If you read the last two posts about Comicon, you may have noticed a copy of Ranger Rick mixed in with that big pile of graphic novels I've just reviewed. It's the October 2009 issue, better known as "The One With James Gurney Paintings In It". I have had the damndest time trying to find this issue in stores and started to doubt that the magazine is available at the magazine rack at all. Fortunately, I was able to check it out of the library, and now I'm curious to see if they have an archive of Rick back-issues. I was lucky enough to find this August 1997 issue in my closet (left):
Now, the Gurney illustrations are, of course, fantastic. He's an artist to treasure and I hope the children reading this issue have had their minds blown by his six glorious pages of paintings. But the thing is, these paintings are all available on his blog. And as it turns out, they're the highlight of the magazine when it comes to art.
Because on the very next page is this issue's "The Adventures of Ranger Rick".
Let me show you what I expected to see here, based on my childhood memories. Which, thanks to the old issue I found, can be conveniently backed up so you know I'm not just running on my nostalgia filter here:
I was very upset to learn that a Google search yields almost no information at all about long-time Ranger Rick illustrator Alton Langford (there are several broken links to an out-of-print book about whales and this brief PDF with a few more samples of his work. Very Important Edit: See the addendums below). This saddens me, as I owe the man part of my childhood - and a heavy influence on my style of drawing animal characters, as you can see.
I want to find more old issues so I can study his style more carefully than I did when I was seven. Deep Green Wood looks inviting in the above early morning scene, and I love the textures and the contrast of the warm foreground and the cool background.
I was VERY upset to learn that this is what "The Adventures of Ranger Rick" looks like now:
I wish I could tell you that this is just a bad scan and the actual image isn't this muddy. I wish I could tell you that the characters don't fade right into the background, that the character designs aren't this bland or creepy looking (oh God, that owl...), and that you can actually see what's going on in the original image. But I can't. The credited illustrator is identified as "The Character Shop" (as in, not a person, but a shop), which I think tells you all you need to know.
Remember in the "Happy Feet" review, where I was surprised to be hit with the Uncanny Valley stick by a cartoon penguin? Yeah, same thing here.
ADDENDUM: I love how this is one of the most commented-upon articles I've ever written. That means a lot of people out there have fond memories of this magazine and it's illustrations. Reader Michael has brought my attention to the wonderful Classic Ranger Rick website, which has a small but really cool archive of the Adventures of Ranger Rick characters through the years. Additionally, Albertonychus has scanned a *bunch* of pages; the links are in his comment below.
This also means that I am headed to the library to see if there is an archive of Ranger Rick there...
Further Addendum-ing: Wah...
Further Further Addendum-ing: This is the kind of thing I write this blog for. Just recently, Susan Fidler, wife of Alton Langford, left a comment stating that -yes!- Langford now has his own website. The art for Ranger Rick can be found here, and in the section "Originals for Sale". Head on over and prep yourself for a nostalgia buzz!
Incredibly brief reviews of the eight graphic novels I read this week!
Matrix Comics (various writers and illustrators) - Interesting set of short stories set in the "Matrix" universe. If you enjoy the trilogy (and I mean the whole trilogy) like I do, you'll enjoy this.
Saga of the Swamp Thing (Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben) - "The Anatomy Lesson" is the story I read this collection for, and it's the story you'll want to read it for as well. THIS is how you retcon a character. That said, the other stories are very good as well; refined nightmare fuel of the best kind.
Batman: Year One (Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli) - Frank Miller would be sad to hear me say this, but a lot of this material is presented in a more interesting way in "Batman Begins". That said, this is a decent recounting of Batman's early days and the characterization of Commissioner Gordon is excellent.
We3 (Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly) - I was expecting to be a wreck at the end of this novel, fearing it would be an emotional gut-punch on the level of Richard Adams' The Plague Dogs. We3 is very emotional and thought-provoking, but it's also a great deal shorter than I'd expected. The artwork is amazing, however, as is the characterization of the three animals.
Plastic Man on the Lam (Kyle Baker) - I figured I'd need something light after We3, though this was a touch darker than I'd expected. Nevertheless, Baker's art looks like Bob Clampett or John Krickfalusi at their most deranged and gives this classic character a much-deserved adrenaline shot.
Fables (first three collections, Bill Willingham and various illustrators) - This could have turned out SO bad (the idea is that dark, adult versions of beloved storybook characters enter our world and try to adapt). The series has been fascinating so far and I'm glad to see that my library has future volumes as well.