July 28, 2021

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Still Fraying After All These Years: Groo Meets Tarzan Swings into Stores

 

Groo Meets Tarzan #1
Sergio Aragones with Thomas Yeates: Line Art
Tom Luth: Color Art
Mark Evanier: Word Art
Stan Sakai: Contractually Obligated Letter Art
Art Garfunkel: Underrated Art
C-: My Typical Art Grade
Dark Horse: Publisher of Art (and this comic)

With the poignant opening line of "One Day at the 2021 Comic-Con That Never Happened..." Groo Meets Tarzan opens neither with expansive jungle scenes by Yeates or the comedic destruction of the title character from Aragones. Instead, we get an acknowledgment of what we lost in terms of the comics community. Yes, media dominates, but SDCC is still very much a comics show, too, and one where I often only see my scattered comics colleagues and fellow Panel Patters. I'm sure that's similar for Mark and Sergio and many others, and the sentiment in that opening really slammed me in the face when I started the comic.

And of course, because it's a Groo story the sentiment lasts all of about one panel before Evanier's taking potshots at himself, cosplayers, fans, and of course, the long-time relationship between Mark and Sergio as they present on a panel about, well, this comic. It's the typical meta-commentary the pair are known for across both Groo and other projects, such as the amazing Destroys DC/Massacres Marvel one-shots from the 90s. Sometimes Evanier misses the mark on these jabs, but this time around, he's nailing every joke. From the slow burn on creators being mistaken for others to Mark's response to Sergio's safari outfit ("What are you doing? Cosplaying as Elmer Fudd?"), the jokes in the "real life" sections go a mile a minute. 

They form one-third of the plotting, along with a Groo narrative that's extremely silly (villages trying to lead Groo by the nose--literally--via a moving chance at cheese dip) and a Tarzan tale that's definitely very fitting for the character if a bit on the serious side for this kind of team-up (slavers the law can't touch but Tarzan can). Each gets their own moments here, and while it might ordinarily be jarring, Evanier sews the threads together with story beats that work well. Showing he's able to write for a traditional comic when given the opportunity, Mark's Tarzan has a great cadence that feels very much like the other Tarzan comics I've read, which are admittedly limited, minus some of the unpleasant stuff that comes with age. The conceit itself definitely hasn't exactly matured like fine wine, but I trust Mark and Sergio and Yeates to make it work.

Art by Sergio Aragones

While I'm discussing the Tarzan sections, I came away extremely impressed by Thomas Yeates. I'm not familiar with his work at all, but he does a great job of balancing realism with impressionistic storytelling. The linework is just rough enough to keep the sheen off the characters, aided by Tom Luth's coloring. If it feels a bit like Kubert, you aren't far off, because he's a graduate and the influence shows. He also does good work at adapting the traditional comic page to work within a format that could easily be pasted into a Sunday newsprint format. I imagine some of that was from Mark's plotting work, but regardless, it's clear that Yeates understood his inspirations and used them to melt splashes with normal panels. Yeates also ensures that there's a strong sense of moment, even in the talking scenes, doing things like having Tarzan talk *while* mounting his elephant instead of just posing. It couldn't be more different from Sergio's linework, but that's also the point. 

The draw (pun intended) to any Groo comic is definitely another chance to see Sergio Aragones draw the hell out of every page, adding more details in the corner of a splash than others seem to do manage in an entire 20-page book. As Periodic Paneler Erica noted while we lingered over the SDCC floor double-page spread together, "I don't care that it's 'cartoonish'--I'd rather read anything Aragones draws over a large portion of superhero artists." I'd probably argue the point because there's a lot of great work being produced right now, but she gets to the heart of what makes Groo--and Aragones in general--so enduring. Yes, he "draws funny" as he will tell anyone asking for a sketch, but the amount of little moments within those insanely fast scribbles* put the visual medium of comics front and center. 

A perfect example of this is the splash I referenced above. I can't even tell you how many characters there are on those two pages, and even when he's drawing them in the same outfit to punctuate Mark's verbal jokes about cosplay (more on the words and pictures harmony shortly), there are little touches thrown in to make them look different. Once you notice this, you have to look over every costume to see what he's done to keep them varied. And if you're a con-goer like me, you'll even realize just how many of the outfits are drawn from ones we see regularly--both good and bad. Then you start looking at the Easter Eggs--references to the late, lamented Bongo Comics, a Blue Meanie (referencing his former Editor Bill Morrison's adaptation), Groening's Life is Hell rabbit, Beetle Bailey, the Cartoonist Society, and that's just a few. I'll let you find the other neat little touches, several of which I didn't catch on my first, fifteen-minute pass at spotting as many as I could.

Art by Thomas Yeates


Yes, hiding references in group shots like this isn't new. But the difference is just how damned detailed they are. This isn't a vague background shot--everything is given the same Sergio touch, daring you to explore. You rush your way through an Aragones comic at your own peril--you'll miss the best parts. He never wastes a single spot of real estate. A kid, bored at the panel, tries to talk to a Wookie. Fans swarm Stan Sakai with copies of Usagi, and while I can't swear to it, I think Aragones even used real covers of actual issues for the models. A tannery unlucky enough to get visited by Groo is fully functional. Is that necessary? Probably not, but that's just what Sergio does. 

Because there's so much detail, the jokes land with an impact you don't really see anymore in comics. Hell, they land better than a lot of regular, dramatic comics do with matching actions and dialogue. How many times has a character said, "Let me put on my coat" while being near an empty coat rack? (An imaginary example to protect the guilty.) Those kinds of things really throw me out of a story, because a simple artistic or word edit would fix the problem. In a comedic book, that sort of symmetry is even more important. The long-time collaboration of Mark and Sergio definitely makes this easier, but even from their earliest days together, if a verbal joke needed a little bit of visual punctuation, Aragones delivers. In one scene, Sergio's verbal line extols the exotic tropical birds while Mark points out they're pigeons. It's funny, but the plainness of the birds, Sergio's broad grin and gestures, and Mark's exasperated look and gestures back bring the panel--and the gag--to life. 

I could poke through this issue and find plenty of other examples, but I'd rather let you experience this for yourself. It's a damned clinic on not just how to make a comedic comic but how to craft one worth reading and re-reading. 

Groo's various mini-series are always a welcome sight on the new comics roster for me, but being honest sometimes they get bogged down a bit in winks and nods. That's not true here, and while it probably helps to know at least some of the history of Groo and his creators to get everything out of the jokes, this is very accessible to a new reader. The jokes are funny, fast, and fresh. Aragones's art, with great colors from Luth, is as good as ever, and Yeates' contributions really evoke the right mood. Watching the two conflicting styles interact in future issues is going to be a real treat, assuming Evanier can keep them threaded together as well moving forward as he does here. I have no idea how the former worker on the Tarzan Estate, Bat Lash's creator, and a man who took over Prince Valiant are going to end up in a blender, but the results should be even better than some good cheese dip. Just don't tell Groo I said that. My insurance plan doesn't cover being a victim of fraying. 


*I've stood in line, watching him draw. Sergio likely could put a sketch of a gunman down faster than a real life gunman can draw his pistol. Unfortunately, you can't shoot a sketch at someone. Maybe turn it into a paper airplane and fly it at them, but I doubt that would work well in a duel. Probably might just make them more likely to kill you. Folks get really angry when you throw a paper airplane at them.