Tag: MAD magazine

Found in the Collection: Basil Wolverton (1909-1978)!

Basil Wolverton was a true enigma of a man, best known for his work in both MAD Magazine and for his religious illustrations for the Radio Church of God (also known as the Worldwide Church of God, for whom he served as a board member) and of the Old Testament. His unforgettable grotesque and psychedelic style could be used just as easily to convey something hilarious as it could something damning, though there are certainly commonalities to be drawn in his use of exaggeration for doing both.

Basil Wolverton original from MAD Magazine’s “Dining Etiquette Quiz”. From the Mark J. Cohen and Rose Marie McDaniel Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

Although Wolverton’s early works of note were Powerhouse Pepper and Spacehawk, it was not these accomplishments that brought his distinctly characterized style into the public eye- but instead a contest that he won within the storyline of Al Capp’s famous Li’l Abner comic to draw the ugliest woman alive. As a smart humor device and a way to keep his readers hooked, in 1946 Capp introduced the now legendary character Lena the Hyena of Lower Slobbovia into the world of Li’l Abner on the premise that she was so hideous that anyone who looked upon her immediately went insane- and he himself never drew her face. Instead, the public was baited with teases of exposing Lena’s visage, which went on for months before Capp finally held a competition for readers to send in their own versions of Lena- the ugliest of which would be selected by Boris Karloff, Frank Sinatra, and Salvador Dali. Yes, this was indeed a time for comics where celebrities of such a high caliber were actually participating as judges for a gag on the funny pages.

Among the couple million other strips in our beloved San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection are chronological clippings of Capp’s Lil Abner, so we thought we’d share some of the build up to Wolverton’s striking national debut. Considering that the Lena the Hyena plot was built up over such a long period of time, we’ll fill in some of the gaps to explain the story as we go.

For starters, Lena the Hyena is the most despised citizen of Lower Slobbovia, the country that fictional cartoonist Lester Gooch (author of Capp’s comic-within-the-comic, “Fearless Fosdick”, a favorite among citizens of Dogpatch) found her living in. Gooch is determined to show Lena’s face to the public by drawing her in his comic, but goes insane after doing so, only to find out that his editor has removed her image from the page because it was simply too vile to see.

Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner”. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

After escaping the sanatorium that he was placed in, Lester Gooch struggles time and again to recreate his drawing of Lena, even going to such lengths as killing a dentist in order to steal his “Freezocaine” so that he can numb himself from the revulsion enough to redraw her. This eventually works.

Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner”. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

However, just as Gooch has finished his masterpiece, the police and doctors break into his apartment to drag him back to the hospital. As he tries to flee by jumping out a window, they capture him but the drawing of Lena floats out onto the wind. From there, its travels in the breeze causes weeks of devastation in the Li’l Abner strips as police officers and top meteorologists trace its path. Below, two of the more ridiculous strips from this hunt:

Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner”. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Mass-hysteria continues, at some point dissuading a gang of “good will” distributing aliens from visiting earth after they catch a glimpse of Lena’s picture through a telescope. Eventually, the President calls for all red-blooded American’s to help:

Al Capp’s “L’il Abner”. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

A jury of Frank Sinatra, Boris Karloff, and Salvador Dali is formed to judge the submissions of the best (or worst) rendition of Lena the Hyena, the 500,000 of which even included an entry from Carl Barks. Below, the reasons for choosing the judges and their response to call of duty:

Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner”. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

After more social upheaval, and as the public impatiently waits to see Lena’s face once and for all- the acclaimed judges survive the process and finally deliver both the verdict and Basil Wolverton’s talent to the national public eye:

Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner”, featuring the winning portrait of Lena the Hyena by Basil Wolverton. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Wolverton’s career was intensely amplified after this (Lena’s face making it to the cover of MAD Magazine), with his portraits soon appearing in Life and Pageant. In tune with his now defined drawing style which Life would coin “spaghetti and meatballs”, these portraits include the two originals below from our collection, of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Stalin:

Basil Wolverton original of Franklin D. Roosevelt. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Basil Wolverton original of Joseph Stalin. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Although his name is not a household one, Wolverton’s influence on countless other well-known cartoonists like R. Crumb is undeniable, and his unique style would become a school of cartooning in itself. Basil would be 103 this year on July 9th.

Oulipo Week! Found in the Collection: The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo

In anticipation of Matt Madden’s upcoming Oulipo event at the Wexner Center here in Columbus, let’s take a look at one very early pioneer of constrained-comics: Gustave Verbeek.

A little hard to look at but a lot of fun to read, Gustave Verbeek (originally Verbeck until his arrival at Ellis Island) is probably most known for his reversable strip The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo.

Verbeek was of Dutch descent, but born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1867. His father, Guido Verbeck was a missionary for the Reformed Church in America, and later a head of the Tokyo Imperial University. Gustave spent his childhood in Japan, moved to Paris for art school, and eventually to the United States in 1900 for work as an illustrator and cartoonist for Harper’s Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New York Herald.   The latter was where The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo premiered on May 25th of 1902.

The sample of the comic that is included in this post is considered to be the most well-known (and well-executed) episode of the strip. Here’s how it works:

-Enlarge the first image, and read it with the captions that are underneath the panels

"The Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo: A Fish Story" (right side up), from The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

-Enlarge the second image (this is when you would be rotating the newspaper upside down) and continue reading the story, reading with the captions that are within the bottom of the panels

“The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo: a Fish Story” (reversed) from The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection

Useful tip: this is how you should see “Little Lady Lovekins”:

Where to focus on Little Lady Lovekins

Although some of Verbeek’s characters take a bit of imagination to visualize, producing a comic that is even vaguely capable of reading in reverse this way is no small undertaking. What’s more, Verbeek was able to pull off one of these every week from 1903-1905! An obvious fan and early pioneer of comics surrealism, Verbeek continued to produce comics that dealt with wordplay and absurdity for the rest of his career, including the strips The Terrors of the Tiny Tads and The Loony Lyrics of Lulu.

Check out more examples of Verbeek’s strips by searching in our Cartoon Image Database!

If you’re in Columbus this weekend, remember to check out two Oulipo events, headed by Matt Madden!

Friday, May 11th, Matt Madden’s talk: Obstacle Course: Oulipo and the Creative Potential of Constraints. 4:30pm, and free!

Saturday, May12th 1pm-4pm: Oulipo Workshop with Matt Madden at the Wexner Center! Advance registration is required and space is limited. Register here.  Call (614) 292-6493 for more info.

Oulipo Week! Found in the Collection: Al Jaffee’s MAD Fold-Ins

In anticipation of Matt Madden’s upcoming Oulipo event at the Wexner Center here in Columbus, we’re highlighting works from our collection this week that display the use of constraints in comics and cartoons. Today, the inimitable Al Jaffee’s original sketches and process drawings from one of his MAD Magazine Fold-Ins!

Al Jaffee original for a MAD magazine fold-in. Note the fold line indicators in blue pencil. From the Mark J. Cohen and Rose Marie McDaniel Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

After it’s inception in 1964, nearly every issue of MAD had one of Al Jaffee’s brilliant fold-in gags incorporated into the magazine. As with all things MAD, the content satirized everything from politicians to parents, internet culture to poor product design. What really drove Jaffee’s genius home though, was the fact that the physical design of the fold-in was a satire in itself. At a time when popular magazines like LIFE and Playboy had high quality, full color centerfold-outs, Jaffee struck up the idea of MAD having a spread that instead folded-in, and was printed in black and white (at least in its earlier years).

The result was a single page depicting a scene like the one seen above in the first image, and a question: “What new form of addiction threatens to enslave our youth?”

The text at the bottom of the page, when fully open, would elaborate further on the spread. As we can see in Jaffee’s preliminary sketches below, our sample says “Perspiring, strung-out junkies conjure up sensational images for parents. They fear any form of compulsive behavior that enslaves their sons and daughters.” As if creating an image that folds into another image isn’t challenging enough, the text of Jaffee’s captions that run along the bottom of the page also folds into itself to spell out the answer. Once folded in, the two sides of the larger image meet to reveal the punchline: “Personal Computers”

Two Al Jaffee original layout sketches for a MAD magazine fold-in, notes and captions included. Mark J. Cohen and Rose Marie McDaniel Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (click to enlarge)

For those not familiar with Jaffee’s fold-ins, the New York Times has created an interactive collection of some of them online that can help you get a better understanding of how they work.

Having created hundreds of these since the 1960s, Jaffee is a true master of working under creative constraints. To find more original artwork from MAD Magazine that we have in our collection at the Cartoon Library, visit our Art Database.

If you’re in Columbus this weekend, remember to check out two Oulipo events, headed by Matt Madden!

Friday, May 11th be sure to attend Matt Madden’s talk: Obstacle Course: Oulipo and the Creative Potential of Constraints. 4:30pm, and free!

Saturday, May12th 1pm-4pm: Oulipo Workshop with Matt Madden at the Wexner Center! Advance registration is required and space is limited. Register here.  Call (614) 292-6493 for more info.