“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone go to the lengths that Curio & Co. have gone, and certainly no one who’s done such a thorough and well-executed job.”
Publisher: Curio & Co.
Writer: Kirstie Shepherd
Artist: Cesare Asaro
Release Date: October 2014
As you may know, Spaceman Jax and the Galactic Adventures first aired in 1961. It was successful enough to last three seasons and, though I don’t believe it’s being shown anywhere currently, it continued to enjoy some additional success through syndication. Like many other cartoons of the era, it was given the comic book treatment. Ringer Comics, like Gold Key and some other publishers, didn’t credit writers and artists on their books and there’s been some efforts to determine who worked on which stories. Publishers treated the character as the all-important selling point, and tended to regard the creators as interchangeable; consequently, many fans of the show didn’t find the comics as funny as not-always-the-most-talented people wound up working on them as they tried to break in to the business. And frankly, without Jay Bernard’s voicework as the titular hero, I always felt there was something missing from the comics, regardless of how well scripted and drawn they were.
There has been a slowly-building resurgence in interest in Spaceman Jax the past couple years. I haven’t seen any original animation cells available anywhere, but some of the production drawings used for the show have come up for sale. And since 2011, you can buy relatively inexpensive reproductions of the original Spaceman Jax space cadet pin that was sent out with original fan club memberships.
But all that is just background before I get to an actual review of the original Spaceman Jax comic I picked up recently. And all of that background is bunk.
There was no Spaceman Jax cartoon. Ringer Comics never existed. The production drawings I mentioned do exist, but as modern attempts to emulate production drawings that might have been created in the 1960s. The comic I mentioned is real, but again, it was made in 2014 but made to look like it came from decades earlier.
Curio & Co. has been creating works that they call “instant memorabilia.” That is, they’re creating works that look and feel for all the world to be a part of someone’s childhood, but couldn’t possibly be since they’re new. It’s more than just creating artifacts in a style reminiscent of old cartoons and comics; they’re exploring the notion of nostalgia and creating a world remarkably similar to our own where they can explore the hows and whys of our love for childhood totems.
Like the other works they’ve made, the Spaceman Jax comic is remarkable in its attention to detail. It’s not just a character that kind of looks like it may have been from an old Hanna-Barbera show; the style of writing and art feel like it could slip in seamlessly next to those Gold Key comics of other cartoon characters. The art seems like it’s just a scootch off-model from the cartoon (a cartoon that never existed, remember!) and the gags seem like they would work better if they were actually animated.
And the technical details are spot-on, as well. It’s hand-lettered, so there’s none of the regularity that comes with computer lettering. The coloring is bold and solid, of course, and there’s the occasional (deliberate) mis-registration, but it also looks like someone was actually cutting film to make the printing plates and was frequently less than exact. I double-checked against some of my old Gold Key comics, and they’re even using the same type of paper. The only thing that really doesn’t feel like this comic came from off the rack in the early 1960s is that the paper itself hasn’t started deterioriating yet. They have done a fantastic job replicating the look, feel, and style of those old comics based off cartoon properties.
There are a number of folks out there who have done pastiches of old comics. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone go to the lengths that Curio & Co. have gone, however, and certainly no one who’s done such a thorough and well-executed job. But by going that extra mile, it forces the reader to reflect on the nature of nostalgia and why they feel more nostalgic for some of their totems compared to others. By creating an nostalgic-laden artifact that we couldn’t possibly have nostalgia for, we’re able to examine what nostalgia really means to us here int he 21st century.