Saturday, July 23, 2005

My Collection - SUGAR & SPIKE [1956 Series]

Sugar & Spike [1956 series]
65 issues [1957 - 1971]
6 - 11, 19, 25 - 27, 29, 31 - 32, 37, 41 - 42, 44, 48 - 61, 65 - 98

Boy, this is some book. 98 total issues published, all written and drawn by Sheldon Mayer, over 15 years. The last of those came out when I was about Spike's age and probably getting up to similar antics. This is one of my favourite comics of all time, by one of my favourite cartoonists.

I first encountered the characters in a mid-1980s reprint digest, sometime after it was published. Don't even recall where or why I got it, but I do know that I liked it a lot. A few years later I happened upon a comic shop that had all its back-issues at half-price, and looked through for anything interesting (I recall getting my first taste of Kirby's JIMMY OLSEN at the same time), and they had some beat-up later issues of SUGAR & SPIKE for a few bucks each. Even better than the digest. Been picking it up ever since, getting a pretty decent collection in widely varied conditions (a few with pages missing or with the Write-Your-Own pages written or coloured on). Keeping all of these at least until the unlikely day that they're reprinted, and probably a lot longer. Didn't get any issues for a while, but now thanks to the internets (invented by Bernie the Brain, no doubt) I've got some more, and might actually one day track down the 33 I'm missing

It's hard to explain exactly why I love this even more than the work of other contemporary humour cartoonists like Barks or Kelly or Schulz or whoever. I guess everyone has a few cartoonists who just manage to speak to a part of their brain, depending on exactly when they first encountered them and any other variables. For lack of a better term, cartoonists who feel like home. I'd say three reach that level for me, and Mayer is one of them (one of the others should be obvious, the other, well, is still a few dozen entries down on this set of posts, but there's a clue in the name of the weblog).

For me just about everything just works in Mayer's work. The basic concept of S&S is brilliant in its simplicity. Babies who can talk to each other but not to adults. But far beyond the concept, Mayer's execution was sheer genius. He's one of those cartoonists who can draw everything funny, so the facial expressions, the body language, all the background bits, the character designs, everything on the page contributes to the humour. The writing easily matches that, with lots of explorations of the life of a baby, both logical and fanciful as the story calls for. I especially like how effortlessly Mayer seems to clearly define and constantly reinforce the differences between Sugar and Spike without needing to say it explicitly. A lot comes out just in how they talk and act towards each other.

In the later issues Mayer started doing longer stories and then injecting fantasy elements in the stories (most notably in regular character Bernie the Brain introduced in #72 and soon a de facto third star of the book, getting cover billing for a while). That stuff still works for me, and indeed many of my early favourites are among those stories since that was the first stuff I read, but I'm glad that later Mayer backed off a bit from the fantasy elements, and did a healthy mix for stories in the last dozen issues (plus the later new stories he did for foreign markets).

Okay, I'll shut up now. Just wanted to write enough to justify the number of scans I wanted to include. All complete stories, click on them and check them out.

Notable issues:

Eh, all of them.

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