Sunday, October 4, 2009

Review - Herbie Archives

Herbie Archives
Written by Richard E. Hughs; Art by Ogden Whitney
2009 Eisner Winner for Best Humor Publication

Until last year if you asked fifty comic book fans what they thought about Herbie forty-nine of them would say "Who?" and the fiftieth would start babbling about bopping people with lollipops. While Herbie's stories had received a quiet reprint in the early nineties they had been forgotten by the vast majority of comic book fans. With Dark Horse's Herbie Archives reprinting every single Herbie story they've been rediscovered by a fresh generation who are just getting exposed to the manic brilliance of Herbie for the first time.

There is no other word to describe Herbie other than surreal. The stories follow their own kind of strange logic where the titular star is constrained only by what he's willing to do. If he decides that he needs to go to Mars then it's going to happen. It's a series where the main character regularly travels through time by sucking a lollipop and riding in a grandfather clock. Famous figures of the early sixties populate the series and turn up at the oddest moments.

Herbie himself is a boy who brings new meaning to "rotund". Besides being generally spherical with a bowl haircut and thick glasses there is nothing that Herbie would rather do than lie in his hammock and enjoy lollipop all day. His father is disturbed by his son calling him, "A fat little nothing," and pushes Herbie to do things. What his father doesn't know is that Herbie is a world-famous go getter who makes women swoon, world leaders shake, and induces terror in monsters. Through the power of his lollipops Herbie flies (well, walks on air with a lazy gait), travels in time, and occasionally bops someone who deserves it.

There isn't much in the way of dramatic tension in the Herbie stories but that's okay because they exist mainly to set up the gag of Herbie strolling into a situation and watching it spiral out of control as people try to deal with him. Herbie is a fairly passive character to the point that even his speech is structured to the minimum number of words required (Alan Moore has said that he based Rorschach's speech in Watchmen on Herbie) so he'll typically stand there and take the abuse dished out by that story's villain whether it's the devil, a would be cave-girlfriend, or Fidel Castro. There are short, light comedy pieces. The fun in Herbie is in having a character that is both visually and personality wise the exact opposite of the reaction he has on the world.

While Whitney's artwork is very traditional in style he has a great sense of playfulness in the individual images that helps make up for his weaknesses. The comics are filled with the small humor touches that keep me laughing. Whitney's sense of comedic timing gets used quite a bit as some of Hughs's jokes depend on Whitney hitting the right visual beat.

Before Dark Horse printed the Herbie Archives my experience with Herbie was extremely limited. A few extremely beat up old comics and some talk about how crazy his series was. I'm glad that these three volumes are available because without them I'd have never almost all of the series. Now I'm pleased to have the entire run sitting on my shelf. These are some funny books and if you don't know Herbie then you need to check him out.