Bookshelf: Welcome Back, Kotter #7 (Comic)

Welcome Back, Kotter #7
First Published November 1977
Published by DC Comics Inc.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Welcome Back, Kotter. I reviewed two of the tie-in novels last year (#2 – The Sweathog Newshawks and #5 – The Sweathog Sit-In). But until recently I didn’t know there was a comic book adaptation of the ABC sitcom. I picked up issue #7 a month or two ago and finally had time to sit down and read it earlier today. It wasn’t that good, unfortunately. A total of 10 issues were published by DC Comics between November of 1976 and April of 1978, each labeled “A DC TV Comic.” According to the indicia, the title was published monthly except for April, June, August, October and February, which is more than a little odd. An annual subscription cost $3.

Issue #7 consists of just one story titled “Camp Waterloo Or, A Remedial Summer Vacation.” The story opens with Gabe and Julie Kotter arriving at Camp Waterloo in the Catskills during summer break. They’re shocked to discover Principal Woodman there as well. It turns out Gabe is director, Woodman assistant director and Julie camp cook. The Sweathogs — Vinnie Barbarino, Arnold Horshack, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington and Juan Epstein — are the camp’s new junior counselors. Woodman couldn’t be less happy. Within minutes of their arrival the Sweathogs are already getting into trouble: Gabe is knocked out and falls into a canoe heading across the lake to the girls’ camp.

Welcome Back, Kotter #7 Front
Welcome Back, Kotter #7 Front – Copyright 1976 DC Comics Inc.

Not surprisingly, the Sweathogs all volunteer to go after Gabe but the remaining canoe only fits two. Vinnie announces that he and Juan will rescue Gabe while Horshack runs off to rescue his pet skunk Raquel from the trunk of the Sweathog’s car. Vinnie and Juan soon encounter two girls in their own canoe and Vinnie breaks the cardinal rule of canoeing: never stand up. He promptly stands up and needs to be rescued himself (neither Vinnie nor Juan can swim). One of the girls dives in to save Vinnie, which he finds humiliating.

The girls challenge Gabe and the counselors to a game of softball, which Gabe accepts. Vinnie hopes to prove he’s not a turkey by knocking the socks of the broad who saved him. Instead, the girls beat the boys (plus Julie) in a close game, 7-6. Vinnie, horrified, walks off the field but is stopped by the broad, who introduces herself as Margie Drake. The two shake hands and then the campers arrive. It’s going to be a long summer.

The story isn’t all that great (I left out two minor subplots involving a bear and Gabe repeatedly having things fall or hit his foot) and neither is the artwork. As you can see from the cover the characters are recognizable but only just. Vinnie especially seems generic. So does Julie, who doesn’t look anything like the lovely Marcia Strassman. At the end of the issue is a letters page titled “Sweat Hog Scratchings!” featuring reader responses to the fourth and fifth issues. Most of the letters are positive. One is from the mother of David and Ernie who explains that she enjoyed the comic even more than her sons. Another congratulates the creative team for “a truly humerous [sic] comic book.” And two others note that earlier issues have done a great job matching the tone of the television series.

One letter, however, criticizes the fifth issue for being “the pits,” explaining that the third and fourth issues were great but the fifth was “all goofy, all too typical and unbelievable comedy stuff” and didn’t include an uncle joke. Bob Toomey, who wrote the comic, replied with the start of an uncle joke but ran out of space before he could finish. The final story page of the comic reported that the next issue would be on sale during the second week of September. Because comics were published two or three months before the cover date, this issue probaby came out in August of 1977.

Given the popularity that Welcome Back, Kotter enjoyed during its first few seasons on the air it isn’t surprising that a comic book tie-in was attempted. Still, the humor of the show relied heavily on facial expressions, vocal inflection and other things that don’t translate well into the pages of a comic book. Or, for that matter, the printed page. Neither of the tie-in novels I’ve read were all that great. How can you reproduce Freddie’s famous deep “Hi there.” or Vinnie’s lovable idiocy? You can’t.

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4 Replies to “Bookshelf: Welcome Back, Kotter #7 (Comic)”

  1. Very few adaptations of popular TV series outside their original source have been successful or able to emulate the original. “WELCOME BACK KOTTER” was no exception.

    Still, the cover certainly looks better than a dreadful alternative: what if ABC [and programmer Fred Silverman] had insisted on a SATURDAY MORNING ANIMATED VERSION of the series? I can see it now- cheesy animation by Filmation or some other “fly-by-night” animated studio, complete with laugh track {Silverman LOVED adding those to his Saturday morning cartoons}; the addition of a couple of kids and animals [Vinnie Barbarino’s “sexy” niece, Juan’s brothers and sisters, Horshack’s talking pet koala?], virtually the entire cast providing their own voices, with John Stephenson filling in for John Sylvester White as “Woodman”, likewise Jane Webb as “Julie” (and virtually ALL female and kid voices), and all kinds of “weird” storylines, featuring the inevitable one where “Horshack the Scientist” accidentally mixes a youth serum that temporarily changes Gabe Kotter into a teenager again!!! Wouldn’t you have loved to see “KOTTER AND THE SWEATHOGS”, ‘RGJ’??? Hmmmm?

  2. I used to have that issue and I can also tell you that after running out of space for the Uncle joke in the letters column in Issue #7, the letters column for Issue #8 totally dispensed with letters in favor of a gigantic two column Uncle Joke!

    Issue #8 just has to be read to be believed. Mr. Kotter is kidnapped by spies who mistake him for a lookalike master spy named Lipshitz and the Sweathogs must get him free from captivity!

  3. Barry, without Marcia Strassman’s involvement, any animated Kotter show wouldn’t have been worth watching!

    ejp, interesting tidbits about issue #8. I wonder if any of the issues took place at the high school or whether the writer(s) decided to play outside the show’s comfort zone inside the pages of a comic book. Without a budget they could take Kotter and the Sweathogs anywhere. Just think, Arnold Horshack on the Moon.

  4. Oh I agree about the tie in books (I was able to read two of them on, 10-4 Sweathogs and The Sweathog Trail). It’s hard to capture the essence of TV or movies characters when you don’t have the actors’ inflections and reactions. They end up a bit too chatty in book form. On the up side, they had good lessons you could actually picture being in an episode.

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