Cool Beans

Cover to Beanworld Book 1: Wahoolazuma! © 2009 Larry Marder.

The first of two hardcovers collecting Larry Marder's Beanworld was released last week by Dark Horse [ISBN 978-1-59582-240-6]. It's called Wahoolazooma!, reprints Tales of the Beanworld #1-9, and contains 272 pages of pure delight — a couple fewer if you don't count the title page and indicia, but do count Marder's preface and Scott McCloud's introduction, held over from the first Beanworld collection in 1989.

Beanworld is a self-contained fantasy ecosystem, rich in allegory but devoid of any mundane or hackneyed parallels to "real life". It's populated largely with, well, beans, including the inquisitive Professor Garbanzo, the musical Boom'r Band, and the artistic everybean Beanish. There's also Mr. Spook, whose duty it is to protect the beans and lead the Chow Sol'jer Army through the Four Realities to steal chow from the Hoi-Polloi Ring-Herd. These seeming enemies are utterly interdependent: Gran'Ma'Pa, a giant tree that is the parent and spiritual guardian of Beanworld, drops sprouts which Mr. Spook carries down to the Hoi-Polloi during raids; it is only the Hoi-Polloi who can turn sprouts into chow, which they guard jealously but which the Sol'jers must bring back to the surface to nourish the bean population.

A dancing bean, Mr. Spook, and Professor Garbanzo, from the Beanworld wiki,
trademarks of and copyright year of illustration Larry Marder

I have that 1989 collection, plus the next two, and yet gladly plunked down $19.95 for the new hardcover (well, minus discount, plus tax). My old Book One softcover's pretty beat up, but now I have a sturdy, handsome volume with crisp white pages perfect for loaning out. What's more, Wahoolazooma! collects well into old Book Three, so I'll definitely be getting the second hardcover, reprinting #10-21, when it's released in July; since I don't have all the original issues (or old Book Four) more than half of it will be new to me — and I grin as I write that because Beanworld is one of those works of narrative art that reveals itself differently every time it's read. My only complaint about the new books is that they don't reprint the doodles, commentary, and early concept sketches from the earlier collections, but there's archival and extracurricular material up on Larry's engaging blog.

Speaking of revelations, I realize again in reading Larry's new preface and perusing text pieces in the old collections just how personal a creation Beanworld is, as well as how much I missed it. When the new Beanworld Holiday Special showed up last December, in color no less, it was a tremendously refreshing change from everything else I was reading — as its tagline has long advertised, "A Most Peculiar Comic-Book Experience". The announcement of the new Beanworld collections and the fact that they will be followed by an original hardcover graphic novel (titled Remember Here When You Are There!) was even more welcome.

The Dark Horse Presents anthology on MySpace ran an 8-page Beanworld tale last September that's still available, and using Amazon's Look Inside feature you can sample at least the first few pages of Wahoolazuma! itself. There's also an interactive version of Marder's Map of the Known Beanworld at a fan website no longer updated due to the creation of a Beanworld wiki guide — unofficial and unaffiliated with Marder, but linked from his blog — that gives you background on characters and concepts. As with many of life's finest things, however, explanation is a poor substitute for experience, especially the most peculiar comic-book experience that is Beanworld.

The splash page to the last story in Wahoolazuma!, originally published in Tales of the Beanworld #9, © 1988 Larry Marder.

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