I once went round to Roger Langridge’s apartment in Chelsea, London. Lovely fellow, Roger. You can tell how long ago this is, because Roger had a large VHS collection, stuff taped off the telly, and meticulously filed along his built-in bookshelves. And every label on every video had been carefully, fastidiously, lettered. As if it were on a comic book page that really mattered. Roger holds attention to detail. And his style is so smooth, so bouncy, that one is tempted to whizz through it, bounce from panel to panel. So Roger writes un-skimmable material, his language, his cadence, his gags and puns stop you in your tracks and hold you to the subject. He is possibly one of the finest living cartoonists and comic book artists.
And he’s writing and drawing The Muppet Show.
And it’s amazing.
Now, I liked The Muppet Show, a strange puppet programme intended for the US audience but filmed in the UK, leading to a very odd mixture of guests, A List Americans prepared to travel and whichever Brits were hanging around Soho that day. So you have Steve Martin, George Burns and Alice Cooper – but also Bruce Forsyth, Spike Milligan and Chris Langham. And it’s that exact tone that Roger has captured here, without resorting to the bad jokes that often let down the original show. Roger’s gags are up there with Steven Wright, Tommy Cooper and Milton Jones. Fast, snappy, funny and thrown away as we bounce to the next one.
It’s a shame that the series hasn’t been able to use real guest stars, and as Kermit and Scooter whizz through some altered-name possibilities, they settle on a fictitious psychic pig, Madame Rhonda. I wanted Simon Pegg, damn you. I bet he’d have said yes.
But of course that would have had a different plot, and this expose on the tricks and schemes behind a famour TV psychic provide a backbone for the show and,… hang on, is that an apearance by the Talking Houses? Who remembers the Talking Houses apart from… well, Roger. Down to rewatching all those taped-off-the-telly videos I expect.
But I love that this comic goes to the heart of the original show. No external shooting, no trips into space, no reprisals of Dickens’ novels, this is The Muppet Show, boosted by modern sensibilities and stylistic tricks, and I’m loving every panel, the line of Kermit’s mouth, the anger in Miss Piggy’s face and the wonderful to-camera piece by Uncle Sam bemoaning the supernatural. This is ridiculously good and too many people won’t pick it up because they may believe it’s beneath them. It’s not. This is up there with Acme Novelty Library and Robert Crumb in the way it makes the comic book it’s natural medium.
I was mistaken about the lack of bizarre British guests by the way. While about seven Americans will get the gag, and the book isn’t distributed in Britain due to licensing issues, there is a reference to the fine surreal comedy stylings of Vic Reeves Big Night Out and Reeves’ assistant Les. Who make up a significant section of that video collection I expect. So, to foster cross-Atlantic understanding and to aid people who may have slightly less esoteric influences. here’s a clip of the panel in question, an Amazon link and a YouTube clip (about 3 minutes 20 seconds in.)
This is quite possibly the finest book out this week. And I guarantee it will have better pig jokes than any of the five Wolverine comic books also out.