This is JVG posting directly to the blog for the first time, let’s see how badly I screw things up.
In the mid-80s there was a boom in the comic industry fueled by the affordability of printing black and white comics and the popularity of independent titles. Books like Cerebus and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles showed that even a book not printed by Marvel or DC could sell at high volume, and printing in black and white was much cheaper. A number of small publishers started up and starting pumping out books and retailers started buying them in the hopes of getting the next big thing. The boom lasted roughly a year before people stopped buying these books, retailers closed, and publishers shuttered. Most of these books haven’t survived in any form and most of the writers and artists haven’t worked since the bust. These books have completely dropped off the radar- they aren’t in price guides, there aren’t Wiki articles about them, and no one is starting a Kickstarter campaign to get a sequel written. This post is about some of those books.
Full disclosure for all readers: I have roughly 4,000 comic books. That encompasses roughly 8 years of collecting books- buying monthly, going to comic conventions, and acquiring books at yard sales and flea markets. The latter is my favorite way to buy comics; not only because you can get books much cheaper, but because you never know what you’re going to find. My method is to find someone selling a box of comics, say for $1-5 a pop and just offer to buy all of them for a lump sum. Usually I only flip through to see if there’s anything that really stands out and to check their overall condition. Once I own them, I take a more thorough look at what I’ve bought. I’ve gotten some pretty nice books this way, but I’ve also gotten a lot of crap and duplicate books this way.
In Westminster, there is an antique mall that is basically a static, indoor flea market and in this mall are a few stalls that sell comics. One stall was always fun because it was just a mess of books in long boxes on the floor. Most were just bagged, all of them were between 50 cents and 2 dollars, and some of them are truly terrible. It was clear that the seller was a retailer during the boom years and this was his unsold stock. I couldn’t resist, and have a stack of books from this guy that everyone has forgotten about. I’m pretty sure if I was able to track down the writers and artists, even they wouldn’t remember their small print-run, black and white comics. So I’ll remember for them.
The first book I bought that really started me on this journey is called “Canadian Ninja”. The title and the cover alone meant I had to buy it, and I became very curious when I was only able to find one webpage with any information about the book. Months later, a blog post would be written about how terrible it was, and to this day those are the only two places I can find any information on this book. Interestingly enough, while writing this post I found out that a Kickstarter was funded late last year for a Canadian Ninja movie. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the comic.
The cover pretty much speaks for itself, but I have to say I love the weird disembodied head in the corner wearing way too much eye shadow.
The inside of the front cover actually has synopses of each issue in the series. I’ve never seen another book do that, but I guess they wanted show that they actually had six issues planned out for retailers. Reading those 5 synopses, I counted 9 grammatical errors. The first page doesn’t have any glaring grammar issues (though it does feel overally formal and stilted), but it does frequently refer to the “Japenese”.
I could go on and on regarding the terrible spelling and grammar in this book. It’s obvious that the writer’s first language is not English (this was published in Quebec, after all), but it boggles the mind that no one thought they might need a better translator or an editor based on his lack of mastery of the English language. Here are some of my favorite selections highlighting just how bad it is:
The art is slightly better than the writing, but only slightly. Everything not a person looks okay, but the people show a lack of knowledge about anatomy. There’s also a lot of lines in everything- clothing, faces, hair- that make everyone look like a rumpled pair of pants.
The story is…ugh. The story is just terrible. It’s about a kid that was rescued from a downed Canadian aircraft by a family of master ninjas. He is trained to become one and one day his father is killed by ninjas of “the evil” (yes, that’s actually what they’re called multiple times in the book). His father tells him with his last dying breath that he will transfer his energy to him and instructs him to go back to Canada for revenge or something. As soon as he gets off the plane, he tells his life story to a woman he just met who is promptly attacked by corrupt soldiers. There’s something about a top secret project and a world-wide apocalyptic terrorist organization, but nothing really makes sense in this book. The first issue ends with no clear introduction of plot aside from the evil ninjas now looking for the dumpy kid they didn’t kill the first time.
Canadian Ninja only lasted this one issue, and the company itself only lasted one other issue (the first issue of Heralds of Canada, advertised on the back cover). The writer and artists haven’t seem to done anything else in the comic world, or the publishing world in general. A quick Google search shows… nothing. It’s probably for the best.
The second book I wanted to touch on was one called “Bug”. While it didn’t scream “this is terrible” like Canadian Ninja, it does have a very amateur feel to the whole thing. The cover has all the indie staples- no credits, no barcode, and no company markings.
This book is at least written in the native language of the author, so it has that going for it. The inside front cover has a note from the author/artist about how the story is supposed to represent friendship and be humorous. It also asks the audience to write them and let them know how they liked it. Since this book never saw an issue 2, I’m guessing not a lot of people wrote in. The company seems to have printed two other books- Tales from the Stone Troll Café (one issue, advertised in the back of Bug), and Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils (3 issues, not to be confused with Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters). The author/artist may have written a few more things- a TV pilot and co-credited on a preschool book, but nothing more in comics.
The art looks very amateurish, as though it was doodled with colored pencils. The main character- Bug- looks original enough, but the other main character Dweezle is a complete stereotype of African-Americans. He looks like he belongs in one of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons that they won’t show on television any longer because of the overt racism.
The story isn’t that bad- a mad scientist is trying to cure the common cold when he accidentally makes some of the germs large enough to live on earth. Bug is the first one and he runs into Dweezle and they make fast friends. But another germ is also created that isn’t friendly, and the issue ends on a cliffhanger of the violent germ capturing Dweezle. How will end? Who cares.