Andy’s Read Pile: Gumby, 50 Shades of Clay

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IMG_5519Hey gang! It’s time for another stroll down memory lane with Andy Larson to gleam some insights into those early influences that set me down my pop culture path in life.

In previous reviews, I’ve talked about how He-man, Star Wars, and Spidey all had a profound effect on my childhood imagination, but what you might not of guessed was that a little green slab of clay also was equally important in shaping my young psyche.

Yes I’m talking about Gumby, the original stop animation powerhouse with his pony pal, Pokey, first burst on to TV screens in 1955 as a segment on the Howdy Doody show. I first was introduced to his small screen adventures thanks to a Videodisc collection of both his original shorts and some of the later ones released in the 1960s. I’m talking classic stories like The Grobee, Hidden Valley, The Racing Game, and a host of others.

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Whether it was the simple 5 to 10 minute stories or the fact that unlike cartoons, Gumby’s world looked real, as if they were actual toys that came to life from my childhood floor, I was hooked on this show. It easily became one of my go to TV shows in that part of my life, especially given my Dad would tape additional shows that would appear on WPWR Channel 60 in the Chicago area in the mid 80s.

This show continued to somewhat of an inspiration even later in my high school years as I created a regular segment for my first real Black Angus Production TV show “The Andy Larson Show entitled Gumby Dead, in which I came up with elaborate adventures which would ultimately end with Gumby’s unfortunate demise every week ala Saturday Night Live’s “Mr. Bill” sketches.

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However even when I would be finding more hilarious ways to end this little green pal from my childhood, I did so which a certain reverence for the character. In fact the reason the sketch worked in my mind was Gumby was kind and lovable that it worked in perfect contrast to the dark humor I was casting him in.

As such, Gumby has always been a character I’ve gravitated back to from time to time. Given they really don’t make shows any more, that means I’ve had to look for him in other forms of media. Luckily for me and this website, one of those forms has been comic books and as such I recently picked up a trade of the first 3 issues of the Gumby series put out by the publisher Papercutz entitled “50 Shades of Clay” (I thought that was clever).

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Anyways, this analogy of short stories written by Jeff Whitman, Ray Fawkes, Sholly Fisch, Mike Kazakhs, Eric Esquivel with art and additional writing duties by Kyle Baker, Veronica & Andy Fish, and Jolyon Yates was released in 2017 and contains 9 adventures over all nearly mirroring the old Gumby Show format with the multiple shorts. But did it capture that same magic I remember from Art Clokey’s original vision I remember from my youth? Let’s read on and find out…

 

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10 Cent Synopsis:

In a series of 9 short stories, Gumby and his pals, Pokey, Prickle, Goo, Nopey, Tara, and others have all kinds of interesting little adventures.

These include being invaded by the triangle aliens from the very first Gumby TV episode “Gumby on the Moon”, helping a model wow her audiences at a fashion show, search for a missing Goo in the middle of Paris, France, and rawk out with a group of grunge punk band members called “The Grimeys”.

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Initial Thoughts:

Alright, as a Gumby Fan, let me just start by saying this collection was an absolute delight. I mean you know you are going for that nostalgia jugular when the first story is basically a sequel to the very first Gumby adventure featuring the Blockheads bringing back the triangle shaped moon creatures to terrorize our green little pal. Of course, writer Jeff Whitman who pens the story does put on a twist on the moon creatures motives which makes for some additional clever fun.

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In fact, Mr. Whitman, who writes a third of the stories contained in this trade, definitely seems like a pretty die hard Gumby fan himself as his stories are peppered with all kinds of little Easter Eggs from all the various Gumby series’ including cameos by Farmer Glenn, Lowbelly the Dog, and an entire story all about Gumby’s Grandma. This again makes this series extra special for a long standing fan like me with so many little kisses to the past.

I can also say that this trade benefits from a pretty consistent art style. Most of the stories are drawn by Jolyon Yates who has a beautifully unique look to her interpretations of Gumby and his pals straying too far from the traditional sense of the characters. Everything seems to have very thick ink lines which tends to make the images pop off the page a bit, giving you somewhat of the illusion that these are characters rendered in 3-D just as they were on the original program.

However, I have to admit my favorite story out of all of the ones included in this trade has to be his side splitting tale by writer/artist Kyle Baker entitled “Model-y Crew” from the very first issue.  I’ve included a sample of some of the first page to illustrate just my point:

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I mean that’s hilarious stuff! The Orange is the New Black line. Pokey’s eyebrows when he mentions Maddie is a Model. And that’s just a sample!

Take my word when I say the rest of this tale is just as terrific. Everything in this little story, from the offbeat art style to the crisp dialogue, is just wonderful! If this was a full series of shorts like this, I could definitely see even Non Gumby fans finding pleasure in reading this month after month.

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Fun Facts:

Gumby and the comics medium have actually had a pretty interesting history, and it’s one I’ve somewhat followed over the years given my special love of the character.  Most of it has to do with comic book writer Bob Burden, who I’m pretty well aware of given he’s the author of one of my older brother’s favorite comic book series’ of all time, The Flaming Carrot.

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As a result, I saw copies of both the Gumby Summer Fun & Winter Fun Specials sitting around on his desk as a kid. Of course, given the subject matter in those books, although not shocking, still wasn’t appropriate for what a young kid might think of Gumby, I wasn’t really allowed to look at them. Still though I’ve always thought it was super interesting that the legendary Art Adams, whose work I just talked about a week or two ago on the New Fantastic Four, was the artist on these books, which was always cool piece of comic book trivia.

By the way, I guess there’s some sort of legal thing going on with these books though, as reprints have been pulled from shelves in recent years. Whatever. They are easy enough to get via back issues, if and when I ever get around to it.

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I can say that Bob did come back nearly two decades later and did another short stint on the Gumby character with a what I believe was a 3 issue series for Wildcard Ink Comics with artists Rick Geary and Steve Oliff back in 2006. It’s also on my eventual pull pile for a pick up by the end of this year. 

Dynamite Comics also put out a pretty nifty hardcover coffee table type book on Gumby’s creator, Art Clokey back in 2017 called Gumby Imagined.  Not so much a comic book though as an in-depth behind the scenes look at the making of the original show. Still though its episode guide alone probably gets this a second look from yours truly.

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Still at the end of the day though, when it comes to comics, my fondest memories of Gumby in this medium are still those Brachs Candy adverts they used to stick in comics when I was growing up for their Gum Dinger lollipops. Believe it or not I always wondered if this original story was continued in further advertising strips like those D&D adverts were…

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Final Grade:

Well, I think the best way to sum up this book is the fact it’s probably not for everyone.

I enjoyed it thoroughly as well as my 7 year old son, but I feel like we are the target demographic for this particular collection. Meaning, we are either life long Gumby fans basking in the nostalgia of our youth, or we are young children. If you don’t happen to be in one of those two camps, I think other than the Model-y Crew story I mentioned above which has real cross appeal, you are going to just view this as another licensed material tie in comic of which you have little to no interest.

However, I will say, that given one of the two camps listed above is young children, I do urge parents to give this book a second look as a potential gift for their young ones.

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Gumby is and always has been a excellent character for kids what with the fun, colorful stories and more real to life toy like aspect than just a traditional cartoon. I mean there’s a reason why some artists that eventually went to Pixar in the early days had came out of the Art Clokey “school” as it were, as to learn the ins and outs of effective storytelling in 3-D vs. the normal 2-D animation from a master of the craft. Sincerely, something I tell other parents all the time is if their kids like Pixar movies, they will also probably like Gumby given the chance.

Plus with the lack of a new TV show or movies featuring Gumby, these comics can be a very accessible way to introduce your child to this terrific world. I mean I will say the best way still is to just buy them a Gumby and Pokey toy, as that never fails to grab a kid’s imagination just playing those green and orange bendable figures. But, once you’ve done that, the comics can be a terrific companion piece to continue to stoke the fires of their little creative minds with new ways to play.

I mean it worked for my kids. I betcha it will work for yours!

 

 


Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B

 

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