The Groo Garden


By Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier & Stan Sakai (Epic/Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78510-026-3

Both in comic narrative and the infinitely trickier field of gag-cartooning Sergio Aragonés has produced uncountable volumes of excellent work. His darkly skewed sensibilities and death-grip on the cosmically absurd, wedded to a totally unique drawing style and frankly terrifying professional discipline have made his (usually) silent doodles a vibrant proof of the maxims that laughter is universal and a picture is worth a thousand words.

After working for years for Mad Magazine and DC’s horror titles on gag features and the occasional full comic strip in 1981, with writer and associate Mark Evanier, Aragonés produced a madcap four-page parody of the Sword-and-Sorcery genre as a contribution to the Creators Rights benefit comicbook Destroyer Duck published by Eclipse Comics.

Following a second outing in Mike Grell’s Starslayer (#5) Pacific Comics launched Groo the Wanderer in his own title. After 8 issues (December 1982-April 1984) the troubled company folded but the unsinkable barbarian (that’s a joke I’ll explain later) resurfaced in the Groo Special one-shot from Eclipse (October 1984), before finding a home at Epic Comics: Archie Goodwin’s creator-owned corner of the Marvel Universe.

Aragonés had first created his witless warrior in the 1970s but no publisher would take on the property unless he sold all rights – an almost universal situation in the industry until the advent of the Direct Sales market transferred power from companies and distributors to creators and consumers.

The character is arguably the most successful creator-owned property of the American comic-book market, and this seventh volume (of 27 thus far) collects issues #25-28 (March-May 1987) from the Epic incarnation, with the itinerant idiot fully established in a capacious and vast feudal landscape of wizards, warriors, wild women and weird beasts. With a burgeoning supporting cast, Aragonés and his co-conspirators have plenty of wonky, misshapen leg-room to experiment with narrative and visual merry-making…

For the slow of mind however let me recapitulate:

Groo is the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest unluckiest mercenary in the world – but he’s also the best swordsman in creation and far too stupid to be harmed. He is always hungry and wanders because most places he pause in burn down, wash away or crash into rubble soon after he arrives. He loves to fight and entire nations and navies reel at the mention of his name. Of course they do the same when they stand downwind of him too…

The volume opens with ‘Divide and Conquer’ as the unemployable oaf has something similar to an idea and quite effectively foments unrest between relatively peaceful kingdoms in the hope that somebody will hire him to quell the unrest – with the usual catastrophic results, whilst two sinister sorceresses who really should know better are forced to employ the him again in ‘Arba Dakarba’, shrinking the wandering warrior to the size of his own intellect to steal a wishing amulet.

‘Spies’ places Groo in the background as The Sage and The Minstrel are captured by an army and accused of espionage. To forestall their executions the pair entertain the Commanding General with stories of the worst soldier in existence, but unlike Scheherazade, no tale of Groo can ever have a happy – or safe – ending. Then this chronicle concludes with ‘The Gourmet Kings!’ as the ever-ravenous reaving rover’s always empty stomach leads him to gainful employment and chef-stealing. Naturally the whole affair leads to an excess of chopping, slicing and dicing all around…

Marvelously cynical, wildly witty and stunningly silly Groo is the comic that people who hate comics read: brilliantly tongue-in-cheek, sharply sarcastic and devastatingly self-deprecating. An irresistible humour tour-de-force astoundingly scribed and illustrated by jesters who don’t know when – or how – to stop. New readers can start practically anywhere – and still be none the wiser…

The unstoppable brain-donor (Groo, not Aragones or even wordsmith Evanier, letterer Stan Sakai or colourist Tom Luth) has since rambled on to shut down Image Comics and now threatens to finish off Dark Horse, but as they haven’t completely gone belly-up yet there’s still plenty of material for you to track down…
© 1987, 1994 Sergio Aragonés. All Rights Reserved.