Jovial Bee Tee Dee: Blips! Revisited
First published in 1983, Blips! claims to be “The first book of video game funnies”, and while I can’t say with any certainty that this book contains the first comics about video games ever drawn, it definitely does contain the first comics about video games that I ever drew. Don’t misunderstand me here – I did not become a published cartoonist in 1983 at the age of four. Blips! was written by Jovial Bob Stine, (A.K.A. R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series of horror stories for children) and illustrated by Bryan Hendrix. And yet, while looking through one of my sketchbooks from elementary school, I came across this:
Which is extremely similar to this cartoon from the pages of Blips!:
Well, what can I tell you? Fledgling rock bands have to spend a few years butchering “Helter Skelter” before they know enough to bang out their own tunes, and I, as a literally snot-nosed wannabe cartoonist, cut my teeth covering strips from Blips!
I had completely forgotten about Blips! and my days of joke thievery until just recently, when my parents unearthed a box full of artwork that contained the above plagiarism, and it inspired me to track down my source material. I found a used copy of Blips! on Amazon and prepared myself for some disappointment! Sure, I loved the book when I was a kid, but what could a 32 year-old possibly get from a silly-ass joke book for kids? I’m a sophisticated adult who reads Metafilter every day!
If nothing else, the fact that this book was published in 1983 seemed like a red flag. This was right around the time of The Great Game Industry Crash, a time when gaming seemed like a waning fad. I was worried that this book was going to wind up being a nerdier version of Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, and yet Blips! was actually a lot of fun to revisit. It’s extremely silly, but it’s also very creative and appropriately playful. Sure, many cartoons in the book lean heavily on the ol’ “kids are cuckoo for video games!” gag, but then there’s stuff like this:
It seems pretty straightforward, right? Stine may have been the first, but he’s hardly the only yukster to ever concoct wacky imaginary games. But consider the context! After all, one of the foremost reasons for the crash of 1983 was 1982’s glut of crappy games based on bizarre concepts. In all honesty, I have a feeling Stine was going for pure silliness, but this could be seen as a satire of the gaming industry circa 1983!
Blips! also contains a section with some helpful hints on repairing and maintaining your “home video game”. Because I was a stupid little kid when I first read Blips!, this section had me convinced that game cartridges actually contained tiny physical versions of the game’s graphical elements. What a dumbass!
Another clever section is presented as a video game within a book, complete with buttons printed at the bottom of each page. It’s a cute gag, and well-illustrated (note the scan-lines!).
Well, there you have it: The book that launched a zillion webcomics! I mean, talk about seminal! If it weren’t for Blips!, there’d be no PAX East this weekend, right? On the other hand, I suppose it’s possible that doing a comic about video games was a fairly natural idea, particularly after video games became more of a mainstream pastime. But hey, for what it’s worth, I was certainly influenced!