Charles Rodrigues’ Pantheon of Scabrous Humour

« He works at night, which is fitting, since some of his best cartoons deal with the dark side of the psyche. A classic black humorist, he rummages around in violence, insanity, perversion, bigotry and scatology, looking for what he needs to create the typical Rodrigues effect: wild laughter with a cringe of repulsion. » [source]

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2014) is an American cartoonist of Portuguese descent. Fantagraphics published two collections of this work, and their blurb describes him as « the sick mind behind some of the most outrageous, inventive, and offensive cartoons ever to appear in mass circulation magazines, including Stereo Review, Playboy and (from its very first issue) the National Lampoon. » One of these books collects his one-panel cartoons, and is titled Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues. Scrofulous, in case you didn’t know, means something like ‘morally contaminated’.

So it will come as no surprise that this post might provoke a few pouts of distaste. On the other hand, I am hoping that it will also elicit some chuckles.

I remember my reaction at first reading Chuck Palahniuk’s 2005 short story ‘Guts‘ (if unfamiliar but curious, read it here, at your own peril) and feeling a sort of amazed astonishment about how far the author was willing to go. ‘He’s not really going to go there, is he? Oh wow, he actually went that far.’

Well, reading Charles Rodrigues can be compared to that – at least in the slightly surreal surprise one feels when the gag winks at the reader, and trots happily across the invisible line nobody talks much about (but that we all know is there). If there’s a joke to be made, it doesn’t matter that it lies in the territory of the distinctly distasteful, Rodrigues will go for it with all arms blazing and nail it. Reading Guts is arguably an uncomfortable experience; reading a Rodrigues comic is wickedly entertaining… or incredibly offensive, depending on what floats (or sinks) your boat. He stuns the reader with a hilarious and crass barrage of absurdities reliant on scatology, taboos, and general indecency and sleaze. No one is safe – not the handicapped, nor the elderly; he flings dirt with equal aplomb at the women’s liberation front, gays and blacks, the terminally ill, rock stars, lepers, single mothers and ugly children, conjoined twins and cannibals — and this parade is only starting, chum.

Now I didn’t head into this with a desire to showcase the most stomach-churning of Rodrigues cartoons. This selection is based on a simple premise: some of my favourite instances of his sacrilegious* sense of humour. Gross-out gags and crudeness are actually really easy to come by, and often incredibly stupid — I worry about people who think a guy getting hit in the balls is hilarious. But I hope that this post demonstrates that in this case, there is a keen intelligence and a writer’s talent at work.

The following single-panel cartoons have been collected in Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues.

« Cartoonists can look upon his work with a kind of awe. His staggering is perfection, his actors expressive, his architecture and perspective masterful. But I’ve heard more than one layperson comment that his work looked rough and unpolished. I beg to differ. His line was thick, lumpy and bled right into the very fiber of the paper, but it is controlled and deliberate. This was a craftsman in charge of his medium. » Bob Fingerman, from the introduction to Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics.

While his panel cartoons hit hard and fast, when given the space to develop a longer story, Rodrigues takes the time to set up things up for maximum… nastiness, with every gag flowing the most naturally in the world into an even more over-the-top one. The following pages are excerpted from Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics, which had been my first exposure to Rodrigues’ work, which « boggled the mind and challenged all sense of decency and propriety ». What can I say? I found it in a now-defunct comic bookstore, looked through a few pages and immediately purchased it.

Page from The Story of a Man and his Dead Friend, in which Ray’s friend Joe dies, and Ray decides to keep his corpse around because he’s lonely without him (Joe is embalmed to avoid unpleasant odours and whatnot, which leads to its own set of scatological issues).
Page from Sam DeGroot: The Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine. Sam is on skid row after a series of misfortunes, but is picked up by a kind-hearted civilian (who turns out to be fattening him up to be eaten later on).
Sam is being successfully fattened up (Everett the cannibal is a very talented cook!), although in this panel Everett rescinds his evil man-eating ways, set on the right path by one of those door-to-door priests seeking to convert more sheep for his flock.
From the iron lung and into the hospital bed! Sam starts a new phase in his life (and ends up being literally able to talk out of his ass through an enema tube, but that comes later).

I’ll wrap this with an unrelated one-pager which somehow seems appropriate in this pandemic new year –

~ ds

*Interestingly, Rodrigues was actually a fairly religious, politically conservative man.

A Fabulous, Furry Fungus Friday!

« No wonder psychedelics are threatening to an authoritarian religious hierarchy. You don’t need faith to benefit from a psychedelic experience, let alone a priest or even a shaman to interpret it. What you need is courage to drink the brew, eat the mushroom, or whatever it is, and then to pay attention, and make of it what you will. Suddenly, the tools for direct contact with the transcendent other (whether you call it God or something else) is taken from the hands of an anointed elite and given to the individual seeker. » — Dennis McKenna

Sensing that I’ve been neglecting Underground Comix in our coverage, I thought I’d close out the year with a thematic pairing of a favourite comestible with a beloved cartoonist (and his collaborators).

That’s a pretty fanciful mushroom patch there, boys. I doubt that mushrooms would grow much, if at all, in the blazing prairie sun… let alone that neatly. Artistic licence, then! This is The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers no. 5 (May 1977, Rip Off Press). Cover by Gilbert Shelton and Dave Sheridan.
An old girlfriend of mine once echoed Fat Freddy’s bonehead sentiment: “Ew… mushrooms grow in shit!“, presumably unaware of the role manure has always played in agriculture. She went on to marry a succession of Frenchmen, and given their nation’s appreciation of fungi, I hope she was smart enough to not express out loud that bit of… wisdom.

By the way, Phineas is right, as usual. Here’s more info on the relationship between mushrooms and cow flop, and an ‘easy guide to picking‘…

One Pizza With Mushrooms to Go! first saw print in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers no. 4 (November 1975, Rip Off Press). This is Shelton and Sheridan’s original cover art, which fetched a handsome 43,000 dollars and change when it was auctioned off in 2016.
Ah, roommates. One again, Fat Freddy undoes Phineas’ careful efforts. This reminder of the importance of sterilisation in mushroom cultivation comes courtesy of Messrs. Shelton and Paul Mavrides. It appeared in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers no. 12 (1992, Rip Off Press).
Talk about a roomful of cartooning genius. Meet Mavrides and Shelton and feel your senses reel!

Honestly, it’s been, for many of us, the kind of year when mutant psychedelic fungus overrunning one’s city would come as a pretty good bit of news. Let’s hope for something even better for 2022!

For more Gilbert Shelton on WOT?, just follow this link!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Spot the Octopus

An octopus has crept into the following pages. Can you spot it before the year ends?*

*I realize this is an extremely easy assignment, but given the state of things these days, one should seek out a minor sense of accomplishment wherever one may find it!

Page from Bananas no. 13 (1975, Scholastic), a kids’ magazine from the 70s. Somewhat similar to its older brother Dynamite, Bananas had (even) more of a focus on celebrities. Art by Bill Basso.
Pizzazz, published by Marvel Comics from 1977 to 1979, was pretty much a rip-off of Dynamite, and, as co-admin RG points out, rather tiresome to read with its constant insertions of Marvel plugs. From Pizzazz no. 11 (August, 1978, Marvel), this elaborate scene is by Graham Hunter – visit Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 27 for more from this great artist!
From the mag’s final issue, Pizzazz no. 16 (Jan. 1979, Marvel).

I have plenty more tentacles saved up, but after four years of weekly cephalopods, I am growing rather weary of this topic. While I endeavour to rekindle this old love of mine, I will move on to other interesting things, so this is not only the last Tentacle Tuesday of the year, but the last TT for a bit. See you on newer, fresher pastures!

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “Any Port in a Storm” (1974)

« I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve. » — George Bernard Shaw

Today, let’s spread a little romance around. This much-maligned genre certainly deserves more affection and respect. From what I’ve observed, even social media groups nominally dedicated to romance comics mostly exist to mock and denigrate them. Honestly, are they truly sillier and more formulaic than superhero comics?

Anyway, while recently visiting a local comic shop with the intent of buying some supplies, I also discovered a fine trove of late 60s to mid-70s romance titles, affordably-priced to boot. Having spent a month or so leisurely reading through the pile, here’s a favourite tale. My co-conspirator and romantic partner ds spotted this one first, and I agreed with her assessment that this was something special. Let us, then, cast off into the briny blue… just don’t forget to bring the oars.

Jack Abel (1927-1996) was one of those efficient and reliably solid artists of the sort that held the comics industry together through the years. I honestly can’t think of any other artist who, more than once, worked concurrently for DC (mostly inking, but occasionally pencilling) Marvel (inking and editorial), Charlton (pencils and inks) and Gold Key (pencils and inks). Add to that tally Atlas-Seaboard (in its sole year of existence, 1975) and Skywald, and you have a mighty ubiquitous fellow. It is worth specifying that, unlike most of comics’ other utility players and pinch hitters, his work never seemed rushed or botched.

For what it’s worth, Abel was twice the hapless victim of fine artiste Roy Lichtenstein, both in 1963, with: Torpedo…Los! and Crak!

I enjoy Abel’s Charlton work most, because he was often assigned some memorable scripts (an unlikely prospect at Gold Key), chief among them The Lure of the Swamp! (script by Nicola Cuti, Haunted no. 8, Oct. 1972); Mr. Blanque (script by Cuti, Ghostly Haunts no. 28, Nov. 1972); Like Father, Like Son (script by Cuti, Haunted no. 10, Jan. 1972); Sewer Patrol! (script by Cuti, Ghostly Haunts no. 31, Apr. 1973); and The Teddy Bear! (script by Cuti, Haunted no. 15, Nov. 1973)…

Any Port in a Storm, however, is clearly the work of Joe Gill, who frequently helped distinguish and elevate Charlton’s romance material by deftly integrating just the right amount of plausible detail of business, engineering, sports or what-have-you matters into his narratives. Presumably, Gill was getting further mileage from all the research he’d conducted in order to write the fifteen-issue Popeye Career Awareness Library, a couple of years earlier.

As you can witness, this is every bit as much of a tale of adventure as it is a romance, and indeed, why split hairs when you can have both?

Any Port in a Storm was rightly picked as the cover feature: this is Love Diary no. 90 (Nov. 1974, Charlton); George Wildman, managing editor.

-RG

Your Usual Corner Table at Mule’s Diner

« There’s a safety in thinking in a diner. You can have your coffee or your milkshake, and you can go off into strange dark areas, and always come back to the safety of the diner. » — David Lynch

My relationship with the National Lampoon has always held a strong element of contention: in my view, for every brilliant strip or feature, there’s some deplorably juvenile shock-for-shock’s-sake fratboy dross. But the good stuff, even if it doesn’t always outweigh the bad, is still worth tracking down… and sharing!

While Stan Mack is most celebrated for his impressive comics reportage (an area explored in this previous post), I’m just as taken with his earlier endeavour, the surreal Mule’s Diner, sporadically published in the Lampoon during the magazine’s heyday (the first half of the 1970s).

In his history of the magazine, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead (2010, Abrams — now also a film!), Mack’s cartooning colleague, Rick Meyerowitz, wrote of him admiringly:

« In Mule’s Diner, surrealism was dished up with the coffee, or maybe it was the coffee. Stan invited the Lampoon’s readers to sit and have a cup and listen to a story. Dine at Mule’s and you’ll find yourself ruminating on some fantastic little morsel for days afterward. The stories, like the ink, are indelible. Read a few now and see if there is another artist who has cross-hatched his way this deep inside parts of your head you didn’t even know you had.

Stan misses nothing. It’s only after looking at the picture he drew of you that you notice you’ve been missing a button on your coat. I saw him interview a politician in a crowded convention hall. He looked the man right in the eye while he wrote down verbatim what the guy said, and drew his portrait without even once looking at the 2×3 inch pad he held in his right hand. The portrait looked like the guy, too. That’s talent! »

Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 24 (March 1972).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 27 (June 1972).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 34 (Jan. 1973).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 39 (June 1973).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 46 (Jan. 1974).
Originally published in National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 53 (Aug. 1974).
And the most famous of the lot — the tragic saga of Murray’s fart, from National Lampoon vol. 1 no. 68 (Nov. 1975);
The handsome auteur, sans moustache, displays his best side. Photo by Sylvia Plachy.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 19

« Hell is empty and all the devils are here. » — William Shakespeare

In the 1970’s, thanks to a boom of interest in all things Occult, we made the acquaintance of hordes of Satan and Dracula’s close relatives. Oh, these bad boys were prolific!

This is one of Atlas-Seaboard’s entries into the black and white magazine arena. The stylish cover is the work of George Torjussen, one of his rare forays into comics (so to speak); Mr. Torjusson is still active in the fine arts field.

This is Devilina no. 2 (May, 1975, Atlas-Seaboard). Interior art by Ric Estrada, Frank Thorne, Jack Sparling, Suso and Leo Summers. Cursed with a low print run, this baby’s scarce.

Here are a few sample pages from Curse of the Ra Scarab, written and illustrated by Mr. Estrada (1928-2009). Moody!

The story’s nothing spectacular, but I’ll take Ric Estrada‘s lively artwork any day over any of those stiff photo tracers who illustrated Vampirella’s exploits. Especially since Ric gets to ink himself in this case. Reportedly ambidextrous to an impressive degree, Estrada claimed he could pencil with his right hand while inking with his left.

It’s worth noting, I think, that this has to be the most rape-happy comics magazine I’ve encountered… that isn’t from Italy. The Devilina feature aside, only one story doesn’t feature or imply an instance of violent rape. I’m inclined to thing that editor and scripters’ notion of ‘Female-filled fantasy‘ was more like ‘Female-filling fantasy‘. I guess this is some people’s idea of exercising their freedom from the Comics Code Authority — but mature it isn’t.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 13

« How could you be so sure? … they could be real! » — Reggie Mantle, believer

Sure, it’s a hoary ol’ plot, used both to comedic and dramatic effect a gazillion times, but… as is often the case, the plot is more or less accessory. I always enjoy an Archie comics story that reminds us that these kids have known one another forever (from their perspective — not in the sense that they’ve been around since the 1940s, that’s too metatextual). With Archie for the most part being someone things happen to, as opposed to a catalyst — one who sets events into motion, I’m rather more interested in the adversarial (and sometimes collaborative) relationship between Reggie and Jughead… when it’s properly explored.

As with the previous Samm Schwartz story I spotlighted, Tee for Three, Dilton’s garage plays a key part. Intriguing…

Beasties of the Night originally appeared in Jughead no. 279 (Aug. 1978, Archie). It was scripted by Frank Doyle (1917-1996).

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 11

« We see light, not dark. But it is in the dark that we feel goblins and ghosts. » — Rex Brandt

The ever-creative Tom Eaton‘s Oliver Cool (1975-79) always reserved a special treat for Hallowe’en. In past countdowns, I’ve shared the first (1975) and second (1976) entries devoted to the beloved occasion, and here is the final pair.

From Young World Volume 14 no. 8 (Oct. 1977, The Saturday Evening Post Company).
Eaton’s Fizz & Farra In the Year 2250 strip ran concurrently in Young World’s sister publication, Child Life. This seasonal cover by Arthur Wallower was simply too good not to include.
From Young World Volume 15 no. 8 (Oct. 1978, The Saturday Evening Post Company).
As a bonus, here’s one item some of you monster kids may fondly remember: Monster Stand-Up Greeting Cards (1980, Scholastic). Pricey these days, from the look of it.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 2

« Every scarecrow has a secret ambition to terrorize. » — Stanisław Jerzy Lec

I can’t help but feel that a villain who makes time in his nefarious schedule for taking his, er, pooch for regular walks can’t be *all* bad. Likewise for a rogue who appreciates the cleverness and joie de vivre of a raven.

This is The Joker no. 8 (July-August 1976), featuring The Scarecrow’s Fearsome Face-Off!, which was edited by Julius Schwartz (in case the alliterative title hadn’t tipped you off), scripted by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled by the always-solid Irv Novick and inked by Tex Blaisdell. Cover by Ernie Chan (as Ernie Chua).

In the mid-70s, The Clown Prince of Crime held his own book for ten issues (nine of which appeared at the time… the tenth only seeing print in… 2019!), and its stories chiefly (and rather winningly) focussed on his squabbles with other members of The Batman’s rogues’ gallery (certainly the finest in comics). I haven’t followed the dodgy shenanigans of the back issue marketplace in decades, but I was amused and bemused by the lofty prices that this otherwise-innocuous little series commands. Overflow from his cinematic popularity, perhaps?

I like the way Professor Crane works. Over these past couple of years, this last two panel sequence has probably come to pass in real life more often than one would care to count.
The Joker adopting a hyena as a companion was but a cruel cover dodge, but The Scarecrow‘s pet raven, Nightmare, is present and accounted for, superbly crafty and most efficient, just like the genuine article!
The same page, from the original printing. In closing, a slight editorial note: It’s easy to forget that, unless you kept close tabs on the printer’s work, most mainstream comics were quite badly printed… it’s especially easy to forget since much of the more popular work has since been reprinted from the original art or photostats, and digitally coloured-and-printed. Conversely, when it comes to the work of defunct publishers, and if the original artwork, or quality photostats of same, is no longer in existence or otherwise unavailable, reprinters have to make do with a flawed, not to mention secondary, sources — at best. For instance, the printing of my original edition of this Joker issue is dreadfully out of register. In the wings, things were quickly shifting at DC: as of late ’75, Carmine Infantino (publisher, etc.) and Nick Cardy (art director, etc.) were out, and an absolutely crucial production technician, Jack Adler, was being sidelined. He would retire a few years later. Long story short, Sturgeon’s Law in action, and why I went with the digital colour job. After toning down the contrast a bit. A guy’s got to have standards.

– RG

The Truth About UFOs: The Hoaxmaster Knows — and Tells All!

« I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. I was interested in possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it’s possible or not but whether it’s going on or not. » — Richard P. Feynman

While the UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) mania has arguably continued unabated for the past three-quarters of a century, kicked off in 1947 by the Kenneth Arnold sighting and, of course, the so-called Roswell incident, the phenomenon hit its peak of popularity and hysteria in the 1960s and 1970s, when all things occult, bizarre and otherworldly were all the rage across all media.

You can follow the rising pitch with the publishing frequency of Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers: after its premiere issue hits the stands in 1968, two full years elapsed until the second, then another two until the third… and again to the fourth. It’s fair to presume that the title had been intended as a one-shot, and that encouraging sales led the way to a regular, if sparse schedule. Then the pace picked up after issue four (Nov. 1974), and so ten issues appeared in the span of just over three years. There was a brief hiatus, a retitling to UFO & Outer Space and a further dozen issues saw print, two of them reprints. By late 1979, the series sputtered to a halt.

They may not have been to everyone’s taste, but Gold Key comics provided their audience with a soothing respite and change of pace from Marvel’s endless manic brutality and insipid crossovers. Even amidst the GK line, UFO Flying Saucers stood out. It did a stellar job of covering the flying saucer craze of the Cold War years, thanks to a sober, documentary-style narrative tone and strong artwork, led by Frank Bolle, who fit the template to a T. The tone was surprisingly even-handed (far more so than most modern media; j’accuse, History Channel!) They even tossed a scrumptious pinch of skepticism into the mix now and again, and it’s this delicacy that we’ll be sampling.

The modern skeptical* movement was spearheaded by the 1952 publication of mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner‘s fascinating In the Name of Science (thereafter better known as Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science), answering the need for an organised response to a (still) rising tide of irrationality, superstition and scientific illiteracy. When UFO Flying Saucers introduced its series featuring The Hoaxmaster, the skeptics’ flagship publication, The Skeptical Inquirer, was still a couple of years away from being launched. That auspicious occasion came in the fall of 1976, under its original title of The Zetetic: Journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

The introduction of The Hoaxmaster, from UFO Flying Saucers no. 4 (Nov. 1974, Gold Key).
And such fakery has only become far, far easier… from UFO Flying Saucers no. 6 (May 1975, Gold Key).
Ah, that John and Marsha/Marcia routine never gets old! From UFO Flying Saucers no. 7 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key).
Mr. Bolle provided just one cover to the series, and while it’s hardly the best one, it certainly stands out amidst the lot. Again, this is UFO Flying Saucers no. 7 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key).
Say, what have we here? Could it be… fake news? From UFO Flying Saucers no. 8 (Nov. 1975, Gold Key).

Sadly, The Hoaxmaster series bears no writing credit. The only writer ever credited in the title is Western Publications staffer Patricia Fortunato, a former story editor of The Golden Magazine. If that’s your work, Pat, take a bow!

In comparison, artist identification is a cinch: the steady hand of Frank Bolle, who left us just last year, at the most venerable age of 95, is instantly recognizable. Artistically active right to the wire, he drew the final leg (1999-2015) of soap opera comic strip Apartment 3-G‘s 54-year-run. Over the course of his singularly long career, he worked for just about every comics publisher… and then some! His reliable proficiency at providing just the right tone to illuminate that delicate borderline between science fact and science fiction made him the ideal choice to adapt John Christopher‘s early young adult post-apocalyptic The Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire), serialised in Boys’ Life magazine in the 1980s. Check it out here!

Well, that’s roughly half of the Hoaxmaster strips. If you’d like to see the rest, let us know… I can probably time it with the next edition of World Contact Day. To sign off on a musical note, here’s its catchy, Canadian-made anthem. Remember, “we are your friends“.

-RG

*as opposed to ‘denialism’, of course. It’s a crucial distinction: know the difference!