« I can resist anything except temptation. » — Oscar Wilde
A master from the Golden Age of comics, Matt Baker (1921-1959) is surprisingly well-remembered today. Part of it stems from his singular biography — he was a successful African-American cartoonist, an especial rarity in that era — but his posterity chiefly rests on the quality of his comic book covers.
Looking around, I see that much has been written about him in recent years. But I don’t see any mention of what strikes me about his work: in essence, it creeps me out. But I understand: Baker, as a black man, must have observed and experienced affairs of the heart from a different perspective.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s technically superb, of course. But it’s the tone that I find jarring. Baker’s covers stand out by virtue of their darkly cynical realism. A lot of these situations could only end in tragedy, from unwanted pregnancy to Black Dahlia scenarios. These comic books bore generic tag lines about ‘exciting romances’, ‘love stories’ and ‘romantic adventures’, but Baker’s covers instead feature entrapment and extortion, blackmail, rape and other forms of illicit sex, procuring and corruption…
Perhaps I’m reading too much into these yellowing bits of old paper. But there stands the fact that inside these comic books, the tone changes: we receive the usual tidy moral homilies at the conclusion of every story. Yet the covers, with their unresolved scenarios, retain their haunting power.
Here’s my evidence. See what you think!
Baker, cursed with a heart ailment, died tragically young at age 38 in 1959.
One of this blog’s unexpected hits (pow!) has been Let’s All Go Down to the Catfights!. Though published in 2018, this post still generates a lot of interest on a practically daily basis – I knew people liked to spectate women fighting, of course, but I didn’t realize just to which extent. I mean, we have a whole THE TWILIGHT WORLD OF GIRLIE CARTOONS category, it’s not like that post was the only instance of us featuring half-or-entirely-naked women.
I’ve been meaning to do a part 2 for a long time now, gradually accumulating choice material, to finally spring it on you when you least suspect it (yes, that’s me cackling in the corner). When dealing with a potpourri of styles and decades, I usually try to go in chronological order. If this cavalcade through the years demonstrates something, it’s that our tastes haven’t evolved much. Plus ça change…
Crimes by women, on women? Read an entertaining overview of this dime comic book published by Fox Features Syndicate on Criminal Element.
We have a heavy Italian contingent today! Co-admin RG recently wrote a post about Averardo Ciriello, Sitting Pretty: Averardo Ciriello’s Maghella. As he pointed out, Ciriello lent his art to many an erotic series — here’s his cover depicting Lucifera fighting a woman with three breasts (?) I mean, nobody can say you don’t get your money’s worth from this blog… 😉
And here is the original painting, for comparison purposes:
Ciriello wasn’t the only one working in that vein.
How about some dubious plot involving a fight between an impeccably fair-skinned maiden and an exotic black woman clad in some sort of tribal garb? Uh, sure.
For a slight change of pace and style, I offer you some horror from Tentacle Tuesday MasterRichard Sala, two pages from Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires, published in Evil Eye no. 13 (August 2005, Fantagraphics):
P.S. Here’s a Tik Tok video of a female martial artist who has a rather interesting way of showing different self-defense techniques. It seemed relevant!
Being in the throes of a heatwave is no fun. Given that I currently feel like my brain is melting, I shall keep this post to a minimum of text and a maximum of visual thrills. Luckily, today’s little collection of pretty forgotten comic book covers is quite fun, with covers that tantalize and mystify. Some of them also involve a lot of splashing around, which is a distinctly enjoyable thought right now. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Cue in the taut, frantic jungle drums! Picture this: through a thick tangle of brush and tropical vegetation, prances a fair maiden who is quite unaffected by spiky plants or venomous insects. She’s the staunch defender of jungle animals, friend to jaguar or hippo (or whatever other animal the artist’s imagination conjures, even if it’s entirely inappropriate to a jungle… but who cares about zoological accuracy?) One creature this wild child is definitely not a friend to, however, is the octopus: anything with tentacles gets stabbed and killed, as expediently as possible. That’s little cause for concern, however – the real octopus, who lives only in oceans, has little use for a jungle… so whatever’s getting killed must be an impostor or a mutant.
I am amused by jungle comics, which perhaps require an even more dramatic suspension of disbelief than many an equally action-oriented genre. The female protagonists, usually clad in some sort of leopard/jaguar skin (which makes one wonder why big felines even want to hang out with someone wearing their relatives’ pelt), are usually portrayed as guardians of the wilderness… but some of them kill an awful lot of animals for supposed protectors of the feral kingdom. The blonde Sheena (first female comic book character with her own series), equally blonde Lorna the Jungle Girl (Atlas-published, a rival to Fiction House’s Sheena), Avon’s Taanda – White Princess of the Jungle, Camilla – Wild Girl of the Congo (a case of Fiction House knocking off their own Sheena)… the list definitely goes on. That’s quite a few jungle queens bouncing around, dealing with hostile tribesmen getting uppity, lethal white hunters up to no good and would-be Romeos perpetually being held hostage. Sometimes they even have cat fights and overthrow one another. Very amusing indeed. Pepper the dialogue with lots of bwanas, toss in an epic rescue of hapless natives, and you’re all set.
To be fair, however, some Golden Age jungle comics boast fetching art and compelling stories in which natives are their own agents and her Royal Highness gets to show off her wits (and her gams) to best advantage. It’s hard to dislike stories in which a strong, clever woman gets to save the day.
Without further ado, I present Jungle Queen vs Octopus!
First up, there’s Sheena, who has struggled with quite a few tentacles in her day:
Time for other queens to borrow Sheena’s spotlight:
This Camilla story was scripted by Victor Ibsen and drawn by Ralph Mayo, and was published in Jungle Comics no. 144 (1951, Fiction House):
We’ve had a lot of blondes so far, how about a redhead?
The cover story, «Fangs of the Swamp Beast»:
Back to our regularly scheduled blonde heroine! This is «The Devil’s Lagoon», scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Werner Roth, published in Lorna the Jungle Queen no. 4 (December 1953, Atlas):
For a chuckle, read Stupid Comics‘ critique of Devil’s Lagoon here. Moving on, I have no wish to be unfair to brunettes, especially given that I generally prefer them:
Here’s a rather amusing explanation for Rulah’s raison d’être from Toonopedia: «One day, while piloting a small plane across Darkest Africa, she crash-landed where civilization had scarcely been heard of. Her clothes were damaged to the point of leaving her butt naked (“like Eve in the Garden,” she mused), modesty preserved only by shadows and strategically-placed vegetation — yet, her skin wasn’t noticeably scratched or abraded. Fortunately, her plane had whacked a giraffe on the way down, so she skinned it and skillfully fashioned a fetching bikini from the raw, uncured pelt. Her uncovered parts were no more bothered by thorns, rough bark, poison ivy and the like, than were her bare feet. Next, she saved a tribe from the local tyrant, a white jungle queen much like herself, and was proclaimed its ruler — provided she could prove herself by killing a starving leopard with nothing but a dagger, which she did.»
Phew, that tromp through the jungle wore me out! Until next Tentacle Tuesday…
I’m reading a play by Anton Chekhov these days. What relevance does this have to comics? Let me explain. I don’t know about the so-called « mysterious Russian soul », but this particular play is histrionic. And the chief cause of drama, of course, is love. One woman tries to poison herself upon discovering her husband has a mistress and is preparing to run off with yet another man’s wife; others literally crawl around while trying to convince the rascal they’ve fallen in love with to condescend to granting them a small sign of affection; small children are threatened with deadly diseases; men launch into hair-tearing monologues, intermittently planning suicide or murder but never actually getting around to it; money is borrowed, and is immediately tossed in the air, friendships are shattered, insults are hurled and then profuse apologies proffered… and everybody, and I do mean everybody, goes hysterical.
Which brings us to Golden Age romance comics. Ha!
I’m not intending to suggest that *all* of them are ridiculously over the top. However, a lot of them are plotted like your average soaper – understandably, as these stories were written with a drama-hungry, lovelorn audience in mind. « Boy meets girl, everything goes well, they’re happy together » is not the kind of thing that moves copies.
Here’s a selection of covers I really like (for various reasons), depicting some common situations in a young woman’s life – like getting back-stabbed or pawed or pregnant while dreaming of some Perfect Love.
Some gals don’t merely have to contend with vigilantes, but also wolves (of the animal *and* human varieties).
Speaking of wolves, we have this cozy scene with distinctly creepy overtones. Anytime someone mentions an “experienced man”, run the other way.
“Julie fought, but now she fought as much against her own hungry response as against his muscles. Try as she would, she could not keep herself from returning that kiss with all the fiery ardor of her wild loneliness.” Untamed Love is quite racy, as the title promises, and as much over-the-top as one could wish for. The cover story is about an evil seductress, but the rest of the tales all concern themselves with a love triangle of another kind, one in which a girl has to choose between two guys. This one’s for the ladies – it’s hunks galore!
Here’s the “ravishing creature” in action, in case you’re interested:
Alaskan beauties don’t understand English grammar, but they dig the language of love! Panel from “The Wrong Road to Love”: “Julie falls in love with truck driver Steve, but he moves to Alaska to become a fisherman. She follows him there, only to discover local resident Becky considers Steve “her man.” Julie is consoled by Steve’s partner Hank. Steve and Becky run off, taking all the money Steve and Hank have earned. Julie decides to go home, but Hank says she can stay — as his wife.”
Another sentimental overload (though one would think that being at war was dramatic enough)? The redhead in the square on the right is in love with a gay man! (She was in love with a man’s fiancé, after all.) The girl at the dance is struggling to get away from a grabby asshole! (Unfortunately, all-too-common even today.) The girl in the green dress is faking it because she’s too polite to say no! (Ditto.)
“They were like two jailers, my pa and my brother Bill! At 18, I hadn’t tasted the sweetness of courtin’! And I was hungry for it… bitter hungry…” Things quickly get out of hand in this issue of First Love – a young maiden meets a charming young man who kills her brother (by accident), after which she gets shot by her dad (also by accident). The story concludes with the two lovebirds reuniting while the father realizes that “his soul is black with sin“. Geez, the things some people have to go through to reach a happy ending in a comic story.
This issue has plenty more “man-starved” maidens up for grabs…
… and one memorable male character, Alan, “the gay, vital, gloriously-alive lover”.
The next cover reminds us to never send our dates for refreshments (punch, you say? looks more like something out of a witch’s cauldron), for this is where femmes fatales lurk in hopes of snaring fresh prey.
If you want a lover who doesn’t resist, put her in a trance, first, and then Miss Smith won’t be able to help but say “yes!”
Romance comics love to pit a woman’s career against everything a female should strive for (i.e. marriage). Am I carping that romance comics weren’t very progressive in the 1950s? Ah, I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t know for a fact that Silver Age romance comics often don’t do that much better in that department.
What do we have here? Despite what one would tend to think, this necklace was stolen, not given as a romantic offering. Such are true life secrets: kleptomania, clandestine children, and double-crossed partners.