This season’s commonly one for retrospection, and appropriately I’ve lately been reminded of one of my youthful follies, a road not taken. An old friend, Anders Bøgh, has unearthed one of the comics he, I and two of our classmates did back in fourth grade, from whatever bottom shelf of lost recollection he keeps (PDF here; sorry, it’s all in Danish).
The Super F.O.O.L.S, produced in 1985-1986, wasn’t the first comic I drew, but at the time seemed like an ambitious step forward — a team-produced comic, “published” by our own structure, AJKM, and hawked around the corridors of our school and at family gatherings for 5 DKr. (a steal, even at that time). It was even available at the nexus of all Danish comic book realities, Fantask, where they have always supported the fanzine scene, no matter how little promise the product showed.
If I remember correctly, I plotted and drew, Jesper Noachsen wrote a lot of the dialogue, Anders contributed additional artwork and hand lettered most of the comic and Kain Sebastian Victor was the main inker (ie. technical pen-wielder), assisted by Jesper, whose mom had access to a photocopier that could print both sides of a sheet, so she became our printer while he took care of the stapling. We had an entire line of comics planned, with the F.O.O.L.S being our flagship, collaborative title and each of us doing our own projects on the side. We were a real comic book operation!
Why we chose to work with pre-existing characters instead of our own, like we had in our previous efforts, was because of the many fascinating, utterly unfamiliar characters we encountered through immersion in the wondrous character dictionaries published by Marvel and DC at the time — the former’s Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, and in this case especially the latter’s Who’s Who — Dictionary of the DC Universe. Our lack of familiarity with these characters allowed us to fill in the blanks, to imagine who these amazing-looking guys were and what their stories could be.
Besides being firmly in the grip of American superhero comics, we retained a strong fondness for funny animals — above all the duck comics of Carl Barks. These remained the bedrock of our fascination with the medium. We therefore immediately took to Roy Thomas’ and Scott Shaw!’s funny animal superheroes, Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. Imagine that, the best of both worlds combined! We had yet to discover the actual Zoo Crew Comics, but work on this comic made Anders crazy for them, and he subsequently collected all the back issues (except the elusive #7). He even started work on a sadly never completed comic starring the snake-cum-bullwhip, Whipley, of Shaw!’s throwaway Indiana Jones-parody from Captain Carrot.
Actually, reading this first issue, it is evident that the publication of Who’s Who hadn’t even progressed beyond the letter ‘F’ as we started work on it, resulting in Zoo Crew members Little Cheese, Pig Iron, Rubber Duck and Yankee Poodle (as well as that latecomer tool, American Eagle) being left out of the initial lineup.
Those tomes of endless comic book lore also gave us Detective Chimp — another character we’d never heard of, but figured was a great fit, being an animal character with a Deerstalker and all (I must say I’ve been able to contain my enthusiasm for DC’s current, appropriately ‘dark’ version of the character…). Also, I had stumbled upon a back-up story in an issue of Green Lantern featuring the chipmunk Lantern Ch’P. Additionally, I was familiar with Howard the Duck from the infamous Lucas movie (and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe), and knew Bat-Mite from and old 60s Batman comic in my possession (though on the cover here, he’s obviously copied from his entry in Who’s Who, as are Captain Carrot and Fastback).
Furthermore, Anders and I had greatly enjoyed the Keith Giffen character Ambush Bug (whereever did he go?) featured in some of the Superman comics published in Denmark at the time. And we’d also been ogling the wierd swashbuckler-themed Nightcrawler miniseries from Marvel at the stands in Fantask and had thus noticed the cute baby Nightcrawler featured in it. This gave us the lineup for our new funny animal/comic character supergroup, the F.O.O.L.S!
It is evident that — through further consultation of the character dictionaries as well as an issue of the Oz-Wonderland War featuring the Captain Carrot characters — we discovered, and remembered, more characters worthy of inclusion as we went along. This prompted an improvised denoument where the group combined with all these newcomers — everyone from the Italian superhero version of Donald Duck, Paperino and Kirby and Lee’s Impossible Man, to Hoppy the Marvel Bunny — to form the Legion of F.O.O.L.S! To cap things off, we ended with a cliffhanger where Cain from DCs House of Mystery comics (also recruited from, where else? Who’s Who) appeared and kidnapped Ambush Bug.
A second issue, retitled Legion, was planned. It featured a cover showing a roughed-up, bleeding Bug lying lifeless on the floor of the House of Mystery in a spotlight (we were apparently going gritty even before any of us had dared read Miller’s ugly-looking Dark Knight). Work on it never got past the first couple of pages. Our group broke up, not due to creative differences, I’m sad to say, but rather less romantically, because of our defective attention span. AJKM’s other comics — the Whipley one-shot, a spy-themed Howard the Duck series written and drawn by Kain, and probably one or two additional projects, never went anywhere. We did, however, manage to produce a prequel to The Super F.O.O.L.S, called First Issue Special, the contents of which I cannot remember for the life of me. Maybe Anders has that stashed away somewhere as well.
Reading the actual comic, it’s pretty damn crude, even if there are moments of slight comparative sophistication. There’s obviously not much besides personal nostalgia that warrants this excessively detailed piece of reconstruction, besides the general resonance these recollections might have for others who’ve had similar experiences. But what the hell, I quite like the fact that the central passage in the book, once the ludicrously protracted fight scene (part of the genre!) is out of the way, is concerned with our heroes dodging the bill at a restaurant that only serves stale bread and duckweed. We at least managed a moment or two of decent comedy there.
I’m rather fond of the panel where Howard — the only duck of the bunch and thus the only one to have actually enjoyed the meal — punches out the restaurant owner, appalled at the suggestion that he do the dishes. Never having actually read a Howard the Duck comic, we kind of nailed the character anyway. I also quite like the fact that we started the story in media res with our heroes running along for no apparent reason (as far as I remember, the aforementioned prequel actually explained why). Also, I love the centrespread, ‘fan-picture’ of Captain Carrot by Anders, and the order form for similar pin-ups (1 Dkr. + postage a pop!) that we put in the back. What optimism.
And then, of course, there’s the double-page spread of our heroes suddenly arriving at New Duck City (well, yeah) across what appears to be a snow-covered mountain pass. I clearly remember swiping that from a comic that had blown my mind a year or so earlier: the first Danish issue of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men, published in the fall of 1984, more specifically the Savage Land story where Ka-Zar and the X-Men arrive at the Golden City of Garokk the Sun God (Uncanny X-Men #116, 1978). High fantasy of the sizzling kind.
After AJKM folded, I went on to do a bunch more comics, some of them with Anders, most of them by myself. But I stopped drawing altogether a few years later. Though my love of comics, and drawings, is undiminished, I never again picked up the pencil. I don’t know why, never figured it out. Just didn’t. I may, one day, but it sure would be painful starting where I left off.
In any case, those were the high-powered days when fooling was super, and you can’t go home again. Happy New Year!