A hilarious comic book published from the early 1980's to the late 1990's. It gained a steady following over the years, outlasting many more popular titles while maintaining its original creative staff.

The creation of Sergio Aragones, Groo didn't see publication for years due to Sergio's refusal to surrender creative rights to a publisher. (In retrospect, this was an excellent decision.)

The character of Groo first appeared in 1981 in a special edition of Destroyer Duck published to benefit the Comic book Legal Defense Fund. Groo lasted for several issues on Pacific Comics until the company went bankrupt, then switched to Marvel's Epic imprint. After more than a hundred issues, Marvel got into financial trouble and Sergio signed on with Image Comics, dropping the Wanderer from the title in favor of a simple Groo. When Image suffered the same problems, he switched once more to Dark Horse Comics, which is currently reprinting old issues and publishing an occasional special, though the monthly serial is extinct.

As I see it, Groo's success was in its appeal to a different readership than that of the mainstream "superhero" comics. The superhero model is essentially puerile fantasy, appealing naturally to the credulous who'd like to believe that someone stronger and smarter than themselves is looking out for them. Sergio's Groo, despite its running gags and idiot-barbarian character, is a worldly satire that demands a certain level of maturity from its readers. It is most often not malice or "evil" but rather ignorance and stupidity that do people harm. The stupid but good-natured Groo causes more destruction, usually unintentionally, than the wickedest villain. The heroic Arcadio is a pompous fake. The honorable Chakaal and even the wise Sage find their work undone, not by some sadistic adversary, but by the buffoonish walking disaster that is Groo.




Creative personnel:

Sergio Aragones: The world's fastest cartoonist; creator of Groo. Sergio's tremendous wit should be obvious to anyone who's seen his cartoons in the margins of Mad Magazine, and the larger spaces available in the comic book format make his artistic talent just as obvious.

So Sergio draws everything, and he's more than clever enough to develop stories to hold a reader's attention. Why would he need a writer? Well, roughly speaking, Sergio Aragones does with the English language what his countryman Pablo Picasso did with paint. Therefore he collaborates with the more conventionally eloquent, native English speaker:

Mark Evanier. Mark, as far as I can tell, turns Sergio's ideas into workable dialogue and narration. He also handles the comic's mail page, "Groo-grams," in which he often claims to need a real job that would pay him actual money. His listed title changes from issue to issue - he has been Sergio's wrangler, realtor, and mulching consultant, among other things.

Mark occasionally appears in the plot of the comic itself as Weaver, a freelance hack writer who travels with his always-silent scribe, modeled on the comic's letterer:

Stan Sakai. The creator of Usagi Yojimbo, Sakai's work here is strictly in lettering. Sakai's presence here attests to Sergio's genius - as a highly talented cartoonist in his own right, Sakai wouldn't letter for a lesser artist.

Tom Luth: The comic's colorist. His job is not an enviable one, given Sergio's huge, detailed crowd scenes. Unless Luth has an usual amount of time on his hands, background characters usually appear in monochrome.




Some characters of note:

Groo: Dimwitted wandering warrior and (alleged) protagonist of the comic. Groo is short and fat, with massive arms and spindly legs. His stringy, shoulder-length brown hair is held back by a sort of headband. His nose is "gourd-shaped" according to the comic's other characters, though I think it more closely resembles a section of intestine. With his porcine appearance and belligerent attitude, Groo is likely to remind readers of a young Rush Limbaugh.

Groo wears a sleeveless orangish garment, sort of a jerkin-mumu hybrid, and wields a pair of katanas, which he keeps strapped to his back when not in use. At his side hang a tiny skull and a pouch of unknown purpose - it can't very well be a purse since Groo is always broke.

Groo's dual claims to fame are his superlative swordsmanship and stupidity. He thrills in battle for its own sake, rushing into a "fray" and slaying both sides with equal fervor. Though quick to anger and prone to rampant, mindless destruction, Groo doesn't hold grudges, and he won't attack unarmed opponents. He's basically a childish galoot who happens to be the most dangerous man in the world.

Some of Groo's other notable traits are an enormous fondness for cheese dip and a persistent habit of unintentionally sinking ships and destroying bridges. He often says such things as "Did I err?," "I can plainly see that" (in response to "as any fool can plainly see"), and "I am the prince of Chichester." It is very dangerous to call him a mendicant.

Rufferto: Groo’s dog, and the only regularly appearing character who actually likes Groo. Rufferto is an average-sized shorthaired mutt, orange with black spots. His snout is misshapen similarly to, but not as severely as, Groo’s nose. His tail appears to be docked, and he wears a large collar studded with priceless gems.

Before meeting Groo, Rufferto belonged to royalty (hence the collar). At first, Groo thought he’d be a tasty meal, only gradually coming to regard him as a companion. Rufferto is extremely loyal to Groo and jealous of anyone or anything that would divert Groo’s attention. He’s also much smarter than Groo, though he inexplicably considers Groo both wise and heroic.

Taranto: Wily captain of a band of bandits. Taranto has a lean face and long, pointy nose and chin; he resembles a caricature of Gerard Depardieu. He wears a Wagnerian horned helmet, one of whose horns is truncated as a result of an early encounter with Groo. One of his eyes is missing.

Taranto spends most of his time looting, pillaging, and plundering; and plotting and conspiring to do so. Groo isn't smart enough to realize this, though he often (unwittingly) foils Taranto's escapades. Taranto often tries to kill Groo, inevitably failing and later fast-talking Groo into believing they're friends.

Arcadio: The "hero" of the world Groo inhabits. When not mixed up with Groo, Arcadio spends much of his time slaying dragons and rescuing princesses, and basking in the adulation of others. An epitome of physical perfection, Arcadio resembles something from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Women swoon when they see him; everyone remarks on his exceedingly big chin (which instantly marks him as a hero, in Sergio's inexplicable logic). He wears a loincloth, boots, and various golden items, and carries an Excalibur-style broadsword.

The problem, though, is that Arcadio isn't really a hero, outside of the formal fairy-tale sense. We see him undertaking various quests and adventures, Groo following him as his "lackey," and Groo will (usually unintentionally) solve the problem at hand while Arcadio strikes heroic poses and "prepares" himself for the Herculean effort. Groo isn't bright enough to understand this, always welcoming Arcadio's offer of a job and behaving deferentially toward him.

Chakaal: Righteous warrior babe, champion of the oppressed. Tall and statuesque, Chakaal wields a huge and sinister-looking broadsword and wears a very skimpy black dress. Nearly invincible in battle, she's the only character who can match Groo's proficiency with swords. Unlike Groo, however, she's highly intelligent, with keen problem-solving skills and unshakable ethics. She will only fight to right a wrong or defend the innocent, and she posesses none of Arcadio's vanity.

Groo is madly in love with Chakaal, and is convinced she will someday marry him. He follows her around in the same manner Rufferto follows him, which arouses much jealousy in Rufferto. Left to her own devices, Chakaal might well save the world. With Groo in tow, every constructive undertaking is undone by his idiocy, and the deeds of the two great warriors essentially cancel each other out.

The Sage: A wise, gentle old man who travels widely, telling stories and dispensing epigrams for his keep. Ocassionally he'll feel ambitious and hire on as a political advisor to some town or kingdom. The Sage is small in stature and modest in appearance, with a long grey beard and hair tied back in a bun. In his travels he is accompanied by the vaguely terrierish dog Mulch, whose name was the subject of a running joke in early issues of the comic. The Sage carries a long walking staff, to whose head is attached an odd-looking piece of glassware, half-full of a liquid which may or may not be water.

Groo reveres the Sage, whom he remembers from his childhood as a kind, albeit futile mentor. (Oddly, the Sage wasn't any younger then, or at least didn't look it). Perhaps more keenly aware of the depths of Groo's stupidity than anyone else, the Sage occasionally manages to avert or ameliorate a Groo-caused disaster. Like everyone else, though, he usually tries to stay as far from Groo as possible.

The Minstrel: A festive, jolly fellow who travels from place to place with his lute, singing and entertaining the masses. He wears a yellow jester's cap and green tunic, and never speaks out of rhyme. When Arcadio is around, the Minstrel will follow him, glorifying his deeds in song.

The Minstrel doesn't appear as frequently as many readers would like - this is mainly because writing dialogue in poetic form takes up far too much of Mark's time. Astute readers will soon notice a curious fact about the Minstrel: the ornament on the head of his lute changes from frame to frame, and is never repeated.

Grooella: Groo's sister, cursed with her brother's physique and facial features, though not his mind (or lack thereof). Grooella, on the contrary, is quite cunning and ambitious, and rules a walled city as its queen. Her hair is an Afro-looking frizzy black mop - Groo destroyed her once-blond tresses when they were children, handing her a kite which he was flying in a lightning storm. She looks rather like Andrea Dworkin.

Grooella hates Groo, believing him to have ruined her life, though Groo is oblivious to this and greets her with joy and affection. As the only really vengeful and humorless major character in the comic, she resembles Dworkin in personality as well.

Captain Ahax: Not a well person. Ahax is an accomplished mariner, captain on scores of successful voyages and several disastrous ones. Those of the first sort are invariably Groo-free, while Groo always plays a role in voyages of the second class. This should not be surprising, given Groo's proclivity for sinking ships.

Ahax, who looks a bit like Gene Wilder, makes sporadic appearances in the comic. Typically we'll see him in high spirits after a long recovery from a previous encounter with Groo, preparing optimistically for a new voyage. Groo, being the focus of the comic, shows up, of course, and poor Captain Ahax's sanity deserts him once more.

Arba and Dakarba: A pair of witches who live in a gloomy stone house filled with potions and skulls and such. (Arba-Dakarba, get it?) Arba is a glamorous sorceress, and Dakarba is a wicked crone. They enjoy such witchy activities as brewing potions in cauldrons and turning people into frogs. Their efforts to manipulate Groo for gain or amusement (or both) invariably turn against them.

Pal and Drumm: Another pair of Groo-adversaries whose names form a play on words. Pal is an utterly unscrupulous con man whose Bedouin robes and sandals give him a distinctly Arab appearance. His sidekick Drumm is a hulking idiot with a shaven head and goatee; he might remind you of certain performers on the professional "wrestling" circuit. Both are armed with scimitars. Drumm, easily the stupidest character after Groo, seems to believe Pal will buy him a house eventually.

Like Arba and Dakarba, Pal and Drum often try to take advantage of Groo, with disastrous circumstances. Drumm seems to like to call Groo a "mendicant," though neither of them knows the meaning of the word. At this point, of course, Groo clobbers Drumm.




Recommendations:

If you're just looking for a sampling of Groo in convenient form, a few of the Dark Horse reprints might be your best bet, perhaps accompanied by one or more of the graphic novels that've been published over the years. However, you'll often find a large lot of original older issues on Ebay for an better price than the reprint volumes.

As for plot quality, the Image and later Marvel issues may be the best. The "Wager of the Gods" story, published in Marvel issues 96 through 99, is simply brilliant, perhaps equal to Roger Zelazny's best work.

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