I'll always remember the vice-fighting cartoon heroes of my late-20th-century childhood: Fireman Gus, Detective MacGruff, Smokey the Bear, Officer Jeff... wait, Officer Jeff was actually a chain-smoking DARE officer who drove an impounded car. Anyway, the idea that the seeds for crime are planted at a young age has led to generations of kid-friendly public service announcements.
Meet Gangbuster, a superhero protecting kids from gang influence. The comic was introduced to great acclaim in 1986, then fell off the radar in the '90s. In 2007, creator Dick Kulpa released an updated version for use in his hometown of Boynton Beach.
Kulpa grew up in the '60s poring over Marvel comics and later became an alderman of Loves Park, Illinois, appearing in full spandex as "Alder-man." A lot has changed since then.
"Nowadays, comics are either violent or expensive," says Kulpa. "They're tailored to fanboys. Mainstream kids are not fanboys." Kulpa's intent with Gangbuster was to reach as many kids as possible. Even though the eight-page pamphlet doesn't contain much violence, he thinks its appeal to kids is timeless. "Superheros mean good, in their capes and tights," he says, although he adds that "nowadays some people might think they're kinda gay."
While he was creating advertising comics in the mid-'80s, Kulpa got the idea for Gangbuster when a kid threw a rock through his office window.
Kulpa's work took on a political tint. He says some municipalities were reluctant to distribute Gangbuster because they didn't want to admit they had a gang problem. "Our country can be stupid," he says. "It was a little premature in some people's minds. They didn't react to it."
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Kulpa moved to South Florida two years after creating Gangbuster to take a job as art director at Weekly World News, a quasisatirical supermarket tabloid whose bright, chunky visual style inspired a slew of imitators (and a few alternative weeklies).
"The biggest problem I had with Gangbuster was that everybody wanted it for free," Kulpa says.