Posted By Art Baxter

captain_easy-detail

In today's strip, our hero, the Cap'n, is surrounded by topless native girls wanting to wait on him hand and foot and he's vaguely annoyed. I can't imagine why? They're pretty dern cute. Click  here to see the complete strip. Y'know in the big ol' history of newspaper strips in this country, this may be the only example of bared female breasts appearing in the daily or Sunday funnies. Not so in England and Europe of course. It's practically a prerequisite there. Thank god the girls in this strip are "dusky" island natives. Why it's just like the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.*

When I first saw this strip in Bill Blackbeard's excellent SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS, I couldn't believe it. Here are cute topless native girls in all their glory in the Sunday funnies. This was January 20, 1935. Two years earlier, The Hays Commission had imposed a morality code on the motion picture industry, which, among other things, lowered the skirt and libido of Miss BETTY BOOP, in 1932. Yet, two years later, these and a few more times in subsequent EASY Sundays, are perhaps the only known exposed nipples in the history of American mainstream newspaper comics.

Lets take a closer look at one, shall we.

captain_easy-detail-2

A dot and quarter circle line. What could be more simple? Drink deep!

So, through this archeological dig through old newsprint, we find that the origin of the "topless back" is the "topless front."

NEXT: AFTERWARD: Turnabout is fair play!

CAPTAIN EASY is © NEA Services, Inc.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

captain_easy-2

Roy Crane's (1901-1977) Captain Easy was a globe trotting Soldier of Fortune (i.e. an Adventurer) who got in and out of adventures with his pint-sized pal, Washington Tubbs (call him "Wash" for short) and a dame du jour for eye-candy and plot stirring. While the dailies featured the pair, the Sunday's were Easy's solo adventures presumably before he met Wash. 

Today's strip is a fairly atypical CAPTAIN EASY Sunday from December 2nd, 1934. Click here to see the complete strip. Instead of action we have a fanciful escapade similar (if not an outright homage) to LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND by Winsor McCay. Here, an Englishman has a wild adventure with crazy fish and mermaids as he searches for treasure. Although the mermaids are topless, their nipples are inexplicably missing. Generally, male characters, when shirtless, don't have nipples either. After all, it's the exposed nipple that gets people bent out of shape. It's interesting that there seems to be more freedom regarding such things the further we go back in time.

One cannot overstate the importance of Roy Crane's strip in the history of adventure comics. His is practally the modern prototype of much of what followed. The young Joe Schuster practically traced Captain Easy as the model of his Superman a few years after this. Crane told rollicking tales. Although the art was on the cartoon side the danger was all too real. It's not dissimilar to the approach by Herge and his TINTIN a few years later. Crane has a clean line and his strips, especially Sunday's are beautifully designed.

NEXT: Easily more Easy in COLOR!

CAPTAIN EASY is © NEA Services, Inc.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

oop-detail

Today we take a look at a sequence from a mid-February 1935 sequence of four ALLEY OOP dailies. Alley Oop is a caveman who lived with dinosaurs in his earliest years then went on to have time traveling adventures through history. Presented here is a brief interlude highlighting the caveman's cute and plucky girlfriend, Ooola.

ALLEY OOP was created by Vincent T. Hamlin (1900-1993), who became interested in cavemen and dinosaurs after he found a fossil on a texas oil field at the age of 24. The daily debuted on August 7, 1933 with the Sunday starting in September of the following year. Hamlin retired in 1973 having turned the drawing of the strip to his assistant a decade earlier. The strips presented here are from halfway through the strip's second year. Hamlin was an excellent draftsman and OOP is quite a handsome strip especially Sundays. He gives great depth to the picture plane by graphically layering foreground, medium ground and background. His figure work is also excellent. His characters are well designed, have weight and are lithe. I regret to say that despite my being attracted to the art, I find the ALLEY OOP strip to be completely un-engaging. I just don't give a crap about these characters.

Take this four strip sequence. I look at and read the pictures and I love it. I like the line work, Ooola's beautiful figure and body language. There's air around the character. The imaginative jungle setting reminds me of Skull Island from the original KING KONG from the same era.  Hamlin tells the story with great economy making it look effortless. He is a master storyteller, no doubt. But that dialog just kills it for me. It's flat.

On the other hand, Ooola's going skinny dipping and rips her dress making it all the more revealing. What's not to like 'bout that? I really like this sequence and I hope you get a kick out of it.

NEXT: Easy does it!

ALLEY OOP is © NEA Service, Inc.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

flash-detail

I'll say straight out that FLASH GORDON was a dumb strip, but it was "good" dumb. You may remember the really bad movie with the Queen soundtrack. That was pret-ty bad. You may even remember the serials from the late 1930's with Buster Crabbe. (I have a fond spot for the first and the third, myself). But they pale beside the regal dumbness of the original strip by Alex Raymond. This is where STAR WARS came from my friends, like it or not.

Raymond had a way with the brush and pen. It seems dashed off but the figure work is excellent. Excellent technique in the service of rubbish. This type of realistic rendering in heroic pictofiction has been giving fanboys boners ever since with artists like Frazetta, Wally Wood, Neal Adams up through Alex Ross today. Raymond began the strip in 1934 and it was an almost immediate success. He stayed on the strip ten years until 1944 when he entered the marines. The strip limped along for nearly a half century more at the hands of others before mercifully ending in 1993. Raymond came to an end himself when he plowed his sports car into a tree near his home in Connecticut, dying instantly.

FLASH GORDON was noted for having lots of fights and lots of flesh: male and female. Flash always found an excuse to be bare chested and the costumes on the always shapely women could be pretty skimpy. Throw in some pseudo asian stereotypes, winged hawk-men in battle armor and the occasional dinosaur and you have a bona-fide hit on your hands,

Todays strip is early in the run when it was a year and a half old: June 2nd, 1935. Click here to view the entire strip. What we have here is Dale Arden, Flash's main squeeze from Earth and object of lust for the emperor of Mongo, Ming the Merciless who's always lookin' to shag some strange, getting a taste of the lash as punishment. Her top of her tunic has been lowered to her hips, naturally, for a proper flagellation. Ahhh, the type of thing one used to see in a family newspaper. So Ming was hot for Dale, Flash's girlfriend and Ming's saucy conniving daughter Azura was hot for Flash. Why Flash was just a couple of marriages away from being his own grandpa or something.

Why do we care for FLASH GORDON today? Well we don"t. Recently someone mentioned to me that they had seen the FLASH GORDON movie. I asked them why on earth did they want to watch that. They couldn"t answer; it was inexplicable. I asked them if they knew it was based on a comic strip. They didn't know what I was talking about.

Perhaps nude torture should return to the Sunday funnies. That would get somebody's attention, for sure.

NEXT: Stone Age skinny-dipping!

FLASH GORDON is © King Features Syndicate


 
Posted By Art Baxter

canyon-detail

Today, we will look at a Milt Caniff STEVE CANYON strip from July 29, 1951. Click here to view the entire strip. Caniff began STEVE CANYON in January of 1947. He had just finished a long and successful run on the TERRY AND THE PIRATES strip. He quit the old strip which was owned by the syndicate to begin a new one which he owned. Steve Canyon was a pilot who had all sorts of cold war adventures. A parade of women crossed his path. Some were romantic interests, some were evil and some just stirred the pot to keep the story going. Caniff was no stranger to drawing snazzy dames. In fact he drew a strip called MALE CALL, featuring Miss Lace, for the military papers which had a large serving of cheesecake each installment.

Todays strip is a daily from June 20, 1951. It involves a woman named the Duchess and a gruff Popeye-esque sea captain. The captain had just fished Canyon and the Duchess out of the drink. They need dry clothes so the Duchess is changing. It is in the first panel that we see the expansive real estate of her bare back. She puts on the top and looks in the mirror. Something isn't right. The sea captain is eagerly expecting her. In the last panel we get the gag. No cleavage for you!

I'm not a big Caniff fan but he is an unquestioned master of the form and absolutely one of the greats. He took a little confection of a four panel gag and executes it flawlessly. The strip is all about what we aren't seeing. The Duchess is a worldly character who isn't going to take any crap off a cretin and she does it with style.

Is it sexy? Absolutely, we're watching an attractive woman getting dressed. It is however quite understated and naturalistic. She's not contorting in extreme poses to show off her anatomy. It's quietly sexy.

Caniff died in April of 1988 and STEVE CANYON was finished by his assistant shortly thereafter. It was a cold war relic that had long become irrelevant. CANYON was never quite as good as his TERRY strip but it had its moments and, of course, its babes.

NEXT: B & D on Mongo.

STEVE CANYON is © Milton Caniff


 
Posted By Art Baxter
penny-detail.

I will now discuss a PENNY strip by Harry Haenigsen from 1959. Click here to view the entire strip. Penny is a teenager and she is usually involve in the frivolity associated with light-hearted kinds of teen stories, as opposed to the horror it actually is. PENNY is a strip that is all but forgotten today. It is a beautifully drawn strip despite it being lighter than air. In many ways it resembles Chester Gould's DICK TRACY in its level of cartoon abstraction abet more refined. The strip had a healthy run from 1943 through 1970 when Haenigsen retired it after he was seriously injured in a car accident. It is interesting to note that Haengsen often went to teen hang-outs to eavesdrop on conversations to get ideas for his strip. There was one collection of the PENNY strip, published by Simon & Schuster in 1953. It's features a sampeling of dalies and Sunday's from the strip's early years.

In many ways, PENNY was a glamor strip. It was beautiful to look at but evaporated as you read it. Haengsen often drew Penny in stylish fashions in interesting poses. She was in constant motion. Haengsen and Penny were not shy. He would draw her in bathing suits, one and two piece, in the summer and even in her bra and panties on the rare occasion.

In this episode, Penny gets an new pair of jeans and intends to get them to fit her form by wearing them in the tub and then letting them dry on her. Of course her mother thinks she's nuts. Lucky for us, Penny is topless for almost half the strip. The fact that she's a minor doesn't enter into it. We can pretend she's 18. Granted the panels with her bare back aren't particularly suggestive, the two following panels where she is holding a sponge and toweling herself off, she's pretty damn adorable.

NEXT: Cold War Cleavage!

PENNY is © New York Herald Tribune Syndicate

 
Posted By Art Baxter

lois-detail

We begin a eight part exposé on the topless naked female back in the history of comics. An esoteric topic of absolutely no importance whatsoever. You may think that it is possibly the dumbest comics related topic yet and considering we're talking comics, it most likely isn't. However, I think you will find it as interesting and, dare I say, as tantalizing, as the title promises.

This topic was born as I thought about the Mort Walker BEETLE BAILY cartoon I posted last week to celebrate Mr. W's 85th birthday. The strip featured a young woman, topless, as seen from the back strolling down the beach. I had remembered similar exposed rear views in books featuring reprints of old comics I have on my shelf. It is a thrilling image made more-so by it's restraint. It is an image that has appeared in movies prior the the exposed breast becoming a gratuitous, yet welcome, attraction in the early 1970's. Prior to that, the exposed female back promised what the filmmaker could not precisely deliver. For example, Russ Meyer's notorious 1965 feature FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL features no nudity save the rear, waist up, view of Lori Williams as she bathes at a water tower. Cleavage aplenty but no nudity. Cartoonist also tried to get away with murder by exposing the back. Although the five examples I will provide from the 1930s to the early 1970s do not directly allude to sex, they are mighty sexy. I will present them to you in reverse order.

The first strip is a daily HI & LOIS strip from September 28, 1971. H&L was a family strip and one that was produced by cartoonist Mort Walker's shop along with BEETLE BAILY and BONER'S ARK. I do remember seeing this particular strip as a kid and being completely embarrassed. "Mom" Lois, not wanting to get wet while bathing the toddler, Trixie, strips down to her panties. It's an innocent enough set up, but artist Dik Browne draws it so sexily it's irresistible. Lois has a stunning hourglass figure and she is kneeling down, we see the sole and toes of her left foot. This was practically the only way to smuggle so much exposed female flesh into a family strip like this. According to Mort Walker's book, BACKSTAGE AT THE STRIPS, some angry letters were received.

Considering the context of a baby bath, only the most ardent prude would get bent out of shape. It just points out Walker & Browne's brilliance for smuggling it through the syndicates censor. Bravo, gentlemen!

NEXT: A teen strip from 1959.

HI & LOIS is © King Features Syndicate


 

 

 
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