Sometimes it’s shocking, sometimes it’s fun, to look back at images and cartoons of days gone by and see what our ancestors found funny, exciting, or somehow “accurate”. We might snicker at the classic “damsel in distress” who always needs the heroic male to get her out of whatever situation she foolishly got herself into, but we dismiss it as indicative of the times. Other “politically incorrect” elements are harder to dismiss. Let’s take a look at three comic books that would never make it past the idea stage these days:
“White Indian” (1953)
Drawn by Frank Frazetta, the title character, Dan Brand, made his first appearance as the grandfather of the Durango Kid. Dan lived in colonial Pennsylvania. When his bride-to-be, Lucy Wharton, was shot on their wedding day, Dan’s whole purpose in life became revenge. The killer had been a rival suitor, Peter Bradford, who meant to shoot Dan but hit Lucy instead. (What a way to impress a girl on her wedding day,eh?). Dan went out west, which was “still East of the Mississippi”, got mauled by a bear, and was saved by Catawba chief “Great Eagle” and his son “Tipi”. After a year of living with the Catawbas, Bradford showed up again. He wasn’t only supplying firearms to rival tribes, but he was a rum-runner besides. Bradford murdered Great Eagle, but Dan pitched Bradford over a cliff.
These days the title alone would probably stop this one before it left the drawing board.
“Blackhawk” (Early issues, 1941-1952)
Blackhawk, whose name bounced back and forth between Bart Hawk and Janos Prohaska, headed up the Blackhawk Squadron. First appearing in Military Comics #1 in 1941, The team consisted of Blackhawk (sometimes American, sometimes Polish), Chuck (stereotypical hot-headed American youth, Texan or Brooklynite depending on the issue), Stanislaus (Polish), Hendricksen (Dutch or German depending on the writer’s mood), Andre (stereotypical French ladies’ man, think Pepe Le Pew in uniform), Olaf (stereotypical “big, dumb Swede”)…
… and then there’s Chop-Chop (Chinese, if you couldn’t guess by the name). While the previous stereotypes might draw an eye-roll here and there or mutterings of “show some imagination!”, Chop-Chop would provoke outrage. Depicted in cartoonish fashion, the early issues show a squat, buck-toothed character with his hair pulled back into a queue and “coolie” clothing. His English is broken with his R’s replaced with L’s and his weapon of choice is a meat cleaver. Presented as a comic-relief, the character slowly evolved , finally becoming a full-fledged member of the team in 1952 and undergoing graphic style changes that culminated in a more realistically-drawn person.
“All-Negro Comics” (1947)
This one lasted only one issue, and believe it or not, that’s not necessarily a good thing. It was created, written, and drawn by an all African-American staff and was founded by Orin Cromwell Evans, the first African-American writer to cover general assignments for a mainstream newspaper. Though the title would never sail these days, the content is worth looking at. It contained a number of stories, some cute, some funny, some exciting:
- “The Little Dew Dillies” was a children’s feature about fairy-like beings that only babies could see.
- “Ezekiel’s Manhunt” was a two-page adventure story in text format.
- “Lion Man” was a college-educated hero sent by the UN to Africa to a uranium deposit on the Gold Coast. A member of the Zulu tribe, his job is to keep the uranium out of the hands of “a certain war-like nation”. His sidekick is an adopted orphan called “Bubba”
- “Little Eggie” was about Egbert and his domineering wife.
- “Sugarfoot” was a humor story featuring Sugarfoot and Snake Oil, two traveling musicians trying to woo a farmer’s daughter. Evans wrote an editorial about this feature describing it as hoping to recapture the humor of the “loveable wandering Negro minstrel of the past”.
- “Hep Chicks On Parade” was a collection of panel gags satirizing women’s fashions of the day from wide hats to wider shoulder-boards with more accessories than a costume jewelry counter. In one panel, a woman whose outfit seems to have all the colors in the visible spectrum is embarrassed by her husband’s “loud tie”.
- “Ace Harlem” was a detective story that could probably benefit from a modern-day rewrite. A strong, positive lead character most likely working what in real life was one of the worst precincts in New York, the 28th, Ace Harlem was intended to be a role-model for African-American youth of the day. The one and only issue ended with Ace Harlem telling the reader “Remember- Crime doesn’t pay, kids!”
The variety of story type gave this comic book the potential to reach a wide audience. However, it carried a higher price than most comic books of the day (15 cents as opposed to 10 cents) and suffered from a very limited distribution area. Copies do exist, but none are known to be in mint condition.
Through Other’s Eyes
One of the things that make vintage comics such a delight is the chance to see through the eyes of those who came before us. Looking at vintage comics allows us to hear the statements made about the condition of the world back in the day, for better or for worse, and yes, we are allowed to enjoy the memories.
If you have a particular memory of comic books or if you’re looking to round out a collection, contact us today!