Category Archives: Know Thy History
Not too long ago, the internet erupted in a frothy rage when it was revealed that there was going to be a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and that it would be produced by … Michael Bay. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Michael Bay? The man who directed Meat Loaf’s video for ‘I Would Do Anything For Love’? Does this mean we’ll have a sewer festooned in silk curtains and romantic candlelight? Because that would be awesome!”
Alas, it seems that was not to be. The news kept getting more dispiriting the more we heard of it. That whole thing about them being mutants? Ridiculous. Instead, they’re going to be aliens. In fact, the title was going to be shortened to just “Ninja Turtles,” which means that the “teenage” part might be up for grabs, too. And fans turned on it in droves. Despite having a script that was written, in part, by Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, Michael Bay found his kryptonite. Paramount shut down production and delayed the release date by a year for retooling.
While he convinced the world that Optimus Prime had a mouth and that Bumblebee was some sort of mute, Bay could not convince the world that the turtles were anything but those four lovable weirdos who live in the sewer. That’s because, by and large, we love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Elzie Crisler Segar grew up in the small town of Chester, Illinois, where he worked at a theater. This being the silent era, he helped out with the musical accompaniment to the films by playing on the drums. Eventually, he got a job as a projectionist. Cartoons eventually caught his fancy, and he took a correspondence course from a fellow in Cleveland, OH.
After Segar moved to Chicago, he met up with Richard F. Outcault, who was a bit of a cartooning pioneer and superstar after creating The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown. Outcault helped Segar network, where he bounced from one comic to another. Eventually, he ended up at the New York Journal, where he debuted his new comic, Thimble Theatre.
The comic seems to draw experiences from Segar’s theater days. There was a regular cast of characters. The main one was Harold Hamgravy (later just known as “Ham Gravy”), a sort of clueless everyman with a fondness for drink. There was Bondo Bitter, a Dirk Dastardly sort of fellow with all the accoutrements, such as the fiendish little mustache that wants stroking. And then there was Ham and Bondo’s love interest, a rail-thin gal that you may recognize as the one-and-only Olive Oyl.
Alright everyone, let’s talk about a man.
Just a man. With a man’s courage. He knows nothing but a man, but he can never fail. No one but the pure in heart may find the golden grail.
He’ll save every one of us.
He’s a miracle.
King of the impossible.
He’s for every one of us, stand for everyone of us. He’ll save with a mighty hand, every man, every woman, every child with a might flash.
I’m talking, of course, about Flash Gordon.
Canada jumped into WWII in 1939. This led to the establishment of an organization known as the Foreign Exchange Control Board, which was meant to oversee the rationing of foreign currency. The trade deficit with the US was growing. Gold shipments from the embattled Great Britain were put on hold. So, in order to help conserve American dollars, the Foreign Exchange Control Board introduced the War Exchange Conversion Act. This meant a ban on the import of non-essential goods. This included fiction periodicals, a catch-all term that included pulps, magazines… and yes, comic books.
So, for a time between 1941 to the Act’s repeal in 1946, Canadians were deprived the adventures of the Man of Steel and Dark Knight. On the other hand, it jumpstarted what would be known as the Canadian Golden Age. Canadian Whites — black-and-white comic books with color covers — featured Canadian heroes and superheroes who filled in the pop culture vaccuum. There was Canada Jack. Johnny Canuck. There were pages of WWII fighter aces and pony fighting.
And there was Adrian Dingle’s creation, Nelvana of the Northern Lights, who debuted in Triumph-Adventure Comics #1.
Have you ever had a Skippy Peanut Butter?
If you were a child growing up in the United States, you probably have. They come in varieties like Creamy, Super Chunk, and Natural Creamy with Honey. You can use Skippy in many things like Asian Spinach Salad, Big E. Quesadillas, and Peanut Butter & Honey Sushi. One serving size of the Creamy Skippy (roughly 2 tablespoons) provides with with 190 calories, 150 mg of sodium, 16 g of fat, and 20% of your daily requirement of Niacin. Skippy Peanut Butter was the primary sponsor for the Dennis the Menace TV show, and had ads illustrated by Norman Rockwell.
Skippy is also the current owner of the no-doubt much coveted web address of peanutbutter.com. But why is it called “Skippy”? The history on the official site does not touch upon it, going instead for the rather vague “Rosefield Packing Company obtains trademark registration for Skippy peanut butter in all 48 states and Hawaii.”
That’s because Skippy was named after a cartoon character. The history about how the company picked up that brand name is a sordid tale of tax evasion, copyright infringement, and charges of insanity.
There must be something in the waters of Nova Scotia that makes its residents really embrace history. Kate Beaton, one of the most prominent names in webcomics currently, made it big by sticking modern slang in the mouths of respected figureheads of history.
She’s not the only one, though. Once upon a time, a resident of Halifax became a staff artist for the venerable retailer, Hudson’s Bay Company, in Winnipeg, where he drew ads for ladies’ corests. Later, he would move to comic strips. His first job was illustrating the adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. However, being a true artist, what he really wanted to do was work on something that was his own creation.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst loved this man’s pitch so much that he offered him ownership of the strip, a rarity for the earlier work-for-hire era in comics. Incidentally, this is the third time Hearst factors into this feature. It’s kinda uplifting to know that one of the world’s biggest media tycoons was deep down inside a huge comic nerd.
That cartoonist went on to pen the adventures of a knight in King Arthur’s Court, someone whose adventures are still featured in newspapers to this day. His name was Hal Foster, and that comic strip is Prince Valiant.
(Incidentally, this piece is going to lack the usual links, mainly because my main reference site for newspaper comics — the I Love Comix Archive — went down because the hosts got spooked by SOPA. Sigh.)
There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about the role of female characters in modern superhero comics. Marvel got criticized lately for citing low sales as the reason for culling all their comics featuring superheroines. Over at the Distinguished Competition, DC got several fans riled up for their overly-slutty renditions of Starfire and Catwoman. Some of the criticisms I agree with (I am definitely not a fan of the sexy new Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad), some I’m OK with (on the other hand, skimpily dressed Harley Quinn is OK with me).
It’s a tender, tender subject that, at the end of the day, devolves into hard feelings, cruel name calling, and buckloads of tears.
Scantily clad dames, though, have always been an issue in comics. And, believe it or not, it’s not Wonder Woman’s fault, despite the character being created by bondage-lover William Marston. Between the 1940′s and 1950′s, there was a trend to put a sexy gal on the cover to drive up sales. It was known as “good girl art.” Here’s how Richard Lupoff (by way of Wikipedia) defines it:
A cover illustration depicting an attractive young woman, usually in skimpy or form-fitting clothing, and designed for erotic stimulation. The term does not apply to the morality of the “good girl”, who is often a gun moll, tough cookie or wicked temptress.
Comics and magazines were adorned with the images of sensuous ladies, who may or may not have anything to do with the stories contained within. Quite a bit of the imagery contained bondage or damsel-in-distress situations. Many predated Wonder Woman. Bill Ward created Torchy for Army newspapers; she’d soon transition to comic books and newspaper strips. Over at Harvey Comics, the original Black Cat was vamping up the comic pages in a skimpy black swimsuit.
The one that reached the greatest notoriety, though, was a sparsely attired gal known as Phantom Lady.
It seems like movie and TV studios are running out of ideas nowadays, doesn’t it? They’re desperately trying to find a new vein of creativity. The surprising thing is that some question inspirations end up paying off.
The most famous recent example would be the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I mean, back when it first made light, everyone — and I mean everyone — was clucking their tongues, laughing at how creatively bankrupt Hollywood had become. “A movie based on a Disney ride?” the pop culture wags would say. “How droll! What next: a movie based on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? Oh, to see the day when that happens.”
But, as well all know, Pirates was a humongous success, kickstarting a three sequels, the current obsession with pirates, and a whole industry of Jack Sparrow Halloween costumes. It also sorta got it into some Hollywood producer’s minds that, “Hey, if a Disney ride could be a movie, ANYTHING is fair game! Does anyone have the rights to that Milton Bradley Battleship game? Get Liam Neeson on the phone!”
I mean, what next? What if you got really obscure. Like you tried to adapt a loosely connected series of cartoons that were featured in famously high-brow magazine The New Yorker. They’re just vignettes: the characters don’t have names, and the series doesn’t even have a title. How crazy and kooky would that be?
Well, as you guessed from the title of this “Know Thy History,” that’s exactly what happened when Charles Addams gave the world The Addams Family.