Archive for February, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
Justifying my strange and abiding over-fascination with the mostly forgotten but once incredibly popular comic strip Joe Palooka is problematic at best. I mean, it’s not like I can argue it was a staggering work of genius that helps to elevate the 9th art. It wasn’t even the work of a single person but rather drawn by a host of ghosts who were paid peanuts while the creator of record, Hammond ‘Ham’ Fisher, was off somewhere playing celebrity millionaire (though, or at least so the legend says, he always insisted on drawing the faces of the main characters). Joe Palooka was a champion both in and outside the ring while all reports indicate Fisher was both a terrible man and a horrible hypocrite.
For the uninitiated Joe Palooka was a boxer, a Candide like innocent adrift in Depression era America who had pronounced Ferdinand the Bull like tendencies. The congenial dope didn’t want to fight anyone but he did it because it was the Depression, his family needed the money and he had no other marketable skills. To make the fighting go down little easier for him (and to ante up the drama) Joe inevitably fought genuinely bad guys who had names like Ruffy Balonky, Red Rodney and Jack McSwatt; a collection of thugs, creeps and jerks, proficient at dirty tricks in the rings and prone to sneering at everything decent. Prolonged exposure to the saintly prizefighter almost always had a profound effect on his opponents; invariably if one of them returned to the strip they were changed men. Either they had seen the light and now exhibited a new respect for the ‘sweet science’ or, worse case now at least gave Joe the worshipful respect he deserved.
If a sports strip doesn’t sound all that appealing to you Joe Palooka was actually more of an adventure strip with comic elements where a lot of the action took place outside of the ring. Naturally there was a romance angle with Joe’s perpetual fiancée the extremely dull but beautiful socialite with the awful pun name Ann Howe (they finally married on June 24,1949). Once he became world champion he navigated high society and Hollywood and hobnobbed with such real-life celebrities as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby and Claudette Colbert. But the most famous celebrity ‘get’ came during one of Joe’s most memorable and longest adventures when, without being aware that once he couldn’t get out until he finished his five year hitch, Fisher had Joe join the French Foreign Legion. The strip was so popular that Fisher contacted White House secretaries Stephen Early and Marvin McIntyre to see if President Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself wouldn’t agree to appear in the strip to get Joe out of this mess (talk about a deus ex machina) Roosevelt appeared in two days of the strip where he interceded on Palooka’s behalf with the President of France to obtain his release.
In the beginning like Popeye Joe was a pretty rough character, ugly and stupid who in spite of having been brought up on a midwest farm inexplicably spoke in a ‘dese and dose’ dialect. And like Popeye he proved to be such a hero to kids as the 30′s progressed most of his rough edges were sanded off until he became a proper role model. Through rigorous self improvement his grammar got better, but to show his continued solidarity with the common man Fisher had him speak in a clipped, highly irregular patois not all that dissimilar from Sarah Pallin’s style of speech.
Fisher might not have been able to live up to the ideals he espoused at least he espoused them; he was way ahead of the curve when it came to racial and religious tolerance. Though Joe was always appropriately humble and self-effacing he became prone to giving soliloquies on social issues that would give Little Orphan Annie a run for her money. He regularly said things like ‘Anybuddy back home who’s spreadin’ intolerance against any person bucuz of his race, creed or color is spreadin’ Nazi principals.’
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Smokey, Joe’s combination valet/sparring partner, a toxic racist stereotype of the first order.
It would have been bad enough if he had just been a background character but some of the Sundays were devoted to Smokey and his lodge (which bore a striking resemblance to the Mystic Knights of the Sea from Amos & Andy) where his ‘adventures” involved shooting dice and cowering in terror from a rival who threatened to cut him with a razor. He appeared less and less as the 40′s progressed and when he did show up he tended to look more and more like an actual human being. And to be fair Joe walked the walk when it came to racial tolerance; he always treated Smokey like a friend instead of a servant (which is more that can be said for that bastard Terry Lee from Terry & The Pirates*).
Joe’s principal friend was his manager Knobby Walsh, an arrogant know-it-all whose misfortunes, especially when it came to women were (some have suggested) were based on Fisher’s own romantic difficulties. Intentionally or otherwise, he also seemed like a deadringer for movie character actor James Gleason. He was the comic relief and regularly found himself either on the receiving end of most of the strip’s slapstick comedy or ended up the victim of his own hubris. Like Ham Fisher, Knobby was an all too human figure unable to live up to the ideal that was Joe Palooka, But unlike Fisher Knobby seemed to know it, ultimately making him a figure of pathos.
Among the strips other supporting players were a pair of marginal players who proved to so popular they eventually received their own comic books, Little Max, an adorable 8-year old mute (at least he never spoke) orphan…
…and Humphrey Pennyworth (no relation to Alfred), one of the great comic strip fat guys, a red-headed, super strong, simpled minded eating machine.
Joe joined the Army in 1940 and being too old to enlist Knobby spent the war years working in a defense plant. The strip introduced an auxiliary comic relief, Joe’s army pal Jerry Leemy, a skirt chasing, arrogant idiot who spoke in a fractured Brooklynese dialect (made popular by the then new and wafer thin singer Frank Sinatra) and was prone to saying things like ’Aren’t we fightin’ the dirtiest scum th’ world ever seen fer gosh sakes??’
In September 1940 at Roosevelt’s urging Congress enacted the Selective Training and Service Act, America’s first peacetime draft and Fisher had Joe sign up for the Army, years before other comic strips characters joined the military. So popular was Joe that the Armed Forces used Joe’s likeness in training manuals, recruitment materials, guides to invaded countries and Joe Palooka Fights His Way Back, a comic book to help soldiers readjust to civilian life. It wasn’t reprints from the comic strip but an entirely original story created by Fisher (and company) that manages to contain most of the memorable elements of the strip which told an alternative version of Private Joe Palooka’s return to civilian life.
*For the record I find very little in Terry & the Pirates to be in any racist (though I would be startled as hell if Milton Caniff had ever met a Chinese person in the 1930′s and 40′s while he was working on it). On the other hand Terry somehow managed to live in China for six years as a kid without ever picking up a single word of Chinese (which seems a tad lazy if you ask me). Once near the end of Milton Caniff’s run on the strip he was reunited with old friends Big Stoop and Connie, guys who had saved his lily-white ass on a regular basis. And he referred to them as “guys who used to work for me”. Bastard.
— Steve Bennett
Monday, February 28, 2011
Denny O’Neil’s version of The Shadow for DC in the mid-seventies is fondly remembered for various reasons including the issue seen here with art from Mike Kaluta with some help from various pals including Wrightson and Chaykin.
Silver Age Comics does a retro-review on Warren’s second issue of Vampirella from 1969, as always with some choice illustrations from same.
A tip of the Thompson Topper to Hairy Green Eyeball 3 which, this morning, gives us some of Jimmy Hatlo’s classic They’ll Do It Every Time from 1952.
Finally today, here’s some late period EC in a story from Extra as drawn by the inimitable Reed Crandall.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
To look at the history of Little Archie is to discover a wholly separate, often more dramatic, Archie continuity spearheaded quietly by still working writer/artist Bob Bolling . Here’s an example.
Here’s a brief but interesting reappraisal of an issue of Aquaman with lots of early sixties illustrations from the Sea King’s longtime artist, Nick Cardy.
Here’s a little horror from one of the great unsung comics artists of his day, Ogden Whitney, creator of Skyman in the Golden Age, later a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. artist and here as ACG’s primary artist.
Finally today, Stanley Stories brings us one of my favorite Stanley projects–the first issue of Kookie, done in collaboration with Bill Williams from 1961.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Why don’t we start today with another full Atlas western packed solid with cool cowboy art from Matt Baker, Jack Davis, Reed Crandall, Russ Heath and Doug Wildey?
The Bronze Age Babies take a look at a transitional issue of Marvel’s seventies fanzine, Foom, as my Facebook pal Scott Edelman took over the editorial reins from my Facebook pal, Tony Isabella.
That’s Romita and Esposito on Cap above but here you’ll find a whole bunch of Sal Buscema Captain America splash pages from Marvel in the seventies.
Finally today, over at our old friend Comicrazys today, we have some marvelous, Kurtzman-like cartoonery from Spanish artist Manuel Vázquez.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
First, I’ve posted a day late this week, to allow the report of Dwayne McDuffie’s unexpected death to sit at the top of the blog yesterday, daytime. I’ll always remember McDuffie, who I hadn’t previously met, for his stopping me at the San Diego Con while he was in the middle of promoting his newly founded Milestone Comics, just to give me some kind comments.
This week’s Theatrical Cartoons entry, involves a vanity cartoon book we’ve looked at before — Them As Is Because, a 1911 New York City-published book filled with caricatures of local figures, who for status and advertising paid to be depicted in cartoon form in this book. While most such books in this early twentieth century fad depicted bankers, manufacturers, and other such local business figures, Them As Is Because differed in its large number of vaudeville & other theatrical figures.
Above (and shown last year) is one of the more famous persons in the book, composer Irving Berlin. Below, left-to-right, are: vaudeville manager/producer Reed A. Albee, who in the 1920s was head of the B.F. Keith/Albee vaudeville theater circuit, and adoptive father of playwright Edward Albee; musical performer Howard S. Borden; and President of the Motion Picture Distributing Company, Jules E. Brulatour.
Click on the pictures above & below, to see larger versions.
Next, vaudeville managers/agents Pat Casey, James Clancy, and Irving M. Cooper.
And finally, three figures who believe themselves to be larger-than-life: vaudeville comedian-turned-producer, Madison Corey; Monopol Film Company president, P.P. Craft, demonstrates his mutant mind-powers at film strip manipulation; and producer A.R. Erlanger, poses in his everyday garb as Napoleon.
Next week, the women from Them As Is Because.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
America’s most celebrated World War II cartoonist was undoubtedly Bill Mauldin whose Willie and Joe cartoons reflected the realistic trials of the typical soldier. Here’s a handful of them.
From 1975, here’s the man who shared yesterday’s birthday with Craig, Doug Moench, on view with a Ka-Zar story drawn by later GI Joe creator Larry Hama and veteran Fred Kida.
Miss Cairo Jones was a fun but little known newspaper strip from the 1940′s wonderfully drawn by later DC humor artist and superhero inker, Bob Oksner.
Finally today, here’s an enjoyable selection of more than fifty covers from over seventy years featuring Batman. Artists include all the usual suspects.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Now here’s a couple of adventures of The Fantom of the Fair (a.k.a. Fantoman, a.k.a. “Gravestone”) from Fantom of the Fair #1 that I’m happy to post. They’re drawn by Paul Gustavson, creator of The Human Bomb and The Jester for Quality Comics and show him in his early days when he was the exclusive superhero of the 1939 New York’s World Fair. This was back when when his costume was simple, but striking (the black and red color scheme really leaped off the page) and he had a full face mask that was so tight you could see his profile!
I mean, seriously, what was that thing made of? And, more importantly, how the heck could he breathe?
These stories are very basic melodramas and I’ll happily admit that a large part of his charm depends on not whether you love the 1939 New York’s World’ Fair (the fact that you do is pretty much a given if you’re reading this) but how much you love it. Me, I really, really love it and am always on the lookout for when it pops up in the popular culture of the time, which makes these stories all the more special. For me anyway.
And from the same issue here’s Air-Sub ‘DX’ by Carl Burgos (a.k.a. Max Finkelstein), creator of the original Human Toch.
— Steve Bennett
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Can it be true? Is this yet another version of Popeye’s theme song? I have so many different versions I’m losing track! But so what? Can one ever have too much Popeye? Never, I say!
Of course, all of these Popeye the Sailor songs are simply to celebrate the imminent release of “Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales of Bud Sagendorf” from our good friends (and gracious hosts) at Yoe Books. All it takes is a click of a link and a copy will be on its way to you! Likewise, clicking the link below will give you this week’s Comics-Tune. Enjoy!
Popeye The Sailor Man
— DJ David B.
Monday, February 21, 2011
They might have had extremely brief careers (the publisher got out of comics in 1942) but some of the Centaur characters have had remarkable afterlives. If you’re not a Golden Age fan (well, there’s probably not much chance you’d be reading this in the first place) if you know the characters at all it’s probably through the Malibu comic The Protectors which turned them into an absolutely generic 90′s super-team. I’d be the first to say Centaur’s characters were frequently better in theory than execution but most of them were full of unrealized potential and deserved better treatment than this.
And I really can’t believe I didn’t know this but one of them, Amazing Man, apparently (“apparently” because I haven’t read it myself so I’ve pretty much got to take the internet’s word; I’m living proof even with unlimited free time you can’t read everything) popped up during the recent Immortal Iron Fist series under the name “Prince of Orphans”. Which makes total sense given that Iron Fist’s origin is a variation of his (i.e. white guy goes to mystical Tibet and acquire super powers). Since then I believe he’s now making appearces in Secret Avengers and got his own page in the latest version of Marvel Universe.
You know, I used to believe that nothing Marvel could do would surprise me but reviving a public domain Golden Age superhero and claiming it for their own, yeah, that kind of surprises me.
In my own personal hierarchy of Golden Age publishers I’ve always placed Centaur just a little under Fox. They may have had a lot of topflight creators working for them (Carl Burgos, Bob Kane, Bill Everett, Jack Cole, etc.) but unfortunately most of the Centaur comics I’ve come across so far have featured some of the most amateurish comics I’ve ever seen. Which is what makes Amazing Mystery Funnies #12 so impressive; it’s full of both great comics and really weird comics.
Not posted is the cover featured The Fantom of the Fair (a.k.a. “Fantoman” which only seems like a terrible name until you learn the 90′s Malibu version was called “Gravestone”). He started out as a kind of heroic Phantom of the 1939 World’s Fair and in his first appearances, wearing his original outfit (which covered his entire face) he was actually kind of interesting. But when the Fair closed for the winter he became a much more generic kind of mystery man. Clearly somebody at Centaur thought a character who spelled his name phonetically without powers, origin or secret identity could be a serious contender.
Also not posted are (inexplicably) several pages of Don Dixon and the Hidden Empire (a comic strip we’ve come across before) and Jon Linton (“flyer, scientist, adventurer”, a not bad futuristic SF feature that manages to stay well out of the territory of both Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers). The text pages were about kids who publish their own magazines, i.e fanzines (!), as well as a ‘true fact’ page called Stranger Than Fiction and a comedy one-pager Adam The Atom-Smasher.
Here’s Daredevil Barry Finn, another beautiful, sensual strip by Tarpe Mills (The Purple Zombie, Miss Fury)….
A spectacularly surrealistic and disturbing episode of Space Patrol by Basil Wolverton…
And then we have Speed Centaur. I suppose it only makes sense that a publisher called “Centaur” would have a character named “Centaur” but, wow. Speed was the sole survivor of a race of centaurs living in the Arctic who was discovered by reporter “Reel” McCoy and taken to America. Naturally he became a crime fighter though in this adventure he…well, I think it better if you just read it for yourself.
It also had this page of tiny ads. We’ve all seen this sort of thing before; it’s the kind of thing that’s been endlessly parodied and commented on, but some of these ads are…well, along with plans for building an airplane, also for sale were…
…fighting roosters! And…
…one of those Jughead type crowns that kids theoretically wore back then. Though “Let’s Make Whoopee” also had a slightly more innocent meaning at the time they were essentially selling kids hats that said, “let’s have super hot sex, baby!”.
— Steve Bennett
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