Monday, December 1, 2008

Reprint This! Sugar and Spike

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is SUGAR AND SPIKE by Sheldon Mayer, the longtime DC Comics editor who worked on everything from their superhero to comedy titles back in the 1940s and 1950s, and who would later co-create the wonderful adventure series Black Orchid. In the days when an American comic book company couldn't be successful without a very broad range of titles for all interests, Sugar & Spike was a huge hit, and one that Mayer closely guarded. The series ran for more than thirty years, and he was the sole writer and artist of every story.

Sugar and Spike were a pair of babies who toddled around trying to make some sense of the incredibly bizarre world of grown-ups. They communicated in their own "baby talk" language with all infants, whether human or animal, and had oddball little adventures interacting with things they couldn't quite explain. One of the hallmarks of the series, outside of the silly slapstick that drove the funny plots, was the strange wordplay. None of the babies, for example, knew the word "door," but they knew it was a thing that would swing, and so doors would be referred to as "swingy things."

A tremendously popular strip in its day, DC was glad to indulge its creator's wishes and so Sugar and Spike was, unlike most kid-friendly trademarks, not merchandised very much, and no other artists ever worked on it. There was, briefly, an TV cartoon; it was a low-budget, limited-to-no animation offering which appeared as part of a program called Video Comics on Nickelodeon when I was in elementary school. (LJ's dramaqueer might remember it, even if nobody else saw it.)

Apparently, Sheldon Mayer suffered from cataracts which made it increasingly impossible for him to draw the strip. With sales of this kind of material sagging in the early 70s anyway, DC shelved the book. After Mayer recovered from surgery, he resumed drawing it, but few of these were published in the US, but instead they showed up in various South American and European countries where the series was still quite popular. There are apparently about fifteen years' worth of Sugar and Spike which few readers in the States have seen. In the early 1980s, some of these were used in a few issues of the digest-sized anthology Best of DC, sometimes in the company of Mayer's teen-comedy Binky (an Archie knockoff) or Arnold Drake's Stanley and His Monster, other fun sixties strips whose time, DC felt, had mostly passed.

I have absolutely no idea how much Sugar and Spike material is out there. The few websites that are out there (such as this one) aren't much help in tracing the international editions of the comic. But good heavens, DC, if ever a book was made for your Showcase Presents line, it's got to be this one. Considering that many of the later editions of its 98-issue American run leaned heavily on reprints, they could probably compile everything in just three of those 500-page books before even starting on all the material first published overseas.

DC's made a pretty good case for using the Showcase line to spotlight all the genres other than superheroes that they used to do well, with good representation from the war and horror lines, and one or two Westerns. But they haven't even started touching the really fun comedy stuff from the 1950s and 1960s. This is long overdue, and Sugar & Spike should spearhead it. It will go over well with amateur historians, with kids who will just eat this stuff up, and with anybody who will get a kick of some really solid cartooning. So how about it, DC?

(Originally posted December 01, 2008, 12:32 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

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