Willie Lumpkin was created by Dan DeCarlo and Stan Lee when Harold Anderson, the head of Publishers Syndicate (which merged into Hall Syndicate, which was eventually purchased by Hearst and is now part of King Features…) wanted a ‘bucolic’ newspaper strip set in some small town. The ‘friendly mailman’ idea is supposed to be Anderson’s, the family name Lee’s.
I cannot say that it’s a very funny strip (well, it was written by Lee, need we say more?), but it has a certain charm, and DeCarlo’s art is highly enjoyable, even though one occasionally feels like one has stumbled into an Archie story. DeCarlo liked drawing cheesecake, and we enjoy looking at it (for the heavy guns, visit RG’s Dan DeCarlo at Humorama (1956-63)), but in this case it is the other characters I am interested in, the kids with dirty behind their ears, spinster aunties in funny glasses, and of course the adorably bookish Lumpkin, the glue that holds the denizens of this small town together.
The strip ran from December 1959 to May 1961. Here are a few pickings —
I stayed mostly away from the aforementioned cheesecake, but here is an example of it:
If the name Lumpkin rings some sort of different bell for you, it might be because he got incorporated into the Marvel universe in 1963 – a much older Lumpkin became the Fantastic Four‘s mail carrier with issue no. 11 (February 1963):
Over his Marvel years, his back story expanded and expanded, reminding me of the Russian expression ‘a stopper for every barrel’. He seemed to have been shoved into every plot that needed some secondary character to do something, delivering letters left and right, getting wounded multiple times during various epic battles, and accidentally ending up immortal (as of 2019). Same old, same old. I bet he preferred his quieter days among courting teenagers and middle-class families.
« Discovering this girlie mag stuff was like expecting a bike for Christmas and getting a car. » — Jaime Hernandez on his personal DeCarlo epiphany
As assiduous readers of this blog may already know, I don’t rate Dan DeCarlo (1919-2001) all that highly as an Archie artist. Simply put, once he committed himself fully to the publisher (in 1963), he strapped himself onto a treadmill of exploitation for the next several decades, and on-model hackwork quickly became the norm. Archie consumers (can we truly call it reading?) didn’t know or care then, or now, who produced the stuff, nor how.
While grinding out sexy panel cartoons for Moe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Humorama line of girlie digests also constituted exploitation (at 15 bucks a pop, sometimes less), the results were sturdier and far more expressive, which is surprising, given that DeCarlo produced hundreds of these (at the cited figure* of ten a month, it adds up to over 800!) over the course of a mere seven-year span. But then DeCarlo was at his peak, having acquired sufficient experience (he’d gotten his start in the field in 1947), and he was hungry and brimming with stamina.
DeCarlo buddy / biographer Bill Morrison, in his fine preface to Alex Chun and Jacob Covey’s The Pin-up Art of Dan DeCarlo (2005, Fantagraphics), sadly out of print and nowadays quite costly (though volume 2’s still available from the publisher, hint hint!), recounts the way things went down:
« According to Dan, Stan Lee wanted to make a little extra money, so he offered to introduce Dan to the editor of the Humorama line of men’s humor magazines. In return for the introduction, Stan would collect 10% of the fee for every single panel gag cartoon Dan contributed. Dan saw this as an chance to develop as a magazine cartoonist, and he decided to pull out all the stops. Dan recalled, ‘So I did five, and I brought them over, all black and white wash, you know. I thought they were beautiful, and he [the editor] loved them. He paid me $15.00 each, and I had to give 10% to Stan!’ Dan soon decided not to continue doing the cartoons, even when Stan declined to take his cut. So the editor offered a compromise. He said, ‘Well, would it be easier if you just draw the situations, and I put the gags in?’ Dan agreed that would help to make it worthwhile. He had been paying his comic book inker Rudy Lapick $3.00 a piece to come up with the gags, so with that cost eliminated, he could nearly clear a full $15.00 on each cartoon after buying supplies. Incidentally, Dan later learned that Rudy had been swiping the gags cold from a book of Peter Arno’s New Yorker cartoons, so it’s probably a good thing that this arrangement didn’t continue. »
Here’s a baker’s dozen samples of what I deem the cream of the DeCarlo crop…. visually, anyway.
As you can witness, the gags are a bit of an afterthought, a side dish to stock situations. Over the years, these cartoons were endlessly recycled, and the captions updated, though rarely… upgraded.
« What is it about me, Pops? Am I different than normal people? »
One (more) thing I’ve learned in this world is that the vast majority of people, from the man or woman in the checkout line to the hard core of comics aficionados… can’t tell Archie artists apart, let alone name any of them.
If you scratch deep enough, one name will come up, like pebbles from a fallow field: Dan DeCarlo. I’m reminded of the annual restaurant poll a local alternative weekly used to hold: McDonald’s unfailingly took its category in a landslide, because of its ubiquitous familiarity. And so it is with Archie artists: DeCarlo must be the best because… well, that’s what we’ve always been told.
If you ask me, much of his peers’ work gets attributed to him. For instance, check out our gallery of Bob White covers. That Archie’sMad House no. 27 cover, in particular…
WOT’s pick for top artist on the Archie totem is handily Samm Schwartz (1920 – 1997). He’s easily the smoothest, most inventive storyteller in the Archie universe. Despite his skill as a cover designer during Archie’s best years (1959-1965, a figure proposed by cartoonist-scholar Seth and worth carving in stone), there were no Schwartz covers chez Archie after 1965.
The likely reason? In ’65, Schwartz was hired away by Wally Wood‘s Tower Comics (by managing editor Harry Shorten, a former Archie writer-editor) to serve as their art director. While there, he conceived Tower’s relatively prolific teen humour line, featuring Tippy Teen, Go-Go and Animal, and Teen-In, often glibly dismissed as “Archie clones“, by people who clearly haven’t read the work. We’ll return to these eventually.
Now comes the clincher: Schwartz in turn hired some of his former Archie colleagues to pitch in (presumably at higher page rates); DeCarlo (a handful of stories in early issues of Tippy Teen), Harry Lucey (a decent batch, actually) and reportedly Bob White (no sign of him, though). But the bulk of the work was done by Schwartz and future Archie artist Doug Crane.
Now the Archie people didn’t like this one bit; it was a clear case of sedition, a threat to their tidy little work camp system. After the industry’s near-collapse in the mid-1950s, there weren’t a lot of options in the tight-knit little club that remained; let’s not forget that even Jack Kirby was driven to such humbling desperation in the early 1960s. It was all too easy to be blackballed. The Goldwater clan, Archie’s reigning dynasty, took careful note of Schwartz’s break for freedom and the names of his accomplices. After Tower called it a day in 1969, Schwartz went to DC for a year, but it didn’t take. He was forced to return to Archie, which certainly suited the publisher since Schwartz’s signature title, Jughead, had been wilting away in his absence.
The terms of his return are unknown… but against all odds, Samm proceeded to create the finest work of his career, pencilling, inking and lettering hundreds of inspired Jughead stories until, well, until he couldn’t any more. But no covers, considered a plum job: these went exclusively to DeCarlo (with an occasional Lucey) and later to versatile mediocrity Stan Goldberg, aping DeCarlo’s style and random design sense*.
To quote his daughter, Joanne Colt, from the introduction of 2011’s The Best of Samm Schwartz (it isn’t, but it’s pretty good): « He drew for Archie until his death on November 13, 1997, my birthday. There was an unfinished story on his drawing board. »
*the way I see it, the difference between a Bob White or a Samm Schwartz cover and a DeCarlo is the difference between a considered, effective layout and the act of pointing a camera at random and snapping the shutter. To be fair to DeCarlo, his girlie cartoons for Martin Goodman’s Humorama were excellent, and his first half-decade at Archie (60-65) was fine… then the company wore him down into a sad hack and the unfortunate protagonist-victim of a cautionary tale.
Catfight (noun):A vicious fight between two women that features biting & scratching and often involves clothes being ripped off.
To which I’ll add that if you put two women with different hair colours in one room, it’s like there’s a chemical reaction that makes them instantly aggressive. In comics, at least – and we all know that comics reflect real life accurately, right? The resulting combativeness is especially obvious when the encounter is between a blonde and a brunette. The women involved must also be beauties – presumably, plainer girls resort to verbal assaults when provoked, eschewing physical violence, unlike their flashier counterparts.
Or it could have something to do with the mostly-male audience who actively likes watching belles brawl. (Perhaps “ogle” would be a better description.) Let’s move on to the ogling bit, then!
“Jeepers! Baldy’s been skewered through the ticker! He’s defunct!” This charming scene with boob grabbery and skirt rippery (I know, don’t I have a way with words?) is from “Off Stage Kill”, a Dan Turner Hollywood Detective story from Crime Smashers no. 7 (Trojan Magazines, 1951).
Skipping ahead ten years or so…
The clothes-shredding and breast-mauling (ouch) continues…
Sometimes Betty and Veronica associations are hard to avoid. These girls also made sure to wear contrasting costumes while fighting, for maximum visual appeal, proving it’s possible to be fashion-conscious even in prehistoric times.
Women of other cultures aren’t immune from this phenomenon, by the way. Witness Italian chicks fighting:
Italian erotica can be so entertaining! Maghella means a “young witch” in Italian. “The girl is identified by two braids of black hair and giant breasts with unspecified powers“, reads Wikipedia… Odd, I would have thought that her breasts have very specified powers, indeed. 😉
Moving on to French damsels…
If you want to emphasize the catfight aspect, dress your girls in feline-motif outfits. Oh, I’m sorry – this is no quotidian quarrel, it’s professional wrestling!
I think we need one even more literal interpretation of “cat fight”:
This is a fairly inexhaustible topic, but one must quit sometime. Cold shower, anyone?