Friday, November 13, 2009

"The Christmas Ducks"

One thing I got wrong in my recent Bob Bolling post was the chronology. I thought his return to Little Archie happened in the mid-'80s, when the title was canceled and became a twice-yearly feature in the "Archie Giant Series" (which was no longer giant-sized, and was just a way for them to publish defunct titles that they didn't want to give up on entirely). Bolling did most of the Little Archie stories from about 1985 through the early '90s. But in fact, he was back on the regular Little Archie title as early as 1979. Though Dexter Taylor continued to do all the covers and most of the stories, Bolling started contributing an occasional story - maybe one every couple of months. He told Gary Brown that "I don't know why they asked me to start doing it again." My own guess would be that the launch of the Archie digests, which included a Little Archie digest in the late '70s, brought the Bolling stories back into view, and the company wanted some new stories that would be in that style.

These late '70s and early '80s stories are a little different from both the classic-era stories and the later ones (he later brought back characters like Mad Doctor Doom and Ambrose, who are absent here), but all told they were probably his best work since the mid-'60s. (You can tell he was involved and interested because he didn't overload them with puns; there are a few puns in each story, but when he wasn't interested in a script, half of it would be puns.) Certainly this story, which appeared in Little Archie # 163 sandwiched between two unexciting Dexter Taylor stories, is one of my favorites. Strangely, Little Archie doesn't have a speaking role in it, although he could easily have played the lead in this story. But teaming Bolling's version of Ronnie (who is a little spoiled but nicer than the older version) with Sue Stringly, his favorite post-'60s character, makes for some unusual dynamics. (Okay, it's maybe uncomfortably close to my least favorite relationship in history, Richie Rich and Freckles, but to be fair, Ronnie actually helped Sue's dad get a job in an earlier story, so it's not quite as bad.) And Bolling's fascination with animals, weather and times of day -- as someone pointed out, he's careful to distinguish not only between morning and evening, but all kinds of different times during a typical day -- have never been more apparent.

Sue Stringly had appeared only once in the classic '50s-'60s run, in the story "Sled With a Mission" (with her brother Bobby, who never appeared again, though he was mentioned once or twice). Bolling brought her back in his very first Little Archie "comeback" story. Her new design was sort of half Big Ethel and half his old character Evelyn Evernever. She became the poor girl who is in touch with nature and the animal world, and opens up the other characters to seeing the world her way (which includes her belief in elves and her belief that the stars are giant pearls). She's probably based on the poor-but-noble kids in Dickens, like Tiny Tim or Little Nell. But she's a much more tolerable character than that description makes her sound; she has some humor and (in some stories, not this one) even a bit of misguided pride.

Bolling didn't usually letter his own stories at this point, but he did this one, which is good, because his distinctively big, heavy-looking letters are part ofwhat gives his stories a distinctive atmosphere. Also, of course, that he uses periods at the end of sentences.

1 comment:

Peter Lynn said...

Speaking of that spoiled brat Richie Rich, I actually found the comic where the joke is that he kicks a homeless man off his property, which I'd thought I'd lost while moving house. I have to remember to scan it.