This comic changed my life. Groo The Wanderer #5, published by the Epic imprint by Marvel Comics. It’s cover date is July 1985.
I distinctly remember buying this. Or rather, I remember my mother buying it for me. It was at the now long gone Walden Books at the Hot Springs Mall. There was a spinner rack and my mother told me I could buy one comic book. No other books stood out to me. Spider-Man was battling Toads and Frogs on his book. Wolverine was threatening to skewer a young child on the cover of Uncanny X-Men. Superman was super pissed at the Red Tornado for some reason. And that was the month that Secret Wars II was unleashed on an unsuspecting (and undeserving) public.
But for some damn odd reason, out of all those superheroes, this goofy looking guy with a big nose really stood out for me.
Now, I wasn’t a full blown comic book guy at that point. I had read a few I’m sure. I knew the main cast of characters scattered throughout the big two (Marvel and DC), though I probably only knew them from the many cartoons of the era. But I hadn’t been bitten by the bug yet. They were funny books. Picture books. Colorful drawings that held my attention and nothing more. And honestly, like most kids, I was probably chiding my mother to buy me something for the sake of not walking out of the store empty handed. Kids, they like to have new things constantly. So there wasn’t an overbearing desire to have this particular book…I just wanted something. It was a book store. And comics were shiny!
But again…why this book? I’ll never know. The cover isn’t exactly striking. Some guys are walking down a path and some other guys are ready to attack. It’s not particularly colorful. Mostly shades of green, brown, and purple. But for some reason, this was the one I picked. On that night sometime in May or June of 1985 I remember being in a store and getting a comic book.
Why do I remember these insignificant things?
*looks around geek room*
Well, maybe it wasn’t so insignificant.
I read this book so many damn times it fell apart. Literally. My original copy of Groo #5 was extremely ragged and torn by the time I was an teenager from the multitude of times I read and re-read it. I got me hooked. And not just on the character of Groo, but on comics in general. I kept coming back to the spinner rack and trying out other things based on the thrill I got out of this one lone comic book. I flirted around with the superhero stuff too, but that was just a passing interest to me. Groo was IT! (of course, eventually that changed when I stumbled onto a little comic called Excalibur #3, but that’s a story for another time)
Groo was originally conceived by Sergio Aragones in the 1970’s as a parody of sorts on the rising popularity of barbarian type comics like Kull and Conan. Aragones didn’t commit to any publishing of Groo adventures during that period due to the lack of creator rights. That very issue drove Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber, and other comic pros of the era to file suit with comic publishers in the early 1980’s. To help pay for the legal defense, a shortly lived comic series called Destroyer Duck was independently published. The book was a collection of short stories by many popular creators, one of which was Sergio Aragones. This was the book that debuted Groo the Wanderer.
After that, Groo jumped from one independent company to another before finally finding a home with the newly formed Epic Comics imprint at Marvel. The imprint allowed the creators to retain control of their creations. Groo flourished at Marvel for 120 issues. During that time the book was never late. Never off schedule. Sergio was accompanied by writer and Jack Kirby biographer Mark Evanier as well as colorist Tom Luth and letterer Stan Sakai. These four were a team on nearly every single issue of Groo since it’s first published issue back in 1982. It’s a running streak in the comics field that, unfortunately, goes largely unnoticed. Well, at least unspoken of.
Groo was a mindless warrior who wandered to and fro throughout the unspecified lands of early unspecified history. He loved cheese dip, he frequently err’d, he sank boats by merely setting foot upon them, and he loved a fray. He was later accompanied by his faithful dog Rufferto, whom he once tried to eat. He is feared across the land and does not abide being called a mendicant.
If you have not read Groo before I highly recommend you go to amazon and search out some of the trade paperbacks collections, some of which you will find at a reasonable price.
This one issue sparked a love and fiery passion for comic books that has, so far, not gone away. It’s highly ranked on my as yet unwritten top favorite comics of all time. Who knows, if I ever write that list this one may very well be the number one.
(Oh. And I have this comic on my wall signed on the cover by Mark Evanier and signed inside on the front page by Sergio Aragones with a tiny sketch of Groo next to it. It’s one of my prized possessions. Huge thanks to my friend Joseph for making that happen!)