Patreon Preview Week : “Scoop Scuttle And His Pals : The Crackpot Comics Of Basil Wolverton,” Edited By Greg Sadowski

I do this once a year, and figured the first week of the year might be a better time for it than some random week in July or August or whatever — essentially the point here being, and I’m not too proud to admit it, to gin up a little interest in my Patreon site by offering everyone a sampling of the wares they’ll find if they decide to join up. I update it three times weekly, and seriously, it does help make all this writing (somewhat) financially viable. Plus, we’ve got a great group of folks on there, the conversation in the comments section is usually pretty lively, and everyone whose a member is, at the risk of sounding corny, more than just a member, they’re a friend. And couldn’t we all do with more of those in life? Anyway, first up is a review I did a couple months back of editor Greg Sadowski’s 2021 Fantagraphics collection SCOOP SCUTTLE AND HIS PALS : THE CRACKPOT COMICS OF BASIL WOVERTON, with a link to my Patreon at the end if you’re interested in reading more stuff of this nature..

Most people are well aware that visionary cartoonist Basil Wolverton’s legendary contributions to MAD were hardly his first go-’round with humor strips, but leave it to Wolverton scholar par excellence Greg Sadowski to curate a long-overdue collection of some of his most obscure and overlooked comedic creations of the 1940s and 1950s : goofball reporter Scoop Scuttle, magic-nosed swami Mystic Moot, idiot savant cowboy Bingbang Buster and his horse Hedy, and slapstick spacefarer Jumpin’ Jupiter. To say that none of these characters made much by way of a lasting impression on the readership of the time is undoubtedly true, sure — but each in their own way presaged much of the madcap shenanigans to come from Wolverton’s mind and pen, and their misadventures are sure to delight even the most jaded of modern readers.

Which, admittedly, is a camp that I all-too-frequently find myself numbered amongst, given my frankly robust reading schedule, yet even for those of us who’ve literally seen it all before, there’s something about seeing how it was done earlier that feels like, if you’ll forgive the cliche, a breath of fresh air. And talking of cliches —

OF COURSE they’re a dime a dozen in these pages, but Wolverton’s ability to poke good-natured fun at them remains an unbridled joy, even if the occasional ethnic stereotype rightly gives today’s readers some pause. That being said, such offensive caricatures are in far shorter supply in Wolverton’s work than they are in that of many of his contemporaries, and the persons, places, and things he draws are so uniformly outlandish that they don’t especially stand out from what’s more or less ALWAYS a crowded field of visual eccentricities. Simply stated, then, it’s safe to say that these stories (and it should be stated for the record that Sadowski presents the printed exploits of all four characters in their entirety) were all constructed as FUN strips fist and foremost, and that they remain precisely that to this day.

Admittedly, there’s no escaping the fact that these are “toned down” a notch compared to Wolverton’s MAD work, but it’s intriguing to see him feeling his way forward, so to speak, and it’s also important to remember that he was working under undoubtedly tighter editorial standards. Even for all that, though, there’s a tremendous amount of innovation on display in many of these strips, and not just in terms of the far-out sound effects that Sadowski draws particular attention to in his thoroughly absorbing introductory essay — indeed, the page layouts, intuitive flow of the action, outrageous character designs, and even some of the plot twists are all several levels above and beyond the standard humor comics fare of the era.

None of which means this isn’t ultimately formulaic stuff, mind you — but a big part of Wolverton’s genius always rested in his ability to thoroughly subvert expectation WITHIN a given formula; to give readers a combination of MORE than what they bargained for and EXACTLY what they bargained for simultaneously. In that respect, then, this necessarily “hemmed in” work could potentially be said to represent a MORE INGENIOUS distillation of the “Wolverton ethos,” if you will, than later material where he was more free to let it all hang out.

Sure, ultimately I don’t think there’s any argument that SCOOP SCUTTLE AND HIS PALS will primarily be of interest to hard-core Wolverton aficionados above all (certainly the admirable amount of care that went into the flat-out amazing restoration process makes this an essential purchase even for collectors who might own a fair number of time-yellowed originals), but it’s also this critic’s considered opinion that Sadowski has managed to put together a collection that damn near ANYONE can take a tremendous amount of enjoyment from, be they crusty veteran or member of comics laity. Given what we’ve all been through over the past year and change, some extra laughter in our lives is likely to be welcomed by anyone and everyone, and if the source of that laughter is 70-80 years old, then hell, that’s reason to be IMPRESSED as well as amused.

Okay, I hope you’ve enjoyed this first little sample offering. If you’re interested in more, my Patreon costs as little as a dollar a month to join and can be found by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

2 thoughts on “Patreon Preview Week : “Scoop Scuttle And His Pals : The Crackpot Comics Of Basil Wolverton,” Edited By Greg Sadowski

  1. Pingback: We’ll Take A Cup O’ Kindness – This Week’s Links – ColorMag

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