Growing up, I didn't read a lot of comic books. If it wasn't funny, I didn't have much interest in it, and the world of mainstream comics with it's elaborate continuity, grim superheroes and snotty comic shop employees seemed totally impenetrable to me, so I preferred to get my comics from places I was comfortable: the daily newspaper, MAD Magazine, and the "humor" section of the local chain bookstore. I still checked out the comics rack at Waldenbooks once in a while to see what was out there, when this cover caught my eye.
The first thing I noticed, even before the title, was the top of Max's ears sticking out from whatever comic was in front of it. Thinking it might be a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" tie-in (this was 1988 and I was crazy for that movie), I picked it up and my world was changed.
It was better than Roger Rabbit! The comic was full of MAD-like humor, with lots of little sight gags hidden throughout the backgrounds, but it actually told a complete, self-contained story! Over the course of 40 pages, the characters were introduced, went on a crazy adventure (with pirates, ghosts, a trip to Stuckey's and lots of fun cartoony violence) and there were even extra sidebar pages, like a board game, and arts-and-crafts page, and a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" parody.
I love character-based humor, and I'd never seen anything like this before--the closest I ever came to a long-form humor comic was when Calvin and Hobbes had a week's worth of adventures with the transmogrifier or something like that. This was much longer and much more satisfying. I hate to compare a comic book to a movie, but that's the feeling I got reading this. You didn't need any special knowledge or familiarity with the series coming into it, and it was as funny as any comedy you might see at the multiplex with the added benefit that you could go back and hunt for the background gags any time you wanted.
I memorized every page. My best friend and I quoted lines from the comic endlessly. We made up tunes to the "Sweet Manatee" and "Road Trip Blues" songs. On family vacations I begged my parents to stop at Stuckey's and always kept an eye out for souvenir laquered frog bands. I was pretty much obsessed.
I was starved for more Sam and Max, and when no new issues turned up at Waldenbooks I set out to track down the previous issue (from a different publisher, mentioned in cartoonist Steve Purcell's introduction), but it proved impossible. There was no internet to guide me and venturing into comic-book shops only turned up dead-ends. Try being a thirteen-year-old kid asking unhelpful clerks for an obscure back issue, and you'll understand why I once again felt the world of comic books wasn't for me.
Still, there's a happy ending: I had hope that at least someone was making the kind of comics I really wanted to read, I knew the perfect comic book was possible, and if I couldn't find them out there, then at least I could try making them myself. Eventually another issue of Sam & Max was released, then years later it became a Saturday morning cartoon and now Steve Purcell is a successful genius who works for Pixar. And I draw comics.
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