1982: Groo the Wanderer

The Complete Pacific Comics Re-Reading Blog Series presents:

Groo the Wanderer

by Sergio Aragones &c

Groo the Wanderer (1982) #1-8

Prior to getting his own magazine, Groo had appeared in Destroyer Duck and as a backup feature in Starslayer.

I remember reading the Destroyer Duck and then a couple of random issues of the later Epic series as a teenager and being completely unimpressed. I think the main issue for me was the general nihilistic carnage of it all: Seeing a moron decapitate some innocent bystanders on ever other page got old really quick.

But I’ve never read these issues before, so let’s see what’s what.

As seems to be the norm at Pacific comics, we get a small biography in the first issue; this one written by Mark Evanier, who was the co-plotter and dialogue writer for the series, apparently. (It’s a running joke that he’s being opaque about what his actual role is.)

Aragones explains why Groo ended up at Pacific Comics: He’d shopped it around, but all the other publishers wanted ownership of the book, and Aragones was not aboard with that.

The first four issues are printed on newsprint, and that doesn’t suit the ultra-dense style Aragones is using. In the first couple of issues, the colourist Gordon Kent seems to give up in sheer disgust and just colour in the teeming masses in a flat purple, but perhaps he knew what he was doing: Adding even more detail would just have made the pages mud.

Rape jokes never get old, right? Right.

Mark Evanier expands on Aragones’ story of how Groo came to be: He’d been doodling Groo for a decade before the book came together.

I understand that Evanier means to be playful with his non-specification of what he’d doing, but when he says that “some folks” who doing what he does “have called themselves the Writer”, it comes off as rather a rather oily humblebrag…

The majority of the issues have a 20 page main Groo feature, and then there’s a short backup story where the protagonist is The Sage. (There’s some crossover.) It’s a kinda neat setup: One story is about a moron, and the other is about a genius, and both often fail anyway.

The book isn’t quite clear on what kind of character Groo is. In some scenes, he’s just a grade-a asshole…

… while in other scenes he goes around killing people just because he’s a total moron. (The joke here is, of course, that he doesn’t know what that word means.) It makes for a less than idea reading experience. Of course it’s funnier when Groo is a moron than when he’s evil, but the creators seem to forget that from time to time.

There issues are pretty much free-standing, but there’s a vague plot in the first two issues that fizzles pretty badly. They’d established a rhythm of Groo imagining who had sent some killers after him, and then we’d get a flash-back to Groo fucking something or other up, and that worked quite well structurally, I think. And then they got tired of it?

Evanier describes the plight of the colourist.

And, indeed, looking at pages like this where Gordon Kent didn’t just purple everything in, you start to feel sorry for the guy.

So he left, and was replaced by Tom Luth, who is colouring Groo to this day, which is pretty amazing. Stan Sakai (of Usagi Yojimbo fame) is still the letterer, and Mark Evanier is still writing, which makes Groo perhaps the most stable non-single-creator comic book in existence? Same team from 1983 to 2017 (when the last mini-series was published)?

With issue five, we shift to nice white “Baxter” paper, but unfortunately I don’t think they told the colourist beforehand. I mean, that’s what it looks like to me: Everything is super-garish, while if it had been on newsprint, the colours would have been much more subdued.

And they raise the price to *gasp* $1.50.

The cover is kinda clever. The front has Groo from one angle…

… and the back has the reverse angle, revealing the gag.

The colourist adjusts to the new paper the issue after the super-bright one, and the better paper is really nice in showing off all of Aragones’ itsy bitsy lines.

We get another attempt at describing the creative process, this time as a comic strip.

And, yes, I know that Evanier, once again, is just joking, but it’s kinda grating.

A letter-writer takes him to task for it, and he just doubles down on the not-very-funny joke.

The eighth and final issue ends with a rare maudlin conclusion to a story. In the final issues, the lead feature was expanded from 20 to 27 pages, which gave the stories room to breathe, and they where all the better for it.

It also has an announcement of a 48 page Groo special, but Pacific went bankrupt before they could publish it. Eclipse picked it up and published it instead:

So, how was it reading these issues now? Well… I didn’t laugh, but they were amusing. They’re an easy read: Aragones’ storytelling chops are on point, and no matter how crazy and cluttered the pages are, they read extremely well.

Here’s Kevin McConnell in Amazing Heroes #27:

Considering that the comics
industry is glutted with illustra-
tors who equate good artwork
with overrendering and over-
lays, Sergio’s simple, sponta-
neous style is pleasing to
behold. But it is a deceptive
simplicity. Like Kane, Kubert,
Toth, Eisner, and Caniff, Ara-
gones is a master of his craft.
Therefore, he can convey a
visual situation with minimal
linework and rnaximum effect.
The facial expressions and body
language of Sergio’s characters
are priceless, and his audacious
style is uniquely his own.

An uncredited review in Amazing Heroes #17:

Groo the Wanderer is the most delightful humor
comic I’ve seen in ages. I’ve been an avid fan of
Sergio Aragones since he began to fill up the
margins of Mad magazine with his aberrant,
chimerical drawings. In a few brief strokes of his
pen, Aragones delivers more manic fun than 95%
of the gag cartoonists who hack their way through
the newspapers.
Groo,’ an intellectual neanderthal who makes
Arnold Schwarzenegger glow with genius, is a
hilarious central character. Aragones’s parody of
the barbarian myth is simultaneously cutting, ab-
solutely true, and viscerally engaging: His frantic
linework tellingly communicates the battle, the
bordello, and the ludicrous cast with equal
aplomb. Every page has at least one superior gag
—and that in itself is an achievement. The art is
alive’ with slapstick and splendidly uproarious
expressions.
This is Pacific’s best comic so far. I only hope
there will be enough reader interest to sustain this
book for a long, long time.

Jay Allen Sanford writes:

Mark Evanier: “Pacific published eight issues of Groo the Wanderer, but the scent of their pending demise started to drift northward, from San Diego to our L.A.-based nostrils…they had comic-shop distribution, not access to regulation news outlets [where readers were familiar with Sergio’s work from Mad]. Not only that, but the firm was in financial trouble…while the lawyers were playing ping-pong, Pacific Comics went belly-up. And right here is a splendid example of why creator-owned comics can better serve the creative community. Had Groo been owned by Pacific instead of Sergio, we couldn’t have taken it elsewhere to keep it alive.” Sergio and Evanier followed Bruce Jones to Eclipse Comics, which published the expanded-length Groo Special originally planned for Pacific. The bumbling barbarian next wandered over to Marvel for about ten years, moving again in 1994 to Image Comics and then to Dark Horse.

After Pacific went bankrupt, Marvel’s Epic imprint took it over and published it not only for the comics speciality market, but also on the newsstand. After a long run at Epic, he wandered over to Dark Horse where he has remained till this day.

1 thought on “1982: Groo the Wanderer”

  1. Evanier’s bit about the writer credit is a dig at Stan Lee. As Kirby’s former assistant, he was aware that there were “Lee/Kirby” comics where Lee’s only input was the dialogue, which in some panels was just a rephrasing of the guide notes that Kirby had written on the side of the page. There are examples of this out there from scans of the original art; one here from a Hulk story in Tales to Astonish #73: https://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/effect/2012/08/24/the-best-laid-out-plans/

    And Evanier is ashamed of the rape joke and took it out of reprints at some point, apparently: https://www.newsfromme.com/2018/10/28/ask-me-46/

Leave a Comment