Monday, March 03, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #61a: Gumby's Spring Specials by Burden, Purcell, and Adams

Back in the old days, when there was room for whimsy and silliness from major comics companies -- we'll ignore the existence of Art Baltazar and Franco for rhetorical purposes -- a company with the aggressively obvious name of Comico licensed the once-popular Claymation hero Gumby for new comic book adventures. This was 1987, when the wave of grim & gritty was just crashing on the shores of mainstream comics, so perhaps the scope for whimsy and silliness was limited even then.

Nevertheless, whimsy and silliness won out: Comico's first Gumby special, in the summer of 1987, was written by the wild man of comics, Bob Burden of Flaming Carrot fame, and drawn by Art Adams. A little later, a second special emerged, this time written by the equally odd Steve Purcell (creator of Sam & Max, Freelance Police), with art again by Adams. And that was it for Gumby in comics for a long time, and those two issues sat in thousands of longboxes across the USA, enriching their owners' collections but not having any larger presence.

Finally, about three years ago, those two issues were to be collected as Gumby's Arthur Adams Specials in a small trade paperback. There was clearly some travail and trouble about that title, since the book itself has "Arthur Adams" crossed out on the spine and a big sticker changing the title on cover and copyright page to Gumby's Spring Specials. ("Spring?" Shouldn't it be "Seasonal," if anything, since the original issues were Summer and Winter?) But that book, from a small press called Wildcard Ink (using a Gumby Comics imprint), seemed to mostly be distributed through the comic-shops direct market, and not be available all that widely.

(Of course, how many Gumby fans are there at this point? And I wish there were millions of Burden and Purcell fans -- since I am one -- but I'm quite aware that there aren't. So maybe this book found its exact audience handily, and I'm just complaining for no good reason. Wouldn't be the first time.)

Anyway, those two late-80s issues featuring a '50s character emerged in the early teens in a new format, and you might actually be able to find this book if you really search. It's whimsical and silly and goofy and breezy, with narratives that careen from space bears to pirates and from toy mines to the secret underground realm of Heck. Burden's whimsy is not the same as Purcell's -- and neither is quite like the original Gumby films by Art Clokey -- but both create an authentically Gumbyesque voice and tell rollicking stories where any bizarre thing might happen next and probably will. The two specials tell completely separate stories, of course.

And there's the gorgeously detailed Art Adams artwork, as well -- in the first special, he seems to be working from Burden layouts (or at least character designs) early on, but the space bears are pure Adams, and the last third looks entirely Adamsesque. And the Purcell issue is full of Adams touches from the beginning, from the toy miners to the mole men to the inevitable giant robot.

Look, this is a really neat book, OK? And I wish more of the bizarre oddities of comics history were rescued in the same way, because its the bizarre oddities that are the most fun.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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