The Truth About UFOs: The Hoaxmaster Knows — and Tells All!

« I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. I was interested in possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it’s possible or not but whether it’s going on or not. » — Richard P. Feynman

While the UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) mania has arguably continued unabated for the past three-quarters of a century, kicked off in 1947 by the Kenneth Arnold sighting and, of course, the so-called Roswell incident, the phenomenon hit its peak of popularity and hysteria in the 1960s and 1970s, when all things occult, bizarre and otherworldly were all the rage across all media.

You can follow the rising pitch with the publishing frequency of Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers: after its premiere issue hits the stands in 1968, two full years elapsed until the second, then another two until the third… and again to the fourth. It’s fair to presume that the title had been intended as a one-shot, and that encouraging sales led the way to a regular, if sparse schedule. Then the pace picked up after issue four (Nov. 1974), and so ten issues appeared in the span of just over three years. There was a brief hiatus, a retitling to UFO & Outer Space and a further dozen issues saw print, two of them reprints. By late 1979, the series sputtered to a halt.

They may not have been to everyone’s taste, but Gold Key comics provided their audience with a soothing respite and change of pace from Marvel’s endless manic brutality and insipid crossovers. Even amidst the GK line, UFO Flying Saucers stood out. It did a stellar job of covering the flying saucer craze of the Cold War years, thanks to a sober, documentary-style narrative tone and strong artwork, led by Frank Bolle, who fit the template to a T. The tone was surprisingly even-handed (far more so than most modern media; j’accuse, History Channel!) They even tossed a scrumptious pinch of skepticism into the mix now and again, and it’s this delicacy that we’ll be sampling.

The modern skeptical* movement was spearheaded by the 1952 publication of mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner‘s fascinating In the Name of Science (thereafter better known as Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science), answering the need for an organised response to a (still) rising tide of irrationality, superstition and scientific illiteracy. When UFO Flying Saucers introduced its series featuring The Hoaxmaster, the skeptics’ flagship publication, The Skeptical Inquirer, was still a couple of years away from being launched. That auspicious occasion came in the fall of 1976, under its original title of The Zetetic: Journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

The introduction of The Hoaxmaster, from UFO Flying Saucers no. 4 (Nov. 1974, Gold Key).
And such fakery has only become far, far easier… from UFO Flying Saucers no. 6 (May 1975, Gold Key).
Ah, that John and Marsha/Marcia routine never gets old! From UFO Flying Saucers no. 7 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key).
Mr. Bolle provided just one cover to the series, and while it’s hardly the best one, it certainly stands out amidst the lot. Again, this is UFO Flying Saucers no. 7 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key).
Say, what have we here? Could it be… fake news? From UFO Flying Saucers no. 8 (Nov. 1975, Gold Key).

Sadly, The Hoaxmaster series bears no writing credit. The only writer ever credited in the title is Western Publications staffer Patricia Fortunato, a former story editor of The Golden Magazine. If that’s your work, Pat, take a bow!

In comparison, artist identification is a cinch: the steady hand of Frank Bolle, who left us just last year, at the most venerable age of 95, is instantly recognizable. Artistically active right to the wire, he drew the final leg (1999-2015) of soap opera comic strip Apartment 3-G‘s 54-year-run. Over the course of his singularly long career, he worked for just about every comics publisher… and then some! His reliable proficiency at providing just the right tone to illuminate that delicate borderline between science fact and science fiction made him the ideal choice to adapt John Christopher‘s early young adult post-apocalyptic The Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire), serialised in Boys’ Life magazine in the 1980s. Check it out here!

Well, that’s roughly half of the Hoaxmaster strips. If you’d like to see the rest, let us know… I can probably time it with the next edition of World Contact Day. To sign off on a musical note, here’s its catchy, Canadian-made anthem. Remember, “we are your friends“.

-RG

*as opposed to ‘denialism’, of course. It’s a crucial distinction: know the difference!

Odious Rumours: Arachnid-Enhanced Bubble Yum

« A kid one time fell asleep chewing Bubble Yum, and he woke up with his mouth full of spider eggs. » — Some nameless rumour-monger

The other day, a neighbour was asking me whether it was a safe for his Golden Retriever puppy to eat the worms it was digging up (I was impressed), the guy presuming that said worms were quite filthy and rife with germs. I replied that no, it’s probably all the rooting through the trash and gobbling up whatever it finds that’s giving the pup gastric distress. Worms, in fact, are considered a delicacy in many a culture, including some European ones. Not that I’ve indulged: just like The Kinks’ Apeman, I’m a strict vegetarian.

This brought to mind those 1970s rumours of earthworms serving as filler in McDonald’s burgers (never mind that worms are a far costlier ingredient than is beef). Which led in turn to the equally-outlandish notion that the secret of Bubble Yum’s softness (introduced in 1975 by Life Savers, it was the first soft bubble gum ever concocted) lay in its containing spider eggs. Again, steady procurement would have proved quite a daunting challenge.

Art by Tomm Coker, from The Big Book of Urban Legends (1994, Paradox Press/DC); edited by Bronwyn Carlton Taggart and featuring the most inconstant levels of skill and talent you’re ever likely to encounter in a professional comics publication: a couple dozen or so versatile cartoonists, and over a hundred superhero hacks and/or photo tracers utterly out of their depth, a reminder of just how shallow the talent pool is. This isn’t one of the good pieces, but it’s nowhere near the bottom.
A trade ad from 1977, the year of Bubble Yum’s national (and international, as this Canadian can attest) rollout.

But the bubble was about to burst (or at least deflate somewhat), as reported by The New York Times (March 29, 1977):

The Great Spider Egg Mystery remains unsolved but it may yet have several happy endings. The mystery concerns Bubble Yum, a popular new bubble gum that has, in a year, overtaken such symbols of earlier childhoods as Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. A few weeks ago came toil and trouble: the unexplained spread of lurid rumors among children in the New York area that, gasp!, Bubble Yum contained spider eggs (or, according to haughtier youthful accounts, caused cancer). Stores which had up to then been unable to stock enough to meet demand suddenly saw sales plummet. Last week, the manufacturer, Life Savers, Inc., took out full‐page ads in 30 area newspapers to combat the rumors.

This is not the first time the bubble gum business has been beset by evil rumor. When Jimmy Carter was a boy, youngsters in Sumter County, Georgia, were scared off by reports that bubble gum was made with snake oil —until they were reassured by an ad in the Americus Times‐Recorder. Nor is bubble gum normally regarded as the stuff of moral lessons. Its history, since it was invented by Walter Diemer in 1928, is marked by such milestones as packaging it with baseball cards (1933) or making it squeakless (1953).

But there is something more significant, and appealing, in the open way in which Life Savers has chosen to deal with its problem. We hope the spider egg rumors are expunged as successfully now as the snake oil rumors were then. And there will be a happier ending still if the subject is properly understood to be not bubble gum but canard. No consumer is too young to learn the malign effects of rumor or to understand that there will always be someone, not always in youthful innocence, eager to raise the cry—whether about Communists in government, environment, energy or bubble gum—of “spider eggs.”

From Morris County, NJ’s Daily Record, March 27, 1977 edition.

Susan M. Smith wrote, in her 1989 thesis, Consumer Rumors and
Corporate Communications
:

Whether the rumor is isolated or widespread, the company must select media that reach the rumor’s community of interest, and particularly, its influential leaders. The importance of this is shown by what happened after a rumor episode in New York City for the Life Saver’s Company. The company conducted an all-out attack to combat a rumor in 1977 that the company’s innovative, new soft chewing gum. Bubble Yum, contained spider eggs. It sought publicity, inserted full-page newspaper ads, and sent letters with a copy of the ad to the city’s PTA groups, school principals, and retail outlets.

The campaign successfully stopped the rumor, but Bubble Yum’s New York sales did not recover for many years. It turns out that even though the company had blanketed the city with its rumor denial, it never spoke directly to product users, the school-age children, to bolster confidence in the product. The selection of inappropriate media makes the refutation message miss the rumour’s public allowing the rumor to continue to spread or delaying recovery from the rumor.

Speaking of advertising: Marvel’s knockoff of Scholastic’s Dynamite, Pizzazz (1977-79), which included lots of ads, featured this piece in its 6th issue (March 1978, Marvel). This gives you a sense of Bubble Yum’s success, as the product was, in its field, what’s termed a disruptive innovation. Chewing gum no longer had to be hard.
Inevitably, the imitators came! Smooooth N’ Juicy, Hubba Bubba, Bubblicious, the oddball Freshen Up, and so on. Marvel switched its advertising allegiance to Topps. This is from Pizzazz no. 11 (Aug. 1978, Marvel). The art looks to me to be the work of Mad magazine veteran Jack Rickard (1922-1983).
A few issues later, (Pizzazz no. 14, Nov. 1978, Marvel), in a brazen display of corrupt insincerity, came this so-called Consumer Guide (note that only Topps products are pictured). Really, is Bubble Yum “the hardest, toughest gum our testers had to chew“? Surely anyone who’s ever tried to chew something from the Bazooka family knows better. My jaw aches just from the memory.
The company continued efforts to restore its reputation in the New York market, where the rumours had caused the most harm. A piece from The New York Times‘ Tuesday, July 22, 1980 edition.
This ad ran in Adventure Comics no. 487 (Nov. 1981, DC) and several other titles in the following months.
Now that’s better: in 1982, they turned to the incomparable Jack Davis to illustrate one of their print ads. Given his prodigious speed, he couldn’t have spent more than an hour on this specific piece, but it works far better than its predecessors. Incidentally, the ‘Super Yum’ thing (replacing Soft ‘n Juicy) appears to have been a move to block a competitor from using the appellation.

But I suppose all this controversy merely seems quaint now, what with all today’s heavy weaponizing of misinformation. Besides, the bubblegum market has been rather moribund in the past few decades, since apparently Nobody Likes to Chew Gum Anymore.

For a bit of sugar high nostalgia, I’ll leave you with a pair of vintage Bubble Yum ads: 1976’s brand introduction, featuring The Flavor Fiend;

And 1988’s spot co-starring a young Leonardo DeCaprio, which shows us he was clearly born with that insufferable smugness, or at least had honed it to perfection by his teens.

-RG

Felines and Moonshine: Two by Lee Marrs

« Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track, and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey, and you go to jail. » — Junior Johnson

Lee Marrs (b. 1945) is not your typical « underground » cartoonist, though to be fair — what would a typical undergrounder be? The movement’s whole raison d’être was ‘vive la différence‘, wouldn’t you say?

Hers is not a prolific career, perhaps, but look at the gloriously idiosyncratic path she followed: newspaper comic strip assistant (Hi & Lois, Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie…), underground (Wimmen’s Comix, Pudge, Girl Blimp, The Compleat Fart and Other Body Emissions), and mainstream cartoonist — well, even better: she was a regular contributor to DC’s justly-fabled (but yet to be reprinted, ahem) Plop!; she appeared in Marvel’s Mad knock-off Crazy; she even scripted, in the early 90s, a Viking Prince (yes, Kanigher and Kubert’s 1955 creation) epic, illustrated by Bo Hampton, and even a bit of Batman (‘Stalking‘, with Eddy Newell, in 1998). But that’s merely scratching the surface: here’s a more comprehensive rundown of her captivating journey.

Ah, don’t you love a happy ending? Originally published in Weird Mystery Tales no. 18 (May 1975, DC), edited by Tex Blaisdell.
This is The Compleat Fart and Other Body Emissions (Jan. 1977, Kitchen Sink); colours by Pete Poplaski. Featured front-and-centre, doing his thing, is Joseph Pujol, France’s fabulous Pétomane!
Originally published in Wimmen’s Comix no. 7 (Dec. 1976, Last Gasp). This is underground storytelling at its finest: uncompromising, political, passionate, personal, at once witty, moving and instructive. And that whole gamut gets run through in a mere four beautifully-drawn, expertly-paced pages.

And I’m delighted to report that the scintillating Ms. Marrs is still active today, her verve and talent undimmed and undiluted. By all means, check out her website for the undeniable evidence!

-RG

All Men Are Brothers: Henri Dunant’s Croix-Rouge and the Geneva Convention

« When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross. » — Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971)

As is often the case, I had something else in the pipeline for this week… but then I came across a beautiful biography of a wise man whose birthday was just around the corner. Now if the other guy (he’s 88) can just hold on and stay alive another week, things’ll be just fine.

In these riotous days when acts and thoughts of kindness and compassion are being denounced as political and partisan, we would do well to remember the life and example of International Red Cross founder, Henri Dunant ( Jean-Henri Dunant, May 8, 1828 in Geneva, Switzerland). Read on…

To Treasure Chest’s credit, they’re not being tribal or sectarian at all: Dunant wasn’t even Catholic, but rather Calvinist.

As you can bear witness, Reed Crandall (1917-1982) was not the type of artist to cut corners. Unlike some of his peers who could not be bothered to properly draw, say, details of background, period or costume, Crandall lavished attention and care to each and every element, yet without overpowering the narrative. His pages aren’t mere sequences of panels: they’re smartly composed for smoothness of flow and tonal balance.

Though nowadays his fame rests largely upon his brief but fruitful association with EC Comics (1953-56) and its echo at Warren Magazines (1964-1973), the greater bulk of his work was produced for Quality Comics (1941-1956) and for the catholic comics anthology Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact (1960-1972). All Men Are Brothers was, as it happens, his first work to be published in Treasure Chest.

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek but revealing snippet from a profile of Crandall that appeared in Creepy no. 10 (Aug. 1966, Warren):

« Combined with Reed’s fantastic drawing ability and mastery of rendering technique, is the rare ability to take any subject or setting and impart to it a complete sense of realism and authenticity. This, along with the fact that he is one of the most genial and unassuming men in the comics field, has earned him the high regard of his fellow artists, in addition to a growing circle of reader-admirers.

Asked about his ambitions, Reed replied: “To live in an ivory tower and to try to learn to draw and paint, also to pursue unendurable pleasure indefinitely prolonged.” It looks to us as though the drawing and painting are pretty far along already, so surely the ivory tower and prolonged pleasure can’t be too far behind… and in our opinion, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy! »

As for writer John Randolph, who knows? He scripted twenty or so non-fiction pieces for TC between 1955 and 1962, then appears to have moved on. It must be noted that he understood the comics medium, as his work (often with Crandall) was well-paced and not overwritten, the words and visual in steady harmony. Many a writer, lacking the restraint and finesse required for the collaborative pas de deux of comics, tends to crowd out the illustrator, box him in (j’accuse, Al Feldstein!) or pointlessly restate what’s right there in the visuals (Et tu, True Believer?). Add to that the difficulty of elegantly condensing a life or career in six pages… as in this case. Take a bow, Mr. Randolph, whoever you are.

All Men Are Brothers originally appeared in Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact vol. 16 no. 7 (Dec. 8, 1960, Geo. A. Pflaum); cover by Crandall.
Crandall is most closely associated with the long-running Quality (and DC thereafter) character of Blackhawk (a Will Eisner co-creation). This is Modern Comics no. 78 (Oct. 1948, Quality). Between the operas, musicals, and films, John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly sure gets around! Read the issue here!
More orientalism, but what a cover! This is Police Comics no. 105 (Apr. 1951, Quality). This title was the former and first home of longtime headliner Plastic Man, who bowed out with issue 102. Superheroes, you’ll recall, suffered fading popularity by the early 1950s. Read the issue here!
While Crandall arrived a bit late to the EC party, he made his lasting mark. Versatile as he was, I’d argue he was most in his element on this swashbuckling title, one of EC’s last-ditch, doomed attempts to placate the censors. Wally Wood drew the ship on the left, a recurring element of the cover layout. EC colourist Marie Severin (1929-2018) truly deserves a long round of applause for the sublime job she performed here. This is Piracy no. 3 (Feb.-Mar. 1955, EC).

-RG

Behold… the Great Shnozzola!

« That’s the conditions that prevail! » — Jimmy Durante

Today, we salute noted vaudevillian, piano player, comedian, singer, film and radio star, raconteur and unlikely comics legend James Francis “Jimmy” Durante, born on this day, February 10, in 1893 (as it was a Friday, the family presumably fasted or had fish for dinner). He truly was a master of all media, as you’ll witness.

This early bit of biography appeared in Juke Box Comics no. 4 (Sept. 1948, Eastern Color); it was illustrated by Ed Moore. Hear Cantor and Durante reminisce about their early days on this 1947 episode of The Jimmy Durante Show.
A passing mention of old Jimmy, from Nyoka the Jungle Girl no. 24 (Oct. 1948, Fawcett). Writer and artist unknown.
An early cover by Dick Ayers (1924-2014), this is Jimmy Durante Comics no. 1 (Oct. 1948, Magazine Enterprises).
The second and final issue of Jimmy Durante Comics (Winter 1948-49, Magazine Enterprises).
Mr. Durante rates a smashing musical appearance in this Rube Goldberg Device daily strip (Apr. 14, 1951, King Features Syndicate)… by Rube Goldberg, naturally.
And here’s the Shnozzola in the midst of a carnal melée of his fellow Old Hollywood legends (can you name them all, cinephiles?) This is Bill Griffith‘s cover for The Tiajuana Bible Revival Volume Two: Under the Stars in Hollywood (1977, Hooker, California: Paramounds Prod.). This was « An anthology reprinting 1930’s Tijuana Bibles, some of which were obscene parodies of popular newspaper comic strips of the day. Others made use of characters based on popular movie stars and sports stars of the day, such as Mae West and Joe Louis, sometimes with names thinly changed. Before the war, almost all the stories were humorous and frequently were cartoon versions of well-known dirty jokes that had been making the rounds for decades. » [ source ]
Pointillist-satirist Drew Friedman‘s immortal Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets first saw print in National Lampoon vol. 2 no. 78 (Jan. 1985).
Durante briefly pops up (with the Checkered Demon!) in the second half of a truly all-star underground comix jam involving R. Crumb, Steve Clay Wilson (1941-2021… he left us just three days ago, aged 79… RIP), Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Gilbert Shelton. It appeared in Zap Comix no. 12 (1989, Last Gasp). Cartoonists are generally fond of the Schnozzola, but Underground cartoonists are just mad about him.
And finally, on a gentler note… here’s a clearly affectionate caricature (a preliminary sketch) of the esteemed Signor Durante (aw, he’s blushing!) by the amazing Sam Berman (crayon on onionskin paper, 1947). Berman (1907-1995) was, deservedly, quite a big deal in his day; as the erudite Drew Friedman told Print Magazine in his quality of co-curator of the 12 Legendary Caricaturists You’ve (probably) Never Heard Of exhibition at NYC’s Society of Illustrators, Berman « was indeed famous and celebrated in his day. Beginning his career in the late 1930s, he created iconic sculpted caricature covers for Esquire featuring their new mascot “Esky” (created by Berman) for an entire year. He created the sculpted caricatures of the leading actors (Fredric March, Carole Lombard, etc.) for the opening titles of the 1937 classic screwball comedy Nothing Sacred, did huge amounts of work for all the top magazines and newspapers of the day, including for Mark Hellinger’s popular column, created close to 60 amazing full-color portraits for the 1947 booklet The NBC Parade of Stars, drew children’s books, and arguably his most famous creation, the opening caricature of Jackie Gleason rising over Brooklyn for “The Honeymooners,” although he was never credited on the show for drawing that image, nor in any books. He then inexplicably went into map-making and faded quietly into obscurity. »

To wrap things up, here’s Jimmy D. and Frankie S. duetting in Russian. And why not? Happy birthday, Jimmy, wherever you are (and do say hello to Mrs. Calabash!)

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Educational Cephalopods

Today we bring you a selection of edifying cartons that will (hopefully) teach you something about our friends the cephalopods. Like how to check that you really are looking at an octopus, for instance: like with most things in life, just ask!

Cartoon published in Mad Magazine no. 486 (February 2008) The author, in all senses of the word, is our beloved Al Jaffee.

I like the idea of learning from comics, but stories written specially to teach children (or the occasional adult) moral lessons or scientific facts often end up incredibly boring, insultingly condescending, or painfully obvious. However, (gently) throw an octopus into the mix, and I’ll be willing to consider it!

Of course sometimes the octopus is the student, albeit an undressed one.

Treasure Chest Vol. 21 no. 4 (October 21st, 1965). The cover is by Pete Hironaka, born in California to Japanese parents. Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact was a comic book series that was Catholic-oriented and featured inspirational Christian stories and such, but also ran stories about science, history, and just plain adventure, emphasizing values like teamwork, honesty, etc. throughout. No, it’s not as boring as it sounds! Most of the stories weren’t at all preachy, just kind to their characters, which is something I really appreciate. The title was distributed throughout parochial schools from 1946 to 1972.

Are there tentacles inside? Well, yes!

I am slightly disturbed by how angry Murphy is at the octopus’ supposed ignorance (especially since he’s so blatantly wrong). Art by Pete Hironaka.
I wish octopus lobotomy wasn’t on the menu, but what can you do…

On the topic of classrooms – octopuses have to write essays, too, just like any old student Joe. It’s a bit hard to hold a pencil with a tentacle, though.

An illustration by Lynda Barry, 2018.

I’ve never watched SpongeBob SquarePants, because the idea of a protagonist who’s some sort of dumb-looking kitchen sponge (I’m sorry, “sea sponge”) has never appealed to me. It may be brilliant, for all I know. However, whenever I encounter a SpongeBob comic, I’m always surprised at how good the stories are. Given that the calibre of some contributing artists and writers (Ramona Fradon, Tentacle Tuesday Master Hilary Barta, WOT favourite Stephen R. Bissette, Tony Millionaire of Many Tentacles, the aforementioned Al Jaffee, Michael T. Gilbert… come on, it’s like a who’s who of comics talent), this is actually less astonishing than one might expect – and the fact that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator, managed to attract such talent speaks well of him. Another fact, namely that that he worked as a teacher of marine science at the Ocean Institute of Dana Point (California) and decided to create an educational comic book depicting the life of anthropomorphic sea creatures, confirms that he’s one cool (sea) cucumber.

A cephalopod installment of Flotsam & Jetsam, scripted by Maric Wicks and illustrated by Nate Neal. This page was published in SpongeBob Comics no. 9 (June 2012, United Plankton Pictures)

A final educational strip, although to be perfectly honest with you, a tad on the boring side. Mark Trail was created by Ed Dodd an eternity ago (which is to say, April 1946). Dodd was a national parks guide and (quite naturally, one would hope) an environmentalist, so his syndicated newspaper strip featured a lot of environmental disasters, mostly orchestrated by human hands (but the evil guys often received a satisfying punch in the mouth from Trail, a nature writer-cum-photographer – if only it were this easy in real life!)

This strip is from August 16th, 2020.

After passing through a few pairs of hands, the strip landed at the doorstep or artist James Allen, who began by assisting on the Sunday page in 2010, and formally took over in 2014, to continue until 2020, at which juncture he left his position by mutual agreement with the syndicate. After some years of reruns, Mark Trail is now continuing once again, this time with artist Jules Rivera at the helm.

I admire Dodd’s art and plotting, and in my opinion the others who have continued the strip in recent years (from 1978 and onwards) lack his doigté and his talent to various degrees. For example, take a look at the original art for the Sunday strip of September 25, 1955:

Clearly drawn by someone who loved and understood animals. Art by Ed Dodd.

Of course it doesn’t help that the recent Sundays had garish (by my assessment) colours. For a more detailed story of Mark Trail, head over to this Daily Cartoonist article.

~ ds

Nomenclature, or How to Tell Your Thingamajig From Your Whatchamacallit

« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius

To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:

Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.

This most edifying illustration was the work of Mike Witte (b. 1944), who later chucked this charming infusion of the old ‘big foot’ school of cartooning to settle into an in-demand but pasteurised version of Ralph Steadman‘s style (itself, I would argue, a more grotesque version of Ronald Searle‘s approach). Still, bully for him — it’s a hard business to earn a proper living in. Sure, the classic big foot tradition already had a modern master in Elwood Smith… but the more the merrier! (and speaking of Onomatopeia…)
Mort Walker‘s Beetle Bailey Sunday strip from July 9, 1978, a most judicious choice, was dissected.
Here’s my well-thumbed, yellowing copy of What’s What: it’s the first book trade edition (Nov. 1982, Ballantine), copies of which, or the updated edition, circa the early 1990s, can still be obtained dirt cheap. And “Nose leather?” Awww.

To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!

A page from Nazi “X” (Captain America no. 211, July 1977, Marvel) with the wild and wooly Arnim Zola – the Bio-Fanatic – flexing his mental muscles. Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by our dear Mike Royer, and coloured by Glynis Wein.
Another example, to make sure everyone gets it straight? The sky’s ablaze with Kirby Krackle in this ominously magnificent splash from Kamandi no. 24 (Dec. 1974, DC) and its tale of The Exorcism! Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Douglas Bruce Berry, and most likely coloured by Jerry Serpe.

-RG

The Mad Peck Strikes!

« Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea. » — Guy Debord

Well, after our brush with Surrealism, let’s hazard a brief detour amidst the Letterists. As we all surely know, The Letterist International was « a Paris-based collective of radical artists and cultural theorists between 1952 and 1957. » I’ll spare you a dry discourse about schools of thought, art and politics and their numerous and acrimonious (perhaps not so dry after all!) schisms.

The main point of interest, in this case, is the Letterists’ pioneering of the rousingly subversive artistic technique of détournement, which involves “taking preexisting images and mixing them together to highlight the underlying ideology of the original image.

This brings us to the storied career of Providence, Rhode Island’s finest son, John Peck (b. 1942), alias The Mad Peck.

Les Daniels and The Mad Peck Studios’ 1971 Comix was a pretty fair early crack at recounting the history of the comic book up to the peak of the Undergrounds.
A-ha! On the back cover, The Mad Peck indulged his penchant for détournement, repurposing an early 1950’s ad for hair loss reversal scammers Ward Laboratories in a fashion that is in no way relevant to our current, media-savvy, ethically-enlightened world.

In his 1987 retrospective, Peck recalls « Yeah, Comix was good. Maybe a little too good. It’s been stolen from every public library I’ve ever been in. »

By then, he was working steadily for Boston-based music magazine Fusion (1967-74), “doing short reviews of the records nobody else wanted to do.” This one liberally swipes from DC’s long-running Fox and the Crow series (which of course borrows its premise from dear old Aesop’s immortal fable), with a smidgen of Fritz the Cat for the frisky finale.

Fast-forward to 1978, and Peck’s much-improved comix-style capsule reviews are appearing regularly in Creem and The Village Voice.

Ah, but she wasn’t a comic book semistar of the *late* 40s… she arrived on the scene in 1941, four months before Wonder Woman, even! Who dat? Why, The Masked Marvel is none other than Golden Age heroine The Black Cat, whose repurposing surely constitutes The Mad Peck’s most brazen act of détournement!
This is Black Cat Comics no. 3 (Dec. 45 – Jan. 46, Harvey); cover art by the lady’s creator, Al Gabriele. ‘Action that’ll make you pop your monocle!
The Mad Peck really stood out in the landscape of rock criticism in that he wasn’t a rockist snob (“It’s not rock, therefore it’s crap!“), and that his taste was wide-ranging and often surprising, evidence of a true music lover well-versed in all its strata and permutations.
And still, these Jefferson Airplane alumni had yet to hit bottom (knee-deep in the hoopla, so to speak)!
The Slickee BoysManganese Android Puppies; MadnessThe Prince; Prince BusterMadness.
The EaglesHeartache Tonight; The Sugarhill GangRapper’s Delight; The EaglesThe Disco Strangler.
HansiAutomobile; The Flying LizardsMoney; Sid Vicious(I’m not Your) Stepping Stone.
Joe “King” CarrascoParty Weekend; QueenCrazy Little Thing Called Love; ChicGood Times.

Then ahead to the mid-80s and Bob Guccione Jr.’s Spin (est. 1985), and a short run with a new title, Tales From the Bogusphere. Meanwhile, The Masked Marvel had been sidelined by legal hassles. As the heroine recalls:

I took an extended vacation in 1980 when Marvel Comics threatened to sue Peck after reading ‘Ms. Marvel’ in the Eagles cartoon that led off Creem’s review section in February. I hightailed it before the corporation had me roped into a team-up book with She-Hulk, but Peck had to stick it out while they tried to stick it to him. What really teed me off was that Ms. Marvel, who had oozed out of Marvel’s bullpen in the early ’70s, was such a dynamic concept that her book died almost instantly.

Words to live and listen by: « Forget all that image stuff and check what’s in the grooves » WhamWake Me Up Before You Go-Go; New EditionCool It Now; Hank Williams Jr.All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.

Peck’s experience as a critic left him with an encyclopedic knowledge of doo-wop and early R&B. When financing from rock publications got thin, Peck practiced the art of rock ‘n’ roll arbitrage: buying records at flea markets and “backwater Woolworths” and trading them at statewide record collectors’ conventions that he organized himself.

Peck spun his best finds on his popular WBRU radio show, “Dr. Oldie’s University of Musical Perversity.” Wary of semi-fame, Peck still makes an occasional public appearances in disguise as Dr. Oldie, complete with lab coat and head mirror. [ source ]

As a bonus, here’s The Mad Peck’s greatest commercial success, a piece first commissioned by Providence’s The Humbox Press for the inaugural issue of its poetry journal Loose Art. A fluke hit, it spawned postcards and posters “and is still keeping the Mad Peck in Camels.”

« In 1978, Peck designed the famous Providence Poster, a composite of witty one-liners that he and Daniels had uttered over the years about their beloved city. » I must confess I could not resist the urge to recolour it.

Channeling a credo he gleaned from a chance encounter with comic book artist Wally Wood — “Don’t draw what you can trace, and don’t trace what you can paste” — Peck made his name as a comic book artist despite an inability to draw anything more complex than psychedelic hand lettering. Most of his characters are swiped from the works of an obscure Golden Age comic artist, Matt Baker.

I can buy that most of his characters were swiped from Baker (hello there, Canteen Kate!), but he also begs, steals and borrows from, namely… Al Feldstein, George Carlson, Phil Davis, Jim Davis (no relation to Phil, and not the Garfield guy either), Bob Oksner, Don Flowers, and a gazillion anonymous advertising and animation toilers. And it works!

As a trailblazer of this particular approach, you might say he was Yesterday’s Tom Tomorrow.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Geopolitacles

Many years after the fact, political caricatures are hard to appreciate properly, generally speaking – politicians’ names get forgotten, events become blurry in the collective memory, and what was surely witty and acerbic just seems incomprehensible.  They’re of great historical interest, and often of considerable artistic merit, too, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. That being said, nothing rekindles my enthusiasm like an octopus, especially if he’s sprawled all over the map of Europe, or, heck, the whole world. Power is an aphrodisiac!

People far more erudite than myself have written about political cartooning and its historical usage of octopuses. For a good overview of the subject, head over to an article published in Never Was Magazine. If you just like looking at pretty pictures, for a more comprehensive gallery of images I recommend The image of the OCTOPUS: six cartoons, 1882-1909, which breaks down components of six historical political caricatures of the tentacled kind, and Cartography’s Favourite Map Monster: the Land Octopus, superbly informative and thoroughly illustrated. There’s a also this fascinating article, but alas, in French, so only our French-speaking readers (of which we have quite a few) will be able to partake.

I have no system – I tried including images that aren’t seen too often in articles of this kind, or ones that are stylistically striking.

Squid-RussianPropaganda
Does this look like an American tycoon to you? Nah, I didn’t think so. His name is Wall-Squid (some pun on Wall Street, I think), and he was published in a Russian magazine in the 80’s. The quatrain underneath doesn’t really rhyme, so it won’t lose much in translation: « Everywhere he goes, this squid strangles Freedom, poisons and recklessly pokes into people’s lives. But those who do not heed the People’s anger risk losing their tentacles! » Subtle.

But let’s go back to the 19th century, seemingly the golden age of tentacled propaganda. The line between propaganda and social criticism is blurry, of course – with my environmentalist tendencies, I think of the following trio, all condemning stabs at Standard Oil, attacked for being an unlawful monopoly, as perfectly justified attacks drawing attention to a serious problem.

A-horrible-monster-1880
This one is from 1880, published in Daily Graphic. Standard Oil, “whose tentacles spread poverty, disease and death, and which is the primal cause of the nuisances at Hunter’s point“, is portrayed as an octopus with a somewhat vacant stare, as if it had no awareness of the havoc it’s wreaking.

TheMonsterMonopoly-1884A
The Monster Monopoly by Frank Beard, a cartoonist who helped usher in the American Prohibition. This was published in Judge in 1884.

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler-1904-Next
And again in 1904. Next! was published in Puck Magazine. This octopus is considerably meaner – its intent is to destroy.

Another monopoly that was detrimental enough to warrant an octopus caricature was the Railroad Monopoly:

The_Curse_of_California-G.F.Keller
The Curse of California (I believe it has many more, now) by George Frederick Keller, “its many tentacles controlling such financial interests as the elite of Nob Hill, farmers, lumber interests, shipping, fruit growers, stage lines, mining, and the wine industry“.

The following trio take on the same map, making for interesting compare-and-contrast material. The years may go by, but Russia continues to be grabby… Incidentally, as I am Russian, apparently these Tentacle Tuesdays of mine were pre-ordained by Fate.

Serio-ComicWarMap-1877

Serio-Comica-Carta-1878

Serio-ComicMapJapanese
The Japanese answer to the serio-comic octopus map of some decades past. created during the Russo-Japanese conflict of 1905.

Speaking of Russia…

HowCommunismWorks
Entertainingly, these days, one can purchase this image as a poster on Amazon or at Walmart.

And speaking of communism…

Pieuvre-france
« All European countries have vanquished communism – only France remains under threat. »

Lest I be accused of all this having no relevance whatsoever to today’s political climate… well, fortunately some traditions die hard, and tentacles as a representation of an all-encroaching evil are here to stay!

The-Nightmare-Mark-Bryan
Illustration by Mark Bryan. Painted in 2016, this is the artist’s vision of what a Trump presidency would be like.

I wasn’t going to let the other party off the hook… Or is it one and the same?

Putin-tentacles
Cartoon by Graeme Mackay.

≈ ds

Behind the Scenes, Back in the Day

« Television is like the invention of indoor plumbing. It didn’t change people’s habits. It just kept them inside the house. » — Alfred Hitchcock

A little while back, I chanced upon a handsome, lavishly-illustrated brochure (undated, but from 1976 or so) promoting the services of a Montréal television production company, which leads into this little history lesson.

JPL Productions Inc. was a subsidiary of Télé-Métropole*, Canada’s first private French-language television network. In 1965, France-Film president and Télé-Métropole founder Joseph-Alexandre DeSève sagely ensconced political cartoonist, illustrator, art director, television director, watercolourist… and even co-star of a timeless, Oscar-winning Norman McLaren short film, Jean-Paul Ladouceur (1921-1992) at the head of the newly-constituted ad production arm of his television operation. This was an era in which you might actually find bonafide creatives in positions of influence, before the age of financial ‘diversification’ and conglomerates** unleashed its full toxic bloom and creatives were henceforth sidelined and supplanted by bean counters.

Over time, JPL expanded the scope and range of its activities. I hardly need to go into details: that is precisely this publication’s purpose.

JPLFrontispiceA
The front cover. All artwork (uncredited… for shame!) by Bernard Groz.

JPLPrésenteA
JPL himself provides the introduction: « To tell you about us, to speak of our people, our accomplishments, our equipment, we told ourselves: “it can’t be done without images”. And so, this illustrated brochure. JPL Productions Inc. is a subsidiary of Télé-Métropole Inc., the largest private enterprise television station in America. We produce advertisements, documentaries, industrial films, feature films, slideshows, soundtracks, printed matter, soundtracks, etc.. We hope that the following pages will give you a sense of the scope of our business. Our illustrator could not include each member of our personnel in his drawings. He had to leave out 250 of them. When we speak of ourselves, we say that we are producers, designers, publicists, advertisers, creators, communicators, propagandists, persuaders, as well as a whole range of ‘-lists’ and ‘-ers’. Without doubt and without false pride we are right. But we… prefer to think of ourselves, first and foremost as makers of amazement. » Phew!

JPLStudioG_A

JPLStudioHA
An elephant running a vacuum cleaner? I’d like to see that commercial.

JPLMobile1AJPLMobile2A

JPLStudiosSonA
Four Sound Studios. Here and there, Groz threw in recognizable figures. In this one, the pianist (and the bandleader) are the talented Georges Tremblay, who composed and performed many a memorable (and often surprisingly elaborate) theme for Télé-Métropole’s émissions. To wit, the network released an LP’s worth of them, Les thèmes du 10. Here’s one, La couleur du temps, written for… the weather bulletin.

JPLScéniqueA
Stage Services: workshops, studios, salons.

CapitaineBonhommeA
Front cover of Le Capitaine Bonhomme au Mexique: Dynamite et… Tequila (1973, Hatier/Mondia); scripted by the Capitaine himself, ace raconteur Michel Noël (1922-1993) and illustrated by Bernard Groz. How much of Renaissance man was the Capitaine? Here’s his astounding biography (in French).

CapitaineMexique01A
Dynamite et Tequila‘s opening page. The beloved Capitaine Bonhomme, a Télé-Métropole fixture introduced in 1962, would follow his creator throughout his life. He was yarn-spinner in the grand old Münchausen / McBragg tradition, and his wide-ranging popularity in Québec has endured largely because he never patronized his audience and, as with much of the richest grade of humour, his wooly accounts were sprinkled with witticisms and allusions whose meaning(s) suited both juvenile and adult sensibilities. Here he is during a 1988 talk show appearance.

-RG

*« Present at the February 19, 1961 inauguration were Montréal’s Archbishop, Paul-Émile Léger, the city’s mayor, Jean Drapeau, and the Prime Minister of Québec, Jean Lesage, who declared that television has « great power, and therefore great responsibility. » Chew on that, Stan Lee fans!

**After mobster and parking lot maven Emmanuel “Manny” Kimmel inherited the assets of his partner Abner “Longie” Zwillman (“the Al Capone of New Jersey“) upon the latter’s death, he continued his plans for legitimization and diversification. After The Kinney Parking Corporation acquired a chain of funeral homes, Kimmel soon entrusted the business dealings to a canny young undertaker named Steve Ross. « Ross diversified into businesses that had no visible connection to the already odd marriage of caskets and parking spaces. He bought office cleaning services, DC Comics (publishers of Superman), MAD Magazine, and a talent agency. In 1969 Ross made a daring bid for Warner Brothers, the film studio and record company. » « Kinney acquired Warner for $400 million. » Quotes from William Poundstone‘s captivating Fortune’s Formula (2005).

And that, children, is how The Mob bought DC Comics. I always chuckle when fanboys claim, without a shred of evidence, that Charlton Comics (owned by the Santangelo family) were ‘mobbed up’. I guess to some people, it’s only the Mob if it’s eye-talian.