BHOC: WELCOME BACK, KOTTER #1

This next comic book I know was bought for my brother Ken, as there is no way I would have purchased a comic book based on a television comedy–that’s simply not what I was reading comic books for. But WELCOME BACK KOTTER was a hot show at the time, one that my family watched often if not religiously, and so I suppose that the book appealed to him. In typical fashion, it eventually ended up with me.

DC had a long history of publishing licensed comedy comic books–it hadn’t been so long since Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis had their own long-running DC series. So I would guess that the decision to do KOTTER stemmed from attempting to recapture that same magic. The 1970s was a decade of a lot of strife in the slowly-dying comic book field, and everybody was looking for something new that would be a breakout hit and point the way to the future. 

This issue featured some nice cartooning by Jack Sparling and Bob Oksner. Oksner was the king of this sort of strip, as well as being a hell of a good artist and girlie cartoonist in his own right. Between the two, they nail the likenesses of the assorted KOTTER actors consistently, and there’s some fun and charm to teh work, for all that it occasionally verges on becoming too stiff. 

The story is nice but not especially memorable, par for the course with many a licensed book. Having a bad morning in his Brooklyn home, Social Studies teacher Gabe Kotter learns that his transfer to a new school on the east side of Manhattan has been approved, assuming that he can pass a physical exam. But when his students the unruly Sweathogs get a look at the acceptance letter, all they see is the need for a physical and assume that Kotter is sick.

After a few mistaken impression shenanigans, Kotter comes clean to the kids, and reveals that he’s only really thinking about relocating so that his wife Julie can live in a nicer place than Brooklyn. (This was the 1970s, after all–today, Kotter’s neighborhood would be real estate in excellent demand.) The Sweathogs spring into action, trying to convince Julie not to go. Ultimately, she’s not especially interested in leaving, and she clues the Hogs in to the one person who might be able to convince Gabe to stay.

That man is Mister Peevy, Kotter’s own Social Studies teacher when he was a student at James Buchanan High School and the founder of the Sweathogs. Peevy pays Kotter a visit, reminding him of his own High School hijinx and how the older teacher had put up with Kotter’s pranks and mentored him. He gets Gabe to see once again how important his presence is to his new crop of Sweathogs, and how much his predecessor had helped and inspired him.

And so, of course, Kotter tears up his acceptance letter in front of the Social Studies class and elects to stay. A happy ending, if one that you could have assumed would go that was from the first page. But it was nicely told, and while scripter Elliot S! Maggin couldn’t quite capture the delivery of Gabe Kaplan and the other actors, he did craft enjoyable dialogue and a solid plot. It’s not in any way a world-changing comic book, but it’s a fine twenty minutes’ worth of entertainment in the week between television episodes. Sadly, KOTTER wasn’t the miracle hit that DC was hoping for, and it ended its run in only a couple of issues.

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