Gordon “Boody” Rogers isn’t the most famous cartoonist in comic book history. He’s probably not the most influential either, but nearly everyone who’s come across his work has come away an admirer. Channeling an anything-goes enthusiasm where nearly anything could and did occur with regularity, combined with strong internal logic and outrageous artwork, Boody Roger’s comics are truly unlike anything else.
Writer, editor, designer and publisher Craig Yoe befriended the retired artist after his retirement from comics, and working collaboration with Fantagraphics – who’ve recently graced the world with the overlooked formative comics of Fletcher Hanks and the artists in Greg Sadowski’s Supermen! – he’s collected some of Boody’s best comics into a single book, titled Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers.
With Boody hitting stories this month, Yoe found time to sit down with us to discuss the life and comics of Boody Rogers.
“Gee, I've always been involved in publishing; I started publishing comics fanzines when I was 15 years old, 43 years ago. So in all my collecting and research I've always had some publishing activity in the back of my mind. But when I got to be friends with Boody, and he started giving me fascinating rare art and information, a more concrete idea of doing a book started formulating in my little pea-brain,” Yoe explained, when I asked how long he’s had the idea of a book about Boody’s comics percolating. “But, to be honest, I always questioned if a book could be a reality, because Boody is such a ‘cult’ artist. But, happily, maybe, the market has changed with more and more people interested in the old-skool unknown cartoonist geniuses.”
The glory of Boody RogersSaying that he was friends with Rogers for “about 15 years or so,” Yoe explained, “I was a fan from when I was a teenager and had first discovered his work having found an old Babe comic book for my collection. I had contacted a few cartoonists that I had admired when I was a teen and through the years – the old EC artist Reed Crandall was the first. I was stoked to talk with them! So when I got a job in the 70s in Chicago as an art director of a line of kids’ magazines I used the mission to get new artists to track down as many of my heroes as I could think of. I commissioned art for those magazines from Joe Kubert, Denis Kitchen, Gil Fox, Joe Oriolo, Jim Engel, Jim Davis, Jay Lynch, Tim Truman, Rick Veitch and John Stanley. I asked the writer and comics historian Ron Goulart if he knew the where-abouts of Boody. Ron is a big fan if his work and he put me in touch. Boody and I became fast friends through phone calls and wildly illustrated letters we exchanged two or three times a week. And then I got to meet Boody when I had a trip to the East Coast at the same time he was visiting his daughter. I remember Ron, Rick Marschall, another fantastic comics historian and I drove out to see him in New Jersey. What a thrill to be with those wonderful comics historians to meet Boody Rogers, The Greatest Cartoonist of All Time!”
In Fantagraphics’ solicitation of Boody, Rogers’ work is compared to the work of last year’s very popular Fletcher Hanks book, I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!. Rogers is a legitimately good artist, and though his stories are outlandish, there’s a much stronger internal consistency than anything in Hanks’ work, so I didn’t see the comparison. “Well, I think there is a good comparison in that both cartoonists did far-out, wild and wooly works,” Yoe responded. “Hanks did nutty stories because he was, apparently, nuts. Boody achieved his nutty oeuvre because he just loved way out crazy funny stories This was probably from growing up in the last of the Old West in Texas (He was born in Oklahoma territory before it was a state!) and hearing the far-fetched yarns of cowboys gathered in his dad’s eateries. Boody developed his chops through hard work and training under some of the best cartoonists of the time, resulting in a fantastic ability to craft his comics. Boody went to Chicago and studied at the cartooning school of the Chicago Academy under Pulitzer Prize winner Carey Orr. And he hung out or met Chester Gould, Harold Gray, Bill Holman, Carl Ed, Reamer Keller and Milton Caniff. So, you see, he was in the right time and atmosphere for a talent like him to blossom.”
Comics by BoodyEven sixty-some years after their initial publication, the comics of Boody Rogers remain charming, inventive and fun stories. Despite their quality, Rogers didn’t necessarily have a strong idea just who he was creating for, Yoe says. “Boody’s strips didn’t get into a lot of papers as it was a very small syndicate that distributed Sparky Watts, and his comic books were published by a smallish publisher, too. So I don’t think he got a lot of fan mail. He did get in his whole career one letter of criticism from a minister that complained about the sexy stuff in Boody’s comics. That really deeply bothered Boody. Though he had good red blood flowing through his veins I don’t think Boody really was aware how weird his comics were and how salacious the “soft and round” cartoon cuties he drew could be. I think he was just having good innocent fun in his mind and didn’t see how they could offend. And certainly I think he was oblivious to some of the more Freudian aspects of his work. I imagine Boody was primarily writing and drawing to amuse himself and his cartooning buddies, and the audience, then and now, were the lucky recipients of his brilliant stories and art.”
“Boody was there from the very beginning of what we think of the American comic book. He amazingly had work in what is said to be the first newsstand comic book with original material, The Funnies,” Yoe explained of Rogers’ early career. “Boody gave me a piece of original artwork from The Funnies that he hand colored that I treasure and share with the world in the book, Boody. He worked all the way into the 50s when the comic book industry started taking hits from zealot critics and the competition of TV.”
Though many early cartoonists fell into comics by accident and sought more “legitimate” work, Rogers didn’t resort to comics as a last resort. Yoe said, “The guy loved comics and was thrilled to be doing them and loved the fraternity of other cartoonists. Boody was great pals with many New York cartoonists when he lived here in the 40s. He took trips with the National Cartoonist Society and laid on the beach with Bill Holman of Smokey Stover helping think up puns for Smokey Stover (through Boody I later became friends with and interviewed Bill, he's the subject of a future book of mine). In short, Boody was living and breathing comics and loving every moment of it. I think you’ll agree that love abundantly shows in his work!”
Well, I do see it. Being a baseball fan, I was particularly impressed by the fun and craziness of Rogers’ Babe Boone stories. The strips are filled with bubbly fun, and Rogers seems to have a lot of fun playing with the dialects.
More comics by Boody“Boody himself was a big sports fan and a star athlete in high school, Mike. That’s where he told me he, real name Gordon Rogers, got the life-long nickname ‘Boody.’ He was a star high-school quarterback, able to boot the football clear down the field!” he told me. “His character Babe, he told me, got her name from ‘Babe’ Didrikson, then first female Olympic superstar. Some might deem the hotties depicted by Boody as sexist, politically incorrect, but there never was a stronger, more confident woman in comics than Buddy's Babe. I read the Babe stories to my girls, Avarelle and Valissa, to help instill in them a healthy self-esteem – and it worked! I'm proud to say that both are strong, smart young women with great confidence – and I owe it all to Boody's comic books! By the way, I recall one or both of them writing Boody and doing school reports on him! They and Boody were tickled pink with this!”
In the Sparky Watts comics, which often feature the title character shrinking to microscopic sizes and encountering bizarre creatures and astounding societies (years and years before the Fantastic Four entered the Microverse), Rogers seemed to have a great time designing all the creatures Sparky meets when he shrinks down. Between the creature designs, the curvy women and the outrageous scenarios, I asked Yoe if he’d ever discussed Rogers’ favorite aspect of cartooning.
“I don’t know that I ever asked him that directly, but he obviously loved those wild creatures,” Yoe answered. “There is a famous entomologist I know of that collects Boody’s comics with all those nutty bugs in the stories. And Boody obviously did have a great affection for drawing cute sexy chicks, or ‘de-icers’ as he and Zack Mosley used to call them. Boody assisted on Smilin’ Jack during what what I want to say are the best years of that classic strip.”
After leaving comics, “Boody opened a couple of art supply stores in Arizona – Gus Arriola of Gordo used to come in for art supplies. Boody made enough to retire to a small town in Texas. He gathered with old farts there every day for coffee at the drug store and swapped stories. Boody had a wonderful sweet wife, Mary, and his daughter and granddaughters whom he absolutely adored. I had lost contact with his daughter but was thrilled last week when she had contacted me after hearing about the book,” Yoe concluded.
“Boody's daughter, and I bet fans like Art Spiegelman, Robert Williams, the sensational blogger ‘Pappy’ and Johnny Ryan, can’t wait to see and dive into the awesome comics in Boody ourselves when it finally comes out – at least speaking for myself!”