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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Word Balloon! Liberty Meadows

Hey all,

For the month of March I thought we would take a look at an entirely different genre of comic books, a genre that is often over looked in the world of capes and cowls, and even the gritty urban and offbeat independent titles that I often cover. The humor comic. To be honest they don't make many any more, or the ones that are often times are funny in the extreme sense, either via explicit content or language or over the top graphic humor. Very few books try to have mass range humor appeal. This month's book uses a medium that really only Disney comics uses anymore, a medium that hasn't been in vogue since the late 1940's and '50's. The funny talking animal book. This month's book is Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows.

Liberty Meadows is a comic about life at an Animal Rehabilitation and Sanctuary that's inhabited by a variety of funny and quirky characters and the adventures they get into. The star of the book is Brandy, a tall voluptuous animal psychiatrist who works at the sanctuary along with Frank, a shy nerdy veterinarian who is hopeless in love with Brandy. The two of them care for the eclectic cast of talking animals at the sanctuary, including Dean the pig, a hard partying former college mascot, Ralph, a former midget circus bear and inventor, Leslie, a hypochondriac bullfrog, as well as Truman a meekly polite duckling and Oscar, a wiener dog (also the only animal that can't talk). There are a few other characters, including Jen, Brandy's buxom and devilish room mate and Julius, the Sanctuary's boss.

Liberty Meadows is actually a comic strip like you read in the paper, it started off being published in the school newspaper as artist Frank Cho was in college. He moved it into syndication and the strip appeared in numerous papers across the country. Cho quickly tired of his editors heavy hand and the censorship issues he faced on a daily basis with the strip and decided in 2001 to cease its publication in newsprint form. Cho decided to move it entirely into the comic book format, initially at Insight Studios until moving to its current home at Image Studios. Each month he would collect the strips he drew and publish them as a comic book collected. His early comic book issues were dedicated to republishing the strip to the new market and new readership base he was gaining, which also allowed him to go back and fix some of the censorship issues that really bothered him during the initial publication.

Liberty Meadows was a quick hit in the comic book industry, attracting both new readers to Liberty Meadows, and opening the door for other creators to take their work into the comic format. Frank Cho especially became a hot commodity in demand. Cho was not just a cartoonist, though he worked so easily in that style. He worked in a medley of artistic formats, including classic illustration. He could seamlessly fit both classical line item drawings in with cartoons that were not only funny and charming, but technically amazing. Demand for Cho's pencils became so in demand that marvel Comics even inked him to an exclusive deal that in recent years have excluded him from publishing new Liberty Meadows work, but that has opened up a wide realm of comic book illustration on books like Shanna the She Devil, The Avengers, and currently The New Ultimates from Marvel.

Back to Liberty Meadows itself though. In the series Cho creates this crazy, zany, very funny world but really populates the characters with genuine emotion. You root for shy Frank to finally find the courage to tell Brandy how he feels, and you laugh as the various animals as each get into trouble, from Ralph's inventions which never work quite right, to chauvinistic Dean trying to pick up on women who clearly want nothing to do with him. The world and events around them are totally a cartoon, but each character has a genuine resonance that keeps you smiling and rooting for the next strip.

Liberty Meadows is funny and broad in a way that many comic strips just are not. Willing to take a chance and push the envelope of taste and public conception, but never in a gross or overly foul way. Cho doesn't write down to his audience, he's telling stories that people can relate too, referencing popular culture and films, and tastefully lampooning other canonical comic strips like Cathy and Peanuts in a way that both points out the lost humor of those strips and treats them respectfully as peers.

the only real complaint about Liberty Meadows is the lack of new material. A new issue hasn't been released since 2006, though Frank Cho has worked on numerous books in the last few years. Despite the excellent artwork he has provided on the Avengers and the Ultimates, I eagerly await new Liberty Meadows work. I often find that the most personal works of a creator is often times when they create their best material. Liberty Meadows is that rare comic that makes you laugh and smile, the comic that reminds you that comic books were first just that, comics. Meant to be funny and humorous. So often we get lost in what comics have become that we forget what comics were. Liberty meadows will remind you of this. I wholeheartedly recommend picking up the first trade, Liberty Meadows: Eden, available from Image Comics.

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