The comic book market was getting a little crowded by the mid-’90s. There were a lot of good titles out there, and I was finding it hard to make room for all of them in “Palmer’s Picks.” And since I was now required to use the year-end issues of Wizard for “very special” installments of the column, I was faced with one less slot each year for a full-length interview with a cartoonist of my choosing. Thankfully, I was able to make room in the schedule to feature the great Rob Walton and his self-published comic Ragmop.
Walton had his act together and sent me preview Xeroxes of the first two issues of Ragmop well in advance of publication. I was impressed with what I saw—it was clear that Walton was inspired by Bone, but wisely chose to do his own thing instead of grinding out yet another carbon copy of Jeff Smith‘s successful comic. I wrote a brief plug in the “Recommended Reading” sidebar of Wizard #48 to coincide with the books’ launch and let Walton know that I wanted to do more. The next available opening for a full-length “Picks” was issue 54. In the five issues between the first mention of Ragmop and this column, two of the topics for my column were dictated by editorial (the aforementioned year-end issue #53 and the special report from the Small Press Expo in #50), so you can see how assembling a schedule for “Palmer’s Picks” was a bit like putting jigsaw puzzle pieces together.
But once I got the interview set up, everything fell into place. I wrote this one early in my senior year of college, and was home for a few days during fall break while I played phone-tag with Walton to square away some final details for the column. At one point, my dad (comic book inker Tom Palmer Sr.) answered the phone, and Walton—a fan of the 1960s and ’70s heyday of Marvel Comics—proceeded to gush about how much he loved his work over Gene Colan on Tomb of Dracula and Doctor Strange. My dad’s a fairly humble and self-effacing guy, so he brushed it off with a quip: “Well, I just put my pants on one leg at a time.” That response later prompted this sketch from Walton:
Like several other self-publishers trying to navigate the collapsing direct-sales market, Walton found it hard to get any traction for his comic. He wrapped up the self-published run of Ragmop with issue 10 in 1997 and sought refuge at Image Comics, where he revived the series for two issues before returning to his own Planet Lucy Press for a third and final issue. He ended the Ragmop story on a cliffhanger, but also included a two-page text summary of how he intended to wrap things up.
But that didn’t mark the end for Ragmop. Walton returned in 2006 with a huge graphic novel collecting all of the previously published material along with a brand-new ending. And Walton has recently started new Ragmop comics. After originally serializing new installments online through Vault Comics, Walton split with the new series’ publisher and plans to organize a Kickstarter to get this new material in print. Check out at the Ragmop Facebook page to keep up with all the current happenings!
By Tom Palmer Jr.
How many comics do you know with a trio of dinosaurs named Einstein, Huxley and Darwin piloting a stolen spaceship to avoid the Ice Age? How many feature Pope John Paul George and Ringo II and his trusty sidekick Castrato cavorting around like Adam West and Burt Ward from the old “Batman” TV show? How many have Dr. Lifton Freedman, a psychiatrist who cures his patients with ice-pick lobotomies?
Don’t worry if the name Ragmop doesn’t pop into your head; this new series that falls somewhere between a Jack Kirby Fantastic Four adventure and a classic Warner Bros. cartoon is currently the best kept secret in comics.
According to creator and publisher Rob Walton, “Ragmop‘s about everything I ever loved as a kid growing up in the ’60s. It’s also about everything that currently ticks me off. That’s why there’s so many references and allusions to cartoons, books, movies and television. It’s my chance of saying, ‘Thank you’ to the many creators whose work has influenced me, by integrating those influences into Ragmop, and moving them forward in a new direction to achieve different ends, while introducing them to a whole new audience.”
Ragmop centers around the adventures of Alice Hawkings, a.k.a. Thrill Kitten, an out-of-work supervillain. Walton assures readers that he will eventually explain why he chose to have a villain as his main character. “That’ll all be revealed once we meet her family. As a teenager, Alice was convinced by her mother that she was a ‘Bad Girl,’ a role she’s now acting out as an adult. She’s taking her cue from B films of the ’50s—back when a woman’s reputation could be impugned because she sipped an espresso or wore a pair of pants. It fits into my whole view of misogyny, and how our society views women who don’t conform to their presubscribed roles of subservience to men.”
The first storyline in Ragmop, “A Brief History of Crime,” is a social and political satire that holds nothing sacred. Hawkings is hired by a group of businessmen and politicians to prevent an asteroid from destroying the Earth by finding the O-Ring, a cosmic device that can control the laws of nature. Surprisingly, Walton thinks that he hasn’t reached the limits of his satire. “Right now, I don’t think the satire is pushed far enough, given the tone of politics today. I think I’m going much too soft on my subject matter.”
Beneath all of the funny stuff, Walton tires to address some serious concerns, like misogyny and the failures of politics and religion. Walton sees an important advantage in taking a humorous approach to his subjects. “Drama is exhausting. Besides, you can wield a sharper scalpel under the guise of comedy than you can with drama. If you play it straight, people are easily over-whelmed and depressed. Criticism is easier to take when it’s sweetened with laughter, although it’s true most people can’t take a joke when they’re part of the punch line. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Walton may be familiar from his more serious work last year as writer and artist on Dark Horse’s Grendel Tales: The Devil’s Hammer, but he got his start in comics in 1986 with Silver Snail Comics’ Pork Knight, a humor comic about Jim Shooter’s regime at Marvel Comics. Walton has also ghost-penciled part of the DC mini-series The Prisoner, penciled a Predator story for Dark Horse Presents #46 and created Bloodlines from Vortex Comics. He is also currently writing “Skade” a story illustrated by Charles Vess and serialized in Vess’ Book of Ballads and Sagas.
Recently, Walton has worked in animation storyboarding for Nelvana Productions and other cartoon companies on many TV series including “Tales From the Crypt-Keeper” and “Eek! the Cat.” Walton admits that his experience in storyboarding has influenced the way he sees his comic work. “It’s affected my work by broadening the humor, but beyond that, storyboards are as different from comic books as theater is from film. Visually, my storyboards are much stronger than my comics, and it’s frustrating to figure out why that is. TV directors look at my boards and embrace me. Comic book editors show me the door.”
For the time being, Walton has to juggle his storyboarding assignments and his work on Ragmop, but he hopes to eventually devote all of his energies to comics. “The pay is wonderful [for storyboarding] and I’d be a fool to give it up. But money isn’t my only consideration, so once Ragmop supports itself and pays my contribution to the household expenses, I’ll be with it full time.”
Walton states that he is self-publishing Ragmop because no one else would take the risk. “I’m still waiting to hear back from DC and Dark Horse on whether or not they want the series.” Walton says he was also inspired by the other self-published books out there. “The success of Bone really encouraged me. That showed me there was room in the market for quality books and that they would find their market.”
According to Walton, publishing your own comic isn’t as easy at it looks. “Critics and my professional colleagues were quick to lend their support, but I still have to bludgeon the retailer into ordering a copy. That said, I have to thank those enlightened retailers who have supported Ragmop from the outset, selling dozens of copies each issue.”
Despite all of the obstacles associated with self-publishing, Walton is grateful for the creative freedom he enjoys. “It’s empowering to do this by myself, to control the direction of the stories and how far to push the humor.”
Tom Palmer Jr. is the most serious man on the planet That’s why he can’t think of a witty bio this month.
FYI: Ragmop is published bimonthly from Planet Lucy Press, and the fifth issue is due out in February. Unfortunately, subscriptions are not available, so you’ll have to bug your local comic shop to order it. And don’t forget to check out “Skade” in Charles Vess’ bimonthly Book of Ballads and Sagas.
Rob Walton’s Recommended Reading
Rob had this to say when I asked him about his current favorite comics: “If you’re looking for superhero comics to read, there’s more than enough to keep you happy. But if you want to stray a bit and be a little adventurous, it’s worth plunking down three bucks for a book you’ve never heard of or seen. Chances are you’re going to find something you’ll like.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. In case you need some pointers, here’s what Rob is reading: Steve Bissette‘s Tyrant, Stray Bullets by David Lapham, True Swamp by Jon Lewis, Charles Vess’ Book of Ballads and Sagas and Paul Grist‘s Kane.
Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre: Every issue of Batton Lash‘s Wolff & Byrd is a good, solid read. You don’t need to know any long, complex back-story to enjoy an issue; the title says it all. Lash is a master of puns, and he’s also adept at crafting satisfying, self-contained stories. His distinctive, crisp, black-and-white artwork is a relief from the abundance of cookie-cutter artists out there. While an issue of Wolff & Byrd looks and feels like an EC comic, the stories are a strange mix of supernatural weirdness and clever storytelling and humor. If you can’t find Wolff & Byrd locally, you can write directly to Exhibit A Press,
4657 Cajon Way, San Diego, CA 92115. Make sure you send S2.50 for a sample or S15 for a six-issue subscription. A trade paperback of the first four issues and two collections of the weekly “Wolff & Byrd” comic strip are also available.
Drawn & Quarterly: This high-class anthology gets even better as it goes full-color with issue #4. The features in this issue include a story from Carol Tyler, a one-page “Peanuts”-inspired strip from Seth, and stories from Archer Prewitt and Maurice Vellekoop. The main attraction this time is “The Road to America,” a story from French comics master Baru about an Algerian boxer stuck in the middle of his country’s struggle to free itself from French colonial rule in the 1950s. Baru’s story is enthralling, and it is drawn with a lively, effortless line. This issue is topped off with painted covers and endpapers by Josh Gosfield. If you have trouble finding a copy of Drawn & Quarterly, send a check for $6.95 to Drawn & Quarterly Publications,
5550 Jeanne Mance Street #16, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2V 4K6.