Since superhero titles are the comic industry’s bread and butter, it’s forgivable that great work being done especially for younger readers is under-appreciated. If you’ve been to a comic store lately you may have missed delightful reads like Roger Langridge’s current Popeye books for IDW or the Peanuts comic from kaboom! that channels the spirit of Charles Schulz. These are the latest offerings that follow in the footsteps of comic innovators like Bud Sagendorf, Carl Barks and Bob Bolling by bringing intelligent, richly illustrated stories to children of all ages. The key to a good comic geared towards adolescents is to tell a story well without being condescending. This is easier said than done. Flea markets and dollar bins everywhere are littered with the four-colored corpses of comics that failed to engage young minds. Today’s Daily List showcases 15 of these disappointing reads. Some of these you may remember from your own childhood, while others you’ll wish you never heard of. The common thread that runs through of all these is that they have all been largely — and deservedly — forgotten by readers today. (With the exception of comic historians and pop culture writers like yours truly who just can’t seem to let these sorts of things go). From preachy woodland creatures to morbidly obese grade schoolers and beyond, here are the lamest of the lame from the world of children’s comics.
15) Woodsy Owl
Way before Captain Planet, Woodsy Owl taught kids the importance of environmentalism with a string of PSAs that featured his “give a hoot, don’t pollute” catchphrase. The subsequent spin-off comics were well-intentioned but a tad preachy. Plus it just really sucked when your grandmom would have an issue of this waiting at her house instead of The Amazing Spider-Man you really wanted. At least Woody’s proselytizing resulted in today’s world being pollution-free. Oh wait, scratch that. Fuck.
14) Moby Duck
Unless you are a hardcore follower of Disneyana you probably never heard of Moby Duck. The obscure mallard began life as a supporting character in the Donald Duck comic before getting his own title that ran for 30 issues in the 1970s. A sailor on a cargo ship, he would get into the same type of comedic misadventures that made Uncle Scrooge such a comic iconoclast. Yet unlike him, Moby didn’t have the great Carl Barks plotting his exploits, so he soon fell into the special type of obscurity reserved exclusively for second-tier comic book ducks.
13) The New Archies
In 1987, The New Archies cartoon debuted on NBC and brought with it a tween version of the Riverdale crew. Not as fun as either the Little Archie or mainstream continuity Archie stories, the project was a misguided attempt to make the characters “hip” for 1980s kids. Of course, hipness as seen by TV execs equals Archie skateboarding/having a mullet/being super cool at all times and Veronica sounding like Moon Unit Zappa. This thing was dated by the time it hit the airwaves and the show’s corresponding comic was an equally dire affair that featured regular Archie formula stories shoehorned into the New Archie style. You can’t really blame the creative staff though, they clearly tried to make the best of a bad situation. (If there weren’t 12 more entries to go I would present a lengthy treatise about how silly it was for the show and comic to reinvent Dilton as Eugene and create the new character of Amani when the Archieverse already had the well-established African-American characters of Chuck Clayton and Nancy Woods). Were it not for back issue bins and the sporadic reprinting of the stories in ongoing digests, this proactive and in your face period in Archie history would be of interest to no one other than comic historians. So I suppose for the purposes of this list, The New Archies are gone but not entirely forgotten. Close enough as far as Archie purists are concerned.
I previously mentioned Misty on my list of the five worst Star Comics, so I won’t dwell on her too much here other than to remind you that her comic was a low-rent Barbie clone that once existed and thankfully doesn’t anymore. Come to think of it, since this is now the second time that I’ve talked about her on Topless Robot, she clearly hasn’t been forgotten by me. This realization saddens me in ways you can’t possibly comprehend.
11) Jackie Jokers
Unlike his best friend, Richie Rich, Jackie Jokers actually did something to earn his wealth, namely working as an entertainer. Unfortunately his jokes were lamer than Rupert Pupkin at an open mic night. Although his unwavering pursuit of fame did foreshadow our current reality star-obsessed culture, there was something inherently unlikable about Jackie. (Covers like the one you see above didn’t help matters much). So when Harvey Comics folded back in 1986, Jackie disappeared along with them — although rumors abound that he is quietly planning a comeback in Branson, Missouri.
10) Kool-Aid Man
It’s unthinkable that in today’s age of proposed soft drink taxes and bans that there would be a comic based on a sugary drink, however this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1980s there were seven issues of a Kool Aid Man released. After three issues released by Marvel the destructive red pitcher of flavor moved over Archie Comics for the remaining thirst-quenching installments. All of these were dopey adventures that had the heroic Kool Aid Man and a bunch of enthusiastic kids defeat the villainous Thirsties through the magic of team work and delicious sugar water. As the old Jay Ward Cap’n Crunch cartoons prove, creativity and commerce can sometimes co-exist. This isn’t the case with KAM’s comics, which are too consumed with the hard-sell to also work as entertainment. For insights into the dark future of the character, be sure to check out Tim Piotowski’s bleak Kool Aid Gets Fired.
9) Binky’s Buddies
Spinning off from DC’s popular Leave It to Binky comic, this title that was frequently collected into digests was a forgettable Archie wannabe that starred the milquetoast Binky and his equally nondescript pals. Given that Archie comics itself was publishing lesser knock-offs — most notably That Wilkin Boy and Madhouse Glads — Binky had no reason to exist.
8) Peter Panda
Truth be told I don’t know much about Peter Panda other than it was one of DC’s early efforts to get kids to buy their comics. Just look at the cover featured here though. Chilling. I don’t mean to profile anyone or anything, but if you have every issue of t
his comic chances are that at some point detectives Stabler and Benson are going to wind up on your doorstep.
7) Boring Classics Illustrated Stories
Granted, the Classics Illustrated line did have some winners like The War of the Worlds and Frankenstein. However Most of the time it was the comic equivalent of The Lawrence Welk Show. Hands up if you’d rather take your chances with Peter Panda than be forced to read a comic version of Jane Eyre. Yep, I thought so.
6) Barney Bear
After giving the Archie characters a born-again makeover for Spire Christian Comics, writer and illustrator Al Hartley set his sights on teaching younger readers about the gospel with his Barney Bear. The comic detailed the life of the young ursine as he explored his faith and learned about his place in the world. Much boredom followed. This list could very easily be inhabited purely by animal comics, a genre which seems to encourage lameness.That coupled with preachiness resulted in a miserable reading experience. Regardless of your religious beliefs tt’s hard to ignore the dull storytelling of Barney Bear. Clearly Hartley had good intentions with this comic. And we all know what they say the road to hell is paved with. Hmm.
5) Timmy the Timid Ghost
Who the fuck does that gregarious bastard Casper think he is anyway? Doesn’t he know that ghosts should be seen and not heard? Sheesh.
4) The Adventures of Bob Hope
I gotta tell ya that, believe it or not, this was quite a successful comic in his day. DC Comics began releasing The Adventures of Bob Hope in 1950 and it proved so popular that it ran for 18 years and 109 issues. Yet today the comic and Hope himself are unknown by these damn kids today who are too busy with their tumblrs and dubstep to appreciate his contributions to the world. Meanwhile, can someone get Louis C.K. a comic book deal? It could be like this…except actually funny.
The aforementioned Classics Illustrated books are a trip to Disney World compared to these ubiquitous freebies that Radio Shack used to promote science and their Tandy products. Even the appearance of licensed characters like Superman and the Archies couldn’t help kids who were given an issue of Electronics shake the feeling that they were reading School: The Comic.
2) Wendy & The New Kids on the Block
Because no Topless Robot readers are semi-concussed tween girls circa-1989, the inclusion of this comic here is just shooting fish in a barrel. I’m not looking to take the easy way out though, rather looking at a way this property could have been more successful. Like it or not the NKOTB were white hot for a time, just as that Justin Bieber fella is these days. The “Hangin’ Tough” dreamboats could have teamed up with a then-relevant character like Spidey or the Punisher and enjoyed an image overhaul that would have brought them new-found respect. But instead they chose to double down with Wendy, who by this point had sunken so low that even Jackie Jokers would emerge from his K-Hole long enough to sever all ties with her. But she was hardly the saddest figure in the Harvey Comics lineup…
1) Little Lotta in Foodland
There’s always talk about how the perfect looks of Barbie result in young girls growing up with a negative body image. Here’s the flip side of that. What message was Harvey Comics sending to their readers here? Is this book a commentary on humanity’s gluttonous nature or a proponent of “big and beautiful” fat acceptance initiatives? That question that has plagued cultural anthropologists for decades. There was one joke with Little Lotta – that she loved to eat. An especially memorable cover has Little Lotta being chased by anthropomorphic foodstuffs. This is portrayed as a nightmare sequence and it’s understandable to see why. Lotta was a young girl with a untreated eating disorder that was destroying her life. Instead of help she only received the unwanted laughter of strangers. You know where she is now? In an assisted living facility experiencing phantom limb pains from where her legs used to be until they were removed because of rampant diabetes. I hope you are all happy now.