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

Tentacle Tuesday: Into the Cephalopodic Underground

 « Slursh squirch! »

Greetings to saddle sniffers, subterranean dwellers and lovers of nasty fun! Today we take a little trip into the underground, where tentacles squirm in anticipation! Through some quirk, all of today’s covers involve aliens and spaceships – underground artists clearly also liked to speculate about the possibilities of inter-planetary travel.

If you’re a fan of those wild years of cartooning, visit out MEANWHILE, IN THE UNDERGROUND category!

Tentacle Tuesday opens up with a Nicola Cuti cover, whose cutesy style, albeit not particularly original, is pretty recognizable (for example, take a look at his Weirdlings, which has really grown on me over the years). His big-breasted, doe-eyed « intergalaxtic nymph » was not devoid of charm, although she only appeared in three issues (and issue no. 3 had a print run of a hundred copies, so I don’t think many people have seen it…) For more details about Moonchild Comics, consult the ever-useful Comixjoint.

Moonchild Comics no. 1 (1968, Moonchild Productions). Cover by Nicola Cuti.

Next up this lively cover by Spain Rodriguez, a WOT favourite. We haven’t posted that much about him, but co-admin RG did a lovely post about a surprisingly touching story from SR’s youth in Treasured Stories: «Tex’s Bad Dream or ‘The Egg Lady’s Revenge’» (1988).

Gothic Blimp Works no. 4 (Spring 1969, East Village Other). Cover by Spain Rodriguez.

The next cover is on a similar theme: mostly naked female, tentacled alien, the shaboodle, with an interesting choice of perspective to boot. And by “to boot” I mostly mean that it looks like somebody gave her a good kick on the shapely derrière.

Real Pulp Comics no. 1 (January 1971, The Print Mint). Cover by Roger Brand, who tragically died at 42 – read a heartfelt panegyric from Kim Deitch in A Lousy Week for Woods (Remembering Roger Brand).

Staying with the same publishing house (The Print Mint was a major publisher/distributor of underground comix in their heyday in the San Francisco Bay Area!) and the same theme, another damsel in the clutches of a (pretty cute, actually) alien. She’s wearing red, which of course is the traditional colour for cephalopod attacks.

Yellow Dog no. 20 (July 1971, The Print Mint). Cover by Trina Robbins, who designed the original Vampirella costume.

~ ds

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

Deep in the Soup With Rick Griffin

« If you’re having a bad day, catch a wave. » — Frosty Hesson

How do you cool down in a heatwave? In this household, when the temperature soars and drags the humidity along, we reach for a soothing surfing movie, preferably one by peerless surf auteur Bruce Brown* (1937-2017). Last week, it was his 1959 opus, Surf Crazy, in which a group of SoCal surfers venture down to unsurfed Mexico, which in turn called to mind “Mexico“, an early ’70s underground two-pager recounting a similar sojourn.

Which, this nominally being a comics blog, leads us to the one and only artiste embodying and straddling both the underground cartoonist’s and surfer’s ethos, Rick Griffin!

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An early Griffin collection, Surfer Toons (1964, John Severson), featuring his early creation, Murphy, likely inspiration for notorious jewel thief Murph the Surf‘s sobriquet.

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A bio of  the young surfer-cartoonist from The Surfer vol. 3 no.3 (Aug.-Sept. 1962). The photo confirms that his Murphy strip was autobiographical.

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« In 1964, a serious car accident left Rick unable to work for several months. Later that year, Surfer started a new series titled The Adventures of Griffin and Stoner. They were make-believe surf trips that Ron Stoner, a famous surf photographer, and Griffin were supposed to have taken around the world. » Stoner’s real-life adventures, however, were not so happy.

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In this mid-to-late-60s illustration, we witness early signs of Griffin’s mature, more assured line. A simplified version of this piece would appear in The Surfer‘s March, 1972 issue.

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Griffin’s tour-de-force adaptation of Them’s Mystic Eyes appeared in an issue of The Surfer in 1970. Witness how Griffin’s depiction of Murphy has evolved over the decade. The fancy helmet is a Hopi Indian ceremonial mask, a frequent artifact and motif in the artist’s subsequent œuvre. Weedy song, imho — and yet, meaning is where you find it.

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Also from 1970: Griffin created this piece for his patron John Severson‘s surf documentary Pacific Vibrations, (in which he also appeared!) and it provides a fine example of Griffin’s matchless lettering**. And there’s that Hopi mask again. Though it was quite a popular poster in the 1970s, If you ask me, though, accomplished as it is, it utterly fails to evoke surfing.

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Tales From the Tube, as it originally appeared in 1972, inserted into an issue of Surfer Magazine (Vol. 12 no. 6); some copies exist separately, however. Also to be found within its pages: Roberts Crumb and Williams, Steve Clay Wilson, Bill Odgen, Glen Chase and Jim Evans.

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TFTT was later reissued (now with a price) in the regular comix format by The Print Mint. As you can see, Griffin reimagined and re-separated his colours. Which version do *you* prefer?

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Visual splendour, not coherence, was always Griffin’s stock-in-trade. And why not? This travelogue premiered in Tales From the Tube.

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More poster (and soundtrack) artwork for surfing documentaries, this time 1972’s Five Summer Stories and its 1976 sequel, Five Summer Stories Plus Four, directed by Greg MacGillivray, a prolific, award-winning director and cinematographer to this day.

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… another Tales From the Tube, another Surf doc affiche from ’76. « This film and the other surf films for which Griffin has done posters are not usually shown on the regular movie circuits. Their soundtracks are usually composed of rock music of various forms – soft to hard – with a few breaks for narration. The surfing scene throughout the world has grown large enough to support the production of many films each year. »

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As you can see, Murphy abides. A 1993 sticker, with instructions.

-RG

*I’ll go even further: for me, it pretty much has to be Bruce Brown. His easy charm and wit, not to mention his untrained-yet-superb set of filmmaking skills leave other surfing cinéastes floundering in his wake. From what I’ve seen over the years, their work either seems too dry (ha!) or overdone and overeager. I’m still keeping an eye on the horizon, nevertheless. The relative unavailability of quality prints for most of these films is a hefty obstacle, while their soundtracks are far, far easier to find (e.g. Gone With the Wave, The Fantastic Plastic Machine…) 

**At this stage [1969], Griffin’s lettering almost ceased to be functional as legible typography. In fact, in even earlier work, he jokingly incorporated meaningless calligraphy into his posters. Rick pioneered and carried to an extreme in the 1960’s this disregard for the legibility of lettering, creating totally abstract forms the resemble letters. His particular style influenced and encouraged artists locally and throughout the world to reconsider all previous limitations that they were placing on stylized lettering and the ways that it could be used with other graphic forms.” From Gordon McLelland‘s monograph, Rick Griffin (1980, Perigee).

Lynch and Whitney’s Phoebe and the Pigeon People

« How do I despise thee? Let me count the ways. Society, you corpulent swine! » – Bix

Today, January 7, marks the seventy-fifth birthday of storied undergrounder Jay Lynch (1945-2017), creator of Nard n’ Pat, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids and MAD Magazine contributor… to name but a very few.

Today, we’ll shine a light upon his epochal comic strip Phoebe and the Pigeon People. Here’s how it was hatched:

« In April 1978, Lynch teamed up with cartoonist Gary Whitney to produce weekly Phoebe and the Pigeon People strips. Lynch wrote them and Whitney drew them. “It was very easy and it got us invited to cocktail parties”, said Lynch. “We wanted to do a strip that would appeal to secretaries, rather than a strip that would appeal to the comic fan type person.”

« Lynch and Whitney launched a stage show based on the characters, called When Cultures Collide, with an improvisational theater troupe, The Practical Theater. The performance included a battle of the bands between rock and new wave musicians. » (quoted from Ink & Anguish, a Jay Lynch Anthology, 2018, Fantagraphics)

P&TPP was another one of those captivatingly freewheeling features that popped up during the heady heyday of alternative weeklies. A while back, we devoted a post to Tom Hachtman‘s Gertrude’s Follies, which bloomed in a similarly unlikely fertile milieu. In Phoebe’s case, The Chicago Reader was the publication it called home during its impressive 1978-1996 run.

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A 1982 poster for the event in question. Art by Gary Whitney.

For a few years now, they’ve (in this case, a shadowy outfit vaguely named “Alternative Comics“) been promising us a Phoebe collected edition. We’re still waiting. Hey, if the publisher needs more time to do the job right, so be it… but expectations are accordingly high.

Amazon’s blurb is an ominous portent: « The under-achieving Phoebe and friends hang out with beatnik people-headed jazz-loving beat-philosophy cooing pigeons in a park in Chicago. »

Uh, not even close. Here are a few highlight from the strip’s first four years, pulled from the pages of Kitchen Sink’s valiant three-issue run (1979-81); read these selections and you’ll know more about the strip than whoever wrote that blurb. You’re welcome!

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Phoebe & The Pigeon People no. 2 (May 1980, Kitchen Sink).

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Clearly, these strips are so rooted in their time period that they retain no relevance whatsoever to today’s world and its social and political mores.

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Ah, politicians: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I’d love to see some of our finer young minds take a crack at such an opportunity. One can still dream, right?

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In Phoebe’s world, there was always plenty of room for the meta-contextual.

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Bix gets to trot out his pet poetic phrase. Catchy!

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This is the magazine-size Phoebe & The Pigeon People no. 3 (July 1981, Kitchen Sink). Until the omnibus arrives, this is your best bet. Read the run right here, friends!

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Our loveable auteurs and some of their cast, enjoying the Chicago winter. That’s Mr. Lynch on the left, Whitney on the right.

I particularly love the strip’s anything-for-a-joke ethos: as was Lynch’s wont, he ran the gamut from lowbrow to highbrow, from squeaky-clean to salacious, from sunny side up to scrambled. Let’s face it, that bizarre premise would have challenged and defeated most would-be humourists within a few weeks, let alone a decade-and-a-half.

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Jay Lynch, dapper elder, as he appears in the short film There’s Something Weird About Jay Lynch (2014, filmed and edited by John Kinhart). Watch it here!

-RG

Chew on This: Howard Cruse’s Bazooka Joe

« So to this my life has come: there’s meaning in a piece of gum » — Parthenon Huxley, Bazooka Joe

We recently lost another fine cartoonist in Howard Cruse (May 2, 1944 – Nov. 26, 2019), and while he’s most frequently celebrated for his pioneering work in Queer comix and his graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, I’m much fonder of his comparatively ‘lightweight’ humorous work. In other words, I’ll take the wacky short stories over the Ponderous Magnum Opus, thank you.

And things don’t get any lighter than Bazooka Joe, now do they?

In 1983, Howard Cruse was engaged by Topps to redesign Bazooka Joe and illustrate a new set of strips, the series’ first true update since co-creator* Wesley Morse‘s passing in 1963. Topps, figuring on more-or-less total turnover of its kiddie audience, had been rotating batches of strips every seven years, drawing on the vast hoard of unpublished strips left by Morse, and now and then hiring freelancers to pad out the lot.

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An unpublished Howard Cruse instructional comic, mid-1980s. Cruse recalled: « I always liked  this strip because it’s practically the only time I was invited to draw the character at a size large enough to allow some stylistic personality. » I added the colouring, just because.

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Howard Cruse Bazooka Joe model sheet, prepared for 1983 revamp.

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Cruse’s model sheet for the rest of the 1983-vintage cast.

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Chameleonic cartoonist R. Sikoryak, who contributed gags to the second Cruise series, posits that « One of the pleasures of the traditional comic strip is the conciseness of words and pictures, and the Bazooka format takes this compression about as far as humanly possible. As with haiku, there is a great power in the constraints that must be respected in obeying a format. »

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Samples of the 1983-84 vintage.

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Jay Lynch explains: « Despite the brand managers and marketing companies responsible for the various revamps of Bazooka Joe over the years, and their valiant attempts to make the characters and the gags more ‘hip‘, I’ve always thought that the primary appeal of these tiny comics was their overall lameness. Back when I wrote Bazooka Joe, I’d usually start by going through turn-of-the-century joke books and rewriting the ancient quips to turn the 1908 ragtime aficionados into 1990’s heavy-metal enthusiasts… »

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Some thoughtful suggestions from Cruse for the 1988 crop.

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From my personal collection, original artwork supposedly from the 1983-84 batch… but something doesn’t add up. Incidentally, actual size is 3 x 3 5/8 inches.

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The accompanying certificate of authenticity raises more questions than it answers. To wit, as Mr. Cruse elucidates: « When I was asked… to reconceive Bazooka Joe as a teenager and provide him with a new ‘gang‘, the only holdover from the earlier tykes… was Mort, the weird sidekick who wore a turtleneck pulled up to his eyes. Len [Brown] and Art Spiegelman… thought the ultra-lengthy turtleneck was a bit – in fact, was literally – over the top, though. So for my first series of strips the sweater’s collar was brought down below Mort’s chin… Apparently this change disturbed some nameless traditionalists at Topps, so when I was hired to draw a second batch of strips in 1988, the turtleneck was restored to its original position… » In that case, if my original is from the ’83-’84 series, why is Mort’s turtleneck in its traditional, and proper place?

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Another certificate, this one appearing on the back of Bazooka Jerk (Garbage Pail Kids Giant Series Stickers no. 1, from 1986). Illustrated by Howard Cruse.

Then, in 1990, when the time came for another series, Topps opted to subcontract the work to a marketing company that dismissed Cruise’s work as « too goofy », according to Jay Lynch. Then Lynch, Pete Poplaski and Grass Green took up the gauntlet, which is a fascinating tale in itself… but one for another day.

If such lowly cartoon ephemera hold even the slightest sway over you, you’ll likely be very interested in Topps’ Bazooka Joe and His Gang (2013, Abrams ComicArts, edited by Charles Kochman), which proved an invaluable resource in cobbling together this post.

« Bazooka Joe has become the personification of the lowest form of humor. And this is why he’s one of the most widely known comics characters on the planet. Sure, the jokes were cornball. But that’s their appeal. » — Jay Lynch

-RG

*with Topps executive (and Golden Age comic book artist) Woody Gelman.

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 13

« Here’s to the thugs and maniacs who fill each book with concepts so damnable, so putrescent, that they make the EC horror magazines of yore seem like mere cocktail napkin doggerel. I salute you. Now I’m going to take a bath in quicklime. » — Harlan Ellison toasts Death Rattle (1986)

In the 1980s, with the Comics Code Authority in its death throes, you’d think horror comics would have made a massive comeback. Well, they did… and they didn’t. Since there had been plenty of black and white magazines to operate outside of the Code’s restrictions, bringing bloodshed and mayhem to colour comics made the much-anticipated liberation a bit of a non-event. For my money, the truly interesting horror material opted for different approaches, now more experimental, then rather whimsical, at times clinical, sometimes abstract. Underground comix publisher Kitchen Sink, surviving thanks to its eclectic spirit, revived its early 70s horror anthology in 1985, an adventure that this go-round lasted eighteen issues and unleashed cutting-edge, nostalgic, shiver-inducing, thought-provoking and gut-busting efforts by such talents as Richard Corben, Rand Holmes, P.S. Mueller, Jack Jackson, Stephen Bissette, Mark Schultz (his Xenozoic Tales were introduced in Death Rattle 8, in 1986), and, on this unsettling cover, Charles Burns.

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This is Death Rattle no. 10 (April 1987, Kitchen Sink). Cover by Charles Burns, coloured by Pete Poplaski.

Before this cover, and speaking of clinical horror, Burns had earlier provided one of Death Rattle’s most harrowing gut-punches in issue one’s Ill Bred: a Horror Romance. I wouldn’t want to give away too much, but here are a few samples from this queasy masterpiece of gender fluidity, body horror and (justified) insect fear, seemingly inspired in equal parts by David Cronenberg films, Japanese art prints and Burns’ personal demons. Not for the queasy, but peruse it here if that ticks any of your happy boxes.

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– RG

 

The Prodigious William Stout

« You know, the dog food that Billy Jack loves! » — The Firesign Theatre

Ah, September the 18th. Today’s the birthday of the staggeringly accomplished William Stout (born in 1949), master of ancient reptiles, bootleg record covers, friend of The Firesign Theatre, former Russ Manning assistant (none but the best would do!), and I’ll spare you the illustrious details of his career in cinema. Still, let’s look around a bit, shall we?

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Here’s an unforgettable cover from Alien Worlds no. 3 (July, 1983, Pacific Comics). This scene gave me nightmares, and still raises a shudder. These critters look like a hybrid of a platypus and a piranha. Happy landings!

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Stout’s wonderful original logo for Rhino Records, circa 1974.

Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?

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This is the back cover (the recto is equally sumptuous) for The Firesign Theatre‘s 1975 opus, In the Next World, You’re On Your Own, featuring a pair of classic sidelong suites, Police Street and We’ve Lost Our Big Kabloona.

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A clutch of underground classics? Sure. Here’s Cocaine Comix no. 1 (Feb. 1976, Last Gasp).

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Another number one (with a bullet, of course): 50’s Funnies no. 1 (1980, Kitchen Sink). More lies inside!

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A favourite page from Stout’s masterpiece (or certainly his great labour of love, at the very least): The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era (1981, edited by Byron Preiss). This piece (the first he drew for the book) is entitled Hot Weather. « After lifting his head for air, he drank more and then wallowed his whole length and breadth into the ooze, vocalizing for the first time that day, and loudly. »

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Say hello to friendly Ed Gein. Weird Trips no. 2 (1978, Kitchen Sink). Please note the sinisterly-customized Kitchen Sink Enterprises logo, Wrightsonbrand coffee, and EC Comics narrator The Old Witch impishly peeking from a lower-right shelf. And yes, can’t go disemboweling your fellow man and woman without a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. Preparation is everything!

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Well, there never was any doubt that Mr. Stout was an EC Comics überfan. The Comics Journal no. 81 (May, 1983, Fantagraphics).

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I did bring up his Hollywood work, so here’s a sample. I wasn’t going to go with his the far-too-familiar Rock ‘n’ Roll High School poster… you all know it already, so where’s the fun in that? Of course, Joe Dante’s Amazon Women on the Moon again (1987) raises the eternal question: « Who made Steve Guttenberg a Star? »

And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?

-RG

Nikita Mandryka’s Ailleurs

« If you don’t want to be idolized by the masses, you don’t become an author, you become a plumber-welder! » — Entretien avec Mandryka, Les cahiers de la bande dessinées no. 28 (1975), conducted by Numa Sadoul

Nikita Mandryka was born October 1940 in Bizerte, Tunisia, to Russian émigré parents. His grandfather had fled the Russian Revolution in 1921 aboard a warship he was commanding. Nikita’s first professional strip appeared late in 1964 in Vaillant (Boff, in Vaillant no. 1024, Dec. 27, 1964), soon renamed Vaillant, le journal de Pif , then Pif Gadget in 1969. While he’s best known for his loquacious, dominoed cucurbit, Le Concombre Masqué, today we’re going to harvest the riches of his somewhat less familiar, but equally absurdist creation, the free-form strip Ailleurs (“Elsewhere”). The feature debuted with the inaugural issue of Pif Gadget and made its bow with issue 35, a few months down the line.

Mandryka left Pif Gadget on good terms (and returned over the years), and with a solid reason: while Pif’s editorial team rightly adored his work, its left-field humour left the majority of Pif’s young readership quite baffled, and sometimes infuriated. Mandryka’s place in the magazine may have been secure, but he yearned for an audience that actually understood him. This he would find at Pilote, with its teenage readership, and all the more so with L’Écho des Savanes (which he cofounded, in 1972, with Claire Bretécher and Marcel Gotlib).

Pif’s was an unusual case: its most singular, daring, arguably most valuable strips were those least appreciated by the kids. And that slice of the readership, you’ll have guessed it, tends to express its opinions more freely and vehemently than their elders, who did love (but more quietly) the somewhat abstract, second degré (offbeat, ironic) features, such as Marcel Gotlib and Henri Dufranne‘s Gai-Luron*, the recently-departed Massimo Mattioli‘s M. Le Magicien or Henri Crespi‘s Nestor. Still, the savvy editorial team, who after all had made the magazine a massive hit, keenly grasped the import of editorial balance and trusted its collective taste and instinct over the “wisdom” of the accountants and marketers… who, at the height of the magazine’s popularity, pulled a mutiny and… sank the ship. So, in hindsight, Mandryka was right to leave.

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Ailleursdébut, from the inaugural issue of Pif gadget / Vaillant no. 1239 (March 1st, 1969); If it goes “zgunk”, it’s not a zgonk, it’s a zgunk.

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As an english equivalent to « Sacré vingieu! », I propose « Dagnabit! »

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Ends with a sarcastic « Glory to the ten millionth discoverer of our planet! »

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« An original solution to the parking problem. »

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From Pif gadget no. 23 / Vaillant no. 1261 (July 1969); now you know what the legendarily stoic members of The Queen’s Guard do whilst at leisure.

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From Pif gadget no. 33 / Vaillant no. 1271 (Oct. 1969); idea provided by Tabary (Jean or his brother/ghost Jacques? We may never know).

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The final Ailleurs strip, from Pif gadget no. 35 / Vaillant no. 1273 (Oct. 1969). This would have made a great skit for Jacques Tati‘s peerless Mr. Hulot.

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Nikita’s just heard a really good one during this photoshoot for a L’Écho des Savanes advert.

To my knowledge, Ailleurs has never been collected or comprehensively reprinted, save for nine of the strips turning up in Claude Moliterni‘s** excellent scholarly Phenix, revue internationale de la bande dessinée (nos. 31-31-32) in 1973.

-RG

*I’d even argue that Dufranne does a better Gotlib than Gotlib ever did.

**Among many notable achievements, he was co-founder of the Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême (Angoulême International Comics Festival).

Crazy World, Ain’t It?

I’ve always been fond of this oddball little ad, which appeared in mid-70s comic books (in this case, a late 1974 DC 100-pager). It certainly demonstrates the considerable influence that pioneers such as Thimble Theatre creator Elzie Segar had on many an underground cartoonist.

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If the advertised products had been iron-ons (à la Roach Studios*) instead of finished t-shirts, they’d be easier to find today. The Mickey Rat shirt is still being produced these days, though likely a grey market item… same as it ever was. On the other hand, I can find neither hide nor hair of the Hebrew Shazam shirt. Anyone?

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A bountiful spread from The Natural Trading Company’s Mail-Order Catalog, which proposed T-Shirts – Posters – Art Prints – Buttons – Records – Comics… count me in!

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« Pinball Wizzard, you say? »

Here’s a bit of background on the Crazy World shirt, designed by (or swiped from) John Van Hamersveld, the genius behind the unforgettable The Endless Summer movie poster: « The face emblazoned across the chest of Mick Jagger in a 1972 New Musical Express feature on the Rolling Stones had a rich history according to its creator. The iconic image was the product of a mescaline and marijuana jag, after which Van Hamersveld was left with the enduring image of a man’s face with a big, toothy, wide smile. From a portrait of Jimi Hendrix he had made in 1968, Van Hamersveld came up with the Johnny Face logo the following year, which he used for promoting his own work. »

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And there’s Mick, just like the man said.

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One of the current offerings. Oh, definitely a bootleg.

For me at least, it’s hard to look at Johnny Face without seeing in it echoes of The Face of Steeplechase, Coney Island’s widely-grinning mascot.

Trivia time: can you name the infamous individual behind the 1966 demolition of the beloved Steeplechase amusement park? Find the answer here.

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… which in turn takes us farther down the rabbit hole in pursuit of MAD Magazine‘s mascot Alfred E. Newman, in his formative years and myriad of guises.

As for the artist who crafted the Natural Trading Company ad, I was drawing a blank until a few years ago, when the wonderful Jay Lynch (1945-2017) kindly lifted the veil on that particular mystery: Jerry Kay was the stylish culprit. Much appreciated, Mr. Lynch!

– RG

*not to be confused with the original Roach Studios, of course…