Helen Case: Girlie Cartoonist With a Twist

« At one time, I sold general cartoons to some of the men’s magazines, the girlies — until I went into a newsstand one day and looked at one. » — Betty Swords

If female cartoonists were fairly uncommon in the American mainstream magazine field for much of the twentieth century, they were doubly so within the so-called girlie mags.

« During the 1950s, Abe Goodman — brother of Marvel Comics publisher Moe ‘Martin’ Goodman — was the largest buyer of cartoons in the world. Publishing out of New York City under the Humorama banner, Goodman churned out scores of cheap digest-sized magazines boasting inventive titles like Romp, Stare and Joker that featured hackneyed jokes, cheesecake photos and the publications’ bread and butter, single panel pin-up cartoons.

These magazines were an unlikely proving ground for neophyte gag cartoonists as well as a welcomed alternative to the daily grind of comic book sweatshops. In the 1950s and 1960s, these digests featured the likes of Playboy’s Jack Cole, Archie’s Dan DeCarlo and glamour girl legend Bill Ward. »

While I can unreservedly recommend Alex Chun and Alex Covey’s The Pin-Up Art of Humorama (Fantagraphics, 2011), I’m frankly puzzled as to its wholesale snubbing of Helen Case, who might have brought a welcome bit of variety to the all-male revue. God knows some lesser lights did make the cut.

While feminist cartoonist Betty Swords would likely have dismissed Case’s protagonists the way she did Barbara Shermund‘s, as « gold diggers, dames — amateur prostitutes », Case’s cartoons (I’m afraid I don’t know whether she wrote and illustrated, or simply illustrated… at Humorama’s pauper’s rates, the former is somewhat preferable) provide a refreshing female perspective to the battle of the sexes. To quote Betty Swords again (from R.C. Harvey‘s excellent Insider Histories of Cartooning (2014, University Press of Mississippi): « I remember one editor who shuffled through my cartoons then tossed them on the desk and said, ‘You gal cartoonists are all alike — you don’t attack and hit hard enough! »

While scant information is available regarding Ms. Case (she appears to have lived in Kingston, New York in the early 1960s), at least online, much of her work survives, which surely has to count for something. We present some of the finer cuts, and if the gags aren’t transcendentally great, they are a brace o’ notches above the average knuckle-dragging drollery pervading the pages of Breezy, Snappy or Eyeful of Fun. Most of these gags were drawn and initially published (Humorama’s cheapskate policy was to print, reprint, and reprint again) between 1960 and 1964. Enjoy!

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-RG

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