Maggie’s World 096
“The Kid was twenty-five, looked twenty; and a careful insurance company would have estimated the probable time of his demise at, say, twenty-six. . . . He killed for the love of it—because he was quick-tempered—to avoid arrest—for his own amusement—any reason that came to his mind would suffice. He had escaped capture because he could shoot five-sixths of a second sooner than any sheriff or ranger in the service . . .” That was how O. Henry introduced the Cisco Kid in his short story “The Caballero’s Way” in 1907.
“At first the bunny uncle thought the voice might belong to a bad fox or a harum-scarum bear, but when he had peeked through the bushes he saw that it was Lulu Wibblewobble, the duck girl.” Howard R. Garis had been telling tales of a variety of anthropomorphic animals for nearly three decades by the time of “Uncle Wiggily and the Red Spots” in 1939.
“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” Robert E. Howard described Conan in “The Phoenix on the Sword” in Weird Tales in 1932.
“Springing to my feet I received my first Martian surprise, for the effort, which on Earth would have brought me standing upright, carried me into the Martian air to the height of about three yards . . . I found that I must learn to walk all over again, as the muscular exertion which carried me easily and safely upon Earth played strange antics with me upon Mars.” Edgar Rice Burroughs took readers into the mind of John Carter in “Under the Moons of Mars” in 1912.
“From early infancy he had used his hands to swing from branch to branch after the manner of his giant mother, and as he grew older he spent hour upon hour daily speeding through the tree tops with his brothers and sisters. . . . Though but ten years old he was fully as strong as the average man of thirty, and far more agile than the most practiced athlete ever becomes. And day by day his strength was increasing.” Burroughs described the youth of Tarzan of the Apes, also in 1912.
What was it that made characters like these so enticing that comic book companies would pay to license them for decades, instead of coming up with their own worlds of wonder?
By the way, the pulp All-Story Magazine provided the introductions of more than one character whose later incarnations included comics. Both Burroughs’ John Carter and Tarzan were introduced in that magazine in the same year: John Carter in February and Tarzan in October. Later, Johnston McCulley’s “The Curse of Capistrano” introduced Zorro in the August 1919 issue.
It took only six years for Tarzan to reach movie theaters, with a feature film starring Elmo Lincoln in 1918—and a comic strip version began January 7, 1929, drawn by Hal Foster (who, at age 20 in 1912, could have read Tarzan when it was first published). Might that be why comics creators (or their publishers) opted to tell their own sequels, like fan fiction—because the stories had had such an impact on them?
Or was it that readymade marketing was in place for such spin-offs?
Printed Words to Printed Pictures
Consider these examples of text tales’ transitions to comics (albeit with many credits omitted in comics versions):
1818 Frankenstein (by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein): Frankenstein #1 (Prize, 1945) by Dick Briefer
1897 Dracula (by Bram Stoker in Dracula): Dracula #1 (Dell, October–December 1962); Tomb of Dracula #1 (Marvel, April 1972) by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Gene Colan
1906 Hopalong Cassidy (by Clarence E. Mulford in Bar-20): Hopalong Cassidy #1 (Fawcett, 1943) drawn by Harry Parkhurst; Mirror Enterprises strip 1949
1910 Uncle Wiggily (by Howard R. Garis, collected in Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures in 1912): Animal Comics #2 (Dell, February–March 1943) by Gaylord Du Bois and H. R. McBride
1918 Raggedy Ann (by Johnny Gruelle in Raggedy Ann Stories): Four Color #5 (Dell, 1942) drawn by George Kerr
1925 Charlie Chan (by Earl Derr Biggers in The House Without a Key): McNaught Syndicate strip (October 24, 1938) drawn by Alfred Andriola; Big Shot Comics #1 (Columbia, May 1940, strip reprints)
1928 Buck Rogers (by Philip Francis Nowlan in Amazing Stories): John F. Dille Co. strip (January 7, 1929, signed by Dick Calkins, written by Nowlan); Famous Funnies #3 (Eastern, October 1934, strip reprints)
1928 The Saint (by Leslie Charteris in Meet the Tiger): The Saint #1 (Avon, August 1947); New York Herald Tribune strip (September 27, 1948, written by Charteris, drawn by Mike Roy)
1931 The Shadow (by Walter B. Gibson in The Shadow Magazine): Shadow Comics #1 (Street & Smith, January 1940); Ledger Syndicate strip (June 17, 1940, written by Walter B. Gibson, drawn by Vernon Greene)
1938 Lassie (by Eric Knight in Saturday Evening Post): M-G-M’s Lassie #1 (Dell, 1950, written by Gaylord Du Bois, drawn by Mo Gollub)
These Days . . .
The foundations of current pop culture entertainments seem to have originated in comic books instead of the other way around.
And some fans delight in debate over what new developments in the vast variety of formats are true to the “original” tales. But that’s because of the very power that resides in the ability to build new stories atop a strong and familiar base.
On the other hand, what is “popular” in pop culture has changed. In some cases, such characters as Frankenstein, Dracula, and Tarzan are considered almost as folk tales that everyone knows. But some of what used to seem universally known may no longer provide that base. A recent casual conversation with a person under 20 revealed that the name “Zorro” was unfamiliar to her, though she knew “Raggedy Ann.” A follow-up revealed that friends she asked also didn’t know Zorro. Hmm. But Batman? Spider-Man? The Flash? Thor? Superman? Oh, no prob. Of course, they all knew those characters, created decades before they were born.
So—which of the new comics worlds being created will provide bases for entertainment a couple of decades from now? And who will their creators be?
It should be fun to see.