James Gannon - Last year, Archaia announced the first of two volumes reprinting Marvel's 1986 Fraggle Rock comic book. After a couple delays, it's finally available in the form of Fraggle Rock Classics, Volume 1. The first four issues are collected in this soft cover graphic novel, digitally remastered, and recolored, plus with a wonderful new cover by Jake Myler. In this volume are the two original stories ("The Magic Time Machine" and "#1") as well as the first of six comic adaptions of actual television stories ( "The Monster that Could be Anything" and "The Doozer Who Wanted to Be a Fraggle"–adaptions of "Believe it or Not" and "All Work and No Play' respectively). This will be an overall review, with specific looks into the first two issues to come later.
Like I've said with my Muppet Babies back issue reviews, time wasn't too kind to the original 1980's printing technology. This sullies the artwork with blotchy colors, bleed through of red ink, and dusty black outlines. Not to mention the size of the colored ink dots and limitations of how many colors you can recreate with them. With a digital cleaning and recoloring, Marie Severin's art shines through. And what art it is. Other than a few awkward angles and small eye issues, the Fraggles, Doozers, Gorgs and Sprocket all look well drawn, allowing for puppet-like expressions from time to time. Much better than the animated series designs, anyway. Not to mention the skillfully rendered Rock itself. Beautiful backgrounds are present in each panel. And the new coloring gives it all the clarity that it didn’t even have back when it was first published. There's even a field of depth with gradations that were impossible with 1980's technology.
There are a couple little ticks, though. The color seems to have been lifted from the original comic source, leading to miscolorings (Pa Gorg's white mustache, a purple Skenfrith for example). Some of the colors are a little muted and there are a few nagging fuzzy shading and coloring dots still present, despite the thorough job cleaning the source material up. The only alterations to the comics were erasing Marvel logos on the covers (Spider-man's face on the UPC signs were replaced by The Jim Henson Company logo), and the price panel was replaced with chapter numbers. While the original comics will crumble from their thin, waxy yellow paper, these issues have been printed on a sturdy, clean white paper stock. Though the faux dust jacket cover does make it a little clumsy to read the beginning and end of the book (but then again, I'm VERY careful with the spine on these things). The book also includes profiles, though the same ones written and made for the Archaia comics. Strangely enough they include Marjorie the Trash Heap who doesn't appear in any of the comics present.
As for the comics themselves, Stan Kay did a good job with the original stories. He has the basic understanding of the Fraggle characters down. Marie Severin does a great job with the all around Fraggle look, though it seems that so far Stan and Marie aren't aware of Fraggles outside of the main five and Uncle Matt. There are some generic background Fraggles (that seem smaller than the rest of the Fraggles), but no recognizable faces like Large Marvin, Storyteller, or World's Oldest. Also, they've taken an approach that would later be adopted by the animated version, and portray Doc in Nanny-style (from the shoulders down). I wonder if that was a licensing issue or just trying to give it a more uniform look with Muppet Babies in mind. I know that Doc's face was shown in one of Archaia's own series. As for the adapted stories, I have yet to see the episodes adapted here, so I can't give a partial comic by episode comparison of what's been changed and what's been added (though it's safe to say the musical numbers aren't present). And it is a shame that Archaia didn't add any credit to the writers of those episodes as Marvel surely forgot.
Overall, while I really did enjoy reading these old comics, can't wait for the second volume, and highly recommend tracking these graphic novel reprints down, it does make me all the more appreciate Archaia's own Fraggle Rock line. While 1980's pen and ink and modern era digital paint techniques are an unfair comparison, the writing of these newer comics shows a sign of daring and fan level understanding of characters and themes. And while having the same artist and writer for a series gives a level of consistency, Archaia's motley crew of different artists and writers give a sense of exciting difference to each issue. But that doesn't mean these old Marvel treasures aren't a fun read either. And at $9.99 for a sturdy reprint as well as the luxury of not having to go mad looking for the issues at different comic stores it's just as easy for those who never seen these comics in the first place to first experience them.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org