I remember the comic book store like it was yesterday, I just can’t remember its name or if it even had a name to begin with. It was in Gettysburg and it was nowhere near the Gettysburg of today. The year was 1987, there was no Walmart, or Starbucks, or Outlets. Then, Gettysburg was just a sleepy little town known for its antique stores and oh, 25 square miles of battlefields. This comic book store was located on the second story of an antique shop, and to even use the term “store” would be a gross overstatement. But we’ll just call it a store for lack of a better term.
From what I remember, the store was very spacious as it took up half of the second story of the antique shop that housed it. The area was open and the staircase that lead up to it was dead center of the room. A cherry colored banister wrapped around the opening in the floor and lining the banister were simple folding tables lined with dozens and dozens of long boxes, all filled to the brim with bagged (and sometimes boarded) comic books. Against the walls was the same setup, just a ton of comics. This was a great place to call “my first comic store”, but it also set the bar high. Sadly, I only went to this store once.
In 1987 I wasn’t a collector, I was a reader. For most of my life that is what I would call myself, a reader. I never cared what a book was worth or what it could be worth down the road. I was a person who would comb through Quarter or Fifty-Cent boxes for hours looking for things that would only interest me. Up until the moment I stopped buying comics, I was that guy. And on this trip to the unknown comic store I found a comic that changed the comic book world for me.
Space Beaver. Yes, the name can be a bit humorous and conjure images of cutesy mirth and…um…well…lets just say the opposite of cutesy and leave it at that.
Space Beaver was a small independent science fiction comic book that stars a cast of anthropomorphic animal characters. Published by Ten Buck Comics in October of 1986, Space Beaver was the first published work of famed comic book artist Darick Robertson. Inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the slew of copy-cat comics that followed, Robertson began his career at the age of 17. Now, Robertson is know for the breakout hits Transmetropolitan with Warren Ellis, The Boys with Garth Ennis, and the soon to be a TV series Happy! with Grant Morrison. His career has been varied and constant and it all began with a “Funny Animal Book”.
In an earlier post I discussed how “Funny Animal Books” could be very NOT FUNNY when I honored veterans with my look back at Mirage Comic’s GRUNTS. Space Beaver is another comic in the anthropomorphic world of animals that blends the genre with violence and hard hitting subject matter. Either its the image of the Porcupine bounty hunter / mercenary Stinger using his quills to rip the face off someone or the touching loss of Rodent’s friend due to drugs (which in the ’80s was a hot button subject). Before books like this one, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Usagi Yojimbo my only real exposer to anthropomorphic animal comics was Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew from DC, Scrooge McDuck, and other cartoon to comic adaptions. So seeing adult situations placed onto the shoulders of cute and fuzzy critters was very profound to me.
The story of Space Beaver seems like exactly the thing you would expect from a 17 year old boy in 1986. Space Beaver -or Beave to his friends- is a rich kid living the happy-go-lucky party life with his friends. One day his best friend Mikey is killed by drug dealers, this drives Beave and Mikey’s father Tog (a war veteran and family friend) on a crash course of revenge against the drug dealers and the intergalactic mob boss at the top of the food chain, Lord Pork. Their crusade almost takes a Robin Hood level of notoriety as Lord Pork’s reach becomes larger and more oppressive throughout the galaxy.
In a botched assassination against Beave, Lord Pork’s private military used explosives to try and kill Space Beaver. In the aftermath of the explosion it is believed that Beave’s girlfriend Jackie died when in reality she was kidnapped at the last minute by Pork’s men. Lord Pork had her brainwashed into his personal “plaything” as a way to act out some sort of revenge on Beave. Thinking her dead for most of the series, Jackie’s death is yet another reason for Space Beaver and his small band of rebels to take Pork down.
Along the way Beave and Tog welcome Rodent to their small team. Rodent was a down on his luck runaway that was raised by an abusive father who blamed Rodent for his mother’s death during childbirth. Living on the streets, Rodent met other runaways that suffered sad fates. Succumbing to depression from the lives lost on the streets, Rodent’s friend turned to drugs and died of an overdose. After that Rodent began to get his life together and got a job as a bus boy at a local comedy club (funny nod to Bobcat Goldthwait performing at the club, so ’80s). One evening Beaver and Tog raided the club to kill some of Pork’s dealers and Rodent saw his new lot in life and joined along with the cause.
Later on in this very small series, Beaver finds an unlikely ally in the form of the porcupine mercenary Stinger. Once under the employ of Lord Pork, Stinger was a mercenary and killer that sold his skills to the highest bidder. Even though he was a harden assassin, Stinger still had a set of morals and a code he followed. Quickly Stinger discovered that Lord Pork was a tyrant that had no codes or morals to speak of and after one too many times of showing Pork up, Lord Pork put a price on Stinger’s head. After surviving a bomb placed on his space ship, Stinger tracks Beave down and offers to help him and also reveals Jackie’s fate of being Lord Pork’s slave. Space Beaver and Stinger forge an uneasy truce to bring Lord Pork down, but in the end its Pork’s own men that deliver the killing blow. The universe is saved, Beave is reunited with his true love, and the heroes live to fight another day. A happy ending, 11 issues and 14 years in the making.
11 issues. All of these emotional (to a pre-teen at least) and strong building blocks of world building all took place over 11 issues. It’s funny to think about that now because there are some series’ that last for far longer and say so much less. It probably is a lot less deep than I’m giving it credit for but for me in 1987 it meant so much. The series was cancelled in 1989 and ended with a cliffhanger. It would take 11 years for the ending the comic deserved to finally get resolved.
In 2000 Darick Robertson was approached by publisher Larry Young to put the saga of Space Beaver into two graphic novels. The only catch was that Robertson needed to end the story. In the final chapter of the second graphic novel he wrote and drew 24 new pages, ending the story. As I said it was a happy ending, just what the book deserved.
[NOTE: Unearth Arcana is a series of posts that uncover parts of my magical dorky past. I have taken the name from the awesome Dungeons and Dragons role playing book of the same name.]