Sunday, March 1, 2009

“Meet My Boss… Walter Lantz!”

So said Woody Woodpecker, at the beginning of each episode of the original WOODY WOODPECKER TV SHOW. Then, we’d cut to the fatherly Mr. Lantz who would introduce this week’s show, interact with an animated Woody Woodpecker, and become the show’s de-facto co-host.

So successful was this TV program in the late 1950s that the long running comic book WALTER LANTZ NEW FUNNIES (Formerly NEW FUNNIES) was rechristened WALTER LANTZ TV FUNNIES by Western Publishing the publisher of the Dell Comics line.

Starting with Issue # 262 (December, 1958), the image of Walter Lantz also appeared on the cover of the comic as well. Through # 269, a headshot of Lantz appeared within a drawing of a television set, appearing in the upper right corner of each issue… but, for the next two issues, Lantz would get much further into the act!

WALTER LANTZ TV FUNNIES # 270 (August, 1959).

From his “Magic Hat”, Walter Lantz produces Woody (…who seems rather surprised to be there!) and, in a succession of hats, Andy Panda and Charlie Chicken. A very nice effect for its day. I picked up this issue at the New York Comic Con on February 07, 2009. Lantz would repeat his “magic” in the next issue…
WALTER LANTZ TV FUNNIES # 271 (September, 1959).

Here’s a comic I’ve owned since the tender age of four – and upgraded my coverless copy at the Baltimore Comic Con of 2008. Condition aside, it’s clear why I would want a copy of this comic with its cover intact…

Walter Lantz (…confined to a lower corner of the overall image, as ROBIN The Boy Wonder often was on covers of 1950s issues of BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS) appears, at first glance, to be CONDUCTING a jam session by two of his most famous creations (Woody and Andy) and one other that fell to him after being torn away from Walt Disney (Oswald the Rabbit).

Almost lost among the visual elements of this cover is the gag about how Woody positions his sheet music, given that he’s playing a bass fiddle.

But look closer still and you’ll see that Walter Lantz is not CONDUCTING the impromptu performance… but is DRAWING IT!

That’s not a BATON in his hand… It’s an artist’s PAINT BRUSH!

And, perhaps the strangest thing about this wonderful image is that the animated characters are depicted in COLOR, while Lantz appears in BLACK AND WHITE – giving LANTZ an almost greater sense of “unreality” than Woody and Friends within the context of the frame!

Were there no color photos of Lantz to use for these two covers? If there were, these would be truly memorable images. Still, they are impressive for (A:) for the technology of the time and (B:) for the image of a well-known creator interacting in such a way with his creations in a venue like comic book covers... where that simply was not done.

Actually, there WAS at least one usable color image of Lantz in the files at Western Publishing. See below…

WALTER LANTZ TV FUNNIES # 269 (July, 1959).

Yes, it’s the previously described “headshot of Lantz in a drawing of a television set”! WLTVF # 269 was another coverless issue from my earliest days, and was upgraded at the 2001 Comic Con International San Diego. Again, Walter Lantz appears with Woody, Andy, and Oswald… but this time in color. The same image adorns every cover with the “TV Set image” of Lantz.

And, just one final oddity… At the time, in 1959, Walter Lantz was indeed seen on many of the nation’s television screens… but in BLACK AND WHITEnot COLOR!

So, to recap… For the first two images seen above, where a “live” Lantz should have been pictured in color, he is seen in black and white! And for the 1959 television image, where he should naturally be in black and white, he is seen in color!

Ha-Ha-Ha-HA-Ha! (…as Woody would say about now!)

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