Quarterbin Follies #4: Boondoggled DelgadoOctober 31, 2014
Before diving into today’s reviews, I want to talk a little about the two joys of comic collecting. (I imagine these might well apply to other collectings, but this is my column, darn it!) The first, and I think the ONE MOST talked about, is the hunt: that quest to find the particular thing to round out your collection– that sublime time spent rummaging through boxes long and short in comic shops or flea markets. Or the remarkable, incomparable thrill of finding that forgotten treasure that the shopkeeper doesn’t even know he has. What victory!
But mostly, I want to talk about the unsung collectors’ thrill–the unexpected treasures–those books you buy on a whim, or in a lot, or in a box at some garage sale. They’re the ones that say something special about the way you look comics. At least, I assume everyone has those stories. Hell, that\’s how I found Marvel’s Obnoxio the Clown, Gerard Jones’ El Diablo, and Mike Baron’s Butcher. It’s how I discovered Moon Knight AND Ragman for crying out loud! I had one such experience just the other day.
About a month ago, I was at our local Goodwill thrift store. There, on the counter, were two comic books, and the clerk said they were a dollar a-piece. I figured such a price would be right nice for a shot-in-the-dark, and I proceeded to lay my cash on the barrel head. Or the glass countertop, as the case may be. What I got there were two comics so different from each other it bears commenting. The first was issue #4 of Boondoggle, and the second was the premiere issue of Johnny Delgado is Dead. The first is an attempt at humor and cultural observation, and the second a gritty crime-adventure story. Night and day. Allow me to address each comic in turn
Steve Stegelin\’s Boondoggle, as the comic is properly titled, is a black and white cartoon book published in 1996 by Knight Press. I did a quick internet search try to find Knight Press, and found only air. It appears to have been a self-publishing firm, not un-like our own Ideal Comics. The comic contains ads for other titles, many which seem bear the same ‘grim and gritty realism’ so typical of early- to mid-nineties comics. But Boondoggle is something else entirely.
The story follows a pair of estranged siblings Beauregard and Roxanne McGillicuddy who, after losing their parents in a house fire some five years ago, were separated. Following very different circumstances, they each make their way to the small Midwestern town of Boondoggle. Roxanne is attempting to find her brother, with no success. Now homeless and alone, ‘Rox’ makes the acquaintance of fellow homeless youth Barbados Salinger, a resident of Boondoggle. Meanwhile, across town, Beauregard (Bumper) is in the company of a pack of zany anthropomorphic animals on his own wacky adventures.
With all of these threads, it is hard to believe that nothing actually happens in this book. Yes, there is witty banter, and a half-hearted attempt at philosophy, and even a lead into a next-issue-robbery of the inexplicably Scottish shopkeeper by his equally inexplicably Scottish son. And yet, there is little in the book that somebody would mistake for plot. I said hard to believe, but also not-so-much, considering only 17 of the 28 pages this book are dedicated to “story.” The balance is made of the letter column (three pages), adverts for in-house comics (three pages), and reprints of Stegelin’s college newspaper comic strip, which is itself a collection of tired, borrowed political commentary and self-referential aggrandizement.
The work as a whole bears all the marks of standard Gen-X self-involved storytelling: un-affected, unnecessary adults, ridiculous amounts of pop culture referencing, and attractive but alienated protagonists that are little more than self-referential proto-hipsters. The back cover is even emblazoned with a quote from Green Day’s “Welcome to Paradise.” It was not meant sarcastically or sardonically–although the passing of time has left its use feeling a touch ironic.
For me, at last, the whole comic (while it is a part of a whole) felt somehow less like a story or even an episode, and more like a self-congratulatory college thesis paper. And so, appealing to my own Gen-X proto-hipster tendencies, I’ll paraphrase Community‘s Troy Barnes in saying: Boondoggle–I liked it, but also not? Stegelin is still out there, making editorial comics and other stuff. He can be found at charlestoncitypaper.com.
The second title, as I mentioned, is Johnny Delgado is Dead which, admittedly, sounds more like a cold-war-era film than a modern crime story, and I heavily doubt this is accidental. Written in collaboration between John Leekley (of Spawn: the Animated Series fame) and writer/director Michael D. Almos, and their two companies, Kompany X and Chamber Six. (For a great write-up on the production of the book read this.
There is a sense of time to this story that gives it something very real hang to onto. In fact, the story begins in Phoenix, Arizona “Twenty years ago,” where a wizened and old mechanic tells stories to two young friends, Victor Reyes and Johnny Delgado–stories about Zorro and Joaquin Murrieta, and about how the spirit of freedom and justice must always ride across the American Southwest. The story continues as the reader is taken along through snapshot-scenes where we see these friends-closer-than-brothers grow from children to men. Reyes grows up to be a soldier in Afghanistan, while Johnny finds a wife and career as a US Attorney in DC. Johnny eventually makes his way back to Phoenix, where he runs into trouble with a local criminal, who had vowed to kill him after Johnny had sent him to prison some five years in the past. Meanwhile, across the world, in the Middle East, Victor is presumed dead after surviving (in Lone Ranger style) an ambush of Afghani fighters. With Johnny’s assistance, Victor also finds himself winging back to the home country.
Very seldom is it that the mainstream mass market media takes the time to tell stories from “fly-over country,” and comic book writers are no exception. But with this, seldom as it is, when time is taken, I have rarely seen it done with more affection. In its 37 painted pages, Johnny Delgado is Dead gives real space and time to its own representation of Phoenix, Arizona, complete with the gorgeous-if-barren vistas that make up the desert Southwest. Indeed, I loved this, and was very much reminded of the TV series Breaking Bad. Regardless of what you think that program, it was beautiful, and it almost made me want to visit New Mexico (and I’m not one for the desert).
The storytelling in Johnny is a little decompressed, and the dialogue is not always sharp, but it hits the end of the issue exactly where you want: giving you enough meat to make you feel like it really meant something, but a hunger to see the rest of the story.
Now, as I said before, these two books could not be more different. Where one is a self-important cartoon book, the other is a violent and graphic crime story steeped in legend and oblique mysticism. Boondoggle tries to speak for a generation, while Johnny clings to the stories of the past. Stegelin padded out his fourth issue, while Leekley and company provided twenty pages more and a bunch more story. Where Boondoggle suffers from its forced sense of macro-cultural isolation in its struggle to be “alternative,” Johnny is rooted in stories and histories of time and place, drenched in the cultural history and ballads of older times.
Now, I am not writing this as an excuse to bash Stegelin. In fact, if the guy I was in 1995 or 1997 had found this book, I’d have probably loved it. It was a time in history that propped up movies like Clerks and SubUbria, and one that still idolized Kurt Cobain. Reading Boondoggle really brought me back, and I loved the trip. But Johnny reminded me that some stories are bigger than the ones we ourselves have walked through, and there is something beautiful about that.