Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Comics in Film: Dick Fulmine and Sophia Loren

by BK Munn

Comics in Film: Sophia Loren reads a 1940s comic book, "Fulmine in Nel Regno dei Pigmei", in the film A Special Day (Una giornata particolare, 1977). The film takes place on May 6, 1938, the day Hitler visits Mussolini in Rome, a national holiday in Italy. Loren's character, a housewife, stays home while the entire city is at a gaint rally and has a one-day affair with a gay radio announcer and anti-fascist, played by Marcello Mastroianni, who is about to be interned on the island of San Domino. The comic book, "Lightning in the Kingdom of the Pygmies", is slightly anachronistic, having been published two years after the date of the events of the film, on March 24, 1940. The character, Dick Fulmine, is apparently an Italian version of Dick Tracy, created in 1938 by the sports journalist Vincenzo Baggioli and cartoonist Carlo Cossio. Based in part on the Italian boxer Primo Carnera, his protruding jaw obviously is an homage to Mussolini. The comic was guided through the WWII years by the MinCulPop (the Fascist Ministry of Popular Culture) to make it more of a propaganda tool for the government. The omnipresent images of fascist propaganda in the film, as well as the film's soundtrack which is comprised exclusively of the live radio broadcast of the Hitler-Mussolini rally, underscore the oppressive existence of the two main characters.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Pussy Katnip by Len Short

by BK Munn

Pussy Katnip was a super-powered nightclub singer and detective who appeared in over 20 comic book stories in the 1940s, mostly in anthology funny animal and humour titles published by Fox Feature Syndicate. Created and drawn by cartoonist Len Short (I know nothing about him), Pussy Katnip debuted in 1944. The owner of the Katnip Kafe nightclub, Pussy and her boyfriend, firefighter George the dog, would get involved in solving a mystery or crime in every short story. The villains of the series were local gangsters Boss and Mugsy. The thing that makes the series interesting, besides Len Short's weirdly wonderful art style, is that Pussy got her superpowers from an old family recipe (her family look like witches!) for "Katnip Fizz"!!

When confronted with a problem she cannot solve, she quickly runs to her secret pantry shelf where is concealed a bottle of Katnip Fizz ... brewed in Olden Times by Pussy's ancestors and passed on to each succeeding generation, this potent drink changes her usual shy self into a fighting fury and gives her an insight and intelligence unsurpassed in Feline History!

These two strips are from the comic book Ribtickler #1, 1945.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Burton Cummings, Comic Book Collector

Superstar rocker Burton Cummings is a big comic book collector, maybe the King of Canadian Comic Book Collectors. He has fond memories of everything from Jimmy Olsen to Little Lulu and Tubby, and doubled down on his pop culture collecting beginning in the 1980s, amassing a giant archive of vinyl records, cds, sports cards, etc. He writes often on the subject on his Facebook page. He also has written a weird fictional(?) story about an older collector living in California who gets ripped off by a femme fatale. I thought it would be interesting to share some of his reflections on collecting DC comics in the 1950s and 1960s when he was a kid in Winnipeg. Here he is writing on Facebook from November, 2019:


COMICS…for many of us of a certain age, comics were "that other world". Bear in mind, I'll be 72 on December 31st this year, so I clearly remember life before there was television. We were not an affluent household, so my Mother couldn't afford television immediately when it was first available. For a while, I would go to the Rosh Pina synagogue on Matheson avenue with my friend Arnold Silver or his younger brother Barry, and a bunch of us kids would sit cross legged on the floor, hypnotized by this new "magical" thing called television. The synagogue had one before most of the neighbourhood. Spellbound, we would sit on the floor and be whisked away by Roy Rogers, Range Rider, Lassie, Father Knows Best, Huckleberry Hound, maybe King of the Khyber Rifles, or a host of other early television shows. But before that, at least for me and many other kids, comics were the "release" into the world of fantasy.
There was always a choice between the Marvel family and the DC family. I ALWAYS preferred DC to MARVEL. Don't really know why, but I always did.
DC family included Superman, Batman, Superboy, Action, Adventure, World's Finest (which teamed up Superman with Batman and Robin), Lois Lane, and my personal favourite Jimmy Olsen.
For some reason, the Jimmy Olsen comics struck a chord with me. Maybe it was because he was Superman's pal, and a lot of us young boys could identify with how miraculous that would be if it were one of us.
And the Jimmy Olsen stories seemed more fantastic in many ways. Once in a while, DC would put out a special issue containing "errors" which were purposely placed throughout one of the stories. We were told to spot the errors and write in with our answers. I never "wrote in" but my friend Arnold Silver and I would sit on the steps inside his house on Lansdowne and try to spot all the purposely placed mistakes…(for example, the "S" on Superman's costume might be backward, or Jimmy Olsen's hair might be black instead of red, or the Daily Planet newspaper might have a different name, etc.) We always thought that was so special…
jimmy olsen 108

Pictured here are two comic covers…Action #240, featuring which is perhaps one of my all time favourite covers, with the sphinx having Kryptonite vision. This one was released in May of 1958, so I would have been 10 when it came out. The other one is Jimmy Olsen #108, released in January of 1968. I had just turned 20 at its release date, had been in the Guess Who for a year or so, but I still loved the comics. You'll notice that the price had risen from 10c to 12c, indicating a huge change in the world of "back then".
For me, when the price jumped up to 12c, things never seemed quite the same after that. We had all become so accustomed to 10c being the price, I don't think any of us really liked the change. It was an indication that our world was not immune to disruptive change.
These two covers illustrate the beauty that we all found in these thin paper books. The artwork was always superbly drawn and DC had quite a following on a world wide basis.
Much later in the 1980's, I began collecting comics obsessively, almost getting carried away at times, but I still held on to boxes full of the ones I had bought as a kid. Today, the comic collecting world has, in some ways, become tarnished and corrupted by the money. Recently some musician paid over 2 million dollars for an Action #1, which contains the first appearance ever of Superman. 2 million for a ten cent comic…astounding…but then again, think of it for a minute…people have been known to pay far more than that for a tiny postage stamp or a single coin. The old adage rings true…"something is genuinely worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it". How true. I would never succumb to the phrase that money is the root of all evil, but it certainly has changed things…sports is a good example.
The Huston Astros recently invested 500 million dollars to acquire three pitchers…500 million !!!
And it didn't even help them win the world series against the Washington Nationals…oh well…
Mickey Mantle made $100,000 a season from 1963 to 1968 and he was one hell of a player…when Rocket Richard first signed with the Montreal Canadiens, he was paid $5,000 for a season…today there are hockey players signing contracts for upwards of ten million and more…as Bob Dylan so eloquently put it
"for the times, they are a-changin'"...
Money certainly has changed through my lifetime. The Beatles sold out Shea Stadium and were paid a lump sum of $50,000…Taylor Swift did a stadium tour not long ago which grossed $266 Million…yikes…I'll bet she has her car and fridge paid off by now.
We live in a strange world now, compared to the world I was raised in, all those years ago on Lansdowne Ave. in the North end of Winnipeg. I'm seriously grateful still to be alive and fairly healthy, able to go out and do one man shows for seriously appreciative audiences.
But when I gaze at the two comic book covers pictured below, part of me yearns wholeheartedly for those days of yesteryear…
Hang on to your memories, folks. No one can ever take those away from you.
They're worth far more than all the money that's ever printed…
Luck and Health…

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Charles Schulz's Extramarital Affair, In Dog Form

(July 15, 1970) - Snoopy initially meets the "girl-beagle" in the strip the previous week, when he goes back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm to give a speech and a riot breaks out. (She isn't actually shown in the strip, due to a cloud of tear gas.)

From this 2012 article in Vanity Fair.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Kirby Collaborators: John Berendt

John Berendt, the writer of the Esquire piece Kirby illo'd about Jack Ruby, one of my favourite Kirby art jobs, was later the bestselling author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". At the time of the Kennedy Assassination described in the comic, Berendt, a junior editor at Esquire, was doing a six-month hitch in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana.You can read Berendt's account of his time in the army, including how he heard about Kennedy and Ruby, here

(Kirby gives credit to Berendt as writer in the famous 1969 Mark Herbert interview, published in the Nostalgia Journal in 1976, reprinted below as well.) 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Kirby and Unions: Captain America Comics #4, 1941


Here's an interesting sequence from a very early issue of Captain America where Jack Kirby posits a union leader as a bastion of democracy. I've noted before some of Kirby's post-War quotes on unions and the idea of a comics creator Guild, where he seems lukewarm on the subject, to say the least. But here we have an instance of the pre-War Kirby pointing to unionized labor as an important pillar of the anti-fascist fight against Nazis. The story is a great one, wherein Cap and Bucky uncover a Nazi spy and saboteur ring that disguise themselves as beggars. The very atmospheric discovery scene, where the two heroes witness a legless beggar on a dark street suddenly get up and walk in answer to a bell ringing inside the old city hall where the spies gather to unveil themselves in a secret ceremony, is brilliantly grotesque. I wonder if the politics here are entirely Kirby's or influenced partly by Joe Simon? 1941 was a record year for strikes in the U.S. and the left was divided on Roosevelt's efforts to keep a lid on labour troubles. We can see here that not only were the early Caps advocating for what Howard Chaykin's Blackhawk referred to as "premature antifascism" in reference to advocating for American intervention or aid in the war against Germany, but in this instance at least we see Simon and Kirby creating propaganda of a sort for the idea of a post-Depression "labour truce" in the name of the soon-to-come war effort.

The image up top is Kirby's reimagining of the Unholy Legion for the 1960s Captain America #112, a quarter century later.

"In a nearby state tragedy strikes John L. Green, nationally known labor leader. 'And I say again, Labor must unite to advance our defense program.'"