Lou Brooks’ Banana Bob, “Boy Inventor of Harding High”

« Pretty soon, they had me working at the stat machine and the PhotoTypositor, or touching up stripper photos for the Trocadero Burlesk ads. Mostly putting some underwear on them. I may as well have been Vincent Van Gogh, for all I knew. I was in heaven. » — Brooks recalls his formative years

At first blush, I’ve immensely admired cartoonist-illustrator-historian (and so on) Lou Brooks (1944-2021) and his assured line. An ever-eager autodidact, Brooks handily achieved a feat that sets the mind a-reeling: soaking up ‘low’ illustration styles and the essence of faceless pictorial ephemera (think comic book ads, matchbooks, bar coaster and napkin art…), Brooks miraculously derived, from this primeval soup, his unique style, paradoxically bland (by design!) yet instantly recognizable.

One of Brooks’ earliest jobs in the badlands of professional cartooning was a strip he produced for Scholastic‘s Bananas (1975-84), a skewing-slightly-older companion to the publisher’s big hit Dynamite (1974-92). Banana Bob, “Boy Inventor of Harding High” exploited the time-honoured gizmo formula hatched in 1912 by Rube Goldberg with the twist that here, the doodads were contrived by readers and given visual interpretation by Brooks. Banana Bob ran for the mag’s first twenty-nine issues.

With the early strips, Brooks was still fine-tuning the works. With a dozen or so under his belt, he hit his stride. This one’s from Bananas no. 12.
From Bananas no. 13. Foo! There’s our pal, Bill Holman’s Spooky the cat (though he’s lost his bandage)!
From Bananas no. 16.
From Bananas no. 18.
From Bananas no. 19. And add a dash or two of Bill Holman… Brooks knew his stuff, all right.
From Bananas no. 20.
From Bananas no. 21. I see shades of a Jay Lynch influence!
From Bananas no. 24.
From Bananas no. 25.

From Bananas no. 26.
From Bananas no. 27.
From Bananas no. 28.
… and the series’ full-page finale, from Bananas no. 29, aka the 1979 Bananas Yearbook.

Though Brooks had already developed his trademark style — as evidenced for other illustrations he did for Bananas — he didn’t fully employ it on the Banana Bob strip. If memory serves, here’s where I first encountered a full-fledged Lou Brooks wallop, and I suspect I’m not alone in this (our younger readers are likelier to have first come across his exemplary revamp of the old Monopoly game):

For the feature’s duration — a decade or so — Brooks logos ushered readers into Playboy’s comic strip section (created in 1976 by hip new hire Skip Williamson) that featured over the years such heavyweights as Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch, Bobby London, Frank Thorne, Chris Browne

Here’s another, er, pair:

… and speaking of Mr. Spiegelman, here’s a collaboration between titans. It appeared in the January, 1980 issue of Playboy.

Of course, there’s so much more to Lou Brooks than one could conceivably cover within a mere blog post. To that end, we have a handy little biopic entitled A Guy Named Lou — filmed entirely in Illustr-O-Vision!

Brooks was an assiduous chronicler of the history of reprographics — don’t miss his jaw-dropping Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. While he did a bit of everything to keep himself amused and occupied, he never lost sight of his vocation, of his one true love — I mean, he was in a band (with Bill Plympton!), but it was called Ben Day and the Zipatones!

-RG

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