Monday, February 27, 2012

50's Funnies (1980; Kitchen Sink Press)

Kitchen Sink Press, 1980
Editor: Larry Shell
Front Cover: Bill Stout
Writers: George Erling, Dave Hunt, Bill Kelley, Will Meugniot, Scott Shaw, Larry Shell 
Artists: Alfredo P. Alcala, Steve Bissette, George Erling, Dave Hunt, Tom Marnick,
Will Meugniot, Ernie Pasanen, Joe Ragusa, Scott Shaw, John Totleben,
Rick Veitch, Tom Yeates

Kitchen Sink Press was one of the first and better known publishers of the underground comix scene that was all the rage from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. The ambitious company was founded by Dennis Kitchen in 1970 and showcased quality work contributed by many unknown and/or controversial artists and writers who were allowed freedom of expression without the constraints of censorship that dominated mainstream comic book companies due to their compliance with the Comics Code Authority. Forbidden and taboo subjects involving sex, drugs, and violence filled the pages of these publications, such as Grateful Dead Comix, The Crow, Omaha the Cat Dancer, and Gay Comix, to name a few. But despite the usually strong subject matter, these naughty rags had a particularly strong appeal for the hippie counterculture who appreciated the satirical presentation of the music scene, politics, and social commentary that were ever present within the context of the stories and artwork. Readers were not only amused and entertained by underground comix, they also found themselves relating to the subject matter, more so than any other comic book genre being sold in newsstands.

50's Funnies was a one-shot title that was published long after the height of the underground comix popularity, but kept true to the form and goal of its predecessors. The front cover, by multiple awards winner Bill Stout (Coven 13; The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era), parodies the fluffy and cheesy romance comics of long ago with a more realistic portrayal of teenage relationship issues. Instead of a heartbroken sweetie sobbing dramatically over being stood up on prom night, we have a young couple making out under the stars. The girl is afraid she will get pregnant, but her reassuring date promises to "pull out before" he shoots! Below that, a banner reads: "MORE LIES INSIDE!" Yup, the cover pretty much establishes the tone of what to expect from the stories that follow. Ah, but there is so much more! The montage of goodies by various writers and artists seem to have no bounds.

The inside front cover art is by Tom Yeates and Steve Bissette, and features a wonderfully illustrated tribute to the King of Rock 'n' Roll -- Elvis Presley! Yeates also contributes a music-themed centerfold in the comic. If his name seems familiar, you might have seen his work in Conan (Dark Horse), Tarzan (Malibu & Dark Horse), or even in the backup feature 'Claw the Unconquered' from DC's Warlord series. Bissette fans are equally treated to more of his art filling the inside back cover. Most notable in the horror comic book genre, Bissette's credits include Bog Swamp Demon (Hall of Heroes), Deadtime Stories (New Comics Group), Gore Shriek (FantaCo), and Tales of Terror (Eclipse).

'I Sold My Soul for Rock 'n' Roll!' by Larry Shell and Scott Shaw is the comic's first story. It's a retelling of the old Oscar Wilde classic about a man who sells his soul to the Devil. This time, however, the demon happens to be a rebellious teenage delinquent named Hot Soxx -- a parody of the popular Harvey Comics character Hot Stuff -- who's driving all the old fork-tailed folks in Hell bonkers with his rock 'n' roll ruckus and flashy motorbike. His aunt Burnia forces the little daredevil to go out into the mortal world and make something of himself. From here on, the tale takes on the familiar elements associated with The Picture of Dorian Gray, while also parodying Dick Clark and American Bandstand50's Funnies editor Larry Shell wrote the story for this humorous and fast-paced feature. Shell's first self-publishing endeavor began in 1975, in which he first worked with many of the artists and writers showcased in this rare comic book. Multi-talented Scott Shaw did the art, lettering, and even co-scripted alongside Shell. Quite impressive is Shaw's body of work in various media outlets, whose comic book credits include Archie Sonic the Hedgehog, The Flintstones, and The Simpsons. Shaw has also been seen utilizing his artistic talents in television cartoon shows, like The Fantastic Four, Jim Henson's Muppet Babies, The Smurfs, and in animated movies for Disney.

'Bullet for a Doll,' by writer Bill Kelley and artist Tom Yeates, is the next segment. It's a noir-like piece that takes us back to the days when pulp fiction detectives were saddled with fixed fedoras and permanent, non-removable wife-beaters. The token cigarette dangling from the dick's non-existent lips and trusty .38 pistol by his side are also evident. The scenario plays out with typical narration as the staple femme fatale attempts to seduce this emotionally constipated man. However, the twist at the end is quite bizarre and disturbing. So much so, that readers may find themselves pondering what the hell it all meant? We have the talented writer Bill Kelley to thank for messing with our heads. More of his fine work can be found in DC Comics' lineup of guilty pleasures, such as Elvira's House of Mystery, Sgt. Rock, Unknown Soldier, Weird War Tales, and in the horror anthology series called Unexpected. Tom Yeates' artwork captures the tone of the narration brilliantly and adds further dimensions to the oddity of the piece. Quite unsettling, indeed.

'Beat-Out' is a satirical commentary on society's obsession with quick self-improvement ads that littered the magazines and comic books of the time -- in particular, those earn-your-school-diploma-at-home advertisements and the infamous Charles Atlas Plan! Among all this is a story about... boy wants girl... other boy wants girl... girl gets around! This little treat is brought to us by the hard working and controversial George Erling, whose interesting list of credits include titles like Beastiality, Heebie Jeebie, and Weird Rip-Offs.

'Forgotten Fears of the Fifties' is a sick and twisted look at the Atomic Age of yesteryear, when TV horror hosts invaded households like bed bugs, teenagers made good use of the handy zipper, and numerous B sci-fi and horror flicks paraded across the Drive-In movie screens. Editor Larry Shell appears in the drawings as the host "in various disguises," impersonating the likes of Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, John Zacherley, and other iconic personalities. It's a true classic, featuring the astounding artwork of Rick Veitch (Fearbook), Joe Ragusa (Manticore), Tom Marnick (CARtoons), John Totleben (Taboo), and Ernie Pasanen (Parade of Gore)! Perhaps, out of the names mentioned, the most recognizable in the comic book industry are those of Veitch and Totleben, who have both done work on the popular titles Heavy Metal and Swamp Thing, and much of their contributions appear extensively in DC and Marvel Comics. Titles Veitch is known for include Captain America, Ghost in the Machine, Hellblazer, Jonah Hex, Mystery in Space, Nightmare Theater, and, especially, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series. Totleben's resumé is as equally impressive, having taken on such titles as Batman, Bizarre Adventures, From Hell, Miracleman, The Sandman, Tales of the Vampires, Twisted Tales, X-Men Unlimited, etc.

'Momma's Bwah!' by Bill Kelley and Rick Veitch again, is a deliciously demented and perverse parody on classic comic strip characters and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre! Bazooka Joe and His Gang are lifted right out of those mini-comics found inside the wrapper of every Topps Bazooka chewing gum and are now aged into horny teenage delinquents, who play a nasty joke on infamous serial killer and cannibal Ed Gein. Unfortunately for Joe and his friends, however, Mr. Gein likes to hunt down and kill naughty teenagers. Other famous comic characters make cameo appearance, these include Nancy, Archie, Popeye, etc. Extremely offensive, it's doubtful this historical gem of underground comix will ever be republished during our age of politically correct suppression. But fear not, fellow sickies... SP has posted more of this feature at the end of the SPew. Enjoy!

'Spaced Rat-Pol,' by writer and artist Dave Hunt and inker Alfredo P. Alcala, is next up and enters sci-fi territory with a parody of the original 1950's television series Space Patrol. The story is much more tame compared to the two previous horror entries it follows, but the talented Mr. Hunt and the ink work of legendary artist Alcala keep things entertaining and engaging with non-stop action and eye-catching visuals. Of course, the parody's true strength shines through if one is familiar with the old television show. Dave Hunt fans will especially enjoy this rare and daring excursion from the man who's endless reign of contributions include Adventures on the Planet of the Apes, Amazing Adventures, The Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing Tales, The Transformers, as well as horror titles, like The Barn of Fear, Book of the Dead, Chamber of Chills, Creatures on the Loose, The Man-Thing, The Monster of Frankenstein, Strange Tales, and Werewolf by Night. Alfredo P. Alcala first achieved fame with his 1963 creation of Voltar by CRAF Publications. Such prestige earned him work on countless titles, such as Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange, Freddy Krueger's Nightmare on Elm Street, House of Secrets, Plop!, Tales of the Zombie, Witching Hour, and Warren Magazine favorites -- Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella!

'Turf!,' by Will Meugniot, raps up the collection with this strange and final entry. It's a social commentary on the useless existence of being a member of a street gang. The lead character, who narrates the tale, is an aging gang leader with no future and time is running out. The ending, however, has a supernatural twist that is quite disturbing and is enhanced even further by the perturbing illustrations. Meugniot's work has appeared in The DNAgents, Exotic Fantasy, Howard the Duck, Marvel ChillersMarvel Team-Up, Vanity, and has branched off into the the television and video entertainment industry as both a director and producer for such projects as G.I. Joe: Valor vs. Venom, Jem, Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters, Spider-Man Unlimited, Stargate: Infinity, and X-Men.

Forgotten Fears of the Fifties (continued)

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