Tales of the Beanworld #18, #21
Medium: comic
Year: 1984
Writer/artist: Larry Marder
Format: 28 pages/issue
Url: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_the_Beanworld
Website category: Comics
Review date: 12 July 2021
Among my random issues of weird stuff, this is the oddest. The art suggests something for children, but for adults it's actually quite complex to process. It'll be easier for children, because they'll just enjoy the cool art and characters being weird, but Marder was taken surprised by this.
He had the idea in art school. Following the principles of conceptual art, he decided to remove the human figure and tell the story of what are practically abstract shapes. They're Beans. They live in Beanworld. A four-year-old could draw them. However, they come in assorted varieties and have complicated, interlocking life cycles that are linked to their world of Four Realities, a Bone Zone, the Hoi-Polloi Ring Herd, Der Stinkle, the Thin Lake, the Legendary Edge, the Chowdown Pool, the Proverbial Sandy Beach, etc. Every issue has a map of the known Beanworld and a somewhat mind-boggling glossary, e.g.
FLOAT FACTOR - when Twinks get near Mystery Pods, both objects transform into a new entity that floats in the air.
GRAN'MA'PA - Spiritual and culinary guardian of the Beanworld. Sole source of Sprout-Butts.
...and, what's more, each glossary is a cut-down version. It can change from issue to issue, depending on what concepts are required to understand the latest story. Marder calls this "an ecological romance ... a self-contained fairy tale about a group of beings who live in the center of their perfect world [and are] obsessed with maintaining its food chain".
Then there's the dialogue. The Pod'l'pool Cuties are baby Beans, so they'll garble their grammar and vocabulary, saying things like "now Mix Spoog steal all you chow!" and "fwying, wahoowazuma!" It makes sense in context, approximately, but it's yet another layer of alien.
Issue #18 is a goof-off day, because Mr Spook has declared that no sprout-butt will fall. The cuties join a Good Mornin' Boom, but several days later the Boom’R Band are worried to see the cuties ignoring them and playing ball. "Why cuz no one wants to do a Good Mornin' Boom with us todayolay?" "Maybe they're weary of the same ol' sameness!" "Tired of our regular routines?" "NEWNESS IS NEEDED! We need inspiration!" "Let's get look'n!"
My favourite beans are the Boom'R Band, three musicians with beehive hairdos three times as tall as their bean-bodies. (These are Boom'R Bonnets that absorb noise, for analysis in their Boom'R Brains.) Anyway, they find a new noise, work out how to reproduce it and start a new thing.
The dance looks great and it's all silly fun with a childish dumb bit on p6... but then. "It's just a hop. But it's much, much more. It's the end of infancy. A feel for the future."
There's also a back-up story ("Tales of the Goofy Jerks") in which three Goofy Service Jerks are put on trial for theft. "We'ze all can see your crooked guiltiness!" Result: they're dismembered into their component abstract parts. They lose their senses and the only part capable of thought is their hats. "Can't move. Can't hear. Can't talk. Can't see. I'm an idiot! I'm a loser! I'm all alone... I'm cut off from everyone and everything. I'm not a Goofy Service Jerk any more. I'm just a bundle of memories inside a battered ol' hat. Fear! Panic! Despair!"
They're returned to the Hatbox. They'll escape from there one day and return to Goofy Jerkdom, but it's a long, long process. To children, this might look cute and funny. The Goofy Jerks look weird. If you're an adult, though, you might see it as absolute screaming horror.
Then, at the end of the issue, we have the winning entries to the Do-It-Yourself contest #9, i.e. eight reader-submitted four-panel stories.
After that, issue #21 is an origin story: The First Time Professor Garbanzo Discovered The Four Realities. This is more mental than anything in issue #18. "Because at the end of every season you die and I go to sleep. Then everything starts all over again." That's not the plural second person, by the way. It's specifically referring to Professor Garbanzo, perhaps through reincarnation.
Even the letters pages are amazing. They're the most thoughtful letters pages I've ever seen anywhere, with all kinds of theories and hypotheses about how the Beanworld works. Some readers mention using Beanworld to teach their students at school.
In short, wow. It takes some getting used to, but at the same time its surface level is charming and accessible. I own nothing else like it. Eclipse Comics published it until they went bankrupt and since then it's been with Dark Horse. It only comes out very occasionally these days, but I think it's theoretically still going.