The 1980s was the decade of the black-and-white comic boom—and the inevitable bust. The boom was started in part by three successful self-published comics: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark. A comic-reading public that wanted something besides the same tired superhero formula or the sex-and-drugs heavy (and often misogynist) underground comics snapped them up. The black-and-white pages were cheaper to print than color, and soon new publishers with new titles were springing up like toadstools after a rainstorm.
At first it seemed as though any black-and-white comic book would sell (and at first they did), and there were some pretty bizarre but briefly successful books with titles, like Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandos or The Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos, riding on the armored coattails of Ninja Turtles, but along with the silliness came some good comics that are still with us, like Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, Max Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree, and Joshua Quagmire’s Cutey Bunny, and some good comics that unfortunately didn’t last, like Bill Messner-Loebs’s Journey, and the subject of this essay.
In the midst of the hysteria of the black-and-white boom, along came Neil the Horse, tap dancing his way into the hearts of America. (Well, mine, anyway, and enough others to keep the comic going for fifteen issues.) Five parts Donald Duck artist Carl Barks, five parts Fred Astaire, and a hundred percent Arn Saba, the banana-chomping, rubber-legged equine’s comics were a refreshing change from the dark, grim and gritty, ultraviolent mainstream comics that seemed almost de rigueur during the eighties. His Art Deco–looking characters sang and danced their way through some pretty wacky adventures: inspired by the manic adventures of Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck, along with a healthy dose of surrealism à la Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, Neil got caught in a photocopier, producing hundreds of Neil clones; he met Mr. Coffee Nerves and consumed a gallon of the stuff, with expected rubber-legged results, and he and his cigar-chomping pal, Soapy the Cat, went to Hell (not as a result of drinking all that coffee!). Read More