A few short weeks ago a picture appeared on Howie Noel’s Facebook page…
It may just look like a Mead Composition notebook because that’s exactly what it is. But seeing this picture… my eyes lit up. I smiled. Why? Because one of my favorite indie books was finally coming back for a sequel that was long ago promised and vastly overdue. Mr. Scootles Saves The World – coming 2018.
Mr. Scootles has been a favorite of mine ever since discovering the book at a Wizard World Philadelphia many years ago. It was one of my first comic conventions working for Newsarama and I was mainly there to cover panels. In-between I walked the convention floor and wasn’t too sure on what else I was going to write about. I decided that I’d grab some comic issues I was missing and then look at independent comics. I went from table to table looking for books, buying a few here and there, when I finally came upon Howie Noel and Mr. Scootles.
The book had a very interesting concept which may sound a bit weird at first. Noel explained to me that the book was about two college students who end up discovering a film canister. Inside is a reel of film with a Mr. Scootles cartoon. Mr. Scootles was a cartoon from the 1930’s who was seemingly forgotten about after his creator committed suicide. When the two open up the film canister the whole world flips upside down. On Earth the duo (Jason and Kelly) start dealing with some crazy paranormal events at their school while the actual cartoon character Mr. Scootles comes to life but is plunged to the depths of hell.
I was sold from the start. I purchased the book and went on my way. When I finally left the convention center and hopped the train back to Jersey I opened up my large bag to read some of the books I had purchased. I dug through them and pulled Mr. Scootles out first. The book I had purchased was a collection of the first two issues and as I was read through them I was pretty in awe. It was such a weird and delightful concept. I really imagined it as some arthouse film except it would be way too expensive….having to animate a cartoon character in hell. But the book had that feel – like you reading a feature film on the printed page. To say I fell in love with Mr. Scootles was an understatement. I went home and wrote up an article featuring three of the independent books I found at Wizard World. The article no longer exists so I couldn’t tell you what the other two books were but Mr. Scootles made such an impact that I’ll never forget when and where I found it.
I truly enjoyed writing about the comic and telling everyone I knew about this quirky phenomenal book that I had discovered. I had set next to Howie at SPX a few years later when he relayed what had been happening to the book and the character. Mr. Scootles had landed publisher Open Book Press who would repackage the first three issues of Scootles together, publish more issues, and possibly more mini-series. New owners took over Open Book and seemed to think that printing-on-demand was the way to go for their publishing house. Copies of Mr. Scootles were being sold without Noel’s permission and he wasn’t making a cent on the copies that were being sold. I had written up an article on what happened having sifted through many different e-mails sent back and forth between Noel and the publisher along with the contracts. While the article at Newsarama no longer exists the articles at The Beat do, which pulled quotes from that article. Noel had said on the process, “By signing with Open Book Press, I lost a year of creating, marketing and self-publishing my series, Mr. Scootles. The new owners have informed me of the lack of bookkeeping, actual publishing, and marketing that the prior owner(s) were guilty of. They show no records of sales for Mr. Scootles, however I know several copies have sold and yet I have not made one cent from these sales. Hell, I even ordered one myself.”
I had asked the publisher if they had wanted to comment on the story to which they declined. An advance copy of the article was not made available to them. When the article suddenly got a fair amount of media attention the publisher came forth acting like he had not been contacted for comment on the article (he had) and that he had done nothing wrong. That he was being stonewalled. Publisher Mike Gagnon has said, “(The article)contains several false statements regarding copyright infringement of the character and sales of the series occurring after Mr. Noel and I ceased to do business.At no time have I or anyone currently or formerly involved with Open Book Press ever been involved in any type of copyright infringement action or treated Mr. Noel unprofessionally. On several occasions I have explained to Mr. Noel that stock sold by Amazon was ordered and fulfilled prior to the termination of our contract, and that issues 2 and 3 of Mr. Scootles were never printed, let alone sold by any means.”. Gagnon went on to claim that records and royalty statements were sent but never produced evidence that they were sent (or received). Mr. Scootles #1 from Open Book’s Smash! Comics was the only book that was printed and further issues were never produced.
Noel would continue self-publishing Mr. Scootles as he wrapped up the series and, once completed, the book would land at Alterna Comics. Alterna would release the trade paperback in 2008 to a bit of acclaim. On the back cover resides a quote of mine from my Newsarama days letting the world known that Mr. Scootles is “damn good.” I stand by that statement. The book had gone from self-published to bootlegs to finally being produced for an audience by an established comic company.
But all the controversy and hardship that Noel went through in bringing this series to life may had been too much for him. Mr. Scootles is touted as a forgotten 1930’s cartoon character but it seemed that, now that the series was completed, the character had been forgotten again by his actual creator. Noel would launch the very successful webcomic Tara Normal which he would then also move to printed issues and trade paperbacks. As Tara Normal continued in many forms over the years Mr. Scootles was never seen again. Nearly ten years have since passed.
As for the book itself it is a true testament to originality. I once called Mr. Scootles “Roger Rabbit on acid” – it is a term that actually does the book justice. It seems that when the character Jason finds the film canister containing the Mr. Scootles cartoon he had no clue that the canister was supposed to land in the hands of Professor Sentalanqua – a teacher at his school. The canister and film inside it has a storied past and, because of that past, Sentalanqua planned to open a gateway to hell. Losing the canister means his plans may go awry so he moves quickly to make sure everything can still go off without a hitch.
When Jason and his friend Kelly open the canister and watch the cartoon they unknowingly send the character Mr. Scootles to hell. Lost and confused the character starts to explore the hellish world he has fallen into while seemingly being “alive” for the first time. He meets a woman named the Gatekeeper who clues him on his creator, the misfortunes that befell the man, and how his actions led to Mr. Scootles horrible fate.
The book goes back and forth between the humans on Earth and the cartoon character in hell. On Earth there is murder, deceit, and body possession as the Professor moves to retrieve the canister. In hell Scootles circumvents a land that will consistently try to torture him. The actions in hell even lead to angels in the heavens to take notice as this cartoon character’s release into hell could lead to a war between hell and the Earth. It is a lot of responsibility that befalls upon Scootles.
Mr. Scootles never disappointed me. Each issue that came out was just so unique and I never really knew where the next issue would lead me. It made me sad when the series ended and while the story itself did wrap up quite nicely the ending very much hints at a sequel that could also be extraordinarily interesting. But as the years went on I was fairly certain that a Scootles sequel would never see the light of day. I’m glad to see that I was wrong.
These days you can pick up the series for 8 bucks from Amazon and if you enjoy digital comics it is set a super reasonable 5 bucks over on ComiXology. When Noel announced the return of Mr. Scootles I immediately sat down with my trade paperback and reread the book. I damn happy that it still reads so great after all these years. It excites me that, after all these years, new fans may come to find the book and original fans will finally get the sequel we were promised so many years ago.
If you are on ComiXology you should seriously spend the 5 bucks and snag this first volume. You’ll be damn happy that you did.