Hi, Heroes! In my never-ending quest to increase your fund of knowledge, thus making you wiser, wittier human beings, I’ve decided to devote this month’s Soapbox to a subject that has rarely been covered in MARVEL AGE.
Ask anybody what today’s multi-faceted Marvel Comics are famous for and the answer will inevitably be “super heroes!” And that would be totally correct! But, long years ago there might have been a different answer, equally correct. And therein lies our tale!
Long before the FANTASTIC FOUR burst upon the comicbook world, heralding the start of the Marvel Super Hero Age, we produced a plethora of different comic books in many different genres. You wouldn’t believe how many war titles and westerns and monster mags we turned out, not to mention a ton of romance tales and cops & robbers sagas – and especially funny animal books, mixed-up teenage adventures and funky parody editions. That last batch, the comedy stuff, is the subject I’ve been leading up to, in my usual convoluted way!
When we were in the heyday of our humor mags, we divided them into different categories. They were what we called the teen-age titles like MILLIE THE MODEL and NELLIE THE NURSE (even in those days we kept getting into ruts!), plus WILLIE, GEORGIE, and JEANIE (Whenever we thought of a first name, it seemed to magically turn into a comicbook!).
Then there was another category, the so-called animated mags, featuring funny (at least we hoped so) talking animals. Thinking back over some of those titles now, I can’t believe we were series when we dreamed them up. Wouldja believe SILLY SEAL & ZIGGY PIG? Or how about POSTY & LOLLY? (Posty was a pelican and Lolly an elephant – or maybe it was the other way around!) We also had an endless string of more mundane titles like CRAZY COMICS, SUPER RABBIT, JOKER COMICS and we were the first to publish MIGHTY MOUSE COMICS! Of course, there were also the satirical comics like SNAFU, CRAZY, RIOT and NOT BRAND ECCH!
For some nutty reason, comicbook artists and writers really get a boot out of parodying their own creations, which is why, throughout the yeas, Marvel has always managed to do some magazine of that type, including today’s WHAT THE?!
Finally, we published another favorite category of mine, the wacky photo-caption books. (To prove they were my favorites, I wrote ‘em all myself!) These were books of photos with crazy captions or dialogue balloons, such as MONSTERS UNLIMITED, MONSTERS TO LAUGH WITH (photos from old monster movies) and YOU DON’T SAY (mainly photos of every celebrity we could get our hands on).
Over the years I’ve been asked why humor seems to have faded in comics. Strange enough, I don’t think it has. The problem is, there’s a physical limit to how many magazines a company can produce, and when our super heroes became so hot, we had to devote the bulk of our time and talents to their high-flyin’ exploits. However, you may remember that we did manage to include a lot of humor in the doings of our costumed cavorters such as Spider-Man and the FF (the Thing was often voted the funniest character in comics). In fact, even today, titles such as SHE-HULK have achieved great success in combining humor with far-out adventure. And hey, instead of mourning comedy as a dying art, just latch onto a copy of Sergio Aragone’s GROO and try to keep a straight face.
Personally, I think people are into humor as much today as they ever were – there will always be a segment of the reading public that wants a book to laugh with. But, since the greatest appeal seems to be in super hero adventure stories, it seems to me that the best way for humor to survive (at least for now) is within the framework of those same super hero tales. Think of it, weren’t there some great humorous moments in movies like LETHAL WEAPON, DIE HARD and TERMINATOR? Didn’t those comedic bits help inject a note of realism? Isn’t life itself filled with irony and wry humor? Do any of us ever get through a day without some sort of symbolic pratfall?
In closing, I beg you to shed no tears for the departed heyday of the funny comicbooks. They haven’t really left us for good. They never will. Don’t believe me? Just ask Ren and Stimpy!
(Of course, they’d probably say, in their own inimitable way, “SE non a vero, e ben trovato!”)