Our history of the eight-page erotic comics begins in 1930. The author has arbitrarily chosen 1930 as the beginning of the era of the eight pagers because this is when we first see the comics emerge in a standardized form and as a production item. Single and double panel parodies of well known comic figures appeared in the early twenties, but for the most part these were hand produced. There were several rather crude eight-page erotic comics produced in the late twenties, but apparently these were printed in very small editions for a small, select audience.
In 1930, however, eight pagers began to appear regularly and were sold in increasing quantities as their popularity grew in the "underground" markets. One thing should be emphasized from the very outset. Although these erotic comics were parodies on famous cartoon and comic strip characters of the time, they were not conceived by the original artists of the syndicated features. These eight pagers were conceived and drawn by what might best be described as "back room" artists, and these artists copied the characters from the syndicated strips without regard to copyright law. A number of the syndicated cartoonists were enraged and did everything they could to stop this use of their characters, but they, like the authorities, were unable to track them down.
The thirties were troubled, frantic, often disastrous times in the United States, but in 1930 the Great "depression was still to come. Some historians tend to date the Depression with the day Wall Street laid an on Black Friday, October 23, 1929, but nothing could be further from the truth. The stock market had been through several crashes and panics during 1929, and the nation as a whole did not recognize that its economy virtually disappeared on that fateful Friday, he sale of luxury yachts, in fact, increased in November and December of 1929, and many believed ¦at the low market was nothing more than a temporary condition. Optimists held on to this view until midway into 1930, and some were still clinging to it in early 1931.
Speculators, on the other hand, knew the end had come, and the suicide rate reached incredible heights in late 1929 and early 1930. President Hoover and his advisors firmly believed that the problems in the U.S. economy had been caused by foreign interests. While they were in part correct, the general public blamed Wall Street and the government for the creation of a paper empire which crumbled. The middle American did not feel the shock waves of the Wall Street panic for some time. Those who had invested in the market moderately took their loss and settled down to struggle through. But those who had purchased heavily on margin soon found themselves in a bind as margins were called. In the midst of all of this, General Motors declared an extra dividend of thirty cents a share. And Mr. Rosenwald, president of Sears Roebuck, offered to protect his employee's accounts on the market. As always, when things became serious, America was ready for a laugh. Comedian Eddie Cantor sent a wire to Sears asking for a job as an office boy, and economy gags began circulating through the country. One said that two men jumped from the Ritz Hotel hand in hand because they held a joint account, and hotel clerks across the nation were supposedly asking new arrivals if they wanted a room for sleeping or jumping.
Aeronautics was just coming into its own in the late twenties and early thirties, and America had a new set of heroes in Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Doolittle. A Russian immigrant, Igor Sikorsky, had designed what he called the "Amphibian", and critics acclaimed it as one of the world's great airplanes.
Religion was experiencing the first seeds of what would later be known to sociologists as America's swing away from the Christian Ethic. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the dynamic pastor of Manhattan's famous Park Avenue Baptist Church, did not mince words about the condition of the Protestant religions in the United States. "Our Protestant denominationalism," he said, "with over 150 sects in the U.S. has become entirely obsolete, so far as modern significance is concerned, and is now a public scandal and disgrace!" Many churches were more interested in social propriety than divine law. Racial separation was strictly observed and many critics referred to this as "Jim Crow Religion."
Unemployment began to rise as business and industry were caught in the economic squeeze of what was now recognized as a nasty depression. But people weren't simply out of work, they were hungry, cold and often homeless. This was no "cut back"-it was a matter of life and death. Veterans marched on Washington and General Douglas MacArthur had the thankless task of leading U.S. troops against American citizens. Voters swarmed to Roosevelt and his New Deal in 1932. Banks began to fail and savings, the only security many held of the economic blitz, were wiped out overnight.
Things became even darker when some of the "pillars of strength" crumbled. The Kreuger match empire began to crack and then fell apart when it was learned that one of the wealthiest men in the world, Ivar Kreuger, was a crook on a grand scale. And in Chicago, Samuel Insull, utilities magnate who controlled twenty-nine utilities companies, had to flee the country when it was learned that he had been juggling the books on one of the country's mightiest empires. With the collapse of these two "pillars", hundreds of businesses were wiped out and thousands of Americans found themselves serious victims of the Great Depression.
Benito Mussolini held Italy in tight rein. Adolf Hitler became prominent in German politics and introduced violence and terror to a country suffering one of the worst economic disasters in its history. Against all odds, he rose to power and became the absolute dictator of the German Reich. Japan invaded China and the League of Nations proved impotent. Joseph Stalin's wife died under mysterious circumstances, and there were drastic purges in the new Russia. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested and began one of his famous "fasts unto death," urging his people to "discard violence" and "withdraw cooperation." Brazil was engaged in the bloodiest civil war in South American history with an excess of 125,000 dead and many more wounded.
Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was kidnapped from the home of his internationally famous parents and the nation launched the greatest manhunt in its history. Months went by. The ransom money was paid, and then they found the Lindbergh child's body not far from his home.
When General Douglas MacArthur was selected to be commencement speaker at the University of Pittsburgh, 300 students lashed out in protest against militarism. Leaders were arrested and fined and people wondered what American youth were coming to. "Are our schools to become the sites of political protest?" asked several of the most respected newspapers in the United States.
The world was in a hell of a mess.
But in America there was a brighter side. The two "Babes", Didrikson and Ruth, were amazing sports fans the world over. Nineteen-year-old Sonja Henie was the talk of the ice, and Gene Sarazen was bringing America to a position of prominence in golf. Ellsworth Vines, Jr., a twenty-year-old lanky California youngster, was turning the tennis world upside down.
Ed Wynn took to the airways and brought laughter into millions of American homes, laughter which was desperately needed as the Depression sank to new depths and millions of Americans were worried about day-to-day existence. And along with all of this came one of the first eight pagers, Ella Cinders and Jiggs in The Dupe.
This is one of the very few remaining eight pagers created by an artist we shall call Artist No. 1. His art was not particularly outstanding, yet he copied two of America's favorite comic strip characters faithfully. The technique in this very early eight pager is important in that we will see this syndrome run through a majority of the erotic comics in this collection.
The artist chose two well known characters for his parody, and in his choice of the female we see Ella Cinders who was noted for her purity and "average American girl" portrayal. This choice was by no means accidental. The use of the Ella Cinders character here was designed to heighten the parody by placing her in a situation diametrically opposed to her portrayal in the nationally syndicated feature.
The representation of "Ma Cinders" as a bull-dyke Lesbian follows the same pattern of role reversal. We will see this theme repeated time and again as we proceed through these historic eight-page comics. In fact, it becomes a basic ingredient in the humor formula utilized here. Some may view this as a form of I ridicule, and in a way it is. But the artist is not ridiculing the original comic character per se. His barbs are aimed at the value standards as reflected in the acceptance of the comic character by the general public. In other words, the artist is ridiculing what the character stands for rather than the character.
Frequently we will see that the comic character is nothing more than a vehicle for the artist, something \ used to call attention to a social or political circumstance or situation the artist wishes to parody.
By studying each of the comics carefully we will also see social, political and sexual behavioral patterns reflected in either the theme or the portrayals. For example, note the cunnilingus portrayal in The Dupe. Today this behavior is accepted and rather commonplace. In the December 1970, issue of Playboy magazine, for example, there are a number of allusions to cunnilingus, including one joke which warns married men about being caught with leg makeup on their ears. But in the 1930's cunnilingus was not an accepted form of sexual behavior. In fact, all forms of oral sex were considered "abnormal" and deviant. This is not to say that oral sex was not practiced. It certainly was, and has been since the beginning of man, but it was looked upon as a form of perversion.
And it was during the thirties that psychologists first began to suggest and advise that oral sexual behavior was not at all abnormal. In effect, they were simply accepting the sexual revolution which was already underway and gaining momentum.
We should note here, however, that there was a certain amount of male castration involved in performing cunnilingus, and any man who "went down on a girl" was looked upon as less of a man. So we have here a double-edged blade in the hands of the satirist, a reflection of an existing more" combined with a ridicule of an existing moral.
We see this same syndrome in Harold Teen and Moon Mullins which follow. These were created by one of the early artists of the eight pagers, and we'll call him Artist No. 2. In Harold Teen, panel number five is missing and there are only a total of seven pages (plus cover) remaining of this classic which was first produced in 1932. But because this was a forerunner of a popular series, we have decided to include it in this anthology.
There is a distinct break in the art style between Artist No. 1 and Artist No. 2. Our second artist is not as faithful to the original comic character and his style is much freer. He also introduces troilism for the first time, a theme we will see frequently throughout the eight pagers. This is another reflection of changing morality.
And with Artist No. 2 we see the beginning of a particular humor syndrome in which the artist makes use of popular jokes and gags, incorporating these into the dialogue and situations of his comics.
First, however, note the similarity between Harold Teen and The Dupe.
Continuing with the same artist, we see the beginnings of an evolutionary stage in the eight pagers. While the same basic ingredients are present, the eight pager at this point leaves the fixed parody stage and begins to develop a loosely structured humor pattern of its own.
We see this in Toots and Casper which follows. Here the introduction of the baby serves the artist as a vehicle for a gag line as well as a reflection of the "normal American couple" as exemplified by the well known Toots and Casper. In Sappo, Barney Google and J. Wellington Wimple, we see the same pattern with a third factor, a child, horse and cat, introduced for comic effect. Often these were straight from the original comic strip, but their inclusion served a purpose for the artist in the eight-page parody. We must remember that only those characters which served a purpose were included by the artist and many were left out.
In the fall of 1932, Artist No. 2 produced Skeezix and Dumb Dora, both parodies of well known comic characters. These two eight pagers are interesting in that here we see the introduction of adolescent sex and the first female homosexuality in Skeezix, and the sudden appearance out of context of another comic character in a sequence (Barney Google in Dumb Dora).
Then, in 1933, the same artist introduced Stepping Out and Joe Palooka, both of which carried the now familiar troilism theme combined with popular gag lines of the time. With these four eight pagers we see erotic comics begin to take on a personality of their own.
In 1933 Artist No. 2 also created what would be the first in a series of parodies on well known personalities. This appeared with his production of Gert Gabbo in the summer of 1933. The interesting factor here is that the artist made a feeble attempt to disguise the personality with the deliberate play on words in the star's name. One might assume that this was to avoid a legal suit, yet no attempt was made to disguise the comic characters used in his other eight-page parodies. And in future erotic comics we will see the personality appear without any attempt at disguise. So the motivation for this particular title remains one of the many mysteries of the early eight pagers.
The foreign accents used in Gert Gabbo reflect not only the star's European origin, but the dominance at that time of foreigners in the motion picture industry.
Nineteen-thirty through 1933 were the early years of the eight pagers and erotic comics struggled through their infancy with only a mildly popular reception. During this period there were only two popular artists, and these two men experimented with form and style while the eight pagers began to develop a distinct personality of their own.
The themes were, rather looseknit, reflecting a certain amount of protest against existing gaps between sexual morals and mores, and humor fell into a loose structure which would remain with the eight-page comics in the years to come. Some of the social problems of the time were vaguely touched upon thematically, but these particular barbs were somewhat obscure.
Basically, the humor was crude. But these were difficult times and the masses needed something to laugh at, something to make them forget the misery of everyday living and take their minds off of the almost insoluble problems they faced. Only on rare occasions would the humor of eight pagers rise above this somewhat crude level in the future, so we must assume that the pattern was established in these early, formative years.
Both Artists No. 1 and No. 2 faded into oblivion by the end of 1933. Neither one achieved any real degree of fame in this underground means of artistic expression, yet they provided the foundation upon which a million-dollar industry would flourish in just a few years.