As anyone who has looked at upcoming film attractions or walked down a toy aisle has realized, franchises from the 1980’s are hotter than ever right now. The children of the Reagan era are the adults of today, often with their own children (or younger relatives) to introduce to the characters and toys of their youth. There were entire universes of collectible toys during that time, and one of the weirdest (and thus most memorable) were “Madballs”. Inspired by the gross out parody humor of popular trading card/sticker franchises such as “Wacky Packages” (which began in 1967) and “Garbage Pail Kids” (made to parody the “Cabbage Patch Kids” dolls of the time), “Madballs” combined both elements in 1985 to create an entire cast of toy rubber balls with their own grossed out characteristics. With names ranging from “Screamin’ Meemie”, “Horn Head” or “Bash Brain”, they became instantly memorable to kids (especially boys) and it was hard finding a household without one. They saw two lines of general “Madballs” toys, two direct to video animated episodes produced by Nelvana, a video game, and even a brief line of comic books published by Star Comics (an imprint of Marvel Comics which specialized in “kids comics”) from 1986-1988.
However, the tenacious Madballs weren’t finished, merely taking a rest. According to Comics Alliance, a line of designer “Madballs” toys are being produced by Mondo this year, with apparel by Jeremy Scott. And to this end, Lion Forge Comics’ own kid-friendly imprint, Roar Comics, are set to return the “Madballs” to their own comic book series for readers of all ages! Debuting this Wednesday (April 20) and joining a line which includes comics based on “Saved by the Bell” and “Punky Brewster”, “Madballs #1” offers some fast paced and bizarre humor to the young, or the young at heart!
Each issue will offer a serialized ongoing story by Brad McGinty (“Adventure Time”) and Brian Smith (“Stuff of Legend”) as well as “done in one” back up strips by a variety of cutting edged artists. The main story by McGinty and Smith, “Bizarro Bowl Part One”, sees the Madballs split into two teams lead by “Screamin’ Meemie” and “Horn Head” and compete in a qualifying sports match to see which of them will represent planet Orb in the aforementioned intergalactic game. A strange mix of football and pinball, the Madballs make a mess of things and thanks to some sabotage, neither of the teams end up qualifying for the big game (at least for the moment). Next is “Night of the Purple Putty Cat” by Scarecrowoven which sees all of the Madballs crash to Earth and form a composite monster, which terrorizes the local populace. Lastly is “Ye Olde-Tymer’s Game” by Dan Zettwoch which sees the Madballs travel through time and meet their counterparts “the Orbs of Civility” in a game of “Basest-Ball” which proves rougher than they expected.
The first thing which is apparent is the art. All of the artists have their own distinct style, and all of them manage to make the weird Madballs designs work for them in a variety of ways. Brian Smith in particular seemed to be able to channel some of the weird illustrative style of Al Jaffee, one of Mad Magazine’s most iconic artists. His Madballs are closest to a “house style” (if it was possible for the Madballs to have a “house style”) with endless attention to detail and a lot of delightfully gross images. All three stories are quite simple, with humor which is very on the nose and appealing to younger readers who are into some gross stuff (such as in early elementary school). Scarecrowoven manages to create an amazingly detailed “composite Madballs monster” who features all of the individual Madballs within its form yet exists as its own spooky creature. Perhaps the strongest strip is Dan Zettwoch’s, whose time travel tale offers a neat twist and a brisk but simple cautionary tale about appearances being deceiving. His illustrative style is arguably less detailed than Smith’s or Scarecrowovens on the surface, but his page layouts are amazing. The humor and dialogue throughout the comic may play best towards seven year olds or those looking for a nostalgic good time, yet the art (and seeing how the Madballs themselves are used for stories) are the issue’s chief draw for most older readers. Scarecrowoven’s “composite Madballs monster” simply has to be seen to be believed, and easily overshadows anything else within the strip itself (including the punchline, which is still cute). McGinty and Smith prove to be a great choice to tackle a main storyline featuring a group of bizarre sentient balls; much like with Pixar’s “Cars”, it is best not to think about how planet Orb has any sort of structures or technology if everyone there are balls with no limbs and to simply enjoy the ride.
Anyone who collected the toys in the 80’s will find one of their old favorites here once again. Offering youthful gags and some surprisingly innovative and detailed artwork completely apart from the norm by three innovative illustrators. Priced at $2.99, it features covers drawn by all three artists and promises a sample of the madcap fun to come. The “Madballs” are back, and anyone looking for a weirdly nostalgic trip down memory lane should grab it up this coming Wednesday!