Thursday, April 15, 2010


I will confess to being a bit cynical a year back when Boom Studios began publishing comics based on Jim Henson's classic MUPPET SHOW that ran on TV from 1976 to 1981. I'm a big fan of the show, but couldn't really see it translating to comics. However, as I'm currently waiting for the seemingly stalled release of the series on DVD to conclude so that I can get a complete set (and stop watching the two dozen episodes I have on tape from one of the last times it was shown locally), and as I have enjoyed some of writer/artist Roger Langridge's previous work, and as the comic has gotten some good reviews, I decided to check out the first two books, MEET THE MUPPETS and THE TREASURE OF PEG-LEG WILSON, each collecting four issues of the comic.

I was much more impressed than I expected.  Langridge clearly knows his stuff, using both major and minor cast members from the show, and both the regular sketches and some more infrequent ones (I mean, Wayne and Wanda and the Talking Houses?), and captures their voices and personalities nicely.

For those unfamiliar, the original MUPPET SHOW was presented as a behind-the-scenes look at a live variety stage show, with a mix of backstage antics leading into and out of on-stage productions (which were often disrupted by the backstage stuff leaking into the show), plus occasionally interactions with the audience (mostly heckling from cynical regulars Statler and Waldorf).  Langridge follows a very similar model, with mostly 1 and 2 page scenes alternating between an on-going backstage story and sketches from the actual "stage", with some of the sketches being disrupted.  Surprisingly effective, with many of the sketches working well as stand-alone comics.

Even more surprisingly, Langridge decided to maintain the heavily musical nature of many of the sketches despite the lack of sound in the comics, and that works as well.  If you're at all familiar with even the basics of musical theater (which you would be if you saw the TV show) it's not hard to pick out an appropriate style from the set-up and first few lines of most of the pieces and set them to a fake melody in your head (or sing them out-loud if you're alone.  Or on a crowded subway if you're bold...).  Even if you can't, the words and drawings are still funny.

About the only thing that didn't work for me was the occasional use of the Swedish Chef.  I found I was working too hard to try to figure out how to translate Langridge's text version of how the Chef talks to how the voice actually sounds, and at the same time trying to figure out what the words actually mean, and that just seemed to fry my brain more than a Muppet Labs experiment.  Fortunately the Chef is used sparingly.

There is a measure of diminishing returns on the series. The second isn't nearly as enjoyable as the first, and I'm not sure how much of that has to do with the quality of the material and how much it has to do with the novelty of the concept wearing thin.  Certainly I don't think it was that it was a good idea in the second book to extend the two backstage plots (one a treasure hunt in the theater and the other a Muppet Labs experiment that increases Animal's intelligence) across four issues, but the jokes were still pretty funny, and I imagine I'd have liked them a lot better if I'd read the book a few months after the first one, rather than a few days.

So much better than I expected, and a nice little stop-gap measure while waiting for the TV series release to finish.  I imagine I'll try future volumes in a few later while still waiting.  Certainly the nice affordable $10 books that Boom puts them out in makes for a nice quick read.

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