When I was 13, I would volunteer to go grocery shopping with my Mom so that I could get a comic or two off the spinner rack. One day a bulbous-nosed cretin literally tore through the front of his own comic to get my attention. Within the pages of Ralph Snart Adventures #1 was mostly a superhero parody which was a good entry point for me as I was only reading superheroes at the time. The Marvels and DCs of the day cost $1 but RSA was a billfold-draining $1.75, making it a harder sell with my Mom. I don't think she liked that ugly mug on the cover, either.
Ralph Snart was not the typical superhero yarn, that was a one issue exception. RSA tells the tale of a mild-mannered accountant who goes crazy one day when he realizes he's not in control of his own life. He ends up in a catatonic state, wearing a straightjacket in a rubber room. His only escape from the prison of his life is in his "fantasy otherworld," a series of daydreams more real to him than reality. His life in the loony bin makes up a framing story for each issue, while the bulk of the story takes place within the dreams. In one issue Ralph might be a superhero, in another he might be a sword swinging barbarian or fighting robots in the future. But most of the stories are more mundane. In some he is going to college, forming a rock band, taking a road trip or trying to get a date. In every setting Ralph is a beer guzzling, sarcastic frat boy ogling women, engaging in fisticuffs and usually ending up beaten to a pulp like Beetle Bailey at the receiving end of a Sgt. Snorkel thrashing.
I would later learn that the #1 in my hands was actually the start of the third volume in Ralph Snart's adventure, which was a color reprint of the second volume which was a continuation of the first. I tracked down most of the back issues to complete the story, but it's not really a logical narrative; it can be read in any order. The framing story takes on a life of its own. Ralph is cured of his mental anguish and put back on the streets where he is promptly gunned down and captured by Dr. Goot, a mad scientist who uses Ralph in Frankenstein-like experiments. Soon Goot realizes that Ralph's amazing dream ability gives him a very powerful brain and he starts using Ralph's grey matter to power his schemes. At one point Ralph's brain ends up in a robotic frog that Goot uses to rob banks. Later Ralph is turned into a hulking supervillain. By issue #6 Ralph's brain has sprouted arms and legs and a face, and marches into the offices of NOW Comics demanding the series get rebooted so he can be back in his own body.
This series was very subversive for me. Ralph wasn't a hero, he didn't fight crime and the stories didn't have morals. They didn't even make much sense. He approaches every situation with his own pleasure in mind and greets every obstacle with sarcastic annoyance. Some of the dream stories begin with a timid Ralph who only breaks bad when pushed past his limit, others have him aggressive from the get-go. I suppose that was the appeal for me. I was always a rule follower, timid to a fault. Ralph had a timid side but every issue was an exercise in letting his inner self take over. It reminded me of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
, a story we had read in school, but this took it to the next level. It's Walter Mitty on crack.
During the heyday of NOW Comics, RSA was their best selling title. Yet the ride didn't last too long. NOW started having trouble paying its talent, so the story goes. Snart creator Marc Hansen left for greener pastures and RSA was handed off to scabs for a few issues before being cancelled. A couple of years later Hansen returned for a relaunch mini series followed by another ongoing before NOW folded for the second time. Several years later the rights and much of the original artwork was returned to Hansen and he relaunched Ralph Snart as a web series. He's been scanning and recoloring the old books to make the entire run available online, while also producing new issues at a snail's pace.
The post from America's Captain about characters who first appeared in the '80s and '90s and lasted 50 issues sent me down memory lane, and at some point Ralph popped into my head. I knew he didn't qualify on the second criteria, at least not in one continuous run. His longest volume, the third, ran 26 issues (24 if you discount the scab issues). However I was pleased to see, when you add up all of Hansen's issues over the years, from NOW Comics to the ones self-published under the Marc Hansen Stuff banner, over 8 volumes spanning 31 years, the most recent issue from earlier this year designated Volume 8 #4 is actually the 50th issue with another one in the pipeline. It took him a long time but he made it. I know it's a hard grind, I believe Mr. Hansen makes his living outside of the comics field these days and does this more as a hobby, but I appreciate the effort. Hansen's style has evolved and peronally I don't like it quite as much as I did when he was at his peak in the '90s but Ralph will always hold a special place in my heart.