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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

GNATRAT LIVES [2011] by Mark Martin

You kids might not remember, but back in the mid-to-late 1980s there was a boom in the direct sales comic book market of black and white parody books, mostly attributable to the phenomenal success of the Laird and Eastman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you'd expect, the boom quickly led to a glut, with a lot of books of at best marginal quality crowding out anything with merit, and that led to a bust.

I missed seeing most of that first-hand, only getting back into comics around the time of the bust.  But I heard the tales, and in those tales one of the things you would hear is that among the books of the boom times one that did have merit was Mark Martin's Gnatrat.  Certainly Martin's other work made that easy to believe, so eventually I tracked down:

DARERAT [1987]
THE ULTIMATE GNATRAT [1990] (collecting the above three with a lot of new pages, including the ending and a comic explaining the boom/glut/bust from Martin's perspective)

Five publications from five different publishers.  As you can tell by the covers, the series is largely a Batman parody, with particular emphasis on Frank Miller's work, especially in the first book, and some of Miller's Daredevil/Elektra later, and the first Tim Burton directed Batman movie in the final comic.

Anyway, all that is prelude to mentioning that, after two decades, Mark Martin returns from his Nascar career to his roots with the self-published Kickstarter supported one-shot GNATRAT LIVES (available now directly from Martin). This is a full-sized 48-page comic which includes the 24-page "Gnatrat Lives" story and the 24-page "Buddy Cop Comix", which is Martin's variation on a 24-hour comic (in this case 24 1-hour pages done over a few days).  With the covers that comes to 51-pages of Mark Martin in all.

The Gnatrat story picks up directly from the ending that appeared in THE ULTIMATE GNATRAT book, and is an enjoyable romp in the classic Gnatrat vein, with Martin's detailed artwork (which can probably be described as Walt Kelly crossed with Harvey Kurtzman, with a big injection of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth). In a clever move, the Kickstarter supporters of the book are listed in a four page sequence where each gets a minor character, each with a unique Mark Martin design, named after them, which really shows off Martin's skills.

The "Buddy Cop Comix" story has a much looser version of Martin's style, as you'd expect from a 24-hour comic, but it's also a fun little story, playing off all sorts of variations of the "buddy cop" formula, including parodies of MEN IN BLACK, X-FILES, ROBOCOP, TURNER AND HOOTCH, THE ODD COUPLE (via one of the TV leads other roles) and others. Also very enjoyable, with a lot of quick twists and clever connections and callbacks.

So two very fun full-length stories, well worth picking up a copy here.

[update, since I wrote this review Martin has announced publishing plans for the remainder of the story and other new material, plus another chance to be a character in the story.  See the link for details]


  1. Robert Shooks7:24 pm

    As an Upstanding Member of the GNATRAT Militia I Certify this Book Gold !

  2. you need to find 20 Nude Dancers 20 - I believe there were two collections of this commentary strip that Martin did for CBG back in the day. I wish that I'd known about that Kickstarter, I'd have joined right in. I'll still order one from mark, but I like being a kickstarter supporter. Somebody needs to do one of those phonebook omnibi of Martin's B&W work. stat!

  3. Chance Fiveash4:53 pm

    Gnatrat was also featured in Mark's 2 part NINJA TURTLES issues.

  4. I just found out about the TMNT appearance (I have some of Martin's other Turtles stuff, but not those), and I just ordered a copy of the collection of those, should have it soon.

    By the way, Martin's announced plans for more new Gnatrat and other material, in a 96-page or longer book, and more chances to be a character in the story. Check his site for info.


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