The holidays are upon us and it is time for another edition of Super Blog Team-Up! Super Blog Team-Up, or SBTU, is an event where like minded bloggers and podcasters join forces to write and talk about a common subject that we all share a passion for – comics and the pop culture surrounding them. As 2020 draws to a close we are doing something a little different this time out. In the vein of the much maligned Valiant & Image cross-over mini-series, Deathmate, we are color coding the Team-Up into two topics aptly named SBTU Gold and Red. The Gold Team is going to take a What if? approach to one of their favorite characters or stories and come up with an alternate perspective to examine what might have been. The Red Team is going to look at the people behind the characters and stories that we love and write about some of their favorite creators.
I’ve decided to join forces with Team Red and write about one of my all time favorite creators, Sergio Aragonés. I honestly cannot remember when I was first exposed to his work but I expect it was probably in the margins of Mad magazine looking at the tiny cartoons drawn in between the panels on the page. I really got to know him best, though, in Groo the Wanderer. The cheese dip loving warrior has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. For me the choice to join Team Red was an easy one because it would give me an excuse to delve into the world of Sergio Aragonés comics and share what I love about his fantastic career.
A couple of years ago I had a discussion with my brother and friends about comics that have always been consistently good and always had one creator or creative team. Comics like Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City”, Jeff Smith’s “Bone”, and Bill Willingham’s “Fables” were all discussed, and rightfully so. My addition to the conversation was Sergio Aragonés “Groo the Wanderer”. Along with Mark Evanier (co Writer), Stan Sakai (Letters), and Tom Luth & Gordon Kent (Colorists) that creative team has been making Groo comics since 1982. They have been published by Pacific Comics, Eclipse, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse. I think it is incredible that a team like that has worked together for over 38 years making comics about a goofy barbarian and his friends and that is why I chose to write about Mr. Aragonés today.
I’m not going to do a Wikipedia bio on Sergio Aragonés, that information can be found in better places than this blog. What I do want to say is that I have learned a lot about him from his own pen. Creator rights and creator control have always been important to Sergio and when you are as talented as he is, and can sell as many comics as he has, sometimes you get to write about whatever you want. What I am getting at is that Sergio has written a lot of material that is autobiographical. The first page of Groo the Wanderer #1 from Pacific comics features a cartoon version of Sergio introducing Groo and how the creator owned title came into existence. Since then Sergio has been drawing himself into the funny pages always sharing things about himself, his career, his adventures, and his life. One of the places I got to know him best was in the pages of “Sergio Aragonés Funnies”, published by Bongo comics from 2011 – 2014.
Funnies was an excellent comic filled with stories about Sergio’s life, amusing looks at history, hilarious one page gags, and even puzzles and games. I learned Sergio was first published in the newspapers in Mexico, that his father was in the movie business, and that every year the management at Mad magazine took the staff on trips together as a thank you for all the work they did. Funnies was all Sergio with colors by Tom Luth & others, lettering by Karen Bates, and edited by Bill Morrison. The comics were filled with great material but the best thing about it was the reader got a real close look at the man himself and what he loved about his work. Reading each issue, solving the puzzles, or laughing at the gags you really start to appreciate that the guy at the desk with the pen simply wants the reader to have a good time and maybe be a little happier than they were when they put their money on the counter for his comic.
Let’s take a closer look at the introduction to issue #6 of Funnies and hopefully you’ll understand what I mean what I say how much Sergio put into the comic. In the first panel Sergio welcomes us as family. He is in a Christmas tree lot bringing home his tree, he is wearing a “Did I Err?” tee shirt, one of Groo’s catch phrases, and is being followed by the dog Ruferto, Groo’s sidekick. In the next few panels he shares a quick story about a holiday market in Germany filled with wonderful sights, sounds and smells. The story ends with a gag that the great aroma is actually smoke coming from a small machine powering some of the toys. In the final panel Sergio is home with Ruferto, the tree is up, and he has unknowingly dropped a box of ornaments on the ground because he is holding the box upside down. That’s five or six jokes and a fun little story all on page one of the comic. It does not get much better than that if you ask me. I could go on and on about Funnies, but there is so much more to talk about.
Sergio Aragonés has been working continuously at Mad Magazine since 1963. Despite what people might tell you, Mad Magazine is still being published. As a matter of fact, the most recent issue, No 17 cover date Feb 2021, features “Sergio’s Mad Travels”. The issue is filled with new and old work of his and of course there are marginals everywhere. Two of Sergio’s longest running features in Mad are the “A Mad Look At…” and “The Shadow Knows”.
“A Mad Look At …” consists multi-panel strips, always without anyone saying anything, that examine whatever the subject might be, for example “A Mad Look At Cars”, or “A Mad Look At Horror Movies”. There are no limits to the number of things that would be lampooned. The brilliance of the feature though is that it never has dialog. The jokes are always made without anyone speaking and usually there is some ironic twist to drive the point home. The feature is usually very satirical (as Mad is in general) but is always funny.
Personally I have never been a serious collector of Mad magazine but I have always enjoyed it. Some of my favorite features were Dave Berg’s “The Lighter Side of…”, anything Don Martin did, and Spy vs Spy. Without knowing it was Sergio Aragonés though, “A Mad Look at …” is also something I have always loved in Mad. Learning that it was one of Sergio’s features makes me wish I still had all those old magazines so I could go back and just peruse them to see all the things he “looked at” over the years.
Here are several examples of the strip from recent issues of Mad:
Taking a look at some of Sergio’s other heavily satirical work let’s talk about his roasts of the biggest names in comics and pop culture. I’m talking about “Sergio Aragonés Stomps Star Wars” (2000), “Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC” (1996) and “Sergio Aragonés Massacres Marvel” (1996). I’ve got the Star Wars and DC ones in my collection and am still searching for the Marvel one. In these comics Sergio works with his long time collaborator Mark Evanier, another creator I could have written for this SBTU, but I’ll save that work for another day.
Together Mark and Sergio totally lampoon the characters, the companies, the fans, and the culture surrounding the properties. With Mark’s witty writing and Sergio’s ability to fit so much material into the page these comics are chock full of hilarious looks at Superman, The Legion of Superheroes, Lucasfilm and much, much more. I can only imagine what they do in the Marvel issue. The picture above is a great gag from the last page of the Destroys DC book where Sergio is telling Mark how much he loves DC, while looking at a pile of comic books, all of which are Marvel parodies.
Sergio does not always do his storytelling strips with no dialog and funny pictures. He is a talented writer as well. One of the gems I’ve been able to add to my collection over the years is the underground comix “Quack” #2. The lead story “Newton, the Rabbit Wonder” is a clever science fiction story written by Sergio with art duties going to Steve Leialoha. Steve had an extensive career, most as an inker, working on titles such as Howard the Duck, Spiderwoman, and Star-Reach. The story features a courageous, anthropomorphized, rabbit named Newton who is selected to go to Earth in a parallel dimension where the only evolved animals are humans, i.e. “our” world to rescue Fenton the monkey.
The next book I want to discuss is something I found a few years ago while digging through the bins. “Plop! The Magazine of Weird Humor”. Plop was one of DC’s humor magazines, but it was not just straight up funny jokes. Like the tagline says, it was weird. There was an edginess to it, the humor was pretty dark. The main gag that ran through the series was that when something bad happened to someone or something it went Plop!. Picture a couple walking down the street and the gentleman offers his hand to his female companion to help her cross a large puddle. As soon as the woman steps across a small child comes around the corner, jumps in the puddle, and splash the guy is soaked. That’s Plop!
The first nineteen issues of the series featured covers with oddball characters drawn by Basil Wolverton or Wally Wood framed by “margin-esque” drawings by Sergio Aragonés. The comic was an anthology of jokes, and short stories hosted by Cain, Able, and Eve from the Houses of Mystery and Secrets. Sergio drew the introductions, jokes, and a lot of the stories. Steve Skeates, Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Paul Levitz, and Sergio did most of the writing. Alex Toth and quite a few others also drew for the series. Joe Orlando was the editor. Look at those last couple of sentences again, they read like a hall of fame of comic creators.
I had only previously heard of the series from the Cosmic Treadmill Podcast. When I read the first issue I had found, issue #14, I wrote about it here. I was ecstatic when I pulled it from the bins as it was instantly recognizable as Sergio’s work on the cover. It was filled with twisted jokes and good stories. I loved it. I soon set out to collect a full run of the series. One thing I found out pretty quickly is that nice copies could be pretty pricey, after all it is more than 45 years old, had a pretty short run, and had some of the biggest names in comics working on it. This was not dollar bin fodder. I have since managed to put a set together, at a decent price, but I’m always on the lookout for good copies. It is a seriously fun comic and I would highly recommend it to any fans.
That brings us to the big guy, the comic Sergio has been working on most of his professional life, Groo the Wanderer. Groo was a character that first was published in Destroyer Duck #1 and his first series with Pacific Comics, but that is not where he started. Sergio had been working on getting Groo published for quite some time but he wanted to own the character, not allow the publisher to own it. It never worked out until the Pacific Comic company came along.
Pacific Comics started out as a distribution company that eventually got into publishing. They had a unique idea at the time. They brought in talent by allowing creators to own their creations and PC got the publishing money. Their first creator was Jack Kirby. They got him and his Captain Victory comic. He had full creative control and rights and PC got to publish the book. They also published work by Mike Grell, John Bryne and Steve Ditko to name a few. Mark Evanier and Sergio got their first issue of Groo published in 1982. Pacific Comics publishing was pretty short lived, running from 1981 to 1984. The final Groo stories that were supposed to be published by PC actually ended up in the pages of the Eclipse Groo the Wanderer Special #1. That did not stop Sergio, Mark, and the rest of the team though. They eventually found a home at Marvel comics.
In the mid eighties independent comics were booming and at the same time specialty comic shops were opening like crazy. It was a real growth era. Marvel saw the writing on the wall, and instead of losing shelf space to these independent comics, they figured why not bring them in house. The Marvel Epic line was first launched as a magazine which turned into a full comic imprint. Epic was started by Jim Shooter and then edited by Archie Goodwin and Al Milgrom. The imprint allowed the creators to retain the rights to their creations. It was a perfect fit for Sergio and Mark’s dim-witted barbarian and the full cast of characters. Groo the Wanderer ran from 1985 to 1995, one hundred and twenty issues, with two full sized graphic novels; The Life of Groo and the Death of Groo.
The general idea of the series is that Groo goes on adventures meeting new people and recurring characters, and traveling all over the world, all the while having crazy adventures. More often than not Groo will make several serious mistakes only to eventually fall ass backwards into a happy ending. This was usually facilitated by someone smarter than he is giving him a nudge or two in the right direction. It is always a good time. Early in the series the stories were pretty much self-contained with different characters like the wise Sage or the bandit, Toranto, crossing paths with Groo again and again. In later issues, and quite a few of the Dark Horse comics, the stories had arcs that crossed a couple of issues. Even then though you could still pick up any single issue of Groo, understand what is going on, and enjoy the comic.
While at its heart Groo is a satirical humor comic, there is really a lot more to it. There is action, adventure, fantasy, humor, love, and sadness all wrapped up in twenty plus pages of sequential art. There is great storytelling, poetry and singing. There is something for comic fans of all ages. That is what drew me to the book and has kept me reading it ever since. After wrapping up their time at Marvel, Sergio, Mark and the rest of the crew took their stories to Image comics, and finally Dark Horse where it has been published ever since. All that would not have been possible if Sergio had sold his character to the first publisher who offered him a deal. It took a strong will, determination, and talent to be able to retain those rights and do what he wanted with his creation. As far as I know, no one other than Sergio has ever drawn Groo for a published comic or magazine and that is quite an accomplishment.
I could go on and on all day about the countless number of comics Sergio Aragonés has worked on, but there is no need for that. While I have barely scratched the surface of Sergio Aragonés extremely prolific career I hope at this point I have demonstrated how talented Sergio Aragonés is. I could write all day about how he is a true master of the one page gag, or review his superhero satire The Mighty Mangor, but instead I will close this piece sharing the page of my autograph book that Sergio signed for me when I met him at the Boston Comic-Con in 2014. He was a real gentleman and I was very glad to have the opportunity to tell him how much enjoyment he had provided me with over the years.
That’s not quite all though. Since you’ve made it this far I implore you to check out the other great bloggers and podcasters who make up the Super Blog Team Up Red and Gold teams. Check out the Red team to read about the creators behind Scrooge McDuck and Blue Devil. Also check out the closer looks at Steve Gerber, and Kurt Schaffenberger. Once you are finished with those folks check out what the Gold Team is doing with their “What If!” looks at The Sinister Dr. Phibes, Captain Confederacy, the Ultraverse, Speedball & Spiderman (???), and Arak the Son of Thunder.
Between The Pages Blog – Scrooge McDuckTales Woo-oo!
Daves Comics Blog – Blue Devil Creation
Doc Strange – Comic Book’s Unsung Heroes! Steve Gerber!
In My Not So Humble Opinion – Kurt Schaffenberger, The Definitive Lois Lane Artist of the Silver Age
Pop Culture Retrorama – Super Blog Team-up: What If The Sinister Dr. Phibes Had Been Produced!
Source Material – What If Captain Confederacy
Comic Reviews by Walt – What if the Ultraverse Had Continued
Charlton Hero – What If Peter Parker became Speedball instead of Spider-Man?
The Telltale Mind – Arak, Son of Thunder – A Lost Adventure