Friday, April 22, 2016

Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! introduced artists..then closed shop

A couple of weeks ago I showed some work Mad creator/satirist/cartoonist/editor Harvey Kurtzman had done for Playboy in the 1960s. While listed as editor of Help! Kurtzman was also doing “Little Annie Fanny” for Hefner in Playboy.

The last two issues of Help!, numbers 25 and 26, from 1965, have historic contents because of the early appearances of artists like Gilbert Shelton (“Wonder Warthog”) and R. Crumb (Zap Comix). Both artists went on to fame in underground comix. The last issue also featured an artist, Terry Gilliam, who went on to fame by moving to England and becoming part of the Monty Python troupe.

Crumb’s observations on Bulgaria are wryly humorous. By using straight-faced captions for his sketches, he shows the dichotomy of the Communist Party line of the worker's paradise, and the reality of how tough life was for the citizens in that era.

Help! #25, 1965:

Both Shelton and Terry Gilliam, with writer Dave Crossley, satirize the then-current Civil Rights movement in the South. In retrospect, they might border on tastelessness, but what they did for sure was name names. Crossley and Gilliam go after the Ku Klux Klan, and Shelton’s strip names Mississippi as a state with entrenched racism. I believe the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists, is mostly obsolete and superfluous in 2016, but racism still exists.

Help! #25:

Help! #26, 1965:

I have wondered since buying these issues of Help! off the newsstands, and then to my disappointment having the title disappear, if Kurtzman’s work at Playboy contributed to the end of Help!. “Little Annie Fanny” is labor intensive. In the age of Photoshop where images can be manipulated by software, it is hard to understand how such artistry as Kurtzman, his friend and coworker Will Elder, and other artists as assistants at times, could produce something so epic. Kurtzman did the scripts as rough drawings, and then worked them to perfection on sheets of overlays, which artist Will Elder followed. Elder was known for his uncanny ability to duplicate the work of other artists, and in this particular strip from January, 1967, shows his multiple talents by duplicating the work of the pop artists of the era. All of it is colored with watercolors. If you look close you see Popeye, the Phantom, Krazy Kat, all done in loving detail. That is, if you can tear your eyes away from the nubile Annie. Artist Russ Heath is credited for assisting on the artwork.

Playboy January, 1967:

All of the artwork above is from the Internet Archive, and is copyright by respective copyright holders.


J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

Very interesting.
This looks like a good satyrical magazine. Too bad if it dropped out because of a thing like "Annie Fanny", that was visually beautiful but, to me, basically stupid.

I think real satire is never "tasteless". Its purpose is to hit under the belt.
So, categorizing satire as "good" or "bad" taste is a misunderstanding that inevitably leads to "politically correctness", which is to say, censorship in disguise.

I never heard the form "nigra" for "nigger" before... Is the first panel in "Warth-Hog" a hint to the "Mississippi Burning" case?

Postino said...

"Nigra," pronounced with a short "i" sound, is an approximation (to Northern ears) of a Southern dialect version of the word "Negro."

There were several incidents in Mississippi during that era that called attention to the Ku Klux Klan and their murdering ways, and the Wonder Warthog story is in reference to them. Murder as a way of getting rid of political enemies makes martyrs of them, and so the names of the victims of the KKK brutality are still well known as those who sacrificed their lives to the cause of civil rights.

Thank you for your note.

Kirk said...

The excerpts from Help is further proof of Kurtzman's role as the Founding Father of underground (or, as it's called these days, alternative) comics.

As for the Little Annie Fanny strip, Kurtzman seems to be saying that the term "camp", as it was used in the 1960s, really just served as an excuse for highbrows to indulge in, and enjoy, lowbrow culture. I wondered what Kurtzman would make of today, when it's not just Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein works that hang in museums but Jack Kirby's as well, highbrows no longer needing to call it camp to enjoy it.

Postino said...

I have some feelings about "lowbrow culture" being discovered by the broader population, and co-opted as if they just blessed it as being worthy of their highbrow attention.

Maybe I think of mass market paperback books, pulp magazines, comic books, and all that lowbrow stuff as being actually too good for those interlopers who are only now discovering that Jack Kirby was a "real" artist.

I spent too many decades trying not to be outed as a closet comics/fantasy nerd and I resent the fact that now I can be out and cool because "they" say so!

Yeah, I know I'm grumpy.