Bongo Comics, Celebrating 20 Years

Founded in 1993 to publish comics based on The Simpsons, Bongo Comics celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year at this past San Diego Comic Con. On hand to talk about their success were Bongo’s Creative Director Nathan Kane, as well as Terry Delegeane, writer Ian Boothby. and Bill Morrison. Joining them was Chip Duffy, who oversees the Sponge Bob Comics through United Plankton Pictures, to check in with everybody’s favorite damp yellow rectangle. Bongo’s current roster of titles has expanded to include the Simpsons books, Futurama, Sponge Bob Squarepants, Sergio Aragone’s Funnies and Mylo Xyloto. Bongo is a fascinating company. Outside of MAD Magazine, no other publisher is employing such a wide variety of talents. Cartoonists as varied as Jill Thompson, Geoff Darrow, and Gary Gianni have all had a go at either Simpsons or Sponge Bob.

There is no telling who or what could show up between the pages of a Bongo book, and we learned about a few upcoming surprises at the panel. As one of the first panels on the first day, the mood was brisk and jovial. The crowd was more of a small throng, mixed with the young and the old. Bill Morrison started out to announce that, based on the success of the Simpsons online comics and iphone./mobile app, Futurama was going to get the same mobile treatment. Bill was not sure of the launch date, nor was he certain on whether the content would be new or reprints. “So you have no information?” joked Nathan Kane. “There’s going to be an Ap.” Bill retorted.
A slideshow presented images from past and present Simpsons titles, including a Mad Magazine parody issue, and a 3D title featuring the Simpson’s Professor Frink. We were shown pages from a Gail Simone penned Mr. Burns story, which featured the bald baddie up to some nefarious skulduggery. Free Mr. Burns masks on sticks were available at the Con from the Bongo booth, making the evil Nuclear baron a common sight. We got a preview of this year’s upcoming Simpsons’ Tree House of Horrors book. Always a highlight, this anthology of will feature a Cthulhu story written by Len Wein with art by Dan “Nocturnals” Brereton, a rocket car tale from Bongo stalwart Tone Rodriguez and a ten page story from Doug Moench where the free beer festival Homer has been lured to might just be a murderous haunted house. Playful banter and energy was the predominant flavor amongst the panelists. A fan asked whether past, cancelled titles could ever make it back to publication. Al joked that they have no marketing strategy, and that they publish whatever, whenever.
A Simpsons Colossal Compendium was announced, a new yearly numbered Omnibus style reprint book which will feature the best of the best from main Simpsons’ titles, anthologies, seasonal specials and one-shots. Chip Duffy was then given the floor to fill all in on all things Sponge Bob. Chip showed off some pages from the incredibly talented Jacob Chabot, one of the regular artists working for Bongo. Jacob is the genius behind Dark Horse’s Mighty Skullboy Army, and is a talent worthy of MUCH wider recognition.
We saw pages from an upcoming story where Mermaid Man, Bikini Bottom’s Aquaman proxy, must do battle with a new, Namor-esque Sea King. Chip explained how they reached out to Jerry Ordway for the character design, directing him to draw a cross between Rod Stewart and DC’s Killjoy. All in attendance got to see Jerry’s designs, which had a very “Zardoz” feel. Chip announced they’d be seeing new pages from Michael T. Gilbert, Scott Roberts and more! Chip also showed off a spread from a story where Mr. Krabs fulfills a lifelong dream of becoming money, illustrated by The Dan O’Neill. Who?
One of the first, true underground comics was a parody of Mickey Mouse entitled Air Pirate Funnies. The book was fun, dirty and smart, and actually a brilliant challenge to the longstanding copyright laws as they existed. Needless to say, Dan and pals were sued almost out of human existence by Disney.
But, years later, Bongo let him draw some Sponge Bob. THAT is why Bongo stands tall amongst publishers. Safe material with risky voices, unpredictable, but always inspired, Bongo may be one of the biggest names in “Kid Friendly,” but they will thrill and surprise anybody who loves the art of comics.

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