Thursday, December 10, 2009

120. Tucker Truckin'

Welcome back to Thrillpowered Thursday! This week, a little change of pace, as the Hipster Daughter shows off Tharg's impressive little promotional gimmick this year, a 48-page minicomic that was given away to the crowds at the San Diego Comic-Con this summer, and mailed out for free to subscribers of the Galaxy's Greatest. My buddy "Proudhuff" was good enough to send me a copy for my collection, and I thought I would share it with you. It's a real shame that Rebellion had given away the full print run at SDCC; I had inquired whether there were any promotional giveaways available for the GMX panel I did in Nashville a couple of months ago and I think a couple of dozen of these would have been great for that crowd!

The comic features eight strips from a host of 2000 AD's better-known talents, from older classics to some of the newer series. It's a really nice introduction to Tharg's world, featuring a one-off Judge Dredd ("Finger of Suspicion" by John Wagner and Cam Kennedy), a classic Future Shock by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and "Reefer Madness" by Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving, along with the first episodes of the Dredd classic "Judge Death" by Wagner and Brian Bolland, Kingdom by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson, Zombo by Al Ewing and Henry Flint, and the Slaine epic "The Horned God" by Pat Mills and Simon Bisley.

Each episode ends with a teeny blurb explaining where readers can go next to follow the story or the creators, and while the small size may not be ideal for the artwork - Bisley's in particular suffers - it's a terrific little promo. The last time something like this was tried, it was DC's US-comic-sized freebie, which most comic shops (at least in the Atlanta area) didn't bother to order, since retailers had to pay for them, and they got burned when the similar giveaway Humanoids comic didn't net any new sales for shops. (More about this when we come to that graphic novel line in a future installment!)

I've been saying for years that 2000 AD should participate in the annual Free Comic Book Day which Diamond sponsors each summer. A little reprint of this, with the booth information replaced by a suggestion to ask retailers to order graphic novels and get more of the story, would be a truly great thing indeed. Then again, Rebellion is quite tight-lipped about the business end of the comic, and for all I know, something even better is in the works. Fingers crossed anyway!

One problem about Rebellion's business that we do know about is that they're forced to work with a deeply inept distributor called Diamond to get their product into American comic shops and, earlier in the year, Diamond elected to cancel quite a few already-solicited books in a cost-cutting measure. Among those impacted: the second volume of Ace Trucking Company, a demented, wild comedy by John Wagner, Alan Grant and the late Massimo Belardinelli which originally ran for five years in the eighties. Fortunately, the collection is available through British bookstores and eBay sellers, and from the 2000 AD online shop, so I eventually landed a copy and was very pleased to reread these lunatic adventures.

Ace Trucking is a barely-profitable shipping company run by a motormouth called Ace Garp, who's just one dirty get-rich quick scheme away from either the big time or a very long prison sentence. In fact, he starts this book in jail, a couple of years after he and his crew were put away at the end of the first collected edition. It's set in a very weird future where few humans can be found. This gave Belardinelli the chance to design a completely alien environment and huge casts full of freaky, comical aliens, strange architecture, bizarre spaceships powering through asteroid belts and gangly-limbed space pirates whose T-shirts smoke pipes.

Belardinelli drew all but two of the sixty-odd episodes reprinted in this mammoth book. While he was recuperating from an illness, an anonymous member of the Giolitti art agency, who represented him in England, stepped in for him. Otherwise, this book is all him, and you've not had the pleasure of enjoying Belardinelli before, you should really rectify that. Almost every page looks like he was really having a ball designing this series, and just laughing himself silly with the in-jokes and weird aliens eating each other. Admittedly, towards the end it gets a little dry. The final epic serial in the book was clearly one where the writers were running out of ideas, and Belardinelli wasn't finding very much inspiration as our heroes endlessly searched across the planet Hollywood and through one parody after another in search of some treasure. Before it started its downhill slide, though, Ace Trucking really was something great.

So the entire series is available in two omnibus editions. Obviously, the first is the more consistent of the two, but the second is still full of essential moments, including Ace's recurring enemy Evil Blood, parallel universes, chicken gangsters, labor unrest, sacred worms, porcine royalty, cargo holds full of space fertilizer and contraband beetles which, when ingested, blow your mind so far out that your eyeballs play table tennis against each other. It also contains the strip's spectacular farewell epilogue, in which Ace learns just how unnecessary he actually is to his company's fortunes. You won't find this book at an American comic shop, but I highly recommend that you track down a copy from England.

Next time, we resume the reread in 2003, with the return of Slaine! See you in seven!

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