« I think the most gruesome thing in life is people — if they let themselves go. I’ve been letting myself go for years, and I’m beginning to feel gruesome. I want to entertain and communicate. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I have to be honest — like that old baseball umpire — and call ’em like I see ’em. My drawings aren’t as bad as the models themselves. » — Basil Wolverton
Here at WOT? headquarters, we’re both card-carrying, fervent Basil Wolverton* fanatics, but we haven’t devoted the column space commensurate with our affection for his work. Why? Because Wolverton, despite toiling in underpaid obscurity for most of his career and inevitably never becoming a household name, was always a critic and historian’s darling, insofar as there was a scholarly press to express its appreciation. Things began to turn around in the early 1970s, just in time.
Whatever subject or genre he put his hand to, Wolverton’s singular style shone through, and not as a handicap: his funnies were hilarious, his horror was harrowing… but they were distinctly from that same, most gifted of hands.
Most of Basil’s humour work was (with the partial exception of Powerhouse Pepper, 1942-49) relegated to ‘filler’ features, generally hidden gems glittering in the mediocre midst of loads and loads of higher-profile rubbish. Don’t just take my word for it: here’s a typical example of the sorry setup.
Quite recently, I was delighted to learn of the existence of a sublime collection of vintage Wolverton humour, namely Scoop Scuttle and His Pals: The Crackpot Comics of Basil Wolverton (April 2021, Fantagraphics), assembled and restored by Mr. Greg Sadowski, a man of impeccable credentials, taste and talent, who brought to bear his usual diligent care in researching, editing, designing and producing this tome, as he has before with his two volumes of Wolverton’s biography, Creeping Death From Neptune and Brain Bats of Venus, as well as exemplary monographs of Bernard Krigstein, Alex Toth, et al.
From this thrilling new assemblage, I’ve picked a pair of short samples, both featuring my favourite Wolverton protagonist, Mystic Moot (and his Magic Snoot). Sadowski informs us that:
« In July 1945, editor Virginia Provisiero invited the artist to submit ideas for a four-page ‘magic or mystic character’. He responded with Champ Van Camp and his Magic Lamp, but the editor suggested ‘a weird magician who had hocus-pocus powers instead of this lamp and genie affair‘. Wolverton hit the bull’s-eye with his second try, Mystic Mose and his Magic Nose, though Managing Editor Will Lieberson came up with a catchier moniker. »
Historian Henry Steele, in his indispensable overview of Wolverton’s career (published in Bill Spicer‘s blandly-titled but most excellent Graphic Story Magazine‘s issues 12 and 14, circa 1970-71), eloquently describes Mystic Moot as :
« Basically a kindly and almost simple soul, he is eternally cheerful and never at a loss. He is perennially helping others, usually unfortunate nobodies liked the jobless glutton, the bankrupt small businessman, the farmer with no crop, the henpecked husband, intimidated lumberjacks and prospectors, widows, orphans and kindred down-and-outers. He uses his magic powers only in the most haphazard ways, and never relies on them on his own behalf unless it is absolutely necessary.
Perhaps because of the passive Eastern philosophy of its subject, Mystic Moot strikes one as being the most minor key of all Wolverton’s features — which, while it implies difference, does not mean inferiority in any sense. »
Here’s one for my fellow animal lovers out there!
*He’s a Tentacle Tuesday Master, I’ll have you know!