Sunday, October 20, 2019

Famous Funnies

Sunday Familiar Faces Day.

Of all the Stan projects I have shown here, his 1978 photo funnies strip Says Who has been one of the hardest to get hold of. First of all, it did run that long. It started September 27, 1976 and only lasted a couple of months. I don't know if it ran out of steam on it's own, but is was almost seamlessly followed by the Stan Lee/Frank Springer satirical soap opera strip The Virtue of Vera Valiant. I have shown samples of both here, including almost the complete Sunday run - although I can't find the third and last installment. Did I forget that?

The The problem with getting good samples from Says Who, is the fact that it was a series of photo funnies, which a. didn't print very well and b. hardly ever survived the microfiche process, which now often is the only way to get them. Fortunately cartoonist John Backderf found a couple of syndication sheets, which he showed on his blog recently. I am sharing them here, along with the commentary I wrote the last time I showed this strip. Backderf did not particularly like them, but I think some of the gags are okay. I also disagree with his assessment that Stan probably didn't write them himself. In fact, he has written this sort of stuff from the fifties (and maybe even earlier) and as far as I can see, he enjoyed doing them. A couple of years ago I wrote an article about the development of Stan's writing style before 1962 for Alter Ego and came to the conclusion that if good at anything, it was at 'reacting'. He was at his best when he could riff of something, an idea, a line, a drawing... even when he had to write something from scratch he often just would use a story to create set-ups for his characters to react to.

The importance of this strip for me, is the place it takes in this tradition, of which himself was very much a part, from early on. Here is the full story I wrote a couple of years ago:

"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 pictures 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 instant 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 book of saucy photo's with funny lines. He had always had a knack for writing dumb blonde dialog, 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 collection of political pictures with funny dialogue added, called Who's In Carge Here? It was a great success 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 success. Stan Lee responded by convincing his publisher Martin Goodman that it would be a good idea to imitate this success, 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 success he hoped for. Either way, maybe it will be an inspiration to you... or to Lee himself if he ever comes across this blog."

Here. by the way, is an early example of Stan doing funny captions from Snafu:

1 comment:

comicstripfan said...

Interesting last panel of the first set: the original reference to Reagan by Ford in the earlier photo-cartoon of course made sense relating to the bitter 1976 Republican presidential primary rivalry between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan: then why was there a “correction” to referencing the 1976 Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, although that too made sense?