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Goof! creator Marc Jackson once again gives over cover duties to another artist, this month Allison Steinfeld whose Scruff and McGuff join in to welcome readers. Five issues in and as it's developed over the past few months I feel it's becoming a title of two distinct halves. Both halves have their target audiences but, while the comic's tagline is "Comics For Everyone", I'm beginning to feel like what we have here are two different titles merged together as one. Reading through this issue's strips I've counted eleven which would appeal to the mass audience, or the "8 to 80" age range Oink! used to proclaim for itself, while there's another nine which could be seen as appealing exclusively for maybe 5 to 10-year-olds, especially those new to comics.
You could say that's a successful ratio and for £1 per issue there's plenty to appeal to "Everyone", especially those reading with younger siblings or children to share their love of comics with. But there's also the argument that you could be getting at best 50% of a comic for your money, no matter how small that amount of money may be. It all depends how you personally interpret the tagline. Should "Comics For Everyone" mean all the strips should appeal to all age groups, or does it mean there should be strips that individually appeal to different ages? I'd prefer the former like Oink! accomplished, but Goof! seems to be going in the direction of the latter. I'll get back to this at the bottom of the post after I've taken you through my four favourite strips of this issue, starting with a new addition, KaiJunior.
Named after the official name of the Japanese monster movie genre, Kaiju, this sees a young monster learning his craft, overseen by his Godzilla-esque father. Dean Rankine's creation is fun and reminds me somewhat of Haldane's Hugo the Hungry Hippo from Oink!, which is a compliment by the way. This is a perfect fit for the kind of comic Goof! has promised from the beginning. It's beautifully drawn, full of character and genuinely funny. It has a proper set up and great gag to end on, meaning it has a proper beginning and end to the strip which is very important when it's only one page per month. It harks back to the random half-page strips you'd see in Oink! every fortnight which delivered a genuine laugh, each one feeling like a well thought out joke, a complete strip despite their small size.
Not all the strips in Goof! suit their small format as well as KaiJunior does. This is something a lot of the 'younger' strips don't do so well, but I've been putting this down to the fact such young readers may not necessarily care about these things. There's other strips such as the ones featured here to provide them with a well-timed gag, while the strips aimed specifically at them provide something different, like a random selection of ongoing stories or little random one-off tales with characters/situations they'd hopefully find interesting rather than necessarily funny. I personally found some of them lacking because of not having proper endings every month, or that there wasn't a funny joke etc., but I just focussed on the other half of the comic instead and found plenty to entertain myself.
A perfect example of how to do an ongoing tale while giving the readers enough with just one page per month is, of course, Lew Stringer's Derek the Troll.
Lew has just released #3 of his Combat Colin comic, collecting together more of the full-page strips from the classic Transformers comics from the late 80s and early 90s. While we'd have had four or five episodes every month back then, here we're obviously only getting one, but it still works with its own beginning, middle and end and plenty of laughs along the way. The fact it's part of an ongoing multipart story feels like a great bonus to each individual episode. This month he's crawling across the desert in his epic quest when up pops a sand demon and Derek's question above opens up a wonderful back and forth between our troll friend and a misunderstood monster. Ingenious stuff and, believe it or not, the final panel sets things up perfectly for a strip with that proper Christmas-comics feel next time. Can't wait!
Joe Matthews' Space Dawg is another firm favourite every month, telling the story of a space detective tracking down criminals across the galaxy with the help, or hindrance, of his trigger happy canine partner. I've said before how the strip reminded me of Warner's Looney Tunes and if you look at these panels above surely you can see what I mean. You can almost hear the two keys of a piano played in quick succession as they tippy-toe their way across the panel, can't you? The gung-ho pooch is always the star and, just like the best of those Saturday morning 5-minute cartoons, the set up is similar every time because it's what we love to see. As you can see above there's another in-depth plan afoot and you can probably guess what it's outcome will be, but it's always great fun so who cares if it's the same gag? It's delivered in different ways, it always hits home and it's always a winner in my book. (As kids we all knew exactly how every episode of Inspector Gadget worked and that never stopped us tuning in every week.)
Finally, Jim Boswell's Stick Pig has been adding members to his team every issue so far and is now out patrolling the streets alongside Shovel Rat and Rake Dog. Well, when I say they're patrolling, all they seem to be doing is walking about and not actually fighting any kind of bad guy. But that's part of the joke here; it's all for show. Well one of their friends has had enough of all the tough talk, of the picking up of random objects and wielding them like some kind of super power. Co-created by a young reader this new character seems like he's going to be yet another member of the team. Will they ever actually fight crime? We'll see, but I like the way it's going for now.
I mentioned last month how at such a low price you'd happily pay the entrance fee for the strips you like and indeed this month I'd happily pay the cartoonists of the above 25p each for their work! I'd obviously happily pay them a lot more, and of course the £1 per issue is split between all contributors, but you get my point. Unfortunately some of the other highlights of previous issues (others I'd put into the '8 to 80' category of strips) seem rather rushed this time around and don't quite hit the mark. For example, Dwarf and Duck doesn't feel like a complete episode and I miss its usually spot-on gag, Flot and Zot are a little bit too random this month, so much so that I didn't find it funny and Little Fluffy Foofoo is another which doesn't feel like the writer has grasped the nature of the format required, which is unfortunate as it had potential in previous issues.
Spells in the Forest from Tor Freeman is one which may look like a children's tale but it's a perfect blend of both styles, appealing to children with its fantasy setting but with a sense of humour that appeals to all and I've featured it before in my write-ups. After its first brilliant little strip, cover stars Scruff & McGuff feels like another which could also cross the divide easily given time to develop further. On the other side of said divide though are strips such as Box, Nona the Ninth, The Other Side, Dick Vincent's page and new Bad Pennie$ by talented 13-year old Marcus Darrington which younger children will love but which may not entertain older kids (actual older kids and adults alike) in the same way. Personally I'd prefer if we had Goof! and then possibly a Goof! Junior of sorts, as the potential to have a comic full of strips of the calibre of the four chosen above is exciting stuff! I guess it's a personal choice and how you'd define the phrase "Comics For Everyone".
One thing before I finish though. Both of these above are definitely in the latter category, with How to be Cool being a strip without any form of gag but rather it's a little friendly lesson every month on how being a nice person is the modern day way of standing out from the crowd and being cool. For youngsters it could be a lovely thing for them to read with their parents and to learn the kind of life lessons which can be forgotten in the world today. But then only two pages later we've got That Little Devil, about a creature who picks on others, who cruelly pranks innocent creatures, who essentially could be seen as a little bully. But unlike Oink!'s Tom Thug where the title character always got his comeuppance, here the 'gag' seems to be the Little Devil laughing at how he successfully plays cruel jokes on others. These two strips are basically teaching kids two completely different lessons and after the former I can't fathom why the latter would be included.
I do question how much editorial control there is on the comic when some contents appear rushed, others don't appear to suit the format by not having enough content, or when strips such as Life Jacket (see last issue's write-up as it's not present this time) just don't make any sense. Do the scripts pass some form of editorial look over first? Are strips checked before publication? Or are all contributions simply welcome? If it's the last of those options then it does explain a little more about why Goof! has become this Comic Of Two Halves.
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Both target audiences are still getting some superb content for their £1, as I said above I'm happy with my money being spent on those four strips alone this month but if it is to survive and, just as importantly, build its audience I feel it needs to decide what it wants to be. After a few issues I can see what it's trying to be and what it means by its tagline. But will others? Two separate comics, even with fewer pages each, say 15 or 16, with cover-to-cover like-minded strips would be fantastic and with a stronger focus each could be very successful. However, on the other hand if you can think of Goof! as a combination of both such titles you should find plenty to enjoy for this small price. Especially if you've kids of your own that you can read the other half of the comic with after enjoying your own strips.
So get yourselves over to the website and subscribe now so you don't miss out on what promises to be a festive folly of fun and frolics next month!