Saturday, September 29, 2012
Of Mice and Mensch: Woody The Exterminator, from New Funnies 115, September 1946
The writers and artists of Oskar Lebeck's Western Publishing staff delighted in putting one another's names--and caricatures--all over their comic-book stories.
These references, given the general lack of documentation available at present, have become the only way we have to determine who's who in the Western world.
Michael Barrier has been exploring this phenomenon in his on-going research for an upcoming book on Lebeck and his genial comics empire--a book I can't wait to read.
In this ongoing post, he discusses and notes incidents of in-jokes in the Lebeck-edited comics--of which Walter Lantz New Funnies was a prominent monthly. He mis-identified today's story as being from an early 1946 issue of the magazine. It's from the September, 1946 issue of New Funnies, which is late in the John Stanley-driven era of the series.
At this time, Stanley was well-connected with the Lantz characters. He particularly took a shine to the idiot-savant outsider, Woody Woodpecker. As I've noted before, the foundation for his greatest character--Tubby Tompkins in Little Lulu--was built in these earlier Woody stories.
By the time this story appeared, Stanley had written and drawn four Little Lulu one-shot comics, with a fifth to appear one month later. He hadn't yet clearly defined the personae of Lulu. Ironically, the 1946 Woody Woodpecker acts more like Tubby than the 1946 Tubby. By the end of the 1940s, Stanley had Tubby's rich, misguided-yet-sympathetic personality down in stone.
fourth post on this blog, I ran a 1947 "Woody" story with caricatures of John Stanley, Dan Noonan, and the pipe-smoking Mo (Moe) Gollub.
Dan Noonan is referenced by name in the fifth panel, and from this caricature, one can assume he had a weak jawline. I haven't seen any photographs of Noonan (yet), so this is my closest clue to how he looked.
Stanley and Walt Kelly dropped Noonan's name constantly in their mid-1940s comics. It's a funny, W. C. Fields-ish name, aside from the in-house joshing.
Stanley had caricatured Gollub about a year earlier, at the conclusion of the story featured today. Gollub is a cog in the slowly-creaking karma wheel of Woody's self-assured stumble dance through life.
The shared use of staff caricatures gives the 1940s Lebeck-edited comics a charming solidarity. It suggests a group of creators who enjoyed each other's company and talents. Walt Kelly may have brought this loving caricature tradition from the Walt Disney studios. A thousand volumes could be published of staff caricatures--some gentle, some malicious/libelous, but all in rowdy 1940s fun.
Like Carl Barks' 10-page "Donald Duck" stories, Stanley's "Woody" shorts often show him in an unusual job--private eye, fight trainer, fireman, or exterminator--in which he is apparently established. Despite his colossal self-regard, he is blind to the flaws in his cognitive biases, and gets led by the nose for our reading amusement.
Unlike Barks' duck, Stanley's woodpecker never senses his own shortcomings. He is not the type to lock himself in the hall closet to brood. A happy agent of chaos, he bounces off roadblocks, usually to his own detriment, and soldiers on.
POP CULTURE NOTE: This panel may seem a non sequitur to 2012 readers:
The Thurber-esque matron makes a reference to a well-loved movie role by light comedic/dramatic actor Don Ameche, as inventor Alexander Graham Bell:
Although Ameche appeared in nearly 100 movies and TV shows, including 1985's Cocoon and the zero-budget screwball gem It's In The Bag (1945), his seminal early role rang a bell that resounded for the rest of his life--and gave John Stanley a charming piece of character comedy for this story. Woody's assignation of the role of Eli Whitney to Ameche salvages an otherwise-routine popcult joke.
The puffy Thurber-ish human figures in Stanley's 1946 stories are another tell of his hand as creator. Although he didn't ordinarily draw such figures, the stories he scripted for New Funnies are full of these lumpen masses. This may actually be a side-effect of his having to imitate Marge Buell's cartoon style for the early Little Lulu one-shots.
Download this nine-page story from box.com HERE. You mayhave to sign up for an account, but it's a great free storage site. Enjoy!