So much goes into comedy
, especially comedy in comics – there’s funny writing, and funny drawing, and the intersection of the two, plus personal taste and sometimes all of that obscured by the passage of time. Something can be done well, with lots of wordplay, well-thought-out drawings and solidly amusing premises, but still feel outdated or just flat to any particular reader.
That’s where I land with Scoop Scuttle and His Pals: The Crackpot Comics of Basil Wolverton . It collects four series of stories from the 1940s and early ’50s: the reporter Scoop Scuttle, the diminutive Indian fakir Mystic Moot (and his Magic Snoot), indestructible cowboy Bingbang Buster, and goofy SF hero Jumpin’ Jupiter.. There are detailed story notes by editor Greg Sadowski
, and the whole package is well-designed and organized, with comics pages about as clear and crisp as you could hope for stuff printed on newsprint seventy years ago.
I didn’t laugh once. I might have had a wry smile a couple of times. Some of it, especially later in the book, was amusing and fun, but nothing got that immediate humor reaction from me. The Scoop Scuttle stories in particular felt too stuffed: too many words with too much supposedly-comic alliteration, too much minor-vaudeville business. So I am not a good person to tell you what’s great about these Basil Wolverton stories.
Now, I’m pretty sure this is minor Wolverton. But I’m no Wolverton expert: I’ve seen some of his stuff here and there, but never dug deeply. This book was titled and published in a way that made it look like it was saying “this is the good stuff!” Looking more carefully after reading it, it seems to actually say “this is some obscure stuff, mostly made as the Golden Age was dying, nicely cleaned up for Wolverton fanatics, and we’re not making any claims about its quality.”
These are all anthology-filler comics stories, from an era where comics were 64 pages long and needed to be filled with various stuff. Part of that Golden-Age-dying was the shrinking of those comics; it looks, from this distance, like Wolverton was squeezed out during that shrinking. What gets squeezed out is not necessarily by quality: popularity is first, and what most closely fits the overall theme and style of the book tends to stay. Wolverton being goofy and sui generis made him an obvious early target for removal: this material would have been the most different stuff in any of the comics it appeared in.
So, if I’m telling you anything you didn’t know about Wolverton, this is not a book for you. This is a book for people who already know a lot more about Wolverton than I do, or maybe people whose comic sensibility is more attuned to mass-market alliterative and nearly-rhyming jokes from mid-century.
One very random example:
“I’m from the Daily Dally! I’m looking for Lester Fester!”
“I’m not Lester Fester! I’m Esther Tester! Now take it on the lam, ham, and scram! I’m strangling my husband, and I don’t want any interruptions!”
If you enjoy wordplay along the lines of “take it on the lam, ham, and scram,” you will find a lot of it here.