Boop-Oop-a-Doop Like It’s the Thirties!

« Her surname, a familiar catchphrase of the time, was inspired by the inter-lyric expostulations of a nationally famous Paramount Pictures songbird, Helen Kane. ‘Boop Boo a Doop!’ was the chant she sang in her sweet, high-pitched voice, a flippant raspberry to the jazz age. Somehow these nonsense syllables seemed to embody the spirit of the waning days of the twenties… »

I think everybody knows Betty Boop, though probably not that many have seen the original cartoons from the 1930s. She was ‘created’ by Max Fleischer orchestrating a team of animators – as with any gestalt creation, one can argue about who was responsible for what until one is blue in the face, but it has been convincingly argued (by Bill Blackbeard, for example) that Grim Natwick was the actual creator, probably with a stable of other animators.

In 1930, Betty, then still nameless, made her first appearance in (the pleasantly weird) Dizzy Dishes as a supporting character, as a seductive canine anthropomorph with dog ears and human curves. She acquired more personality once she was matched up with Bimbo, another doggo, in Bimbo’s Initiation (1931) – which is an even stranger cartoon, a tale of hazing by a bunch of creatures with pulsating buttocks and candles on their heads pursuing Bimbo with chants of ‘wanna be a member? wanna be a member?’, to which Bimbo always responds ‘no!’ to get sent to yet another chamber of tortures. I would suggest not psychoanalysing that too closely. Watch for the grand WTF finale:

By 1932, Betty, who now had a stable position as Bimbo’s regular girlfriend and a name to call her own, had jettisoned her dog attributes, floppy dog ears quite seamlessly transformed into big hoop earrings. Though she was a’booping from the very beginning, she acquired her hallmark Boop surname with Betty Boop Limited (1932). The aforementioned Helen Kane* was not pleased, and there were, as Blackbeard explains in his introduction to Betty Boop’s Sunday Best: The Complete Color Comics, 1934-1936 (Kitchen Sink Press, 1995), ‘threats of lawsuits, various legal manœuvres, and demands for creator royalties, all without result‘.

In 1933, Hearst’ King Features Syndicate started negotiating terms for a Betty Boop comic strip, and in 1934 the strip, drawn by Bud Counihan, appeared. However, this was not exactly the same unhinged, hip-jiggling Betty of earlier years. King Features wanted to appeal to more conservative audiences, and Betty’s sexuality was toned down a notch. The animated Betty didn’t fare much better – as usual, guardians of Moral Purity™stuck their fingers in the pie, and from June 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code kicked into effect, forcing Betty to leave behind her carefree flapper days to become either a career girl, or some generic housewife.

Oh, but there was still plenty fun to be had. Besides, the comic strip Betty was not quite as smothered – while the latter was nursing babies and whatnot in a long dress, the former was still running around in her risqué red number, occasionally even kissing men and living the life of a spoiled movie star. Here are a few Sunday strips – thanks for co-admin RG for scanning these unscannables.

Sunday strip from March 1935. Counihan’s tigers are consistently adorable.
Sunday strip from 1935, and a few different perspectives on Betty’s legs and derrière.
Sunday strip from 1935. That’s a more fun version of a police line-up…
Sunday strip from 1935. Mentions of nudism come up more often than one would expect (and yet Betty is never particularly undressed, at least not by modern standards).
Sunday strip from 1936. In the later years, Betty’s indomitable aunt Tillie monopolized much of the action. She may have not had Betty’s sex appeal, but she was kind of fun to watch – a generous woman (also generous with her fists in cases of disagreement). Have I mentioned the tigers?

Blackthorne Publishing, known for their reprints of classic titles, issued three 72-page collections of Betty Boop reprints, comprising a mix of dailies and Sundays.

Blackthorne Comic-Strip Preserves nos. 1 and 2 (both published in January 1986). Covers by Bud Counihan.

There are a lot of modern conversations about the meaning of Betty Boop**. Was she but a sex symbol, bent to the lascivious male gaze that created her? Or perhaps an early example of a feminist icon, in control of her own sexuality? Her combination of innocence and feminine wiles actually reminds me of Sally the Sleuth (see Here Comes Sally the Sleuth… and There Goes Her Dress!), as Betty effortlessly runs around half naked, thwarting rape attempts without losing an ounce of her cheerfulness. These questions mostly address a pre-1934 Betty, as her identity in the public eye seems to have been formed in those few years of unhinged actions and symbolism… as well as BB merchandise in the 1980s, as she was rediscovered by makers of all manner of goods (note that it was still her sexier form that was used on cups, lamps, t-shirts, keychains, and whatever else you can think of).

From recent attempts to revive the character, Gisele Lagacé and Roger Langridge‘s comic series comes to mind – more as a traumatic experience rather than a pleasure, despite being hyped as ‘insanely entertaining‘. Langridge is a WOT favourite, but in this case even his script cannot save Lagacé’s insipid art (‘Lagace’s art is amazing. Her characters emote in ways I didn’t think two-dimensional cartoons could.’ says The Court of Nerds) or the flat colours by Maria Victoria Robado (who normally opts for colourful images, so I’m thinking that the drabness was imposed upon her by the artist). At least some of the covers of this 4-issue series were nice…

Betty Boop no. 4 (January 2017), cover by Roger Langridge.

*In recent years, it has come out that Kane was probably aping the act of black vaudeville performer Esther ‘Baby’ Jones.

**See, for example, The Forgotten Black Woman Behind Betty Boop.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 17

« In this club all members are equal, be they of claw, talon or fang; skin, fur or scale; from grave, tomb or laboratory; if they slither, walk or crawl; if they breathe, gasp or do neither. No one monster will take precedence over another. » — Signed EATM Ghoul (Hon Sec)

Like many a horror fan of my generation, I grew up adoring Amicus Productions‘ films, particularly their multi-segment entries, known as Portmanteau movies. These include fine adaptations of Robert Bloch stories, generally scripted by the master himself: Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971) and Asylum (1973), and a pair of well-crafted adaptations of EC Comics, 1972’s Tales From the Crypt and 1973’s The Vault of Horror, which unveiled these classics to an eager new audience.

With 1974’s From Beyond the Grave, Amicus partners Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg found themselves a new wellspring in British author Ronald Henry Glynn Chetwynd-Hayes (1919-2001). While some consider 1981’s Chetwynd-Hayes portmanteau The Monster Club part of the Amicus œuvre, the company had been dissolved in 1975… but as the film was produced by Subotsky, the notion is not without merit.

And so… comics? Enter UK comics maven Derek ‘Dez’ Skinn. As Dez tells it:

« Milton Subotsky, the London-based US powerhouse behind the horror film company Amicus Films, had always been madly envious that rivals Hammer had their own magazine and was constantly twisting my arm to work with him. When he got a distribution deal on R. Chetwynd-Hayes’ The Monster Club, he saw his chance. Actors including Vincent Price and John Carradine were signed up but there was no time to shoot any footage to promote the production at the Cannes Film Festival. So he called me up and asked if we could adapt the film into comic strip format, much like we’d done with Hammer, so that printed copies could be used to sell the film overseas at Cannes.

We only printed 1,000 copies of The Monster Club, making it an instant collectors’ item in fan circles! Adapting the film script myself, I assigned John Bolton to produce the 26 pages of artwork (although David Lloyd valiantly came in to handle one chapter because of the tight deadline). Targeted at an international audience of film buyers on lush glossy paper, it was surely the most inexpensive yet effective film promotion ever! » [ source ]

The cover of the original paperback edition (March 1976, New English Library). Would it have killed them to credit the cover artist, whose work is surely a strong selling point?

This material was reprinted (waste not, want not!) in Halls of Horror nos. 25 and 26 in 1983, then in North America, in a coloured version, in John Bolton’s Halls of Horror nos. 1 and 2 (both June 1985, Eclipse). And so here we are.

John Bolton’s (who else?) double spread cover painting.

As far as the adaptation goes, I must confess I far prefer the witty linking bits to the stories proper.

Lest we forget, this version was coloured by Tim Smith.

Among the most intriguing features of Chetwynd-Hayes’ book is his clever conceit of monsters forming an oppressed (by humanity) society with its own castes, hybrids, classifications and creeds. Here’s a most helpful table:

And the happy conclusion (after plenty of angst and grue in the stories). The movie’s better and the book better yet, but this was a worthwhile project and a fun curio.

This is The Ghoul, one of a set of specialty images Bolton created for the film’s promotion:

In closing, here’s a catchy musical number from the film, performed by one of my musical heroes, B.A. Robertson… not to be confused with T.M. Robertson, another favourite musician.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 13

« Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos. » — David Cronenberg

I take it that Monsieur Jacques Clouseau, aka The Inspector needs no introduction around these parts. So here he is:

Case of: The Great Brain Bait, along with a trio of Pink Panther adventures, was featured in this, The Pink Panther no. 23 (Nov. 1974, Gold Key). Cover art attributed to Phil De Lara, though if it was indeed his work, it was published posthumously, De Lara having passed on to the Old Animators’ Home in the Sky in 1973.

While Gold Key’s Pink Panther and Inspector comics were fairly competently written and drawn (The Pink Panther didn’t last eighty-four issues for nothing) they could not hold a candle to Mirisch Films‘ mid-1960s Inspector shorts. In fact, this particular Inspector tale is a retelling/adaptation of one of these, 1968’s Transylvania Mania. Watch it for comparison (and enjoyment) — they’ll be six rather well-spent minutes of your time!

-RG

Paul Reubens at 70: ‘Fun’ Is Still the Secret Word

« I know you are, but what am I? » — Pee Wee Herman

And they said it couldn’t happen!

Today, Paul Reubens (born Paul Rubenfeld on Aug. 27, 1952) celebrates (in the coolest style, to be sure) his seventieth birthday. What’s he got to do with comics? Well, he obviously reads them, and his alter-ego, Pee-wee Herman, once met legendary small-scale comics hero Bazooka Joe.

This momentous occasion took place on the back of card no. 18 (of 33) from Topps’ delirious Pee-wee’s Playhouse set (1988). Introductions were arranged by that dapper bon vivant, Mark Newgarden.

This is happily one of those rare occasions when the word ‘Fun’ is accurately evoked. While Mr. Reubens wasn’t directly involved with the conception and concoction of this splendid ‘Pak’, he signed off on every aspect of it — no generic licenced product, this.
While the front of the cards bore the standard, time-tested ‘photographs with captions’ images, the backs is where the anarchic action was. Here are a few samples. Note the unbleached cardboard, which adds a certain primitive je ne sais quoi.
“Remember — you are an ARTIST!”
The Puppetland Band, those adorable beatniks, were always favourites.
Cartoonists Mark Newgarden and Kazimieras ‘Kaz‘ Prapuolenis write in!
Sexual innuendo and hidden messages on a kids’ show? You don’t say!
Funny, I would have expected Françoise Mouly‘s french to be better than this. Perhaps that’s why she moved to NYC.
A sheet of stickers… featuring, front and centre, Roger from Monsterland (‘Look’ was the secret word that week).
Temporary (sorry) tattoos. It was just to difficult to pick just one sheet, so here are two.
The “Pee-wee Copter”, front and back.
If you think you recognized the distinctive stylings of messrs. Charles Burns on the front and those of J.D. King* on the back… kudos on your discerning eye, keen one.

At one time, during Pee-wee’s heyday, I dated for a few months this girl from a, to put it mildly, conservative family. Her little brother was expressly forbidden from watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse, for fear that ‘it might turn him gay’. Live and learn… do check out this smart list of The Best 25 Pee-wee’s Playhouse Moments.

Happy birthday Paul, and a great weekend to you, Pee-wee!

Bonus time: in a case of ‘biting the hand that feeds’, Topps issued this snarky entry as part of its 1991 Wacky Packages series. Concept, writing and layout by Mark Newgarden, painted art by John Pound.

– RG

*a grateful tip of the hat to Mark Newgarden for the inside dope!

“Get on Your Bike and Do What You Like”

« Bicycles are pieces of art. You get that combination of kinetic engineering, but then, besides the welds, the paint jobs, the kind of the sculpture of it all is quite beautiful. Bikes have such great lines, and all different styles. » — Robin Williams

I’ve been cycling a lot more of late. I’d been using my bike less frequently in recent years, unnerved by the increasingly frantic (and distracted, not a good combo) vehicular traffic of the city. But with my wife taking an interest in the activity, I found myself with a reason to get back in the saddle. This spring, we found a newly opened bike shop, earthy, grimy and unpretentious, where we got our bikes expertly tuned up.

I’ve always loathed those cliquish hipster joints that, in addition to selling overpriced junk, also seem responsible for the ubiquity of those middle-aged, over-equipped, spandex-clad Sunday cyclists, who feel it their sacred duty to pass you, whatever the pace, weather or road conditions, looking for all the world like overstuffed sausages in their lycra casings. The sporting analogue, if you will, of the rich kid who ‘needs’ the most expensive guitar in the shop… never mind that he can’t play a note.

You hopefully will indulge me in this little exercise in nostalgia. I miss the days when our bikes got us around, granted us greater autonomy and kept us in shape. This lifestyle took a backseat in the 1980s, when the BMX craze began to overstate the extreme and the competitive facets of the sport. Now, it’s all ultimate sport this and boot-camp fitness that. Ah, whatever happened to plain old utilitarian fun?

Judging from this ad (circa July, 1951), bicycle makers were trying to make their steeds mimic the clunky look of the era’s motorcycles. Aesthetics would soon improve.
Here’s a fairly typical ad, circa 1961. Free catalogue, not to mention a healthy dollop of American jingoism, like it or lump it. Speaking of Schwinn, check out their well-produced promo comics Bicycle Book, from 1949.
Ah, yes, the U.S. Royal twins, Roy and Al. In the tradition of the accidentally named Smith Brothers, “Trade” and “Mark”.
Unsurprisingly, scouting magazine Boys’ Life was an ideal market for bike-themed ads. This one appeared in the May, 1966 issue. Artist unknown… anyone?
You can tell how important the bicycle scene was: not only were manufacturers hawking bicycles, but there was also the ‘aftermarket’ trade of gizmos and doodads. I’ve long supposed ‘speedometer’ to be a dumbed-down term for a tachometer. Even after consulting this ‘helpful’ chart, I’m still not convinced it isn’t. To quote sometime Beach Boys lyricist, DJ and racing enthusiast Roger Christian: “Tach it up, tach it up / Buddy, gonna shut you down.

Through much of the 1960s, Bendix (the corporation, not Bill!) commissioned a long-running series of custom ads featuring the Riverdale Gang, illustrated by resident Archie artist Harry Lucey.

This one’s from April, 1965.
Archie, the voice of reason? Only in ads and public service announcements. This one’s from October, 1966.
This one’s from July, 1968.
Ah, that’s more like the Archie Andrews we’re accustomed to. This one’s from August, 1968. I daresay we’ve all encountered too many such ‘cyclists’.
An apt reminder that the rich kids always did boast the best, most up-to-date equipment, whatever the sport. Also, I can’t help but think that the cape and tiger tail are just kind of… reckless. Clearly, corporate shill Tigerboy is failing to heed the lessons of Isadora Duncan’s tragic death. Thanks to the ever-thrilling Jack Davis artwork, this is the unsurpassed classic among bicycle ads. It appeared in select DC and Archie titles cover-dated November, 1968.
While banana seats may be considered in most quarters as retro kitsch, I earnestly hold that they were bold and cool. Aesthetic and structural experimentation had arrived at the forefront of the cycling industry. This ad appeared in comics cover-dated February, 1969.
And here’s a look at a (flawlessly) surviving model. Man, the elegance of those lines!

As the 1960s drew to a close, another series of custom comics ads appeared — just under the wire. They spotlight the creations of the famous ‘King of the Kustomizers’, George “Barris” Salapatas (1925-2015), very much in demand thanks to his recent triumph with the Batman tv show’s Batmobile.

This one appeared in various DC titles cover-dated November, 1969. If I had to take a stab at artistic attribution, I would go with the versatile Creig Flessel (1912-2008). Something tells me that in real life, the human chain stunt the Mighty i Patrol pulls would have led to four drowned kids instead of just one — but I’m sure Woofie would have dog-paddled his way to safety.
This one appeared in DC titles cover-dated December, 1969. Read a gripping first-hand account of working on the assembly line at the Iverson bicycle factory, circa 1975!
I’m assuming that the kid with the sombrero nicked it from Bazooka Joe’s kid brother Pesty. This final adventure saw print in DC titles cover-dated January, 1970.

This, however, is the advert that really worked on me. When I got my first grown-up ten speed bike, a few years later, it was a Browning, which lasted me at least a quarter-century, until it snapped right at the load-bearing juncture of the rear fork… the one place where even welding wouldn’t help.

I switched to my backup, a hybrid bike I bought in 1987. It’s still running beautifully. In terms of value for money, a well-maintained bicycle is pretty unbeatable.

My well-thumbed copy of Adventure Cycling in Europe (1981). « Say, Uncle John, did Browning replace you with a pretty-boy model for your comic book ad? » « They sure did, but you know what’s even worse? » « I don’t know, Uncle John, what is? » « I don’t even have a nephew either! » All kidding aside, though it’s over forty years old, it’s still an insightful, entertaining and helpful book. When you go low-tech, change occurs at a slower, more forgiving pace.

I leave you with a song, whence comes the title of this article. It’s from a lesser-known but excellent Donovan album, Open Road, from 1970.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Squeaks and Quacks From the House of Mouse

Eventually I accumulate enough material that posts bleed into other posts, sort of like a melting blueberry puddle gradually makes it way into the nooks and crannies of every object in its path on the counter (that happened recently, thus the very specific analogy). In this case, the blueberry juice is Uncle Scrooge et al., who have already appeared in Tentacle Tuesday: Duck Feathers!. Today our emphasis is more on Mickey Mouse, but I can’t promise other Disney characters won’t wander in for a cup of tea (or a quick tussle with an octopus).

As a matter of fact, my usual habit of arranging images in chronological order starts this post on a distinctly un-Mickey-like note…

The following sequence is from Ghost of the Grotto (written and illustrated by Carl Barks), published in Four Color no. 159 – Donald Duck in The Ghost of the Grotto (August 1947, Dell). You can read the full issue here.

Okay, I promised Mickey Mouse, so I’d better get back on topic!

Page from The Phantom Ship, scripted by Carl Fallberg and illustrated by Paul Murry; it was published in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories vol. 25 no. 3 (December 1964, Gold Key).

Speaking of the aforementioned Paul Murry – I bet you have never seen an octopus adorned with quite so many bracelets.

Mickey Mouse no. 159 (October 1975, Gold Key). The cover is by Paul Murry.

Now we step into the dubious territory of European Disney comics – don’t forget to read about co-admin RG’s enjoyably scathing views on the subject here.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge Adventures no. 12 (April 1989, Gladstone). Does anybody recognize the cover artist?

The following story, credited as ‘story and art: the Egmont Group, script: John Cochran, colour: Scott Rockwell’, was published in Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse no. 4 (March 1996, Gladstone). You can read the full issue here.

I’ll wrap up by going back to the top, which is to say finishing on as high a note as this post started on. Carl Barks, ladies and gentlemen!

Wishing you happy undersea adventures… until next Tuesday rolls around!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 8

« So, you see the little snot on the right side, move it two inches to the left and add a little bit of green gleam to it. » — Mark Newgarden, doing some art direction

I can’t help it, Wacky Packages are such a Hallowe’en-friendly endeavour that I keep returning to their fertile soil. First, during our initial edition and again in the second. Just consider some of the who’s who talent embroiled in dreaming up these humble stickers: Art Spiegelman, Norm Saunders, Bill Griffith, Jay Lynch, Mark Newgarden, John Pound, Drew Friedman, Tomas Bunk, Tom Sutton

A Norman Saunders beauty from Series 12 (1975, Topps). And just what is wrong with spinach, pray tell? 😉
If this one looks sharper than you’d expect, it’s because it’s shot from a larger version of the Wacky card that Norman Saunders (re)painted for Topps’ Wacky Posters series, circa 1973.
Ladies and gentlemen, Drew Friedman! « In 1991, I was creating many concept sketches and pencil drawings for the TOPPS company, including for their latest set of the hugely popular sticker series “Wacky Packages”. Mark Newgarden was the editor and art director for the 1991 series, and the writers for the card fronts included Newgarden, Jay Lynch, Jordan Bochanis, John Mariano and myself. I drew about 22 tight pencil images which would (with one exception) be painted by the illustrator Patrick Pigott. » If you enjoy being privy to an artist’s creative process, by all means do yourself a favour and feast your peepers on this gallery of Friedman’s roughs, finishes, used and unused pieces. In this (mummy) case, it’s Friedman pencils, finished art by Tomas Bunk.
From the 6th Series (1974, Topps). Most likely painted by Norm Saunders.
From the 8th Series (1974, Topps)… though mine’s a 1980’s reprint. Painted by Norm Saunders.
From the lucky 13th Series (1975, Topps). Another fine Saunders vintage. Topps would find Mr. Saunders most difficult to replace.
From the 1985 Series. Artist unknown.
From the 1991 Series. Painted by Patrick Pigott.

-RG

Wacky Animal Antics on Parade!

I really enjoy the madcap world of Golden Age funny animal comics, and they’ve often made it into various Tentacle Tuesdays. Yet not everything fits into the somewhat narrow scope of tentacles (shocking, I know!), so I am pleased to take this fun gallop through some favourite covers that are quite devoid of cephalopods. Doing so involves going back some seventy, eighty years… a difficult to grasp concept for those of us who were not around back then.

This one-shot comic from Famous Funnies featuring a sweet cover by Dave Tendlar may not be-laugh-out-loud funny, but makes up with charming innocence what it lacks in the hilarity department. This is Dover the Bird no. 1 (Spring 1955, Eastern Color Printing).

My thirty-something colleagues consider movies from the late 90s to be ‘ancient’, so I can just imagine what their reaction would be to a comic from, say, 1942! Yet I feel emotionally close to these covers (whether artistically accomplished, entertainingly weird or just plain drugged-out) – humanity has not changed nearly as much as we tend to assume, and albeit some sources of humour require an historian’s explanation, others are every bit as funny and entertaining now as they were back then. As for talking animals, that goes back to the dawn of human history (Aesop’s fables readily come to mind, and Aesop was surely not the inventor of this concept!)

One could dedicate a whole lifetime to digging through this particular slice of history – I’ve tried to go for some variety in this post, but of course I am (happily) constrained by my own tastes in the matter. Here, then, are some Golden Age covers featuring funny animals that have amused, entertained or puzzled me.

Animal Comics no. 1 (December 1942, Dell), with a cover by H.R. McBride, is an amalgam of details both adorable and creepy – the harrowing expression of the fish contrasts wildly with Madame Crocodile’s peanuts-pilfering offspring and her flirty cocktail parasol, while her crocodile-skin purse makes me think of Disney’s Three Little Pigs cartoon (1933, Silly Symphonies). In case you’ve never noticed it, the third pig, the one with the brick house, has family pictures on his wall… for example, a string of sausages labelled “Father”. Black humour, indeed. Animal funnies are often dusted with a good sprinkling of the gruesome, as when a talking duck eats chicken legs for dinner.

The insides have two Walt Kelly stories, including the first appearance of Pogo Possum and his friends!

Fast forwarding four years, we fall into pleasantly loopy territory of Fox Features’ Nuttylife no. 2 (Summer 1946, Fox Comics). Despite it being number two, this is technically the only issue, issue number 1 having appeared as Krazy Life, and issue number 3 and onward becoming Wotalife Comics. I can’t find credits for the cover, but the insides contain Pat Adams with Ellis Chambers (“One day a little goil went to her Grandma’s joint…”), Tim Howe and Cy King. Ellis Chambers by himself definitely deserves a separate post – take a glimpse at Eddie Elephant – 1946 Hallucinogenic Funny Animal Comix by Ellis Holly Chambers, for example.

I couldn’t very well leave Felix the Cat out of this post! I won’t go into the complex history of this character, but suffice it to say that this is one gorgeous cover. Clearly I’m not the only one to admire this image, as it was used for the cover of Craig Yoe‘s wonderful anthology Felix the Cat – Greatest Comic Book Tails (2011, IDW), which I highly recommend. This is Four Color no. 135 (February 1947, Dell Comics), with a cover by Otto Messmer.

The American Comics Group is responsible for many a goofy plot, source of my long-lasting affection for some of their titles (see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles). ACG’s Ha Ha Comics are a riot, all right, but I have two favourites among the 88 issues released. The first is Ha Ha Comics no. 11 (August 1944), with a cover by Ken Hultgren. A joke doesn’t have to be elaborate to be funny – something about the expression of the indignant man-eating lion and his wild mop of hair cracks me up!

The second is Ha Ha Comics no. 78 (Dec-Jan 1951), cover artist unknown. I like porcupines in general, but here we are presented with a truly bizarre situation – a porcupine who tears out his sweetheart’s quills one by one to figure out whether she loves him… (unless she’s just a friend helping out, and he’s in love with some other porcupine). Kinky, whichever way you look at it.

Going a few years back, we take a little inter-planetary voyage with Coo Coo Comics no. 38 (March 1948, Pines/Standard Comics), with a cover by (possibly) Vince Fago. I am very fond of this purple-green monster who looks like he’s suffering from a bad hangover (or terminal cretinism). Coo Coo Comics is credited with having introduced the first funny animal superhero (in its very first issue, published in October 1942). That little guy was Supermouse…

The insides contain some Frank Frazetta stories, in case anybody is interested.

… but the other contender for this title was Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, also introduced in October 1942 (under the name of ‘Super Mouse’) in the theatrical short The Mouse of Tomorrow. That’s enough to get anybody confused in all these mice! This is Terry-Toons Comics no. 1 (October 1942), with an Ernie Hart cover that hints at the influence that funny animal comics had on the underground comix artists:

~ ds

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

Tentacle Tuesday: SpongeBob Goes Squish!

That SpongeBob would encounter a lot of tentacles in his day-to-day life is not at all surprising – he’s a sea sponge. What still surprises me, however, by is how much fun SpongeBob comics can be. Between 2011 and 2018, a respectable 85 issues were published by Stephen Hillenburg‘s production company, United Plankton Pictures (what a great title) and distributed by Bongo Comics.

No tentacles yet, but I couldn’t resist sharing this colourful, spook-tastic spread from SpongeBob Comics No. 25 (October 2013). Art by Andy Rementer.

The formula was similar to Simpsons Comics spin-off Treehouse of Horror: plenty of famous (and talented!) cartoonists having fun with the characters. Between the roster for the regular comics and the special-themed supersized issues, quite a few artists who participated are WOT favourites, and some are Tentacle Tuesday masters, to boot: Hilary Barta, Tony Millionaire, Al Jaffee, Ramona Fradon, Michael T. Gilbert… in 2017, Stephen R. Bissette even broke up out of retirement to work on a special Hallowe’en issue. I think this post is a decent sampler of the different styles and storytelling techniques involved – I’ve concentrated on prominent tentacles, and ignored all the trimmings (the recurring jellyfish tentacles, pumpkins sprouting grabby vines, etc.)

The tentacle fun starts right off with the first issue! Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy vs. the Octopus King, written by James Kochalka and illustrated by Hilary Barta, was published in SpongeBob Comics No. 1 (February 2011):

A page from Serpents & Sealords, written and illustrated by Corey Barba and published in SpongeBob Comics no. 51 (December 2015).

The following glorious illustration at the tail end of SpongeBob Comics no. 50 (November 2015) is by Jim Woodring:

Given that Stephen Hillenburg (the creator of SpongeBob) was a marine scientist and teacher, it does not come as a surprise that the recurring feature Flotsam and Jetsam was used to talk about all manner of nautical critters and their habits. Here are a few:

Flotsam and Jetsam: Ocean Facts – The Mimic Octopus, written and illustrated by Maris Wicks and published in SpongeBob Comics no. 52 (January 2016).
Flotsam Fables: Legends of the Deep – The Kraken, written by Karen Sneider and illustrated by Vanessa Davis), was published in SpongeBob Comics  no. 62 (November 2016).
Flotsam & Jetsam – Ocean Facts: Sea Stars, written by Julie Winterbottom and illustrated by Nate Neal, published in SpongeBob Comics no. 71 (August 2017).

~ ds