Friday, November 6, 2009

Time has not been kind to "Ranger Rick". Also, book reviews and other stuff!

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.


Unknown said...

I read Ranger Rick growing up in the 90s (became a junior park ranger thanks to it), and I too was shocked to find there's almost none of Langford's art available online anymore. His art was what made the Ranger Rick team memorable for me, and one particularly powerful piece (Aug. '93, Rick holding a dead loon and shedding a tear) was almost enough to drive me to action in following its advice. If I weren't a child and had any interest in fishing, that is. It seems like libraries and some public schools are the only places to find this anymore. While the new look disgusts me, they might be trying to keep with the times so kids will be interested in looking at it. But there was nothing wrong with the old style. The old magazines are just as fun to look at and read as they ever were. Best of luck in your adventures rediscovering Ranger Rick!

Trish said...

^^ I still want to do a treasure hunt at the Library to look for "Rick" back-issues because I think Langford needs a longer tribute from me. Also because of something else that bugs me about the new "Adventures" that you pointed out: It's so damn cutesy. I'd be willing to wager there isn't anything as dark as some of the stories we had back in the day. (The illustration you mentioned is seared in my memory as well. <:( )

Michael said...

I was browsing the NWF website, and discovered what you did, that "The Adventures of RR" has become "RR's Adventures". I don't like how it has more of a cartoon or comic book feel (although if it were done well, even a comic book format would work). It used to be like a children's storybook...actual text and a few great illustrations. There is something called an "imagination" that we wanted kids to develop. Now it seems we want them to be comfortable with computer graphics and virtual realities. What kind of message about nature does that convey?

Michael said...

check out the beautiful format and nice illustrations of the late 70's/early 80's RR that I grew up with, with drawings by Lorin Thompson. Check out the RR pledge...they probably don't have that anymore. Part of it says that I will "train my mind to learn the importance of nature." Hmmm. See my previous post.

Here is great site for classic RR:

Trish said...

^^ Thank you so much for those Links, Michael! Especially the one for "Classic Ranger Rick"; my afternoon just got booked. I will add them to the main post.

I should mention that I'm not really bothered by the medium used in the new illustrations (I've always felt that the "CGI vs. Traditional" argument is just plain stupid, so I've never done a long post dedicated to it. You made me realize that maybe I have to.) It's the fact that this -er- "Shop" doesn't seem to know basic principals of staging, lighting, design, color theory...

Albertonykus said...

I used to read these at school in first and second grade, and I concur the original drawings were so much greater in every way than what the Adventures look like now. My subscription only expired about a year ago and I got to see when it was switched to its new CGI format. Very disappointing. (And creepy looking!)

In between the original narrative with art and the new CGI comic ones it also went through a 2D comic phase, which wasn't as bad as the CGI but still doesn't live up to the charm of the original art and story.

Trish said...

^^ Thank you! I had vague memories of a comic style "Adventures of Ranger Rick" and I thought I had imagined it. You don't happen to have any scans do you?

Albertonykus said...

Unfortunately, I don't have them with me now, and won't until July, sorry. I'd be glad to scan a few when I do, however.

On a related note, I find that not just the illustrations but also the stories are of better quality in the old version. Perhaps it's just nostlagia playing up, but as I remember it in the comic versions the characters appeared to preserve less of their animal natures and were more anthropomorphic. (The main exception to this I can think of was in one issue where Ranger Rick's cousin got sick from eating human food. But then, another issue a few years later showed the whole gang enjoying sandwiches...)

Also, the stories in the comic version were commonly split up into two parts, in other words two months, even though they didn't necessarily cover more events than the original narrative stories.

Trish said...

^^ Ah, see, there's another thing I forgot to point out. Seems Rick and his friends are suffering the dreaded Anthropomorphic Shift. Why the hell does a *badger* need a sleeping bag?!?

Albertonykus said...

I found a small archive of Adventures going back from 1999 to 1994 - sans illustrations, sadly (, and it appears we're right. With a few exceptions, the characters in the original were generally less anthro. To use one example, the older stories often have Boomer Badger putting his digging skills to good use. Nothing of the sort has ever happened in the comics from what I can remember.

I may also add that this problem is more common in the newer comics than the old ones. The one that had Rick's cousin getting sick, for example, was one of the earlier comics. There was also one where Ollie Otter was trying to steal fish from a fish farm.

Albertonykus said...

I finally got around to using my new scanner.

Ranger Rick Adventures from 2001:

And the last 2D format comic from 2008:

Trish said...

^^ Awesome! Thanks, Al. Funny how that comic looks like it was made by somebody who just got Photoshop and yet it *still* looks better than the Character Shop comic.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your kind comments on my site. I try to update as often as possible with new things from the Ranger Rick we came to enjoy in the 80s and 90s.

Anonymous said...

We have two volumns of Ranger Rick magazine in an annual binder from 1975 and 1976. Are there any interest in magazines from these years?

Max Harris

Trish said...

^^ Max, if you could scan those and share them online (maybe offer to contribute them to Classic Ranger Rick), that'd be terrific!

Susan Fidler said...

Dear Trish,
Just discovered this blog today and want to tell you that I can't wait to share it with my husband, Alton Langford. He'll be so very pleased and gratified to hear that one of the children he was illustrating for was moved and influenced by his work.
As you know, freelancing can be a lonely business. There wasn't much feedback. He hoped you were out there somewhere! Thank you!
If you'd like to know more about Alton, he's just launched his website,, and though we're both technologically a mess, we do talk on the phone and type very poorly!
Warm regards,
Susan Fidler

Trish said...

Oh, thank you Susan! The website is terrific and yours is the kind of comment I treasure! Thank you so much for reading!

AdamR said...


Please check out updates to Classic Ranger Rick. I think you'll find that time is being kinder to Alton Langford and Lorin Thompson. And please visit Alton's website too...its really a treat for illustrators such as yourself.


Trish said...

Thanks, Adam. You run one of the best nostalgic websites I've ever seen. Keep up the good work!

P.S. - How about adding a "Punky Porcupine Joins the Gang" page?

Unknown said...

I read RR through the 70s and very early 80s. Lorin Thompson's work was better still.

Albertonykus said...

Old post, but it has come to my attention that Ranger Rick has gone through another stylization change starting this year. It's... it's better than the 3D graphics, at least.