Welcome Back, Kotter #1 (1976)

Welcome Back, Kotter #1 (November, 1976)

“So Long, Kotter!”
Writer – Elliot S! Maggin
Artists – Jack Sparling & Bob Oskner
Editor – Joe Orlando
Cover Price: $0.30

Taking a brief break from the horror and Halloween books.  Long story short… I had some free time this afternoon, and in an attempt to organize my comics library… sorta-kinda made a bigger mess than I was expecting.  I was going to don some scuba equipment and a headlamp to see if I could perhaps locate the Halloween book I wanted to cover today… buuuut, in the end that just didn’t seem like a good use of my time.  I was going to upload a picture of the library’s current state of disarray, but if I’m being honest… it would’ve been kind of embarrassing to do so.

Never fear, however… I did have a few books lying in wait to be discussed here at the humble blog… among them this explosion era DC-TV gem Welcome Back, Kotter #1.  While I cannot say that I was around during this show’s initial run (it ended as I started), I do have fond memories of it from my childhood.  I catch it in reruns every now and again… I think it’s on MeTV.  Sadly, I always seem to catch ones from the final season where John Travolta and the man himself, Gabe Kaplan are not present.  One of these days I’ll remember to DVR it… and enjoy some fun mid-70’s TV.

We’ll get back to the horror books within the next couple of days.

It’s morning in America… and the Kotters’ Brooklyn apartment.  The neighborhood has a fine amount of… flavor.  Wrecking balls and crumbling buildings abound.  We go inside to watch as chunks of roof wind up in Mr. and Mrs. Kotter’s coffee and cereal.  This sadly doesn’t seem like an uncommon occurrence, as Julie phones Superman… err, that is the new Super, man… who uses his powers of deduction to conclude that the ceiling is falling apart.  

With some wifely prodding, Gabe realizes he’s about to be late to work, and rushes out of the building. Doing his best Dagwood Bumstead impression, he collides with the mailman whose parcels and missives go flying.  Among them is one addressed to Gabe from the Department of Education.

Letter in hand, he hops on the bus.  Once seated, he learns that his transfer request has been approved.  He and his wife can leave their rotten Brooklyn apartment and move to Manhattan’s East Side.  He’s so pleased he plants a kiss on the passenger next to him… which buys him a beating via umbrella.  It’s all good though, Gabe’s spirits are still high enough for him to click his heels and go about his day.

Once in his classroom he continues reading his letter… he says aloud that he will have to go in for a physical examination before the transfer is made final.  His train of thought is interrupted when he hears a stirring in the supply closet.  Why it’s Vinnie Barbarino making time with Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie.  He gives’em both the boot, however without use of the classic Kotter wit.  It seems as though his mind is elsewhere… something that is not lost on young Barbarino.  He reports back to fellow ‘Hogs Horshack and Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Juan Epstein is absent, but don’t worry… I’m sure he’s got a note)… and we get the classic sitcom misunderstanding.  The guys think that Mr. Kotter is quite ill, and they plan to “be really cool” with him today.

And so… the class decides to not only behave… but somehow get all their homework and studying done in the fifteen minutes before home room.  Not bad for remedials!  Kotter thinks he’s lost his mind… when suddenly Mr. Woodface Woodman enters to congratulate him on his pending medical examination.  The Sweathogs take great offense to this, believing Woodman is celebrating their teacher’s fatal illness.  Gabe straightens everything out, and comes clean about his transfer.  In the interest of full disclosure (and not getting jumped by a gaggle of angry ‘Hogs) he blames the entire thing on his wife.

Barbarino, Horshack and Washington fearing that a strict teacher would be taking Mr. Kotter’s place decide to pop in for a visit with Mrs. Julie Kotter… to try and win her over.  That’s truly a terrifying thought… probably one that wouldn’t fly these days.  Anyhoo, they… ahem… watch her from the fire escape… which (pardon my 2016) is creepy, right?  They see her in a cloud of dust as she struggles to vacuum the apartment.  The vacuum “bucks like a wild bronco and is sparking electricity all over the place.  Her household chores are interrupted by a ringing at the door.  Why, it’s the Sweathogs, and they come bearing the gift of a brand-new (very likely “hot”) vacuum cleaner.

After exchanging pleasantries, Vinnie wanders over to the Kotters’ open and mostly empty refrigerator.  He offers to go grocery shopping for the busy Julie, and she hands him a tenner for his troubles.  Thirty-minutes later, the ‘hogs return with $100 worth of groceries… and $9 change from the money Julie gave them.  I’ve hoid’a “hot” meals before, but this is ridiculous.

Julie is finally able to get the boys to come clean about why they’re being so nice… and they say that Gabe gave’em the ol’ “Happy wife, happy life” spiel, and so they want to make sure she’s as happy as possible so their favorite teacher won’t transfer.  Lucky for the ‘hogs, Julie has a plan.  She lets her fingers do the walking, and calls a B. Wayne Pevey… and I don’t think that “B” stands for Bruce.

The next morning Gabe happily swaggers into work, singing all the way.  There’s an older fellow in his classroom who is helpfully advised of Kotter’s arrival by… either Arnold Horshack or a rapture enthusiast standing in the parking lot.  The man shouts Kotter’s name, and suddenly it is as though Gabe himself is a Sweathog once more.

After some screwing about, Gabe asks what’s going on.  We learn that Pevey was Kotter’s high school Social Studies teacher, and that Gabe himself was the founding member of the Sweathogs.  This next bit is funny… rather than stay and, ya know… teach classes today, Gabe asks Pevey if he wants to “do lunch”… and so, the pair leave.  I guess Barbarino and “Hotsie” Totsie can make out all they want this morning!

We follow Kotter and Pevey to the cafeteria, where they indulge in some gloppy mess.  Pevey tells the story of his retirement party, and how it was nearly ruined by a mean-spirited prank by Gabe himself.  The cheerleaders banner was replaced with one that read “Good Riddance”.  Kotter admits he was ashamed of that act, and even went as far as chucking the banner into Sheepshead Bay.

The pair part with a newfound respect for one another, and Kotter heads back to his classroom where he finds… Juan Epstein… and wouldn’tcha know it… he’s got a note!  Kotter laughs it off and heads over to the window to pull down the blinds.  Uh-oh… the blinds have been rigged by Epstein… and they fall to the floor!  The rest of the Sweathogs get all over poor unknowing Juan about potentially losing Kotter to (figuratively) greener pastures.

Gabe sees that his decision is affecting more people than just him… and so, he picks up his transfer letter and… tears it into tiny little pieces.  I’m not sure that’s how transfers work, but I appreciate the sentiment.

We end our visit in Brooklyn with Gabe returning home for the day.  He gets his “sneaky, foxy” wife to admit that she was behind Pevey’s arrival… but their smootch session is interrupted by a clattering in the closet… why it’s Barbarino and Hotsie makin’ it in the cupboard.  Roll the credits and the theme song (seriously), cuz we’re out!

Yup… had a lot more fun with this one than I should have.

Yeah, it’s silly… and some of the jokes fall flat (it is a comic and not live-action, after all), but dammit… it was fun.  And the art!  Sparling and Oskner craft wonderful likenesses of the cast… everyone is instantly recognizable… hell, even the Kotter apartment and classroom are remarkably on model.

The story is just as though you were watching an episode of the television show.  We get some great Gabe one-liners, some Sweathog shenanigans (including a wonderful sitcom-y misunderstanding), and learn a bit about Gabe’s own past as a founding member of the remedial gang… and c’mon, the issue ends with a verse from the show’s awesome theme song.  How can you not love that?

Guess my only complaints would be the lack of catch phrases.  I really was expecting an “Up ya nose widda rubba hose” outta one of ’em… but not today.  Not even a “Whuh… Whea?” out of Vinnie or a “Hi there” from Washington.  Guess I’m gonna have to track down the rest of this series if I want any of that.

Doing a bit of research, I learned that this book came out during the second season of the show… which shocked me.  I’d assumed the show had been around far longer than that at this point.  Such a strange thing for DC (or any comics company) to publish.  Out of all the sitcoms of the day… they choose this one.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this was as good a choice as any… and as mentioned, a helluva lot of fun… but the question still remains.

Another surprising thing… this book is approved by the Comics Code Authority… and yet, it glorifies juvenile delinquency.  It is heavily implied (though not said outright) that the Sweathogs had stolen both a vacuum cleaner and a hundred bucks worth of groceries… don’t get it twisted, I’ve got no problem with such things in a fictional setting, but just something I was (perhaps foolishly) curious about.

Overall… definitely worth a read… if you can find it.  I’ve only seen this book in the wild once, and that’s the day I bought it!  I don’t see this one ever being reprinted, but hell… stranger things have happened, right?  If you’re a back issue bin-trawler like I am, maybe peruse the “W” section every now and again to see if any issues of this series pop up.  It shouldn’t be too terribly spendy, and definitely worth the few bucks you’ll have to shell out.  In closing all that’s left to say, in my best Arnold Horshack… “Very Impressive, Mistuh Maggin!”

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One thought on “Welcome Back, Kotter #1 (1976)

  • Otto Sell

    I completely forgot about this comic… thank you for reminding me …
    I DO remember the Kotter bubblegum cards, with such witticisms as "Vinnie, do you feel like an orange juice?"
    "Why, do I look like an orange juice?"


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