Tuesday, February 20, 2018


The character of SWING SISSON had his own stories running in FEATURE COMICS from 1941-1950, but he never had his own comic book. He is a swing band leader who also fights crime--which seems to always find him--along with his lady vocalist Bonnie Baxter and his sax player Toby Tucker. We sometimes forget how huge a force in popular culture such big-band leaders as Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey or Gene Krupa were back in the late 1930’s through the late 1940’s. They had massive fan clubs and teenagers lined up outside venues for their shows. Since many of these leaders came out of a legitimate jazz background (don’t forget, Goodman had played on sessions with Bix Beiderbecke AND Bessie Smith before he was ever a name star), they also had a bit of the hipster “jive” in their patter and image.

So it was a genius move for someone to create a comic book big-band leader who was also a tough-guy and semi-detective capable of holding off the mob and fighting crime and solving mysteries. I’m kind of surprised that either Monogram or Columbia Pictures did not use the character in a B-Crime film. Many 1940’s crime films had nightclub scenes in them as filler with bands and band-vocalists--they could have padded those films EVEN MORE with inexpensive-to-shoot nightclub band numbers with a Swing Sisson as the lead character. He could have even gotten a Columbia serial during the Sam Katzman days in the mid-to-late 40’s. A serial such as CHICK CARTER, DETECTIVE with its nightclub setting could easily have worked Sisson and crew into the plot, in place of Lyle Talbot (great as he is/was), but as an obscure comic feature which did not even have its own magazine, SWING SISSON wouldn’t have been that much of a draw. In feature films, I can imagine a tough guy with humor such as CHESTER MORRIS (busy with his Boston Blackie features then, alas) or GRANT WITHERS picking up a baton, reading Cab Calloway’s Dictionary of Jive (or whatever it was called), and taking on the role. And if they wanted a more suave actor who could still be convincingly tough, how about Kent Taylor? The pencil moustache would have been perfect.

Swing’s backstory is dealt with in the first story, where he gets hired at Pete Jaxon’s “Clover Club,” which of course immediately is set upon by gangsters who want to close the place down. The stories become more outrageous as the series continued. In one, a former vaudeville entertainer who is down on his luck, and now envious of Swing’s success, kills everyone in the theater for Swing’s show. That’s right, he kills 1100 people...and three or four pages later, it’s resolved and he is caught....and he isn’t even killed, just taken away by the authorities! That should give you an idea of the level on which this comic feature operates.

I find the Swing Sisson comics to be quite entertaining. It’s not the kind of thing that you’d want to read three hours of straight through--you can only go to this well so often. Also, in fast moving six-page stories where a crime/mystery is introduced, investigated, fought against, and solved/defeated, there’s not much room for character development. However, when you’ve got Swing and crew fighting Nazis, or having some evil scientist kidnap the real Swing and replace him with a clone who is mean and dictatorial toward the musicians in rehearsals (!!!!), the entertainment value of the Swing Sisson stories remains high.

This first volume of two from Gwandanaland collects the first half of the Swing stories, and there’s also a second volume (which I don't yet have) which takes him all the way through his final adventure in 1950.... almost 100 stories in all! It will be interesting to see how the character and situations change, if any, in the late 1940’s in Volume 2. It’s a refreshing change of pace to have a comic book character who exists in a show business environment and to have a nightclub be the base of operations for crime-fighting.

I’d never heard of Swing Sisson until this Gwandanaland collection came out last year, but for those who love crime comic books from the 1940’s and who love the nightclub scenes in 1940’s detective and crime B-Movies, imagine something that combines the best of both worlds. Also, the stories are short, so you can always read one while waiting on your coffee in the morning or just before falling asleep at night, and not have to worry about losing the thread of the plot. It’s over before you know it. If you read one before going to sleep at night, imagine what kind of dreams you’ll have. I for one would enjoy living in a dream world modeled on a 1940’s B-movie nightclub, where all the ladies wore outfits with padded shoulders and were a cross between Veronica Lake and Hillary Brooke with a twist of Lena Horne, where there was always a band swinging away on “Moten Swing” or “Perdido” in the background, where some Anita O’Day-style warbler would deliver sultry but hip renditions of “Blues In The Night” or “Pass The Bounce” as I sipped my Scotch and inhaled a no-filter Chesterfield, where the liquor flowed and there was always an open bar, and where the bouncers were modeled on 40’s tough-guy actors such as Douglas Fowley or Tom Neal. 

Looking up Hillary Brooke online to make sure I spelled her name right, I see that her first husband had the last name of Shute! Gee, maybe I WAS married to her in a former lifetime. Where are those past-life-regression con-artists when you need them!

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