Beavis and Butt-Head Do Marvel: An Oral History of the MTV Duo’s Comic Book
In the mid-1990s, Beavis and Butt-Head were everywhere. In addition to their hit show on MTV, there was their 1996 movie, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. They were also on T-shirts and the covers of magazines like Rolling Stone. Along with all that, there was a Marvel comic that ran for 28 issues from 1994 to 1996.
Much like the show, the Beavis and Butt-Head comic followed the idiotic adventures of the duo doing things like going to the dentist, playing football and visiting Amish country. There were also activity pages, and in place of their commentary on music videos, the comic book featured pages where Beavis and Butt-Head made fun of other Marvel comic books. For instance:
But while the comic book starred the characters that Mike Judge created and featured his distinctive art style, the Beavis and Butt-Head comics had nearly nothing to do with him. Instead, they were primarily written and drawn by Marvel staffers, which might explain why, according to them, Judge never liked the Beavis and Butt-Head comics. The feelings went both ways though, as nearly no one at Marvel was particularly excited about making this comic book either — at least at first.
They did eventually embrace the series, especially when its blockbuster sales pissed off the Marvel higher-ups, since one of their top-selling comics of 1994 wasn’t about superheroes, but about two juvenile morons who loved to talk about boobs. Here, then, is the story of how Beavis and Butt-Head turned off the TV, got off the couch and found themselves smack-dab in the middle of a (comic) book.
* * * * *
Mike Lackey, writer on the Beavis and Butt-Head comic book: In the mid-1990s, Marvel was in a licensing frenzy with a lot of the Viacom properties. They were having tremendous success with Ren & Stimpy, and they wanted to expand that brand. Beavis and Butt-Head was huge, so it was a natural licensing deal.
My friend Glenn Herdling was the editor for the licensing group, and he called me up and said, “Mike, we’ve known each other since the third grade. We’ve got to do this book together because you and I are Beavis and Butt-Head.” I said yes, but the problem was, I hated Beavis and Butt-Head. I didn’t think they were funny. And how do you make a comic book about two characters that don’t do anything?
Glenn Herdling, editor and writer on the Beavis and Butt-Head comic book: I wasn’t a fan of Beavis and Butt-Head either. Eventually, I became an avid watcher of the show, and I really got the humor. But I wasn’t very excited at first.
Rick Parker, artist of the Beavis and Butt-Head comic book: I’d been a letterer at Marvel for years, and I also drew cartoons in the Bullpen Bulletin in the back of the comics. So this was a big opportunity for me. I knew nearly nothing about Beavis and Butt-Head when I was offered this, but it turned out to be a dream come true for me. I was influenced by Mad Magazine artists like Will Elder, who had a lot of sight gags and other things going on in the background, so this was really in my wheelhouse.
When we were working on the first issue, Glenn, Mike and I went to the MTV headquarters. We all sat at this big table waiting for Mike Judge to arrive. When he came in, he didn’t say anything. He just sat down and a producer who was running the meeting had us all introduce ourselves. Then he turned it to Mike Judge and asked, “Mike, what do you think?” Then Mike Judge broke into his Beavis voice and said, “That would be cool!” It was a great way to break the ice.
He didn’t talk a lot during that meeting, but after it was over, he came over and looked at my samples and said he liked my artwork, which was very nice.
Lackey: I remember that meeting. It was a licensing meeting with several companies, and Mike Judge had much more interest in the Beavis and Butt-Head toys from Burger King than he did in this comic book.
Herdling: The first issue was a blast to put together. Mike Lackey came up with this story about Beavis and Butt-Head going to a market that sold yams, and yams ended up being a running joke throughout the whole run.
Lackey: I was getting closer and closer to my deadline for Issue #1, and I had nothing. Then Glenn recommended that I do what I used to do when we were out drinking — I’d scribble a cartoon on napkins and stuff. So I did these free-form drawings that I handed off to Rick. That was the script.
We had to jump through a few hoops to get this approved. Everyone at Marvel was worried because it was all this stuff about butts and farts. We had to send the script to MTV and the finished pages. We also had to submit the finished book to the Comics Code, which was the regulatory body to make sure comics were family-friendly. The problem was, even the title of the book couldn’t be approved.
Herdling: When we sent the first issue to the Comics Code for approval, there was something on every single page that they objected to. Eventually, Marvel decided not to get it approved, but to label the book “Code Approvable” — nobody knew what the hell that meant.
Lackey: The first issue was a monster hit, selling 565,000 copies. It outsold X-Men that month and ended up as the second biggest comic of the year, much to the chagrin of the Marvel executive staff. Still, they had a hit on their hands so they had Rick and I go on this tour of comic-book stores along the East Coast and a few in California. We called it the “Butt Tour.”
Some of these comic shops had 500 people in line. The first person at the first signing came up to me and said, “You’re Mike Judge, right?” I said “No, I’m Mike Lackey, I wrote the comic.” Then they just walked away. This happened again and again. Finally, after a half dozen people asked me if I was Mike Judge, I just said, “Yes, I’m Mike Judge,” and I signed their comic for them.
We were getting royalties off the book, which I think was something Viacom hadn’t anticipated. So after the first issue, they embarked on a campaign to get me fired, which finally happened after Issue #5.
Don London, writer on the Beavis and Butt-Head comic book and TV series: I don’t know what they’re talking about. I never got any royalties from this.
Herdling: MTV didn’t want to use Marvel writers. They had their own writers they were trying to keep busy, and they kept pressuring us to use them. Eventually, I had to let go of Mike, which I wasn’t happy about.
They gave us a bunch of their writers. But let’s face it, when you’re working with people who are also on the cartoon, what are you going to get? You’re going to get the ideas that they pitched to the cartoon and the cartoon rejected. One of them even admitted to me that that’s what they were doing. We were getting their leftovers, and the book wasn’t quite as much fun anymore.
Parker: The first issue did really well. I thought that meant they’d keep doing better and better, but a lot of people only want the first issue of a comic. And so, Issue #2 sold about 400,000 copies, and it slowly declined after that. But it did really well for the first 20 issues, and I had a lot of fun with it. My favorite issue was Issue #23, written by Glenn Herdling. That was when Beavis and Butt-Head went to Intercourse, Pennsylvania and stayed with an Amish family — it made me laugh out loud.
London: I did one issue about the Model U.N. that was a lot of fun. The central joke was basically that they thought it was going to be about models.
Herdling: The Christmas issue was my favorite. I still remember having Butt-Head on the cover saying, “My Chestnuts are roasting.” After Issue #20 I was moved back over to the marketing division at Marvel, and the book ended a few months later with Issue #28. It just kinda ran its course.
Parker: I was surprised when it ended. Nothing good lasts forever, I guess. Unfortunately, a few years later, an actor friend of mine met Mike Judge and told him that he knew me. Mike Judge couldn’t quite recall the name, so my friend explained that I drew the comic. Then Mike Judge said, “Oh, I never liked the comic book.” So Mike Judge is the only person that I heard from who didn’t like the comic book. Maybe it wasn't his pure vision of Beavis and Butt-Head, I don’t know. But hey, I certainly had fun with it.