Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beatniks in Comics: A Sampler, Part 3

The cartoon left (from The Adventures of Jerry Lewis 68, Jan/Feb 1962) ironically depicts a girl picturing the 'square' guy as a desirable beatnik, rather the opposite of mainstream society's opinion at the time!

For this final look at beatniks as they appeared in early 1960s American comic books, here's another page (below) from a Bob Oksner DC comic, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis 1 (May/June 1960). It shows Dobie's Beatnik buddy, Maynard, with his tendency to walk around lost in the music that's going on inside his head. While not unkind, this typically in one sense detached-from-reality image of the beatnik found in the comics of the early 60s suggests individuals not in tune with mainstream society, but instead seeking an alternate world view on their own terms. On this page from Dobie Gillis 1, Maynard's tapping on the store window frame is mirrored by Dobie tapping him on his shoulder to break his internal musical reverie and bring him back out into the 'real' world of the rest of humanity.

Unusually, in Dobie Gillis 1, there is also a four page Maynard story, featuring a female beatnik friend of Maynard as well. Unfortunately the non-conformity of this pair of beats comes back on Maynard, who suffers humiliation as a consequence of failing to observe acceptable driving etiquette. There's a subtle message here, that okay you beatniks are free to be 'different' if you want, but if you don't conform to societal norms that really matter to the rest of us, you are going to be sorry. This fits in with the general image that seems to be presented of the beatnik - basically a bunch of people struggling to find their identity, not getting 'with it' in terms of society's expectations, and being seen as failures or bums as a result, laughable because of their choice to take a different route.

Taking this deadbeat view of beatniks to the extreme, Mad (of course) re-writes 'My Fair Lady' into the story of a beatnik that one corporate guy challenges another to transform into an advertising man, again suggesting that the beatnik is seen (by society and not necessarily by Mad) as the lowest of the low. Somehow the conversion of the beatnik into a manipulative money-maker is seen as desirable from society's point of view, rather than accepting Irving Mallion (played by a cartoon of Frank Sinatra) as a valuable free-thinking individual in his own right. The satire here is all directed at the topsy-turvy value system by which western society is run. This from Mad 54 (April 1960), with art my Mort Drucker and written by Nick Megliola.

What we've seen over the last three Out Of This World posts is the image of a very recognizable sub-culture, complete with its own linguistics, behaviors, appearance, paraphernalia, and art forms. Certainly some of what constituted beat culture is still with us today, following its re-absorption into the mainstream. One final example of the late 50s/early 60s comic book fascination with beatniks, again from Mad (#49, September 1959), is this beat translation of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, with art again by Mort Drucker:

Finally, a request from Out Of This World to anyone who reads this. I have for many years been searching for a particular Archie (or Jughead or similar) comic that I had when I was a kid in the 1960s. Somewhere in the comic, Archie introduces a beatnik Jughead to his father, and Jughead responds with the following (that I memorized at the time and have never forgotten):

"Endsville, Daddy-o! Lend me some skin, man! Your heir's a gasser. I dig him the most."

Archie translates this for his father as, "Good afternoon, Sir! Pleased to meet you! You have a fine son. I like him a lot."

At the time I literally couldn't stop laughing when I read this, and kept looking at it over and over and collapsing on the floor in fits of uncontrollable mirth. Although I doubt I could quite recreate the same intense reaction now, I would still really like to get a copy of whatever comic that was. If anyone out there can tell me which issue it is that I'm looking for I would be very happy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beatniks in Comics: A Sampler, Part 2

With this next look at Beatniks in early 1960s comics, Out Of This World turns to DC's The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, drawn by Bob Oksner. This was an adaptation of a TV series from that time. Dobie Gillis is a total womanizer, who constantly looks to play the field, but his best buddy Maynard, although often roped into Dobie's schemes, has a more philosophical yet down to earth perspective, despite appearing scatterbrained and out of touch with reality. Maynard is cast as a beatnik, and has all the lingo, along with the tendency to walk around vocalizing the drum beats in this head. On the cover of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis 4 (Nov/Dec 1960), we can already witness some signs that Maynard is a beatnik - his hair, beard, the clicking fingers, and the use of "man" and "like" as he starts to speak. In part of the story from Dobie Gillis 4,  Maynard exhibits another characteristic of beatniks, a love for on-the-spot improvised poetry. Also note Maynard's use of the term "far out".

Later in the same story, Dobie and Maynard are asked to go and pick up the daughter of a friend of Dobie's parents. Maynard's logic is that although the mother is not good-looking, the daughter usually turns out to be a dish. It seems to the reader that when the two boys reach the costume shop where they are to pick up Purity, Maynard is wrong. However, from Maynard's angle of vision, his prediction is correct - Purity, although apparently homely in appearance, very much seems to meet his criteria for attractiveness, not least because she is a female beatnik and, like Maynard, has the tendency to spout poetry.

Maynard is there for the whole 26 issue run of the Dobie Gillis series which, while adapting a 1960s TV show, is sufficiently well-written to still be interesting and funny today. Another DC funny title that at that time was drawn (and possibly written) by Bob Oksner, was The Adventures of Bob Hope. Again, you might think that 50 years later it could be difficult to connect with the humor of the times, but I find it not so. I had a really good laugh reading through a bunch of these, with this comic book version of Bob Hope's obsessions with food, money, and girls done in a way that really is true to his comedy movies and equally humorous. In The Adventures of Bob Hope 72 (Dec 61/Jan 62), Bob is working as an organizer for a beauty contest. The girls are a constant distraction, his attraction for them preventing him from getting things done. His boss comes up with an idea that should help Bob stay on task and not forget what he's supposed to be doing. This sets in motion a series of events that first brings Bob into contact with a beatnik, and then results in him being momentarily mistaken for one himself:

There's a lot of beatnik information in this section of the story. We've got the beard, the bongos, the poetry, and the beatnik on the beach again using the by now familiar linguistics - "man", "like", "cut out", "pad" - beatniks sitting around philosophizing over cups of espresso, the clothes typically worn by male and female beatniks, and an interest in Zen Buddhism, all serve to expand our definition of the beatnik.

Later in the story Bob is recruited by the daughter of a rich businessman, who has a scheme to extract and sell fresh water from a deep water ocean current. Somehow the daughter has gained the impression, from Bob's banter, that he is an expert diver. The daughter works for a university science department, and eventually Bob is introduced to the rest of the team of scientists who will be working with him as he carries out the dive. It doesn't have anything to do with beatniks but it was too funny to leave out:

So that's it for this one. Next up on Out Of This World, one more look at Beatniks in comics from the early 1960s. See you there.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beatniks in Comics: A Sampler, Part 1

I have always enjoyed finding references to beatniks in comics, perhaps because they are usually in a humorous context. I don't recall seeing beatniks around in England when I was a kid - mods and rockers, yes, but I don't remember a beatnik, and I was certainly looking out for them. Maybe I didn't used to hang out in the right neighborhoods, or maybe it was more of an American thing, I'm not sure. Maybe they were all 'gone' by the time I was old enough to notice. Anyway, I've put together a selection of bits and pieces here from early 1960s comics that give a little taste of what I'm talking about, and at the end let's see what this collection of snippets from comics of that period tells us about the beatnik phenomenon, as if we were future archaeologists who'd dug up a pile of comic books and were seeking information about the society that produced them.

From the subscription coupon from Mad 67 (Dec 1961), we're already getting a glimpse of what constitutes a beatnik. There seems to be a connection with music. The beatnik wears a certain type of head gear, and has his facial hair trimmed into a beard that is restricted to his chin. He appears to be clicking his fingers, and perhaps this is a behavior associated with beatniks. He's wearing a loose fitting shirt. Certain words or phrases also appear associated with the language of the beatnik - "way out!", "real gone!", "sends me", "pad", "man", and "like". After a bit of research I came across an actual one page beatnik feature that was included in some of the DC funnies in the early 1960s. It was called... 'Beat Nick', and consisted of a collection of gag cartoons featuring this male beatnik character, drawn by Mort Drucker. Here's three, from The Adventures of Jerry Lewis 58, 59, and 62, respectively (May/June 1960, July/Aug 1960, and Jan/Feb 1961).

What these cartoons suggest is that beatniks are unconventional. They are sensitive to the cause of the oppressed, and have a fairly pessimistic view on the state of the world. They are supposedly angry young men. They tend to wear certain types of clothing, that includes baggy sweaters, tight fitting pants, and specific kinds of footwear. Female beatniks seem to wear their hair long, and dress in a similar fashion to the males. The bongo drum seems to be an instrument associated with beatniks, as do cafes with bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. More vocabulary - "dig", "crazy", and "chick".

A couple of DC titles of the period actually featured beatnik support characters. One such was A Date With Judy, nearing the end of its run. Judy's boyfriend Oogie's friend, Nervous, was clearly a beatnik. In this short story from A Date With Judy 78 (Aug/Sept 1960), Nervous is trying to land a job in the band of a jazz singer:

The association with bongo drums seems to be confirmed here. Lots more linguistics - "bread", "dad" or "daddio", "the craziest", "the most", "into orbit", and "cool cat". In the next Out Of This World post we'll look at another DC comic that had a beatnik as the buddy of the lead male character, plus when Bob Hope got mistaken for a beatnik.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bob Oksner's Finest Hour: DC's Pat Boone series

Out Of This World takes a final look at DC's Pat Boone series today, with three more Larry Nadle stories drawn by Bob Oksner. The first is one of the four page short stories featuring Pat, his wife Shirley, and their four girls. "4 Little Chicks" isn't the only comic book story that provides a window into that cultural phenomenon known as the babysitter - it's a theme used all over, but this one has an unusual twist in that Pat and Shirley have had enough of going out, but they don't want to disappoint the babysitter by telling her she's not needed. I love the club president Becky's 'Swoon with Boone' badge at the end. This story is from Pat Boone 1.

Next here's the campus queen story from Pat Boone 4. Having grown up and gone to college in the UK, where such phenomena are not present, it was a huge eye-opener to eventually witness the sorority rush, tail-gate parties at football games, and all the other events that make up American campus culture. Maybe this is one that has died out now, but clearly it was an element of 1950s and early 60s campus life:

Here's a picture of the Florida State University campus queen of 1952 for comparison (image copyright Time Inc., used in accordance with stated conditions). I think it would have looked better if the float had been pulled by that gorgeous car in the gateway rather than the tractor, but I have no experience in organizing such events. Clearly this was a serious business, similar to the homecoming queen at American high schools:

 For a final farewell to Oksner's Pat Boone, here's the main story from Pat Boone 5, in which yet again Pat comes to the rescue in an awkward situation, this time for the high school drama teacher:

Next up, Out Of This World will be taking a look at some more of Oksner's work, amongst others, when we examine the inclusion of beatniks in early 60s comics.

Oh for those bygone days!
But more recently:
The Boone Girls
and The Boone Girls with Pat Boone