This strip began life as University2 in The Diamondback, the campus newspaper of the University of Maryland at College Park. Frank (the neurotic doctor) was a duck, and Leslie (the hypochondriac frog) was a lima bean (exactly what sort of legume he was supposed to be was a source of constant debate on campus), but Ralph the midget circus bear and Dean the male chauvinist pig (and that's pig as in boar, not pig as in boor) survived the transition from college paper to syndication. Other college-strip standbys like unauthorized lifting of characters from the other strips and blatant shots taken at the other cartoonists (which of course would make absolutely no sense taken out of context) didn't make the cut.

And then there's Brandy, the object of Frank's affection. Frank Cho's artistic treatment of this particular female form drew both high praise (for its quality) and harsh criticism, especially with the infamous scratch'n'sniff Brandy -- a full-page-length panel of the woman lying down wearing nothing but a strategically-draped bedsheet. This sort of thing also had to go with syndication, but it was fun while it lasted.

I don't know if Frank Cho has won any Harvey or Eisner awards for his work on Liberty Meadows, but he damn well deserves one. Sure, sure, plotwise it's a standard comic strip, sometimes brilliantly hilarious, sometimes Garfield-dull. That's beside the point. Cho's got game, you dig?

Just take any strip that he's drawn. Any single one - artistically speaking, there's not a bad one in the whole lot. Inspect the line. Cho's line is the equivalent of a BMW 750i. Elegance? Check. Power? In spades. Can do almost anything, get you places in supreme style? Just say when. The comic world hasn't seen an artistic talent like this one since Jeff Smith (Bone) or Mike Mignola (Hellboy). And Cho can tie two sable brushes behind his back and still whoop them in a back-alley bar brawl.

And Cho clearly loves the ladies. Or, ladies with pert noses, long manes of pureblack hair, and brick house bodies (36, 24, 36, what a winnin' hand...) but many artists over the past centuries seem to be the same way (Titian, Bougereau, etc.) so I think we can let this slide.

The most widely-read newspaper in which Liberty Meadows appeared was the Washington Post, which followed pretty naturally from it starting out at Maryland. The Post tried to axe it at several points, but dedicated LM fans protested and managed to keep it at the bottom of the third comics page.

Liberty Meadows itself is an animal treatment center of sorts. Frank is a veterinarian there, and Brandy is a therapist. Brandy also has a friend, Jen, who works at NASA Greenbelt, who is a blonde with an even more stunning figure than Brandy, if that's possible. Frank Cho himself appears in the strip as a crazed monkey -- some of the best strips actually revolve around him and the artistic process, rather than the characters themselves.

The strip also includes plenty of references to Washington-area sports, particularly the Washington Redskins. Dean the male chauvinist pig and former fraternity mascot currently in Liberty Meadows for detox, reacted quite memorably to reading the news that former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders signed with the Skins, screaming/crying "There is no God!"

Update 4 January 2002: as of 31 December 2001, Liberty Meadows has moved to comic book publication only, and will no longer be published in newspapers. Some reasons given by Cho include the pressures of daily publication and need to spend more time with his wife and upcoming newborn, as well as frustration with editors that, to paraphrase Cho, want to bring the entire comics page down to a 5-year-old's level.

I don’t believe that Liberty Meadows has won a Harvey or an Eisner award, but it did win an Ignatz Award in 1999 for the year’s best comic book for collections of the strip. The Ignatz awards are given out at the leading alternative comics show, the Small Press Expo (SPX). Frank Cho won because he served on the awards jury and he nominated himself for the award.

The ethical implications aside, that year’s awards were controversial in many respects. The Cho nomination was only part of a growing trend of more mainstream nominations in an award that was designed to distinguish alternative and small press work. How can the Ignatz claim to be alternative when mainstream crap like Gen13 and Heartthrobs get nods?

Others objected to a relative newcomer like Cho serving on the awards jury at all. Dylan Horrocks (Hicksville): "Shouldn’t it be people (on the jury) who’ve already got an established, unshakable reputation and status in the field? Hopefully, that way, we wouldn't get such absolute travesties as Liberty Meadows beating Jew of New York for best comic. That's kind of like - I dunno – Terry Pratchett beating James Joyce for a Nobel Prize for Literature or something. Unbelievable."

When confronted with the torrent of criticism, Cho brushed aside questions of ethics by claiming the lack of quality comics released that year. Then he attacked and slandered his critics:

"It was hard to find four or five quality books to nominate in some of the categories. It seems like anyone who can do thick brush lines is a hip, alternative creator. There are a lot of artists out there who can't draw worth a damn."

"(I am) a little bit offended by the mini-comics. All of these other publishers spend a ton of money to put out decent product. Then you have these college kids who do a poorly drawn mini, completed at Kinko's. You should weed out the crap like that. There are a lot of talented people. Having this amateur stuff out there makes it difficult to find the really, really nice quality of selection."

Never mind that the Ignatz was designed to recognize this kind of "amateur" work in the first place.

Putting Cho, who is clearly an idiot, aside, the strip is pretty nicely drawn. But it's not so much his skill as the lack of quality drawing on the comics page that leads to this kind of praise. It’s been a long time since the days of Hal Foster and Windsor McKay, and people go orgasmic over anyone who can draw better than Mort Walker.

Despite his skill, the strip fails to impress. Oh look, breasts. And I liked it much better when it was called Bloom County.

Quotes from The Comics Journal.

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