More Information Please: The Curious Case of “Boody”


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I should start by saying that I’m thrilled that Craig Yoe’s Boody brings such a nice quantity of superlative material by Boody Rogers into print. After a sampling in RAW and, more recently, my own Art Out of Time, it’s time for everyone else to read more of this great cartoonist. So, I feel like a schmuck when I say the book itself, despite the usual fantastic production job by Paul Baresh, and fine design by Jacob Covey, is a disappointment. Ten years ago I suppose it would have been OK, but in these days of books like Patrick Rosenkranz’s masterful Greg Irons retrospective, Paul Karasik’s personal, insightful Fletcher Hanks book, and the whole body of work by Jeet Heer for Gasoline Alley and Little Orphan Annie, Yoe’s treatment of the material is just not acceptable.

The introduction to the book is written with a blend of fannish glee (“I’m sure as shit”) and oddball imagery (“the stories were as wild as an acre of snakes”) that deflates the comics to which it refers. When work is as “wild” as Rogers’, it’s not necessary to go the extra mile with the prose. It’s self evident. What we need is cogent analysis and solid history, both of which are sorely lacking. I want to mention a few things:

Yoe notes (with good reason, I’m sure, but since no sources are listed, it’s hard to say) that Eric Stanton was, at one point, Rogers’ assistant, but we don’t know when, where, or how, exactly. Stanton later (it must’ve been later, as Rogers left comics in the early ’50s) shared a studio with Steve Ditko. So here we have the definitive bondage/s&m cartoonist/illustrator of the latter part of the 20th century linked to two of our finest cartoonists. But that barely merits a line (and the Ditko connection isn’t even mentioned) in Yoe’s introduction. Stanton could be a hugely important factor here, linking two sui generis cartoonists — if he knows more, Yoe isn’t telling.

Yoe also claims Rogers was a great letterer, but it’s clear from reading the book that later in Rogers’ career he switched to a letraset of some kind, and his unique handwriting vanishes. Why? Also, despite Dudley’s presence in the book, that 3-issue comic book never merits a mention in the intro. What was the nature of Rogers’ work with Zack Mosely on Smilin’ Jack? I mean, when you read the strip you see Rogers all over it, so how did that partnership work? And what effect did Bill Holman have on Rogers? Throughout Babe and Sparky Watts one sees Holman-esque gags: characters in picture frames freely move in the background; signs on the street have their own gags: it’s a loopy, jam-packed menagerie of jokes. But this was not Roger’s invention, and is very much linked to his time in Chicago and his friendship with Holman, just as his action/adventure stuff is liked to Mosely. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, Rogers, like Gould and Holman, and later the Hairy Who, belongs to a grand Chicago tradition of the comic grotesque. It’s a loose aesthetic but certainly the distortions at play in Rogers, Gould and Holman are not unique to them: they’re very much informed by that city and it’s own aesthetic vibe. Rogers, coming from Texas (and here we could link him to other Texan yarn-spinners and imagists gone urban and psychedelic like Gary Panter, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Gilbert Shelton, et al) also had that distinct “hillbilly” gift for punning and dialogue. Put that together with the Chicago aesthetic and you have a potent cultural/visual mix (as, for example, Panter combined it with LA and Tokyo). I’m not making these points to reduce Rogers or somehow put a formula on him, only to note that there is a broader art, comics, and cultural context at play that Yoe ignores.

And we’re also missing the basic context for Rogers’ career. The book lacks even a starter bibliography or timeline for Rogers, leaving the full arc of his time in comics a mystery. When, precisely, did he work for Mosely? When was Deadwood Gulch published? When was his final work with Columbia Comics? Hmmm? Yoe repeatedly references having gone through Rogers’ personal papers, finding photos, artwork, etc., and in his own bio refers to himself as the “Indiana Jones of comics”. Well, um, I don’t get it: What’s the point in mentioning you’ve found all this stuff if you don’t use any of it to illuminate your subject’s life and work? Or if you barely show any of it?

And then there’s the running order of the book. There is no table of contents, so it’s a little hard to navigate, but from what I can tell, many of the stories are run out of sequence. For example, the book begins with a story from Babe 1. Then the second to last story in the book is a continuation of that first story from Babe 1. But before we’ve gotten to that story, we’ve read a story from Babe #4 that references events in the second part of Babe 1. Still with me? It’s tough going. In between, natch, there are stories from Dudley and Sparky Watts, also in no particular order. Why not run stories in sequence? Or at least separate out the characters so we can better understand his distinct bodies of work. As is, there’s no rhyme or reason.

Look, Rogers made great work and Yoe has done a service just by compiling some of it. I know how these books can go, and how difficult it is to achieve a balance between scholarship and reprinting, especially with a limited page count. And I hate when people impose their own unreasonable expectations on someone else’s work. Yoe clearly was not interested in writing the kind of text that, say Heer or Rosenkranz might have, but that’s not really an excuse. These days, with all the resources and writers out there, an editor has a responsibility to his subject to make a clear, cogent case for the history and importance of the material at hand, even if it means letting someone else take a crack at it. So, I’m sure choices were made. I just happen to disagree with them, and I think the things left out of the book — basic information, in fact — ultimately sinks it as a useful document. I wish that Yoe had looked past his obvious love of the material and towards preserving Rogers’ legacy in a more articulate and informed manner.

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33 Responses to “More Information Please: The Curious Case of “Boody””
  1. knut says:

    Oh snap! You just slapped the Yoe-lock right off his head.

    Very substantive review. I think I still want the book though.

    BTW, you failed to mention “Where Demented Wented” as an example of a book that’s put together the right way (for natural reasons.)

  2. Frank Santoro says:

    It’s funny how they aren’t just “reprints” anymore. It’s a new ballgame. Far f**cking cry from those Dragon Lady Press reprints from the old days. Simpler days, simpler days…

  3. Dan Nadel says:

    Well, that’s true. And that’s a good thing. I mean, the Dragon Lady Press style books served a great purpose, and there’s nothing wrong with that approach when a subject has already been exhaustively researched (for example, Caniff was well documented outside those style of books from KSP) but when the subject is something of a mystery, and the editor claims to have the archive, it’s a different matter all together. It’s a form of withholding that is kinda funky. Obviously Jeet Heer wouldn’t need to annotate the Gasoline Alley books the way he does if there was a stand-alone Frank King bio (as there is such a book for Herriman and McCay) but there’s not, so he needs to. It’s really about furthering the study of the medium.

  4. Dan Nadel says:

    And I should add: The book is definitely worth buying! It’s amazing, groundbreaking work. I’m just quibbling with the material around it.

  5. BVS says:

    it’s more important to get the facts straight when its a book about a relatively unknown artist. I’m sure until the day I die books about McCay,Herriman,Caniff,Kirby,Kurtzman and Crumb will be continually published every few years. what are the chances someone is going to want to do another book on Boody Rogers?

  6. Kim Thompson, FANTAGRAPHICS says:

    For what it’s worth, the reason the biographical material is so slender in this book is that in fact, Craig Yoe does intend to someday produce a much more extensive historical book on Boody Rogers, so we decided to simply cram as many pages of Boody’s work in the package as was affordable. If we’d thought this was the last word on Boody it would have been a much different book. As it is, it functions as a sampler, hopefully a teaser for the big ol’ Boody biography Craig would like to eventually do as a follow-up.

  7. Dan Nadel says:

    If there’s room on this financial planet for another Boody Rogers book, then fantastic. I have my doubts, but then there’s a second Fletcher Hanks book coming, so anything is possible, I guess!

  8. Jamie Salomon says:

    What’s the deal with that autobio of Rogers’ they mentioned in RAW that I shoulda sent away for at the time? Does it only recount his growing up in Texas and not cover his professional career?

  9. Dan Nadel says:

    That book is great,and pretty cheap to find on or elsewhere. It’s mostly his youth and adolescence but cover his comic strip career somewhat and has, as I recall, some nice material on his early work.

  10. knut says:

    Tom Spurgeon wrote on The Comics Reporter:

    “finally, I found Dan Nadel’s review of the new Boody book odd in that it’s a publisher reviewing another publisher’s work, an editor and curator of this kind of material reviewing another such person’s work…”

    So it’s OK when Gary Groth does it but not Dan Nadel?

  11. Frank Santoro says:

    oh SNAP!

    you just knocked the glasses right off Spurge’s head!

  12. Dan Nadel says:

    I’m not sure why Tom found it strange either, come to think of it. As for the Karasik comparison, I feel like Paul’s comic in that book conveyed all the information on Hanks available, summarized what was interesting about the work, and didn’t raise any questions it didn’t answer. It was also professional, touching and modest. Also, the selection and running order of the material made perfect sense. I mean, I don’t want to belabor the point here, but Yoe’s book is just a mess: a nonsensical and confusing running order, little solid info on the life of the artist, and tons of allusions to material he has but isn’t showing (a future book notwithstanding — I think the Hanks sales phenomenon is a one time deal. I’d be shocked if Boody sold any better than the Rory Hayes book, really. But I publish unintelligible freak out books, so what do I know). Paul closed the circle and kept it tight. So, Spurgeon, I’ll see you in the cage, hombre! I mean, homeboy! I mean, sucka! Wait, Frank, is this a cage match? What’s going on?

  13. knut says:

    As Linus said, “Christmas is getting too dangerous”.

  14. Frank Santoro says:

    let’s get rrrrrrrreeeeEEEEAAAADY TO RUMBLE!!

  15. Dan Nadel says:

    C’mon Spurge, get in the cage. I know I can take you. I’ve been limbering up all morning. Santoro’s been shouting at me to get me “pumped up” and Hodler had been offering quiet, peaceful, and harmonious words of wisdom.

  16. T. Hodler says:

    Screw you, Dan. I have words for you all right, but there’s nothing harmonious or peaceful about them.

  17. T. Hodler says:

    By the way, have you bought our tickets for the special midnight IMAX screening of Watchmen yet? I can not wait I can not wait only nine more hours until everybody in the world finally loves comics!

  18. Dan Nadel says:

    You’re in trouble in, Todd!

  19. Frank Santoro says:

    watch out, Spurge is gonna bitch slap you tomorrow morning, Dean.

  20. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I wouldn’t waste space on my own site to debate anything you Comics Comics fuckwits care to bleat about on your sad double-wide of a site, Nadel, and I’ve been posting all week about a Zack Snyder movie. Also, as you well know I wasn’t able to hop onto your hillbilly-assembled comments threads in recent days. This is, I’m sure, why you felt safe talking smack.


    First, to the anonymous Thalidomide Baby who took a rhetorical swing at me: I think it’d be stupid for Gary to write an article second-guessing other people’s publishing strategies, too. And please note: First I haven’t worked at FBI in ten years, so there’s no extra juice in throwing Gary at me anymore (although physically doing so would be very funny). Second, I can’t really recall him ever doing what Dan’s done here. Third, the basis of the frustration would be exactly the same: like Dan, Gary’s a good critic that has a number of approaches available to him beyond the Annie Get Your Gun approach to criticism.

    Of course, I haven’t read a Comics Journal in years, so maybe Gary does this every issue now.

    Nadel, I’ll stand by my comparison of the Karasik and Yoe books IN THE WAY YOU CHOSE TO INITIALLY WRITE ABOUT THE YOE BOOK. (The capitalization if for emphasis, and also to connote my screaming it out loud while I typed.) Whether or not you liked other aspects about it — the ordering, etc. — I’m not getting into with you. So you can UPS all that stuff back to the Land Of I Don’t Give A Shit. As to the actual thing I brought up, I guess we had different experiences in that Karasik’s book left me with questions. Paul has made pretty clear since he didn’t want to provide an introduction or clear context. What information that he did present came through the filter of Karasik.

    Now, I’m not saying that one is better than the other — I bet I prefer the Karasik book by a wide margin, too — but I’m saying it’s close enough for comparison’s sake that you don’t get to present it like a slam dunk. If it was that clear and upsetting a thing in Yoe, its near-cousin in Karasik might have merited a mentioned. I suspect that a) you like Paul and either don’t know or don’t like Yoe, b) feel more proprietary towards Rogers than you do Hanks, and/or c) have somehow adopted a general proprietary interest in all the artists you’ve written about or might publish and have very specific things you want done with them and when they’re not you get sore.

    In conclusion, fuck you.

  21. Dan Nadel says:

    Oh man, Spurge! You just beat the hell out of me. I respect you getting into the spirit. The TRUE Comics Comics spirit. I now get your argument, but I guess I didn’t see this as criticizing a publishing strategy, rather criticizing/reviewing a book as I would any other book. I wasn’t coming at it as a publisher, or criticizing the publisher — just the book itself. So, I still disagree that it’s weird. I wouldn’t compare myself to Groth (he has better muscles than I do) but Gar used to review books and I never saw anything odd about it. I wish I felt proprietary about this shit — I don’t — but I am very interested in the ways in which comics history gets written. In my part-time/occasional role as a pseudo/hack comics historian I think about it a lot. So, I was coming at it as someone who wants writing/editing about/of comics history to be as strong as it needs to be.

    In conclusion, Tom, I love you. Come back to me.

  22. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Okay, I love you again.

    The sad thing I used to write stuff like that on-line every day for four years, from 1999 to 2002. With complete seriousness.

  23. Dan Nadel says:

    See, all’s well that ends well.

  24. T. Hodler says:

    Boo! That fight sucked — it was only good for one-and-a-half comments before you both quit. No blood or anything. I want my life back.

  25. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Hey, I came to fight everybody Oldboy style; Dan caved. My hammer is right over there, smartass.

    I mean, I did consider continuing on after everybody else stopped giving a shit, but I figure Comics Comics already had your recent Mort Drucker post.

  26. T. Hodler says:

    That’s more like it! I’m definitely more mad at Dan than you, Tom. I have to admit you brought it in your first comment. Then Dan started talking about “love” and, yeah, it’s well-known that that is your Mxyplyzyk-like super-weakness. So I don’t blame you in this.

    By the way, I just noticed how you made your name link to the different moment-appropriate websites, which is pretty clever. Maybe people have been doing that trick forever and I’m just too sheltered to have encountered it before. I was too scared to click on the first one in the foreign language, though, because it seemed like it might lead me somewhere that could get me arrested.

  27. Dan Nadel says:

    Now I have to fight Tim, too?! Leave me alone you guys! You’re killing me with kindness here. And I’m already having a mini-nervous breakdown about how weird Art Out of Time 2 is shaping up to be. It’s really weird and dark and…. oh I don’t know. Spurge, you just be you. Hodler! You’re in trouble. Don’t make me call Lauren. Or worse: Frank!

  28. Frank Santoro says:

    wait, I missed it! I was drawing, sitting around with James (Jim) Rugg outside of Copacetic Comics on the bench, Ah, it was nice out today. The sun, the birds. See what happens when you stop blogging, you miss the funniest comments in months as they happened live… damn!

    Spurge really kicked you in the nuts, Dean. geezus keyriest

  29. Jog says:

    The best part of Watchmen was where the smiley face on Mars was accompanied by Hendrix licks. Spoilers?

  30. T. Hodler says:

    That was good, but even better was the montage set to Mike + The Mechanics’ “The Living Years” where Sally Jupiter finally reconciled with her mother, and Doc Manhattan learned the real meaning of being human. It was sad when he found out about “war” and started crying, though.

    I also liked the part where the guy’s nose bone got punched back into his brain in slow motion.

    Isn’t it strange walking around now, and realizing everything is different? Everyone is on the same page now, and we’ll never have to explain just how great, and important, comic books can be ever again.

  31. Frank Santoro says:

    you guys are spoiling it for me. it was soldout last nite.

  32. Paul Karasik says:

    I have not spoken to Yoe, but I suspect that he would gladly join me in a tag-team kickass Rope-A-Dope fest where we bring BOTH Nadel and Spurgeon begging on their broken knees for Mercy, Mercy, MotherofGod Mercy!

    You want context? You want order? HA, suckas!
    Watch out for my flaming flying footnotes of fury! Try to duck Craig’s crazy criss-cross references!

    Believe me, you saps, we can contextualize your sorry souls like a hangman’s noose so that at the final moment when we tighten the Gordian knot of linear reason you’ll be wishing for a swift keystroke to end it all. No footnotes. No bibliography. Just a whimper and then blessed darkness.

    We will see you Bushmillered Nancyboys at SPX Square Garden for Bloody Boody Mania!

    (Tickets go on sale soon. All proceed to be donated to “The Complete ‘Love Is…by Kim’ ” reprint project.)

  33. Frank Santoro says:

    that was a good one.

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