November 12, 2008

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Bugs Bunny and Friends A Comic Celebration

Written by Mark Evanier, Dan Slott, and others
Illustrated by Various Artists
DC

Mark Evanier is a first-rate comics historian, aka Job-I'd-Love-To-Have. Unfortunately, since I am neither an industry guy or a former assistant to Jack Kirby, it's unlikely I'll get the chance to do things like put together an anthology of comics based on my life-long love, namely Warner Brothers cartoons. So instead I'll have to rave about the great job Evanier does here with the small space he's allotted.

In only about 150 pages (nothing in this era of 500-page showcases, 300 page omnibuses, or, the latest rage for those with disposable income--hardcover bookshelf editions), Evanier takes us down a memory lane that's decades in the making. A brief introduction explains how the comics came to be, how they tried to be like their cartoon anticedents, how they moved away (the roadrunner, for instance, talks, in rhyme, no less), and how, with the advent of writers like Evanier and Slott, who grew up adoring the cartoons as much as I did, the turn back towards being more like the short films we all know and love.

Writing about the cartoon collections, another blogger mentioned how the cartoons, now thought of as "kids stuff" was played before adult movies. There's a touch of that here and there, but with a bit more of a wink and nod than the overt adult themes of some of the cartoons. Evanier notes that the point was for these to succeed as comic books, even if that meant changing from the source material. For the most part, it works.

Sadly, there's no set date on these cartoons, which makes it hard to tell how things are progressing (or regressing, depending on your perspective). You can make some guesses from the printing style, but if you weren't as schooled in old comics as I am, you'd be hard pressed to tell just from type setting of the dialog.

The first comic is a direct lift from a short, and the rest appear to be original. What's funny is that in the comics, Daffy comes off better than in Warner Brothers' hands, and Bugs of all people feels flat. He's less witty, more shifty, and generally not the type you'd want to hang out with--basically more like the screen version of Daffy. That stood out at me right away. He's downright cowardly in a duet with Porky Pig, for example, in a part I'm sure would have been Daffy in the animated world. Even partnered with Elmer, he's just kinda there, reacting more than being the foil.

But the best comics are by far the ones from Evanier and Slott. Evanier has the pacing of a Warner Brothers cartoon down to a science, in two wonderful send ups featuring an actually daffy Daffy Duck. Slott's play-to-the-camera hijinks in Fwankentweey are spot-on ("Well of course it is, siwwy! It said so on the first page.") and his Wil E Coyote signs are a great tribute to the source.

I've read the current comic off and on over the years and I like it, it just usually doesn't make my budget cut. For fans of Looney Tunes, this is a great starting place. Now we just need to start asking for a bigger, more historical collection, so that people can see that the written cartoon has a worthy place with the animated one.

That's all, folks!