Thursday, March 28, 2013

Comic Book Review: DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard”.




We don’t do nearly enough of these, and I hope to remedy that in the future.   So, please forgive a few amateurish comic page scans to come, and let’s return to our classic title header and say: 

THE ISSUE AT HAND IS:  DELL FOUR COLOR # 410Porky Pig in The Water Wizard”.  (Cover Date: July-August, 1952). 

The best known and most fondly remembered period for the line of comic books known as DELL FOUR COLOR Second Series (1942-1962) was an approximate ten-year span, ending somewhere in the latter part of 1952, which gave us some of the very best issues of DONALD DUCK (to be sure!), MICKEY MOUSE, BUGS BUNNY, PORKY PIG, WOODY WOODPECKER, and the first three issues of UNCLE SCROOGE.  At the time of DELL FOUR COLOR # 410, this historically great period was about to come to an end. 
You don't need to be a MOUSE, to have your own PHANTOM!

Preceding it was a run of independently numbered First Series of FOUR COLOR issues (1939-1942) that included the first comic book printing of “Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot” (FC # 16 First Series), which not only gave the Floyd Gottfredson daily newspaper serial the title it carries to this day, but even christened the dark-cloaked villain formerly referred to as merely “The Blot”, as “The Phantom Blot”. 
FOUR COLOR # 16 (First Series)
FOUR COLOR # 16 (Second Series)

The Dell Four Color Series would continue on through the remainder of the original “Dell Comics” run in 1962 and, of not inconsiderable note, would give us the earliest Hanna-Barbera comic titles such as RUFF AND REDDY, HUCKLEBERRY HOUND, QUICK DRAW McGRAW, and YOGI BEAR.  The run would conclude, with the introduction of Western Publishing’s new line called “Gold Key Comics”. 

From the end of the prime period of the Dell Four Color run in 1952, new ongoing eponymous, independently numbered titles for Dell’s mainstay characters like DONALD DUCK, BUGS BUNNY, etc. would emerge, with most of them running through the Gold Key and later Whitman years. 
Who's eponymous, Doc? 

DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard” was even more of a transitional issue from that prime period than it appears, because its indicia indicates a BI-MONTHLY frequency and a cover date (characteristic of the later titled and numbered series) but retains its numbering as part of the DELL FOUR COLOR series.  It was also the Next-To-Last PORKY PIG FOUR COLOR issue, before the numbered series would commence with Number 25 (Cover Dated: November-December, 1952). 

As with some of the cartoons in THIS DVD COLLECTION, Porky Pig has made the character conversion to “fifties suburban homeowner” in the stories contained herein.  And, while Daffy Duck is not along to harass and heckle him, Porky seems to have fallen into a pattern of hanging-out with Sylvester.  Not the scared, mute version that can’t seem to warn the Pig of murderous mice (twice) and jumping Jupiterians in the series of Chuck Jones cartoons I call “The Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger Trilogy”.  But instead, we are presented with an odd, alternate version of the Pussycat that was popular in forties and early fifties comics that I’ve described as an “eloquent and eccentric vagabond”.  
In the comics, I'm usually more eloquent, Guv'nor!

As it is our custom in our DVD Reviews, and because I like the format, we’ll conduct our series of Comic Book Reviews by breaking it down into CONS and PROS.  

The CONS:

By no means a “perfect” comic book, it’s nevertheless hard to find any true “CONS” to pin on DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard”. 

Those now accustomed to a steady diet of the legendary works of Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson – the two true geniuses of the “funny animal genre” in comic books and newspaper strips, respectively – might find the stories contained herein to be wanting.  Too simple, or too fanciful, and perhaps lacking that overriding logic that was characteristic of Barks.   But that doesn’t make them “bad” stories.  They’re just different from Barks and Gottfredson, and representative of a type of storytelling that is no longer exhibited in any current and/or popular form.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I daresay it has a charm all its own. 
Okay, so it ain't this! So what?! 

The PROS:

32 Pages – All Comics:  One *could* carp that earlier issues of the DELL FOUR COLOR series were 52 pages for the same dime (…Dime?!) but I’ll never see this as anything but a “PRO”.  Anyone who disagrees can fast-forward to the late seventies, and discover 32 page comic books with as little as 17 pages of story material inside. 

The Art:  Tony Strobl in the first two stories, and another good artist whom I’ve never been able to name, who was primarily associated with Warner Bros. and Walter Lantz comics of the period (Tom McKimson, maybe?), handles the third tale; a shorter backup.   Writers are, alas, unknown.   

Visually, these stories are a delight to behold.  Strobl, in particular, is at his very best.  The simple cover art is in no way indicative of the joys waiting inside.  (…and how often does it work the OTHER way around?)

The STORIES:  The first two stories typify the “Dell Comics Adventure Template”.  Two characters (one smarter – or at least more logical – than the other) travel to a foreign land, or get mixed up in a crime closer to home.  In this issue we have one of each type.  A short backup, where the punch line is a character using an item or device for something it was not intended to do, rounds out the issue. 

Click on any of the comic page scans to enlarge.

Porky Pig in The Water Wizard” (16 pg.):  Does anyone below the age of 40 know what a “divining rod” is?   Read this story, and find out…



Porky, while walking a wooded path with Sylvester, finds a forked stick which, when combined with some innate ability on the part of the Pig, acts as a “divining rod” that allows Porky to locate water flowing underground.  His new-found notoriety results in both Pig and Cat being kidnapped by a flying carpet, and taken to a desert Sheik for whom he finds a sub-sand source of valuable water.  

A rival Sheik learns of this and wants some “found water” of his own, but the first Sheik (fearing he’ll no longer have a profitable water monopoly) breaks the stick (…Aw, couldn’t he have spared the rod?) and has Porky and Sylvester thrown into a pit of desert quicksand… Huh?  IS there even such a thing?   If it’s just desert SAND, how can it be murky enough to sink into?  Maybe the “found water” below?   Wouldn’t tying them out in a sandstorm accomplish the same thing… and allow the story to retain more of its marginal believability? 

Communicating with a family of buzzards, the pair escape the pit, appropriate a camel and take an extremely bumpy ride outta-there!  Strobl makes the ride look all the more uncomfortable by drawing P&S largely defined by “jiggly lines” and pained expressions as they bop along.  Finally home, their butts are too sore to sit down to dinner with Petunia.   “Travel to a foreign land”? … Check! 

…Okay, so what WERE you expecting?  Lost in the Andes”? 
 
 
Porky Pig and the Safecracking Goat” (12 pg.): 



 
 
Goats that eat anything made of metal have always been popular in cartoons like THIS ONE, THIS ONE, and THIS ONE.  Now, it’s time for one in comics.  

As a labor saving device to help fifties suburban homeowner Porky cope with his growing grass and piling trash, the eccentric version of Sylvester turns up with a GOAT.  The goat does indeed level the lawn and make a repast of the refuse but, in the grand tradition of perpetually-hungry goats, does not stop there.  He begins eating (or eating THOROUGH) anything made of metal on or in Porky’s house. 

Two burglars hear of this and kidnap the goat to eat through commercial safes – which in incredible animated goat fashion, it does.  As the goat’s owner, is Porky on the hook?  “Get mixed up in a crime closer to home”?  Yep-a-roonie! 

Petunia Pig (untitled, 4 pg.):  Jealous of Petunia’s attentions toward a deep-sea salvage diver, Porky intends to spoil their outdoor get-together by luring a mess o’ mosquitoes to the spot.  Anyone see how they overcome Porky’s plot by using an item or device for something it was not intended to do?   Think about it a moment, and get back to me. 


Three one-page gags (on the inside front, inside back, and back covers) round out the issue. 
THINGS I LIKED:  Some good dialogue for a comic of this vintage.  Here are some examples: 

 
An exchange from “The Water Wizard” between the Sultan of the Desert Kingdom and his servant: 

SERVANT: “O’ Noble One, what wouldst have this morning?”

SULTAN: “Water… Stupid One!”  (He gulps down a drinking glass and CHOKES.)

SERVANT: “I am afraid you must be content with your usual GLASS OF DUST, O’ High One!” 

(The Sultan spits out the dust!)

SERVANT: “A thousand pardons… but I would have sworn there was a DROP OF DEW in it!”
………………
Porky and Sylvester make some “fifties suburban homeowner” plans with their wondrous Divining Rod: 

SYLVESTER:  Say, pal… why don’t we find some water in your backyard, and put in a SWIMMIN’ POOL!”

PORKY: “Swell!  I’LL find the water, and YOU dig the p-pool!”

SYLVESTER (thinks):  Oops!  Methinks I’m getting the WRONG END of the STICK!” 

…Divining Rod?  … Stick?  That’s a JOKE, son!  I say, that’s a JOKE, son!   (Okay, moving on…)
…………………….

In “The Safecracking Goat”, Porky considers how Sylvester’s gift-goat can help him with his (all together now)fifties suburban homeowner” chores:

PORKY: “W-well, I’ve got to admit he m-might work out okay, Sylvester, b-but…

SYLVESTER:  Butt!  That’s right!  He can BUTT, too!” 

OVERALL: DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard” is a solid, by-the-numbers example of the Dell funny-animal comics (Non-Barks Division) of its period. 

It is neither great, nor poor.  The art tends to be superior to the stories.  In certain spots, it is vastly superior.  But, if you’re looking for a good Saturday afternoon read you can’t go wrong with this. 

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

With the emphasis on super heroes, other genres, especially the so-called "funny animal" comics, tend to get short shrift. When they do get noticed, there is still a tendency to praise Barks and Gottfredson and ignore everything else (although Barks and Gottfredson deserved every bit of recognition that they ever received). Thank goodness for TIAH and the Big Blog of Kids' Comics, which prove that there was plenty of good stuff being published back then.

Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Anon… and thanks to Mykal (at Big Blog of Kids' Comics) too!

I’m in complete agreement with you, when it comes to the unfortunate lack of attention these comics get. Barks and Gottfredson should be at the top of the heap – Barks for perfecting the “funny animal adventure genre” and Gottfredson for INVENTING it in the first place – but there was lots of really worthwhile stuff along the way that gets unjustly ignored.

In my opinion, this is especially true of the Dell and Gold Key comics up thru the end of the sixties. In fact, that’s the point I try to make here… You’re probably not going to get “Lost in the Andes” or “Ghost of the Grotto” in an average Porky Pig comic. Heck, you didn’t get that in an average Donald Duck or Uncle Scrooge comic either!

But, you ARE going to get a solid good time!

I think there are at least two factors that tend to work against these comics. One is the lack of credits, and not having specific creator names to rally ‘round. Even today, I’d say most interested parties (much less “civilians”) may not know who Harvey Eisenberg, Tony Strobl, Paul Murry, Jack Bradbury, and Roger Armstrong, are. And IF they know the names of Phil DeLara, Pete Alavardo, John Carey, etc., it’s due to their on-screen Warner animation credits.

There’s also an unfortunate fannish tendency to elevate “your thing” at the expense of “other, similar things”. It’s everywhere. If you like the Yankees you are almost required to disdain (or, at least, ignore) the Mets. Football Giants vs. Jets. Star Trek vs. Lost in Space – and its successor Star Trek vs. Star Wars. The Simpsons vs. Family Guy, everyone can add their own…

In comics, the most obvious manifestation of this is DC vs. Marvel but, as I entered fandom in the early to mid-eighties, the same thing existed between Barks partisans and everyone else. Gottfredson and Rosa (and a separate case can be made for John Stanley) have since crossed over to that level of reverence as well – but it’s still them vs. anyone else who works in the genre, then and now. …And, that mentality is unfortunate for us all.

I’ll try to combat it here. …And, I’ll try to do more of these comic reviews going forward. But, I’ve got lots of pre-written (mostly DVD) stuff, waiting for the painstaking task of formatting and illustration, waiting in the hopper.

Ryan Wynns said...

Joe,

Great job! I'm happy to see TIAH return to its roots (but also move forward, covering new/long-under-covered ground), and it brought a smile to my face to see you sue the old "The issue at hand is..." motif again.

I really, really like Dell's non-Disney funny animal comics (most of what I've read being the Warner Bros. and Walter Lantz ones), even with the standard "straight man-and-comic relief sideck" characterizations that so often had too little to do with the characters' on-screen personas. As you said, they're not Barks or Gottfredson, but they hold up on their own, because the narratives and are substantial and just rich enough to make for a fun, fulfulling read. (Even if they steer more towards pure silliness than Barks ... but that's part of the fun.) So, in short, your assessment is pretty much the same as mine!

I still intend to track down a copy of that Porky Pig-"Phantom of the Plains" Four Color issues. Just from the cover, it to me is a must-have.

I'm really looking forward to more posts like this. I'm glad more of your knowledge and insight is being shared with the world.

-- Ryan

Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Ryan!

Some of our newer friends may not know that our title “The Issue At Hand [is]” was actually created back in 1994 to herald comic book reviews for various APAs and fanzines – and was the natural choice to represent me when I moved into Blogging.

And yes, “Phantom of the Plains” is definitely worth getting, in either the original Dell version or the Gold Key sixties reprint.

As for “Water Wizard”, I purposely chose a solid, middle-of-the-road entry for this opening review. Neither “Lost in the Andes”, nor “Bird Bothered Hero” (http://duckcomicsrevue.blogspot.com/2011/08/bird-bothered-hero.html), but a fitting representative of the product at the time.

Also, glad to see such positive reaction to comic reviews. I’ll definitely have to do more of them.

Elaine said...

I'll "third" the motion in favor of more comic reivews. I find convincing your analysis in your comment, Joe, of two of the reasons why these comics are underappreciated. (It's only because of you that I recognize the name Phil DeLara!) You've got me thinking about the "X is better than the similar Y so Y is just beneath notice" phenomenon.

And I agree that the "glass of dust" dialogue has some sparkle to it. Will you review "Phantom of the Plains" sometime?

Meanwhile...I'm all for Barks and Rosa, but the comic story I re-read on Easter is the 4-page Fallberg/Bradbury Chip & Dale story "April Antics". It's the comic story that for me is most in the spirit of Easter (unlike Barks' Easter Election!). Loving the Great doesn't keep me from loving the Merely Good!

Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine writes:

“Loving the Great doesn't keep me from loving the Merely Good!”

And that is EXACTLY the philosophy more of us should have! …And a large part of the greater point I hoped to get across with this post!

Just being a part of Disney comics fandom, you’ve surely run across the mentality I describe – and, as you can see, it’s everywhere, and applied to any subject that fannish types tend to rally around… sports, animation, and I’d wager to say, though less “fannish” (and more “ideologically driven”) this sort of thing pervades modern politics as well. You just can’t show respect for the Mets, that “other show or comic publisher” that’s similar to yours, or someone you may not agree with politically. And, more’s the pity for that!

Shifting to more pleasant thoughts, naturally I’d be drawn to funny dialogue – and you didn’t find all that much of it in the product of the time (…at least not as much as SHOULD have been), so it stands out all the more.

Yes, I’d like to do “Phantom of the Plains”. And now, all the more so because you request it. I was looking at a Yogi Bear comic next – and considering a DC issue as well, but I’ll promote “Phantom of the Plains” upward. I have a taste for it as well.

Now, it’s a mystery (like the 1964 Mickey Mouse story I love so much “The Return of the Phantom Blot”), so I can’t go too deeply into it and continue to respect the “Spoiler Warning” code. But, it will be fun to do, because there are some interesting aspects to the story itself that are worth mentioning --and the unusual thing they did for the 1965 reprint in Gold Key’s PORKY PIG # 5.

So, as long as you don’t mind amateurish page scans – not to mention more Porky Pig – we’re on!

Can’t say when it will appear, given the multitude of personal and professional obligations that govern my life… and I have a fair number of things pre-written and waiting to go. But, I tend to write them in a “timeless” fashion, and can promote anything past any other thing. “The Water Wizard”, for instance, cut ahead of many other posts, because I really wanted to do a comic book review.

Can’t wait to re-read “Phantom of the Plains” myself, as I haven’t done so since the mid-eighties.

Regular GeoX said...

I agree with everyone else! It's nice to see attention brought to largely forgotten comics like this.

Does anyone below the age of 40 know what a “divining rod” is?

*Raising hand* As it happens, I do believe was first familiarized with the concept in the works of Mr. Carl Barks!

Out of curiosity--and 'cause my knowledge of the Loony Tunes canon is not what it could be--who's the young vulture(?) accompanying Porky and Cicero in that one-pager?

Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks, Geo!

You’re all spurring me to do more, and I like the idea! Don’t know why I got so far away from it in the first place. Didn’t have a scanner for a long time, and was maybe loath to discuss something I couldn’t illustrate beyond existing Internet cover scans.

But, I’d be happy to bring attention to largely forgotten comics, if you’re interested. I’ve certainly got enough of ‘em to last me a long time!

As for knowing what a “Divining Rod” is… I don’t know you personally, beyond our Blogger’s interactions, that is, but I peg you as a fellow of extraordinary tastes and interests – in ways beyond your general age/peer group. That, and being a Barks scholar, would account for it.

Cicero’s friend would be the nephew of Beaky Buzzard (It’s ALWAYS a nephew or niece, except for Beep-Beep the Road Runner, Oswald the Rabbit, and The Phantom Blot – must be something about having the word “the” as part of your name!) His name escapes me at the moment, but he also appeared in the “inside-front-cover gag”.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Nice job on this well-worth-waiting-for "return to TIAH first principles." I hope to see more in the future.

Even an "average" outing like this shows a fair amount of artistic cleverness, thanks to the efforts of Tony Strobl. Consider:

(1) The flying carpet mimicking a come-hither finger flick;

(2) The pile of REAL sawdust that covers Sylvester's face as he's "sawing wood."

Aside from being funny gags in and of themselves, these are gags that fit the context (that of a Warner Bros. comics adaptation) quite well. They just seem more natural here than they would in, say, a Duck story.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Very good points, Chris!

They ARE nice bits by Strobl (or his writer, maybe Don R. Christensen?) and, yes, they’d be more at home in a Warner comic than a Duck comic. I really liked what Strobl did at that time – and more of it was for WB comics than Disney.

Yes, we absolutely will do more such comic reviews. I’m very pleased with the overall reaction.

Don’t want to turn this into “The Porky Pig Show”, with this and the recent DVD review, but the next one will be “Phantom of the Plains”! No spoilers, if you (or anyone else) have already read it!

Elaine said...

Yes, Chris, nice observations! I never would have noticed that sawdust--very cartoony.

I happened on a 1965 Vic Lockman/Tony Strobl story where Scrooge is invited for his birthday to the home of a fabulously wealthy Arab (one of several stories titled "Birthday Blues", S 65030). The Arab characters are all humanified cats, and the scene where a bunch of feline acrobats are performing after dinner is truly delightful. The story is nothing much, but the art is a lot of fun. Makes me feel that Strobl, far from "phoning it in," must have been really pleased when he got to draw something really out of the way, and put his heart into it.

Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine:

Chris and I have had many conversations over the years about how good – and underappreciated – Tony Strobl was. The conclusion, invariably, was “VERY”, on both counts.

And, I might add, he was as kindly and gentlemanly an individual as you‘d ever meet. He seemed genuinely honored, when I visited him in the eighties and showed both recognition of and appreciation for his work.

I left with an inscribed and autographed copy of DONALD DUCK # 108 (1966), which I cherish to this day. In fact, it only now dawns on me… How many autographed Tony Strobl comics might there be in existence? He didn’t meet all that many fans and, perhaps, I was the recipient of an uncommon honor.

He told me about leaving Western to join the S-Code program – but I didn’t realize that it was as early as 1965, and that (like Paul Murry) he must have worked concurrently for both. That had to be the case, as he drew all the 1968 issues of DONALD DUCK (6), UNCLE SCROOGE (6), most of MOBY DUCK (4 – though Phil De Lara did one of them, and Kay Wright did a back-up in another), and the Duck leads in WDC&S (12). That was a pretty busy year, if he also did work for the Studio Program.

…There’s always something new to learn about this stuff!