Thrift Store Finds: Beavis & Butthead #11 (Marvel Comics)

Happy Almost Thanksgiving, everyone! This week, we’re looking at Beavis & Butthead #11, published by Marvel Comics in 1994.

B&B Cover

Cover price was $1.95, I paid a quarter. This book was published under the Marvel Humor banner, which later morphed into Marvel Absurd.

Although The Simpsons gets the lion’s share of credit for the reemergence of animation in prime time television during the 1990’s, it’s important not to underestimate the contributions of MTV during this time. MTV’s Liquid Television was a shining beacon of adult-level animated entertainment. It was also a proving ground for many future prime time animated efforts like Aeon Flux (good), The Brothers Grunt (awful), and most popularly, the dim-witted duo Beavis and Butthead. B&B were an unstoppable, omnipresent juggernaut during most of the 1990’s, with their long-running cartoon, the much-hyped big-budget movie, and the plethora of licensed materials for sale in stores.

For those who do not remember the concept, Beavis and Butthead are two incorrigible teenage idiots who are motivated by hormones, television, and food… in that order, pretty much. The animated series divided time equally between the boys’ stupid adventures and time spent killing brain cells in front of the TV watching music videos, in a wonderful “bite the hand that feeds them” stroke of comedy, on MTV itself. The Marvel Comics follows much in the same mold.

This comic is divided into three Thanksgiving themed-stories all written by Guy Maxtone-Graham, one of the original writers for the Beavis & Butthead cartoon (animation nerds are likely more familiar with Guy’s older brother Ian Maxtone-Graham, a longtime writer and producer on The Simpsons). It’s important to note how risque the humor is in Maxtone-Graham’s script – it’s a far cry from what Marvel’s superhero writers were allowed to get away with in the 1990’s.

The first story deal with the undynamic duo trying to join the “Messy’s” Thanksgiving Day Parade.

B&B1

You’ll notice that B&B are sporting their “Skull” and “Death Rock” tee shirts rather than their more traditional AC-DC and Metallica togs. Getting them into real band tees would have created a lot of headaches I’m sure no one wanted to deal with. This was the usual approach to licensed merch featuring the characters.

Rick Parker handles art chores on this issue; he was sort of a go-to guy for humorous Marvel stuff during this period in the company’s history and a very capable cartoonist. Parker does an admirable job of recreating Mike Judge’s style in this issue, which seems to involve re-drawing the same three B&B poses, again and again.

I’ve always been of the opinion that one of the big appeals of Beavis & Butthead was that it looked as though it was a cartoon that came to life from the doodles in the back some stoner’s math notebook. Parker follows Judge’s lead with not only our protagonists but the extended cast.

B&B2

I found the scene with soon-to-be spin off star Daria Morgandorffer particularly interesting with how close it hit to Judge’s original take on that character which was a lot more passive than she would later become.

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Parker also excels at throwing in all those little extra MAD Magazine “eye-popper” gags in his pages. Take this scene, for instance which not only has a bunch of funny Mexican food names in the background, but also a cameo appearance from late night talk show host and unabashed Beavis & Butthead fan David Letterman. There are a bunch more of these in my scans if you care to look for them, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg.

B&B4

Maxtone-Graham’s second story involves Beavis & Butthead being invited to Thanksgiving dinner at their “friend” Stewart’s house. The main thrust of this section of the book is a retelling of the first Thanksgiving through Beavis & Butthead’s moronic intellectual prism.

B&B5

The third story, the weakest of the bunch, find B&B visiting a fashion show at the local mall and somehow getting sucked into the show. This one had the most tenuous connection to Thanksgiving and featured quite a lot of repetition in Parker’s pencils – he seriously traced the same two model figure about six times over the course of a seven page story.

B&B6

By far my favorite part of this funnybook is not the main stories. It’s the section where the comic takes on the “Beavis and Butthead watch music videos” aspect that made the cartoon so very popular. What they’ve done here is really quite inventive – instead of having B&B look at music videos, they are instead reading and giving their dim-witted critique of Marvel Comics themselves. Superhero comic artists Steve Epting and Tom Palmer provide a page worth of original Avengers artwork featuring The Black Widow and Crystal of The Inhumans.

B&B7

The mid-1990’s were a particularly moribund creative period when the main goal of The Avengers seemed to be aping The X-Men as much as possible. This is a clever way to ape an aspect of the show uniquely through the comics medium and I really dug the idea. The juxtaposition of Parker’s loosey-goosey style and the tighter pencils from Epting is humorous in and of itself.

If I have to nitpick, I want to say this: I hate Parker’s approach to the word balloons in the main stories. Or, at the very least, I think those word balloons work very well for Beavis and Butthead’s stupid dialog, but it was a mistake to extend the same style to every character that speaks in the comic. It gives them all a trembly, weird quality that doesn’t work for me. Just one man’s opinion, however.

Marvel Comics published 28 issues of Beavis and Butthead. Not a bad run for a series like this one, especially in doldrums that defined the comic book industry of the 1990’s. Marvel always had a good track record with licensed properties, going back to the 1970’s and B&B is no exception to that legacy. It helps that, despite the adult nature of the humor used on the show, the Beavis & Butthead concept and characters were surprisingly well-suited to comics. I don’t know that this is next on my list of books to collect but I will be making a point of snagging them whenever I find ’em in discount bins.

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