The Comics Journal No. 262, August/September 2004

Featuring interviews with Alex Toth and Steve Brodner; Bob Levin on Tyrone Power.

TCJ Subscribers: Click here to read the full issue.

Gary Groth, “Editorial” (p. 9)

Newswatch (p. 16)

Blood and Thunder (p. 11)

The Alex Toth Interview (p. 88)
The Steve Brodner Interview (p. 146)

Bob Levin, “The Mark of Tyrone Power” (p. 95)
Gregory Cwiklik, “Obsolete” (p. 51)

Eddie Campbell, “Blooming Books” (p. 56)
Dylan Williams, “Bernet” (p. 61)
Tom Crippen, “Isolation” (p. 65)
Austin English, “Blankets” (p. 66)
Tom Spurgeon, “Usagi Yojimbo” (p. 68)
Chris Mautner, “The Norm” (p. 70)
Bullet Reviews (p. 72)
Bill Sherman, “The Mad Playboy of Art” (p. 76)

Fun! Fun! Fun! (p. 44)
Journalista (p. 46)
Fighting Words (p. 55)
Comicopia (p. 171)
Minimalism (p. 176)
Time Out of Joint (p. 184)

Goodman Goes Playboy, intro by R. Fiore (p. 79)
Alex Toth Comics Section (p. 108)

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5 Responses to The Comics Journal No. 262, August/September 2004

  1. Marcel Smith says:

    I would like to read the reprint article of Goodman Goes Playboy, TCJ #262, How do i get acess to it.

  2. Greg Williamson says:

    I would like to read the reprint article of Goodman Goes Playboy, TCJ #262, How do i get acess to it.

  3. R. Fiore says:

    Well, I could just paste it in. Might have been edited (and thus made more coherent) after this, this is from the manuscript.

    Harvey and Willie

    Like Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hart, Ellington and Strayhorn, Powell and Pressberger, or Lubitsch and Raphaelson, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder formed one of the elemental partnerships of popular art. Collaborations do not loom nearly so large in the world of high art; operatic librettists get shorter shrift than screenwriters. The reasons are not hard to see. In forms that are as much industrial productions as art, where output is more important than individual expression, ego must be sacrificed willingly or unwillingly. Kurtzman was a natural collaborator who formed fruitful partnerships throughout his career, but Elder was the hand in glove, the twin brother from another mother. (I’m going to speak of Elder in the past tense herein because he’s retired and because it’s simpler.) Since the Kurtzman/Elder partnership did not divide along the lines of divergent crafts like a composer/lyricist team, they could be compared to Lennon and McCartney, whose skills overlapped. But that was an antagonistic partnership based on fierce competitiveness, which served to keep each partner’s weaknesses in check; Lennon kept McCartney from going soft and McCartney kept Lennon’s feet on the ground. Neither was as good alone as they were together but it couldn’t last. Kurtzman’s and Elder’s partnership was complementary. It brings to mind Katherine Hepburn’s famous line about the elemental partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: “She gave him sex and he gave her class.” What Elder and Kurtzman gave each other can’t be stated so succinctly. I break it down in several ways:

    Kurtzman gave Elder a point of view and Elder gave Kurtzman vulgarity. Kurtzman I think saw in Elder qualities that were slipping away from him. Both men were upwardly mobile, in the sense that they started out on the bottom only through an accident of immigration. From the beachhead their parents had established in the new country they were finding their true level, a level that was if not in the aristocracy of talent then in the middle class of talent. While you could never really call him assimilated, but as Kurtzman ascended the ladder his tendency was to become that little bit more genteel. Not so Elder; regardless of how his circumstances changed he retained the sensibility of the tenement, less out of any conviction than through seeing no reason to change. Elder was a Huckleberry Finn who could get adopted by Aunt Sally without getting civilized, and the Tom Sawyer in Kurtzman admired that. Elder could take him into areas where his own sense of taste and decorum might have held him back. Jim Woodring’s character Frank is described as “innocent but not noble.” Will Elder is decent but not moral. That is, his decency is innate and not based on any system of thought. He had a sense of the carnal – an area that at times seemed to make Kurtzman a bit squeamish — that was half burlesque and half Garden of Eden. (Kurtzman was satirical and Elder was satyrical, you might say.) Groucho Marx once of his brother Harpo’s screen character that though he’s constantly chasing girls he wouldn’t know what to do when he caught one. Elder has some of that elfin quality, but he knows what he’d do: He’d find one he likes and marry her. He likes them all, but he’s satisfied with one.
    Elder, for his part, had a great comic mind but nothing in particular in mind to use it for. You can see what Elder would be without Kurtzman quite clearly in his work for Al Feldstein’s Panic. It’s like a bottle of flat ginger ale: To the eye it looks just like a live one, but when you taste it the sparkle is missing. As it would be in Feldstein’s version of Mad, Panic’s subjects would be chosen on the Edmund Hillary basis, because they were there. The subject was something to be smart-alecky about, and one subject would do just as well as another. To be fair to Feldstein and his writers, part of the problem in finding comic strip or comic book subject was that Kurtzman had already gotten to the most iconic ones. Captain Easy and Alley Oop just didn’t have the cultural resonance of Terry and the Pirates and Mickey Mouse.

    Elder gave Kurtzman commercial viability and Kurtzman gave Elder direction. Though on his own Kurtzman was one of the five best pure visual storytellers in comic books (by my reckoning: Carl Barks, Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Steve Ditko), it was a talent he could have starved on. Neither his slashing, impressionistic style of adventure cartooning nor his hyperkinetic and anarchic style of humor cartooning delivered the literalism that the comic book readership demanded. It was the kind of sophistication that looks unsophisticated to the unsophisticated. Elder’s overlay on Kurtzman’s structure removed the alienating effects from Kurtzman’s art without blunting the bite. For his part, Elder when left to his own devices tended to drift. Of all who ever sought after Walt Kelly’s popular artist’s ideal of having fun and making money at the same time, no one was more devoted to the having fun part than Elder. He was quite content until Mad came along to act as John Severin’s inker, and when the partnership went into remission after the collapse of Humbug, he did work that neither taxed his talent nor represented his sensibility. If the Disney organization had realized what they had on their hands when he tried out he might have disappeared into comfortable anonymity. His would be a name you heard in interviews with Frank or Ollie or Ward Kimbell: “You know, nobody’s ever heard of him, but one of the real geniuses of the studio was this guy named Elder . . .” He would have fit right in; they already had a guy named Wolf. But whenever Kurtzman had a new world to conquer Elder was his legionary. He had nothing better to do and there was nothing better he could have done.
    Elder gave Kurtzman the weapons and Kurtzman gave Elder the ammunition. Elder’s uncanny ability to mimic any drawing style is too renowned to comment on, and it’s value to Kurtzman’s various enterprises is patently obvious. But beyond that, Elder’s work embodied Kurtzman’s reality principle, his distaste for the evasions and euphemisms of popular entertainment. Jack Davis could deliver sweat and hair and loose band-aids and Wally Wood could match Elder eyeball kick for eyeball kick, but neither Davis nor Wood could capture the squalor of life the way that Elder could. Robert Crumb once spoke of how an Elder drawing made him feel positively queasy with the sense of human soil it evoked, and this is not one of the most bashful sensibilities on Earth we’re talking about here. Archie Andrews and his comrades as much as anything else represents the unreality principle that set Kurtzman off. For the longest time each succeeding generation of Archie comics readers assumed it represented what high school was like for the previous generation: Its first readers in the ‘40s assumed it represented high school in the ‘30s, readers in the ‘50s assumed it represented high school in the ‘40s, readers in the ‘60s assumed it represented high school in the ‘50s, and everybody assumed it represented high school in a much richer neighborhood than the one they lived in. This must have broken down in the ‘70s, but by then Archie had established its own plane of reality. In the ‘50s Kurtzman and Elder wondered how it could ignore the obsession with juvenile delinquency that was threatening to bring down its whole industry, how it could ignore the reality of the adolescent complexion, and how Archie could turn down the bird in the hand when she was practically identical to the one in the bush. When they revisited Riverdale in the ‘60s, however . . .

    Hefner and Archie

    In this issue The Comics Journal inaugurates a new section devoted to reviving lost or neglected comics with one of the most notoriously lost comics in history, Kurtzman and Elder’s “Goodman Goes Playboy.” Despite the title much of the action centers around Archie Andrews and his pals, with whom Kurtzman and Elder had a go-round once before. Archie’s publishers took the position, since enshrined in case law (though not in this case), that once is parody, twice is copyright infringement. The respective publishers reached an agreement to suppress the story, an agreement which the authors have always honored.

    About halfway between this story’s first and second above-ground publication, T-Bone Burnett recorded a composition/recitative on a similar theme entitled “Hefner and Disney,” a work whose copyright is in full force and effect (1983, Arthur Buster Stahr Music). It’s a fairy tale about a young divorcee living “[s]omewhere between Never Neverland and Wonderland, in a land called Never Wonderland” her latest suitors are named Hefner and Disney. Disney, who “smoked a pipe and was very philosophical,” takes pictures of the go-go girls who surround him and sells them to the neighborhood children. Hefner, who “loved a good story just like anybody else,” loves the myths of Neverwonderland so much that he turns the characters of the myths into molded plastic sculptures until he’s created a whole other land called “Hefnerland.” And though the neighborhood children “had lots of fun playing in Hefnerland and looking at all Disney’s go-go pictures” the young divorcee begins to wonder if Hefner and Disney aren’t just after her money. But the balladeer doesn’t believe that; “between you and me,” he says, “they were really dupes of the Wicked King who wanted to rob the children of their dreams.”

    In Kurtzman’s version Archie stands in for Disney, and Kurtzman, who is unsentimental about dreaming, doesn’t see the duo as robbing people of their dreams so much as ensnaring them in them. Kurtzman is more concerned with incoherence is the enemy; his point is not so much “why is the Emperor naked?” so much as “why does the society let Emperors run around naked when it purports to believe we should all wear clothes?” In “Goodman Goes Playboy” we see the spectacle of society allowing a man to promote everything it professed to be against simply because he was making a lot of money at it. Though Archie’s publishers were not the sort to understand this sort of nuance, Kurtzman and Elder actually portray their characters as genuine innocents gulled by the Devil’s wiles. Hugh Hefner, rather than suing them, put them on the payroll. You have to wonder how many times, working away by the No. 9 Furnace, Kurtzman and Elder thought of how they’d predicted their own fate. Every time the latest episode’s notes and corrections came in, no doubt.

    Hefner was a genuinely liberating figure in American life, but the brand of liberation Hefner he personally proferred bore the same resemblance to genuine liberation that the sort of intellectual pretension he was hawking bore to genuine intellect. The highbrow writers Hefner enlisted rarely offered their best work in return for his lucre, knowing full well that he couldn’t tell the difference. Kurtzman and Elder simply weren’t allowed to do their best work, or to do it only in piecemeal fashion. Hefner imagined that in the Goodman story Kurtzman and Elder were simply mistaken; that he was actually on his side and they were on his. He was mistaken. Still, as the devil he gave better value than the one in the stories; Kurtzman and Elder got many times more than seven years of good luck, and they could pick up their souls on the way out.

    So here, in a format you can read without a jeweler’s loupe, we present:

  4. Alex Fuller says:

    I, too, would like to see the full PDF. Clicking on the link:
    “TCJ Subscribers: Click here to read the full issue.”
    Just takes me to my profile page.
    Where is the PDF?

  5. Tim Hodler says:

    “All questions about digital subscriptions and access to archives should be sent to

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