I’ve repeatedly written about the Golden Age artist Matt Baker yet still haven’t touched on the comic book genre he’s undoubtedly best known for – jungle comics. He drew quite a few a jungle girls, but he was co-creator (the name of the author has unfortunately been lost to history) of my personal favorite, Rulah, Jungle Goddess*. She was referenced in Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent four times for a very good reason; she was sexy as hell. As you can see for yourself…
She made her first appearance in Zoot Comics (gosh, I love that title) #7 where Jane Dodge (later changed to Joan Grayson, probably because they forgot her surname and didn’t care enough to check), a standard issue bored thrill junkie/society girl aviatrix who crashed her plane in Africa. There,she saved a tribe from a tyrant’s rule; the natives were so grateful they dubbed her Rulah, Jungle Goddess and made her their ruler.
She and her panther partner Saber made their way through a number of Fox comics, Zoot Comics, All Top and ten issues of her own title, Rulah, Jungle Goddess. Like I said, Rulah was my favorite jungle girl, undoubtedly first and foremost because she was drawn by Matt Baker who really knew how to draw a sexy girl. Then of course there was her outfit with all those wonderful little gaps that allowed all that delightful skin to peak through.
But mostly she’s my favorite because her stories were just so weird, For one thing more often than not they took place in an Africa that might as well been a completely different planet. It wasn’t just that everyone was riding zebra’s, which as we (and by we I of course mean me) now know isn’t possible, but that was a common enough fallacy in jungle girl comics. And lost cities and/or civilizations were common enough in the genre as well, but there were elements of science fiction, fantasy and even horror in them that made for a very strange melange..
Take, for instance, “The White Death” from All Top Comics #14, which concerned an African albino whose curse caused those he touched to die. Oh, sure, eventually he turns out to be a fake created by yet another female contestant for Rulah’s title of Jungle Goddess (and they showed up with an alarming regularity), but before that happens it gets pretty unsettling, for a jungle girl story anyway.
And there was something else highly unusual about the world Rulah inhabited; all the ‘native’ women were white and the men black. It’s not true in all her stories but in the bulk Rulah rules over a world where females were exclusively drawn like white showgirls and the men like (fairly non-stereotypically drawn) blacks. I imagine the thinking was probably something along the lines of “pretty girls sell comics, and we can’t have our readers drooling over Negroes so we’ll just make all the ‘native’ women white!”
Or maybe there was something else at work, after all as drawn the characters on the above page are committing miscegenation, i.e. race mixing. In 1948 when the comic was published this was still a crime in 30 out of then 48 states, but far as I can tell, no one at the time ever noticed, let alone complained about this. You have wonder if it had anything to do with the fact Matt Baker was a black man…
*Full disclosure compels me to reveal back in 1991 during my sad, stunted comic book writing career I wrote three issues of Jungle Love, my soft-core (porn comics being all the rage back then, for about fifteen minutes) take on the jungle girl genre. I made the lead female character’s mother Rulah, Jungle Goddess.
— Steve Bennett