Monday, February 02, 2009

Says I

Monday Comic Strip Day.

Today I am showing another strip that I have only in micro-fiche form. Since it is nmade up of photos, that is extra bad. These strips would not reproduce well from newspaper clipings, let alone the blurry micro-fiche process. Still, they are rarely seen and often forgotten. Even by it's maker, Stan Lee. The facts mentioned in this piece are all the result of my own research. I would love to do a larger and more complete piece about this often popular subgenre of both cartooning and comic strippery.It would be a great place to share the one sample I have of Stan Lee's Bettman book.

Putting funny captions to photo's was a well known and often used gimmick in the humor magazines in the thirties and forties. Many of the cheaper photo and gags magazines of the forties used this method as a fast and easy way to fill the page with saucy pistures and get a few laughs as well. In one of the later issues of Mad, Harvey Kurtzman revived the idea by putting funny captions to photo's of babies. Kurtzman has said he was influenced by the college humor magazines of the thirties onward and I can easily see them using this trick as well. Still, Kurtzman probably didn't do it to save money. He had a healthy budget for Mad and he could use the best artists, two of which (Wallace Wood and Bill Elder) were capable of the best and funniest sort of photo realism. In fact, having fake ads done by Bill Elder instead of using photo material was a huge improvement on the fake ads of thirties satire magazines such as Hullabaloo.

Stan Lee also liked this style of humor. He may even have contributed to the saucy magazine of his publisher Martin Goodman in the early forties, when he was still starting out. But none of those were ever signed, so we have no way of knowing. We see him using it for the first time in the late fifties. In the second and third issue of his Mad Magazine imitation Snafu, he introduced talking animals.. having someone in the picture talk was a lot funnier than adding a comment. Even so, the words he put into the mouths of his animals were still underneath the pictures. It was Shel Silverstein who came up with the next improvement. In his Playboy series Teevee Jeebees he added word balloons to the photo's. Teevee Jeebees was an intant succes. The first installment got more letters than any of the other features and it was turned into a regular feature. This must not have escaped Stan Lee and Harvey Kurtzman. Later, Kurtzman would use this gimmick frequently in his 'last' magazine Help. He even added a wist, by having not only photo's with word balloons, but also a complete photo comic story. He claimed to have been influenced by the Italian soap opera fumetti he had seen, but it fit him perfectly. As it did Stan Lee, who tried to sell a book of pictures with funny words to several editors. The pictures were taken from the famous Bettman photo archives and he even arranged with this to be possible. But the book remained unsold, largely because someone else had beaten him to it. But the idea never left him. In the early sixties he came back with two selfpublished books along the same line. In Golfers Anonymous he added funny lines to people golfing. In a second book he returned to the roots of this idea with a bok of saucy photo's with funny lines. He had always had a knack for writing dumb blonde dialogue, but now they were brunettes as well and very real and often almost naked. Because the name of this self publishing venture had nothing to do with his own name, it was not on these books in any way and he seems to have forgotten about them. When he came out with a book of political photographs with funny lines added last year, he even claimed to have been inspired by a fan who cam up to him with Golfers Anonymous, which he had forgotten all about. A great story, but probably not true. He mentions the self publishing adventure and both books in his ghostwritten autobiography Excelsior! a couple of years ago. But there is even a stronger reason why Golfers Anonymous is not the best link to the past for Election Daze (or the follow up he is supposedly writing now). In the early sixties political humorist Gerald Gardner published a collecction of political pictures with funnt dialogue added, called Who's In Carge Here? It was a great succes and lead to a whole series of books. Kurtzman was understandably miffed and came back with his own book Beat It Kid, You Can't Vote, which was much less of a succes. Stan Lee responded by convincing his publisher Martin Goodman that it would be a good idea to imitate this succes, which resulted in a series of magazines under the title You Don't Say. These are the real precursors to Lee's latest books. He also revived the idea shortly for a newspaper strip version called Says Who, which I am showing here. He added the simple but effective idea of repeating the photos. It only ran for a couple of months, so either Lee tired of it or it was not the succes he hoped for. Either way, maybe it wil be an inspiration to you... or to Lee himself if he ever comes across this blog.

One more thing to ad. Recently I became the latest writer to use this gimmick. Togetehr with my sitcom writer friend Harm Edens and Wim Bax, I wrote a funny book, called Man, The User's Manual. It sold pretty well over the holidays. One of the reasons it did, was the fact that we opened each chapter with a black and white photo with a funny caption. The photos used were picked from the Corbis archives and because we only used black and white phoos in most cases they came from... the Bettman collection.

Here are the first two weeks, from Sept 27 plus an ad from the week before:

1 comment:

Harry Mendryk said...


What a great bit of history. It inspires me to write a post in my blog about Joe Simon's use of captioned photograph humor.

Harry Mendryk