Unappreciated Genius: Craig Yoe on Boody Rogers

Craig Yoe on Boody Rogers

The last few years have seen an unearthing of many of the strange, unusual and downright craziest creators in comics history. But this March, one of the craziest will be unleashed on the world again with Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers, published by Fantagraphics.

Rogers’ cartoony work seems innocent at first glance…but his stories often took a turn into the completely insane. An average tale might feature insect-women, shrinking, mad scientists, crazed hillbillies and more. Though Rogers’ comic career was relatively short (he retired in 1952 to run a couple of art supply stores), his work has earned a loyal cult following.

If you don’t believe us, check out this story featuring his best-known creation, Sparky Watts. Or, if you’re feeling more bold, try this three-part epic starring “Babe, Darling of the Woods:”

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Now that we’ve whet your appetite, it’s on to our main course – a talk with Craig Yoe, the editor of Fantagraphics’ Rogers retrospective. Yoe’s book is a unique combination of Rogers’ best work along with interviews with the late creator, who passed away in 1996. Yoe was happy to talk with us about his relationship with Rogers, and the effect Rogers’ work had on his fragile psyche.

Newsarama: Craig, tell us about Boody Rogers and his creations.

Craig Yoe: Boody Rogers was one of the most amazing, best cartoonists in the history of comics, yet only a few people have ever even heard of him. His work appeared in low-circulated comic books by a small publisher in the 40s and 50s. If ever someone epitomizes the term "unknown genius" it’d be Boody. Unknown and unsung, both.

NRAMA: What led to your putting this collection together?

CY: I felt I wanted to sing Boody’s praises. Actually, Boody’s work itself will do that. I just wrote a very brief introduction and assembled together some of his best stories. Boody’s highly entertaining stories and wonderful art will shout their own brilliance.

NRAMA: How did you first encounter Rogers' work, and what impression did it make on you?

CY: I found a big box of Golden Age comic books in an old bookstore when I was a kid in the ‘60s. Even at five cents apiece, I needed a bridge loan from my dad to bring home this giant treasure-trove. After I promised to take on some additional lawn mowing jobs, these hundreds of wonderful comics ended up spread on my messy bedroom floor: superheroes, Little Lulus, Tarzan comics, cowboy comics, a few ECs...

But the one that stood out from all the rest was a "Babe" comic. Even among this sea of garish colored wonky wildness, Boody’s "Babe, Darling of the Hills" stood out. I found it strangely fascinating—I knew it was somehow different. It called out to me!

NRAMA: Hey, who can resist the call of Boody?

Could you describe a "typical" Boody Rogers story?

CY: The stories are wild, nutty, crazy, fast-paced, zany, absorbing, bizarre, funny, and sexy. Good solid storytelling with nutty surreal characters. The men are funny-looking. The women are, well, babes! The art is funk with finesse. Boody could write, draw, and ink with the best, the very best, of ‘em.

NRAMA: Now, you knew Rogers for a while. What was it like getting to interview him?

CY: Just like the work in the book speaks for itself, the interviewing I did of Boody was the same deal. I assembled a bunch of questions when I met Boody a number of years after I had snagged that Babe comic. But Boody just let loose with answers and anecdotes, and that astounded me when I interviewed him.

I mean, here was a guy that was born in the Oklahoma territory before it was a state. He met or knew Chester "Dick Tracy" Gould, Harold "Little Orphan Annie" Gray, Bill "Smokey Stover" Holman, Milt "Terry and the Pirates" Caniff, and a host of others. Boody grew up in a wild cowboy atmosphere where people sat around a stove at a general store and told fascinating stories to entertain themselves. That comes across in the comics Boody created and when I would talk to him, too.

NRAMA: What was he like as a person?

CY: Boody was the nicest, sweetest guy you could know. He was very proud of the comics he did and thrilled to talk about his cartooning days. The other guy I was quite close to at the time was John Stanley. I loved John, his Little Lulu, and his other comics. But John was kind of the opposite of Boody. John was a bit of a curmudgeon, a loner, and didn’t see at all what people saw in his comics. He disdained them. John was very good to me, too, though--a beautiful person.

NRAMA: What kind of influence has Boody Rogers had on today's cartoonists, and do you know of any creators today who are fans?

CY: I honestly don’t know if any cartoonists I know are "influenced" by Boody, except for myself. A number of people who know Boody’s artwork and my own have commented that one of the influences on my comic art is Boody, though I pale next to him, of course.

But, aside from this, there’s some great top cartoonists that do know Boody’s comics and are big fans. There’s Art Spiegelman, who put a Babe story in the ground-breaking Raw. Glenn Head, the editor of the great contemporary Hotwire Comics anthology, told me how excited he was about the "Boody" book coming out. Robert Williams, the artist behind the whole low-brow art movement, gave us a quote for the back cover ("Boody Rogers's work was and is a visual stormfront that keeps you turning pages. I only wish our more legitimate fine art doyens and high cultured dictators of today could bring themselves down to this level of imaginative epiphany.")

It’s a small, but hip, happenin’, and enthusiastic bunch that loves Boody’s work.

NRAMA: Tell us of some of the stories we'll encounter in your collection.

CY: There are "Babe" stories. Babe is a strong female character, a far-out Hillbilly who Boody told me was named after the Olympic star Babe Didrikson. You’ll find Sparky Watts stories. Sparky is a bit of Boody’s take on superheroes. Sparky flies by flapping his arms and has a host of bizarre characters around him. These are the two great characters from Boody’s pen, though I’ve included some other cool comics of his, too.

NRAMA: Do you have any plans for another collection of Rogers' work?

CY: This book, Boody, primarily collects some of Boody Roger’s greatest hits, with just a few pieces of rare art and photographic to wet people’s appetite. But I was very close to Boody for a number of years, exchanging 3-4 illustrated letters a week, and getting tons of comic art, paintings, and sketches by him, and rare photos of Boody with other cartoonists he hung with, obscure cartoons and comics, promotional material, Christmas cards, etc.

When I’d go stay with him and his wife Mary in Texas I’d always come home with more, er, boody. I’d like to do a deluxe coffee table book with this incredible material.

NRAMA: What are some other things you are working on?

CY: Did you see my book Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings (Last Gasp)? Besides "dirty drawings" by cartoonists from Charles Schulz to Jack Kirby, it has some racy Boody Rogers’ work.

This last year I was deep in research on another book that is coming out in February that’s a bit salacious, Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster (Abrams). I have never tackled a project with such depth of research. This book has Shuster, Superman, pornography, the Mafia, Hitler, showgirls, book burners, juvenile delinquents, and murderers. I think the revelations are going to blow some minds. The things I found out certainly blew what’s left of mine after a lifetime of reading comic books.

Get some Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers from Fantagraphics in March 2009.

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