With the Magic Words, ‘Hey Look!’

« Hey, Look! is essential reading for any cartoonist. » — the late and much-missed Patrick Dean, who truly knew what he was talking about.

Sometimes I think of a post topic and dismiss it with a ‘nah, too obvious’… but on some of my brighter days, I run the idea past my wife, who provides a welcome reality check: ‘Obvious to whom?‘, she asks. Well, there’s been a collected edition… which has been out of print for most of the nearly thirty years since it hit the stands. Fair enough.

As I’ve been lately foraging through the crumbling back pages of Golden Age humour comics (see my previous post), it would be negligently immoral for me to pass over one of the crown jewels of the genre, the era and the medium.

One* of the redeeming features of Marvel’s overwhelmingly crass Dynamite (magazine) rip-off, Pizzazz, was its reprinting of a handful of Harvey Kurtzman‘s majestic Hey Look! strips. Of course, it made perfect economic sense: grab some already (and barely)-paid-for, all-but-forgotten ‘filler’ from the 1940s, slap some new colour on ‘em, and wham! One less egg to fry.

Here’s the collection in question. Published in 1992 by the venerable Kitchen Sink Press, it has yet to be improved upon. In addition to all the Hey Look! strips, it includes an unsurprisingly excellent introduction by the erudite John Benson, and further sweetens the pot with Kurtzman’s other Timely features of the era, namely Genius, Egghead Doodle and Potshot Pete. The latter is particularly worth a look-see.
The earliest Hey Look! strips are cute and of some historical significance, but rather scattershot and tentative. Here’s roughly where Kurtzman starts to really, and consistently, cook. Originally published in Gay Comics no. 33 (Aug. 1948, Timely).
« Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. » — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, circa 1848. Clearly, listening to the news has never brought much comfort to one’s mind and soul. Originally published in Gay Comics no. 34 (Oct. 1948, Timely).
Mr. Kurtzman was ahead of the game, anticipating the superhero genre’s dark turn of the mid-80s and beyond, and pointing out its inherent fascism. Already a bit too close too home at the time of its creation, this piece languished in limbo until its publication in 1966 in a limited-edition portfolio.
Originally published in Nellie the Nurse no. 16 (Dec. 1948, Timely).
Originally published in Hedy Divine no. 30 (Dec. 1948, Timely).
Originally published in Joker no. 35 (Jan. 1949, Timely).
Originally published in Millie no. 16 (Feb. 1949, Timely). Always experimenting: dig here Kurtzman’s elegant use of the scratchboard technique.
Originally published in Nellie the Nurse no. 19 (Apr. 1949, Timely). With the miniaturisation of electronics, and cameras in particular, there’s (of course) been an opposing movement toward huge telephoto lenses. Read into it what you will.
I was, and remain, especially fond of this one, originally published in Gay Comics no. 37 (Apr., 1949) and reprinted in Pizzazz 15 (Dec. 1978)… the one with the Battlestar Galactica cover. ‘Cabazziz’ is made up, but Podunk has roots.
Originally published in Patsy Walker no. 22 (May 1949, Timely). Incidentally, generic ‘teen’ humour character Patsy Walker has since (circa 1976) been refashioned and recycled, in the tried-and-true ‘waste not, want not’ Marvel manner, into a superheroine, Hellcat. Sheesh.


*one other was Jon Buller‘s riotously surreal Bob the Blob in The Great American Comic Strip Catastrophe.

Harvey Kurtzman, selon Marcel Gotlib

« Tous les merdeux ricanaient en se disant qu’une revue sans merdeux à la tête, ça ne marcherait jamais.* »

In issue 63 (April, 1974) of the recently rechristened « Charlie Mensuel » (to avoid confusion with its sister publication, Charlie Hebdo, yes, *that* Charlie Hebdo), insightful bandes dessinées critic and French national treasure Yves Frémion-Danet (b. 1947, Lyon), writing under his « Théophraste Épistolier » nom de plume, provided a classic essay accompanying a reprint of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s « Goodman Gets a Gun », originally published in Help no. 16 (Nov. 1962, Warren). In his piece, Frémion posits that, with his 28 issues of Mad / Mad Magazine, Kurtzman’s brand of satire completely changed the rules of the game, and that despite an utter lack of commercial success and name recognition for himself and his work (reportedly, a French edition of Mad was published in 1965-66, for six or seven issues) on the continent, his influence on a significant swathe of the subsequent generation of French and Belgian cartoonists easily validates his vital importance.

Théophraste Épistolier’s column’s logo, which translates as “Little Mickeys give you big ears”. A “Petit Miquet” is, in french, a generic name for cartoon characters from a dismissive and/or ignorant perspective. Someone to whom Mickey Mouse is the sole precursor of all Little Mickeys. Artwork by Gotlib.

Frémion spares no praise for Kurtzman’s acolytes Elder, Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood and John Severin, and publisher Bill Gaines, but has nothing but contempt for editorial successor Al Feldstein (“vile copier”, “lumbering”, “regular”…). Frémion charts Kurtzman’s subsequent projects and associations, and his rôle in the rise of Underground Comix. Recommended reading… if you can read french.

Ah, but that brings us to an apt illustration of that creaky adage, « A picture is worth a thousand words »: as it happens, the legendary Marcel Gotlib (b. 1934, d. 2016), speaking of influential, provided a quartet of original illustrations to put across what comics were like Before and After Kurtzman, commenting at once on American comics and on Franco-Belgian bande dessinée, with a snappy Gallic twist. Like Goofus and Gallant, but with far more tongue.

It took me a long time to come to terms with Gotlib. In my formative years, in Québec, his was such an outsize, smothering influence that one got quite sick of him. To be fair, not of him so much as his multitudinous, third-and-fourth-rate would-be clones. His style was easy to imitate, yet difficult to master. You see how that could easily careen off the rails?


In the left panel, the pistol is missing, having been whited-out « in accordance with the law on publications intended for young people », a quite repressive set of regulations adopted in 1949.

More of the same: « Certain body parts have been whited-out. » Gotlib’s point is well made: when something relatively innocuous gets erased, the mind often fills the blanks with more perverse possibilities. Serves you right, censors.

The issue in question. Charlie / Charlie Hebdo was published from Feb. 1969 to Feb. 1986, lasting, in fits and starts, 198 issues. It then merged with Pilote… and disappeared. Cover, of course, by Charles Schulz.


All the shitheads giggled, telling themselves that a magazine without an shithead in charge never would stand a chance. » – Théophraste Épistolier


Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 30

« Thought I’d inject a little excitement into this initiation… do I look any worse for wear? »

When EC überfan Russ Cochran launched his incredibly ambitious series of hardcover sets of the complete EC Comics in the late 1970s, there was simply no way I could afford the lot… so I gathered my shekels and mail-ordered a single volume of Tales From the Crypt (no. 3, midway through the run) and further managed to sweet-talk a nice lady at the local public library into ordering the first volume of Weird Science (years later, I would meet a couple of kids who’d become obsessed with the book, signing it out dozens of times and wondering how it had ever come to be acquired by our small, mostly francophone library).

Since the EC formula (meaning Bill Gaines & Al Feldstein) does wear thin with prolonged exposure, I gravitated to the outliers: Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Bernie Krigstein, the Bradbury adaptations… but the true revelation in these volumes turned out to be John Benson and Bhob Stewart’s superb documentary notes, comprising astute analyses and eloquent interviews with the surviving participants… which are nowadays down to, well, colourist Marie Severin.

Anyhow, I was particularly intrigued by Gaines and Feldstein’s early system of “springboards”, which is to say that they based stories upon anecdotes encountered in newspapers and magazines. One title evoked time and again is Try and Stop Me (1944)*.

From John Benson’s documentary notes in Haunt of Fear, Volume 1 (1985):

« ‘House of Horror’ [Tales from the Crypt no. 21, Dec. 1950 – Jan. 1951] is even more directly derivative; the story is merely an elaborated version of an anecdote from the Trail of the Tingling Spine chapter of Bennett Cerf’s Try and Stop Me, which was the source of a number of EC stories. Kurtzman remembers the story as ‘an ass-breaker.‘ It was the first story he did for the EC line and he wanted to make a good impression. ‘It was the effort that got me the EC account. ». 

House of Horror was scripted by Ivan Klapper, who contributed a few stories, early in the EC horror titles’ run. He went on to work on John Newland‘s 1959-61 anthology show, One Step Beyond.

If you’re used to the usual rubbery, sketchy (but deceptively spontanous-looking) Kurtzman, brace yourself.

« At initiation time it was my idea to take the three neophytes we had selected and brundle them out to a deserted house about fifteen miles from the campus. It had been unoccupied for years, was windowless, sagging and ugly, and was said by the villagers to be haunted. We picked a black, starless night for the initiation, and all the way out to the place poured tales of horror and the supernatural into the ears of our three apprehensive freshmen. »

« I watched him enter the deserted house. It was about two hundred yards from where we were gathered. His instructions were to stay inside for a half-hour, and then come back to us. When forty-five long minutes went by without any sign of him, I experienced my first uneasiness, and dispatched the second freshman to fetch him. Ten more minutes went by. Nothing happened. There wasn’t a sound anywhere. The fire was burning low – we just sat there, quietly watching. »

« ‘These kids are a little too smart for their own good’, I said at last. ‘Davis, get in there and bring them back fast,’ Davis was our prize conquest – a handsome, two-hundred-pound boy whose scholastic records foreshadowed an almost certain place on the next year’s All-American squad. He had already been elected president of the freshman class. »

« The first thing that struck me when I entered was a musty smell like the smell of an attic full of old books and newspapers. I yelled for the boys, and poked my flashlight into every corner but there wasn’t a sign of them. Only a faint, steady tap that seemed to come from the roof. »

The relevant illustration, by Carl Rose, from Try and Stop Me’s original version. « I stuck my head through the open skylight. There was Davis, stretched out on his stomach! His hair had turned snow-white. His eyes rolled in his head. He was mad as a hatter. In his hand he held a hammer covered with blood. » « He died in the college hospital the next morning without uttering a single syllable. We never found any trace of the other two boys… »

*I lucked out and found a nice copy in the 1980s… for $4.50, according to the usual lightly-pencilled note on the flyleaf.

– RG