Mangazine Super Special #1 (1991)
Story and art by Fred Perry
It's 1991. I'm a teenager in high school, and I've just managed to scrape together some cash to buy Ninja High School annuals from Antarctic Press's mail order department. After six weeks of intense anticipation, my package arrives. You can imagine my profound disappointment when I opened it to find not the comics I ordered, but a couple of random issues of Mangazine and Furrlough.1
It's sort of ironic that a shipping error wound up introducing me to one of the few comics that I'm still reading today — Fred Perry's Gold Digger.
It just struck me that the latest Gold Digger series is rapidly approaching issue #100. When you count up all the series, miniseries, specials and annuals, there have been almost 200 issues of Gold Digger published in some form or another. I figure this makes it a good time to go back and examine what makes this such a long-lived and appealing series..
Gold Digger out started as a series of three-page stories that ran in issues #11-14 of Antarctic Press's Mangazine anthology. The Mangazine Super-Special is a reprint that collects those hard-to-find stories in a single volume.
The premise is simple — archæologist Gina Diggers ("Gold Digger" to her detractors) and her sister Brittany (who is also a were-cheetah) discover that there's a time machine buried under Stonehenge, and descend into a cave to retrieve it. Unfortunately for them, the cavern is filled with goblins, trolls, and other assorted beasties — all led by Dreadwing, the fearsome dragon that was imprisoned by the time machine millenia ago! It's not giving away too much to say that Gina and Brittany find a way to turn some of the dragon's slaves to their side and destroy Dreadwing forever.2
Truth be told, this initial story is a bit of a mess, as if Fred were throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck. We've got magic and technology in the same story, an improbably-secret cavern under Stonehenge, all sorts of unexplained beasties, time travel, magic, flashbacks to a (brand new) character's mysterious past, some softcore, and a big fight pitting time travel technology vs. a dragon. We've got five characters who get introduced and developed in 24 pages — Gina, Brittany, Tark and Mesha (the elves who get rescued by our heroes), and Dreadwing. Only Gina gets any real character development, and even then she's little more than a boy-crazy nerd.
Now, some of this is undoubtedly a result of the unconventional three-pages-per-installment structure, but it's also clear that Fred didn't exactly have everything meticulously planned out when he started drawing — some installments are packed full of action, while others consist of nothing but exposition. (On the other hand, a lot more happens in 24 pages than you'd have thought possible.) At times, the whole comic feels like nothing more an excuse to draw busty women wearing Daisy Dukes and a tied-off shirt (not like there's anything inherently wrong with that).
Strangely, though, I think that's a large chunk of the series' appeal. Fred is just having fun, trying everything he can think of and working it all together, and that fun is infectious.
Artistically, there's not much to talk about here. It's not awful, but it's not good either. Here's a sample page from the third installment...
There are a few pointless tricks — for instance, the only good reason for Gina's elbow to pop out of the first panel is so that you can recognize her arm, and a better composition would have allowed everything to fit in the entire panel. The inking looks like it was done with a Rapidograph, really doesn't bring out the dimensionality of the forms, and heavier line weights are used mostly to make figures pop from the hatching in the background. The characters' feet are hideous little stumps at the end of their legs.
On the plus side, the storytelling is solid (if dull). The character designs are appealing, and there's some fun cartooning in the fourth panel. And you've got to give Fred credit for trying some ambitious shots in the third and fifth panel. There's a glimmer of his later style here, and the whole thing is packed with the sort of crude energy that gets a fifteen-year-old to stand up and take notice (see Liefeld, Rob).
In short, this is a crude comic but with a certain level of appeal nonetheless. You can see why people would be interested in reading more. Which takes us to the follow-up miniseries...
- Oh, AP did eventually send out the right comics realized their mistake, so no damage done. Those old NHS annuals weren't worth it, though.
- Or did they? Dun-dun-DUNN!