back to the quickly deteriorating plot.
Page 18- It turns out Vortex not only has the plug-in capabilities of R2D2, but the linguistic abilities of C3PO! Actually, the Au Contraire line was something I picked up by reading a bunch of old Peanuts pocket-book edition comic strip collections. I recall the strip, but not what year it would have been from- Snoopy is talking to Woodstock, who replies in each panel, " || ||||||||" and Snoopy in the last panel sighs, "how can you argue with someone who only says, "Au Contraire." I recall clearly having to have my dad explain to me what the phrase meant.
Panel 6- By this point I was running out of space in the book to finish the story, so the capture of the remaining henchmen was sped up considerably. here they just wait for John Garter to run out of bullets, then tie him up. The gun design is not coincidentally very similar to the pistols used by the Lego Pirates, and his line, "Nuts" is another piece of dialogue with obvious Peanuts inspiration behind it.
Page 19- Mocassin Watersnake obviously had to spend some time in the water, and what better place for a water-lover to go while in Africa than the Nile river?
In panel 3 is a throw-away line "of course he's dead" which I used to explain why the heroes didn't capture the main bad guy in this comic, rather than "save him for a later return," which I actually had planned to do.
Panel 4 depicts the USS Frog, a previously unknown boat that Frogman apparently had on hand just in case he needed to chase a bad guy in the Nile river.
And apparently I didn't know the difference between Jet skis and water skis, as Tadpole incorrectly describes what he's about to do in the 7th panel...
Page 20- a bit of pathos with your comedy? Natch! panel 4 shows a distraut Frogman mourning the supposed loss of his sidekick Tadpole, only to be surprised by his sudden reappearance on deck, completely dry, holding Mocassin in a very tight head-lock.
also, please note that "Not" was considered a cool come-back at the time this was written.
Page 21- In panels 2-4, we have sign gags, another Avery specialty! and panel 4 is an unusual one in that it is split in two. I was desperate for space to finish the book, and while all the other frames had been drawn by tracing a small picture frame I had, on this one spot I actually used a ruler to split this one down the middle.
Page 22- Aha! Treefrog, using his dubiously tree-frog type skills, is hanging from a tree above the unsuspecting villain! After this last bit of action, we have the denouement, complete with another glimpse of the heroes in their civies, which look remarkably similar to their hero costumes, minus the green face paint, and inexplicably with noses that don't show up when they're in costume. The other inexplicable thing about this part of the story is, why would they turn over a criminal captured in Africa, in the Nile river, to a police station in the USA (hadn't yet come up with a specific location for the frogman team's home town)? The comic ends with the requisite "to be continued" despite there being no real cliffhanger or loose ends to the story; all the criminals in Dragoon's gang have been captured, and the big suspense-filled ending is...Treefrog has come over for a visit? Dun-Dun- DUUUUUNNNN!!! And we have the typical kicker of the cop wondering how this mild-mannered, balding school-teacher-type civilian manages to catch so many dangerous villains.
our official corporate logo was a rubber stamp of a frog, which I had gotten in my stocking for christmas. the H and M were the initials for the last names of the two creators of the comic. note the price at the top corner, indicating that we had definite entrepreneurial designs for the series; we planned to make color photocopies and sell them at twice the cost of the copies, and split that profit 50-50, but being typically unambitious juveniles, we never made or sold any copies. And now you're getting it for free, you lucky people!