Thursday, March 07, 2019

As anybody who's been chased away from more'n a few comic book displays can tell ya, comic book/strip character imitations can be pretty hotcha in themselves especially if they retain a sort of snide aura to 'em that sez that yer stoopid for reading our knockoff inna first place! But hey, you don't care cuz it's yer ten cents and like, seein' a DC or Marvel logo on what OBVIOUSLY looks like an Archie title does have a weird aura to it, a transcendental sort of appeal in its own suburban slobbish nothin' else to do this afternoon way. But what about when anyone, whether it be comic book publishers or SKY SAXON for that matter, decide get THEMSELVES off in that eternal battle to go for the bigger bucks no matter how obvious and downright cheap such a move might look to the few of us who are shall-we-say now a lot older and perhaps not that much the wiser for it.

EC did it during their comic book days with PANIC...maybe it was just EC's way of beating the copycats at their own game sorta like when Frank Zappa released all of those old bootlegs of his earlier material complete with pops and crackles back in the early nineties. Maybe not---after all, the proposal for PANIC was on the table even before MAD became a twinkle in Harvey Kurtzman's eye. However, when it came to swiping from oneself the champeen comic book published in this particular vein (at least during the days when comic books definitely were a teenage/kiddoid form of quick pass around entertainment) has to go to the MLJ/Archie line, who really knew how to milk their cash cow for all it was worth and with occasionally good results at that.

I mean, who amongst us newsstand/flea market stacks prowlers could forget such efforts as JOSIE, THAT WILKIN BOY and of course the MADHOUSE MADS/GLADHOUSE GLADS what with those Dan DeCarlo covers that were steeped in the Archie house style yet featured character who sure looked a whole lot shaggier and long-haired'n the comparatively clean cut denizens of Riverdale! Maybe Archie head John Goldwater thought it woulda been too risky turning Archie et. al. into less-than clean cut teenbos so he decided to update the company image with other misfit high school students who would continue on with the crazed kid capers only with hair covering their ears and flashy clothes straight from the Sear's Tiger Shop. Mighta been too much for the parents (unless you were brought up in one of those liberal homes where the upper-middle-class folk didn't care if you smoked marijuana in the nude right in front of your little cyster just as long as you went to your Reichian therapist in order to assuage your inner angst over your draft card rating) but I think the twelve-year-old gals really woulda grooved to it!

Well, it seems as if the concept of Archie swiping from Archie wasn't totally a sixties-era quick cash in ploy because believe-it-or-leave-it those crafty souls at MLJ were doin' just that and around the time the ink on those early Bob Montana works were but barely dried! In fact, Archie's most vivid clone, WILBUR, actually debuted before Archie which does account for a mighty brain-twist on the part of comic book aficionados nationwide.  But who woulda known Wilbur was the firstest but not the mostest, what with his bow tie and sweater not to mention Muenster cheese-like criss crosses on his head and two blond and brunette girlfriends fighting over him! And what about that doofy sidekick with the same Jughead snarl only with glasses and red hair (with more criss crosses on his head---I guess MLJ was criss cross crazy!).

Golden Age Reprints has got a buncha these Wilburs available as well as many of the other PD Archie items from the good ol' dayze, and students of flash not-so-cheap imitations might do well to get a few in order to discern the interesting nuances, or just have a good time whatever comes first. I managed to latch onto #12 from April of 1947 and found it really satisfying as far as getting some quick reading into ya after a day straining the brain at the Salt Mines. The usual forties-era Archie staff is on hand here including Al Fagaly of THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW fame, not to mention Bill Vigoda (Abe's brother!) whose particular style seems way more suited to Wilbur than it did Archie! Even more similarities with Archie can be spotted in the stories that appear here complete with the aged parents (mother with totally white hair just like Archie's own---sheesh, didn't these comic creators ever hear of menopause?) who look more like grandparents to me, but people sure aged fast back then! 'n howzbout those crotchety old teachers with just a few tweaks here and there to differentiate 'em from the real meal Miss Grundy/Mr. Weatherbee deal. I don't think the kidz were complaining much. Heck, they probably didn't even care if they couldn't tell the difference!

Even stranger in the self-swipe sweepstakes is GINGER which really does the sex/role/swap/shift game to unique effect. And stranger still's the fact that this 'un works even better'n WILBUR in that the stories are even more twisted and the play up on the females is almost as over-the-top va-voom to adolescent boys as those later-on Archies were! Well, at least until the days that the artists were allowed to show Betty and Veronica's belly buttons. Even more strange is the Ginger logo which is a clear cop on the familiar ARCHIE style perhaps alluding to something closer to the tap root of it all than the other titles in the series.  (And who could miss the on-cover blurbs about Ginger being "America's Typical Teen-Age GIRL" who was the "Sweetheart [instead of "Mirth"] of a Nation"?!?!?!?!).

But what's supremely strange about GINGER is that these tales were drawn (and extremely close to the old house style) by none other than Harry Lucey, a guy whose work on the Archie proper comics in the sixties and seventies was so far away from the usual standards that I actually would skip over 'em for more years than I could imagine. But here it's fuller and way more pleasing on mine eyes perhaps because for once Lucey was copying Bob Montana and had yet to develop his own---er---ways of doing things outside the box! But the man does have his fans and like, I used to hear that he would send his pencil'd pages to Archie Pubs with everybody drawn in the nude other'n on the first page! The inker hadda draw the clothing on so the thing could be "presentable", but imagine whatta woulda happened if the guy decided not to for whatever nefarious reason he mighta had in his mind??? Ho-hah, as they used to say...

Ginger could be considered a sex change switcheroo on Archie though her antix just don't get quite into the overboard destructo mode that could appear in those stories where Archie accidentally decapitates Mr. Lodge on his yacht while adjusting the sails. (Though nothing like that ever would have happened in a classic-era Archie story...I mean John Goldwater was Mr. Wholesome to the point where you hadda read the comic strip for the really snat badgag sex jokes!) Ginger has two boys pining for her affection, one being Tommy who comes off the muscular all-Amerigan he-kid schmuck and Ickky, a short Dilton Doiley clone who at least seems to have enough testosterone in him to be somewhat attractive to a knockout like Ginger. The sidekick role's played by the slightly chubby Dottie who in a few ways resembles that un-named gal who used to give Betty advice in the old ARCHIE strips...nothing of whatcha'd call standout quality but a character who certainly fills her purpose with the plot as Ginger's associate/conscience a la Boo Boo in the Yogi Bear cartoons.

And right on cue there's a female Reggie-esque foil in Bunny, whose devil horn hairdo equals JOSIE's Alexandra Cabot's skunk style. (And as you woulda know since at least fetus days Bunny's rather nefarious plans always backfire somehow, which is of course where all the fun really lies...) Won't bother to mention the Big Moose double Monk, who's just the same as the original right down to the butch cut yet has enough of an IQ to have acquired an overtly "toxic" as they now say masculine personality.

Gotta say that I enjoyed these Gingers even more than I woulda expected since they do deviate from the Archie pattern ever-so-slightly. But slight enough what with the sly interplay twixt Ginger and her beaus that just couldn't appear in a standard Archie saga no matter the similarities!

If you liked the various sixties/seventies Archie variations (even the ones DC and Marvel were slapping onto the market like BINKY and GEORGIE) you'll love these fifties ones which thankfully lack the heavy-handedness and virtue that would eventually earwig their ways into the entire publishing house in their quest to look "hip" and "up-to-date".

If you don't have a batch of these stashed away in the attic (like I sure wish I' I don't even HAVE an attic!) best you build an addition to your house just so's you can crawl in there during those rheumy reminiscing times and read a batch of these long gone and who could forget 'em titles! That is, before you start thinking back to all those failures throughout your days after seeing that football you fumbled, or the remnants of that science fair project that almost blew up the school and all of those other things you've stashed not only in the attic of your house but the attic of YOUR MIND that you sure wish you could cut out of your brain with a knife and like PERMANENTLY! Heaven knows I've tried.

1 comment:

Bill S. said...

This kind of comics coverage is one of the reasons BTC
will always be an essential read in MY home!