Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mining for Gold: DC's Pat Boone Comics

I recently read in an online forum someone describing comic books as largely 'low culture', grudgingly accepting that Art Spiegelman's Maus was justified in winning its award, but that this was the exception rather than the rule in terms of quality where comics are concerned. Of course I completely disagree with such a classist condemnation, and it inspired me to begin a regular look through the archives for some examples of why this guy was talking through his backside. Here's a series that I discovered back in the 1960s when it was already old, and although I have to say the contents didn't appeal to me at the time, designed as it is for female fans of Pat Boone back in the day, I nevertheless even then saw that this was a piece of quality production, with stories written by Larry Nadle and some outstanding artwork by Bob Oksner. 45 years later and looking at it again I see way more than the creators could have consciously put into it - but as a product of its time it inevitably incorporated many aspects of American culture that now provide a primary source for information about America's past. The books contain a multitude of different features, in addition to the expertly drawn stories, which all feature Pat Boone. The main stories have Pat sort of in the background, ending up helping someone with their problems. The second story in each book is shorter, and features Pat, his wife, and their four daughters! They married young, and had four kids before they were in their mid-twenties! What's great about the stories, especially the main feature, is that they are already describing an American cultural phenomenon, that of the movie/rock star and his/her interactions with the adoring public. Secondly, there are all the subsidiary items Oksner uses as props or background in the art, that give a detailed picture of the typical artifacts of the late 1950s American home or town. Lastly, the plots include reference to other American cultural edifices, for example, sororities, and campus queens. The comic itself is also a great piece of Americana. The books are aimed at teens, and so have teen fashion pages, teen cartoons, items about Pat's life and the careers of other stars of the day, and a letters page on which Pat answers the readers who have been writing in about their problems. The content of the stories, along with the fashion and letters pages, makes it fall into the romance genre, as well as being whatever else you might call it. Oksner's art is unusual in that there are no actual word balloons - the speech is connected to the speaker by a line only, if necessary. Along with Oksner's fabulous style, it gives the pages a very open, airy, bright sunny day feel to them. So anyway, here's a few to enjoy, starting with "A Teenager's Dilemma" from Pat Boone 1:

Next up is "An Invitation to Pledge" from Pat Boone 2:

Finally, for today, "Little Boy Lost" from Pat Boone 3. Note the gorgeous fins on that car, plus ponder the possibility that nowadays children's services would have taken the boy into care because of neglect.

Out Of This World will be providing a couple more posts on the Pat Boone comics, taking a look at some of the other material included in these books.


  1. holy cow!!! That's some absolutely fantastic artwork. The lack of conventional speech bubbles really does open the pages up. Such a shame about the smug and paternalistic tone of the stories.

  2. Peter: interesting observation re: the tone of the stories. That kind of elevation to guru-hood that went along with stardom, even for people as young as Pat Boone was then, seemed to be part of the whole phenomenon. John Lennon years later would have quite a lot to say about this - people expected rock stars to somehow have all the answers. The wisdom that comes with touring and getting your first big hit. Undoubtedly people like Pat Boone were subjected to a whole different view of the world than we lesser mortals, though, so maybe there is something there. But in the late 1950s paternalism was the way we were!

  3. Didn't get that much better into the 60's in the UK. Cliff Richard movies had much the same feel this comic. They just added the pretense of letting the kids think they were "rebelling". Looking forward to seeing more though.