Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Highlights, Local "Occupiers" and Chemical Flea-Men! "Doctor Hormonr" from Popular Comics 58, 1940

Hale and hearty salutations to one and all! 'Tis a pleasure to be here again, sharing the joys of panelology with my internet friends and companions. Our little hamlet has been cast into the pelirous waters of modern-day politics!

I'm sure you've perused the news media and seen accounts of the various "Occupy" movements. Something about 99 per cent of something, and I believe they're after the missing 1 per cent. Seems like something from an old Republic Pictures "chapter play" to me. But I assume there are bigger stakes at hand.

Believe it or not, we have had our own "Occupy" movement here! True, it consists of 11 bedraggled, unbathed young men and women. They have pitched five tents on the lawn of Mayor Miggins--who, I suspect, has had not a moment of peace since this gaggle of scruffy children "occupied" his prime Kentucky blue grass! (He has it imported from that fair state, via squares of sod and grass, each August.)

We are far, far away from Wall Street and its high-stress concerns here, but the hand of political actisivm is felt nonetheless. These 11 "occupiers" have made Dorrie's Diner a sort of second home. My goodness, how these "young folk" can talk--lecture, more accurately. And how they can eat!

All of them seem named after something found outdoors--Leaf, Loam, Shallot and Cloud are four names I've learned. Gone, I suppose, are the days of Harry, Sheldon and Frank! But, then again, this i s the 21st century we live in--not the past!

You might not think me a political thinker. 'Tis true, my thoughts run more to the halcyon pages of my beloved comic magazines of yore. But I keep my finger on the pluse of the new events. This trend goes back to my teen days. You've heard me speak of the musical duo of Mason and Rusty here. True, our repertoire did lean heavily on that of our idols, Peter and Gordon, but we did include a couple of "messager" songs, as those were popular with our peers. I still recall our Peter and Gordon-styled version of "Masters of War." We did it with a softer, bossa nova style of rhythm. Arranged for two voices in harmony, it always went over well.

We, of course, also sang "Eve of Destruction." I never could get all the words sussed out on that one. Some thing about bodies floating--it still puzzles me, when the original tune plays on my "oldies" radio station. We just mumbled through that part, but it, too, cheered our classmates.

Back to the present, friends. I'm somewhat impressed that the fire of politics still finds root in the hearts of the young. But I recall that I, at this age, bathed, shaved and changed clothes with far greater frequency. I have attempted to pass on these pearls of wisdom to our "Occupy 11," as they drift in and out of the Diner (which is parallel to their "tent city" on Mayor Miggins' front lawn).

Alas, the good mayor has temporarily abstained from his twice-a-week visits to our little eatery. Whenever he shows his head outside his home, much like the groundhog on his day, he is assaulted with shouts, grunts and the expert heavings of small moist things. I pity Mr. Miggins--he is a just, fair, good-natured fellow, and I have always experienced him as being the champion of "the under guy."

Yet, ironically, these youthful crusaders of justice won't given an established "do-gooder" the chance to speak his piece. Truth told, we shall all be glad when this "occupation" is over, and these young lions find something else with which to "occupy" their spare time!

The "11," as the local newspaper has dubbed them, are inordinately fond of the ever-popular "Sloppy Doe" sandwich. Dorrie and I decided to offer a "Protester's Special." Anyone presently living in a tent, within our fair city limits, is entitled to one of these massive, fragrant, dripping sandwiches for one dollar.

As said, these hungry youth tend ot "occupy" the Diner, guitars and notebooks in tow. I've impressed them with my special arrangement of "Masters of War," sung occapella to their slack-jawed surprise. Few of them sing! They mostly huddle in a grubby group, while one lazily strums assorted chords over and over again.

Thanksgiving was a clandestine affair this year--held in secret at the Diner. Truth told, there were two versions of the meal. The one at the Diner featured a streamlined but pleasing spread, including Dorrie's knockout "Fruity Cola Bird" and her "Megaplex Pudding Cake," which features six flavors of pudding, encased in six complementary flavors of fluffy cake.

Prior to this meal, we had a sham dinner at home. It consisted of turkey bologna, bread, American cheese, and a small tray of crackers. This was for the benefit of a certain certain Golden Age cartoonist (initials B.K.).  Dorrie has made clear her abiding dislike of Brad Kolger, and has told him that he has worn out his welcome. He is advised to get into his motor home and find another place of residence.

This has caused a rift between Dorrie and myself. To be honest, Mr. Kolger has not proved the fountain of panelological wisdom "Sparks" and I might have hoped for. Some of his anecdotes seem a mite suspicious to me! You know well what a stickler I am for accuarcy. Facts, proven and measured, interest me. Mr. Kolger's imagination is evidently still keen, but our food bills have sky-rocketed. Due to his chronic weight gains, we've even had to purchase new pants for him. Otherwise, he wanders about in soiled boxer shorts and a bathrobe, 24-7.

'Twas while trying to verify one of Mr. Kolger's wilder claims that I came across the name of Bob Bugg. No, he isn't a "funny animal" character! Mr. Bugg was an overlooked, uniquely inspired creator of the Golden Panelological Era. I'd all but forgotten his work until a comment by Mr. Kolger sparked my memory.

I couldn't recall the magazine in which Mr. Bugg's work appeared. I thought it to be one of the Fox titles, or a Nedor publication. An exhaustive search of my holdings from these imprints revealed nothing--although "Sparks" and I did spend several happy hours reading from these vintage issues. Let the protests of man wail and moan. Let controversy cry out. None of these can dim the brilliant, shimmering light of the "people's art" of panelology!

Finally, in an act of desperation, I rifled through a box of minor Dell Comics titles. 'Twas then that this issue of Poplar Comics literally leaped out at me. Its protective bag had an air pocket in it that caused it to shoot out of a stack and land, face-up, on my lap. Immediately, I espied the name of Mr. Bugg's magnum opus:  DR. HORMONE!

I've some interesting background material on the strip and its creator. But first, please prepare yourself emotionally for a sutnning burst of panelological art!!

What whimsy and imagination combine to produce the exotic, exciting exploits of "Dr. Hormone!" This tale is highly prophetic of the World War to come. It was created in the autumn of 1940, as the shadows of desctruction loomed large over Europe. "Bob Bugg," in reality a gifted creator named Herschel Roach, saw the war coming to the United States--a full year before the dreaded attack on Pearl Harbor!

Roach's time in the panelological field was short but sweet. His career began with a bang--his car collided with that of editor Oskar Lebeck in a Manhattan parking lot, one day in 1939. Roach had just--unsuccessfully--attempted to find work with the Harry Chesler studio. Down to his last two dollars, Roach was despondent, and failed to look in his rear-view mirror. Bang! He smashed editor Lebeck's rear fender.

The impact of the accident unsecured Roach's portfolio. Sample comic-book pages spilled all over the interior of his car. An angry Lebeck, having surveyed the damage done, saw these pages and immediately forgot his fury. For he was in need of his own "Superman"--at any cost!

Lebeck's concern oversaw a series of comic magazines that were old news in 1939. They existed before the arrival of the paenlological super-hero, and consisted of reprintings from popular newspaper comic strips. These had sold extraordinarily well throughout the middle to late 1930s, but with the arrival of a circus of costumed men of might, the fickle buying public turned away from Lebeck's offerings. He had to act--and fast!

Lebeck offered Roach a job on the spot. He put him to work, in that pay parking lot, on the creation of a new, vibrant super-character. Roach's favorite novel was H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. He'd long had a notion that a good guy version of the feared Moreau might prove a comic-strip sensation.

The possibilities were many: via scientific genius, and a series of experimental injections, his Hormone could change man to beast, insect or bird--and back again. It hadn't been done in comics until then. Roach knew he was onto a "sure thing."

Overnight, Roach created a dozen potential features for Lebeck's perusal. He was less enthusiastic about his other ideas. He clearly wanted "Dr. Hormone" to lead the pack--and it did!

Lebeck was intrigued by the idea of a scientific genius who was sane, instead of mad, and who helped America, rather than harm it. Dell's other super-hero entries, such as "Phantasmo," "The Owl" and "Marvel Man," had failed to "grab" the comic book-buying audience as Lebeck had dearly wished.

Roach wrote and drew "Dr. Hormone" with his heart on his sleeve, and his ear on the pulse of current world events. As said earlier, he could see, all too well, the imminent specter of war on our peaceful American landscape. Only by preparing America's impressionable youth for the onset of chaos and destruction could we be ready to face this hitherto-unseen foe, he believed.

The feature debuted with issue 54 of opular Comics, and ran for the next several issues. Alas, Roach was too much the prophet, and his message was too strong for young minds to take. The feature expired many months before America's entry into the Second World War.

Unsurprisingly, Roach volunteered for the military before "the day that will live in infamy." Alas, he was, by then, a chronic sufferer of hiccups. The attacks would come late at night, and force him away from the drawing board. He tried every "folk remedy" in the book, but the accursed hiccups plagued him without cease. (He later discovered they were due to an allergy to dijon mustard, which he consumed voraciously.)

Because of Roach's medical problem, he was deemed unsuited for military service. He continued in comics, penning features as diverse as "Ellery Queen" and "Rocky Hall, Jungle Stalker." One late feature, "The Safety Hasp," chronicled the doings of a super-powered night watchman who "made the rounds" of the criminal underworld.

"The Safety Hasp" was accepted by Everett Arnold, publisher of Quality Comics, to begin publication in his Crack Comics title in early 1943. 'Twas then that tragedy struck a panelological genius. By this time, he had learned of his mustard allergy, and that it was the source of his frequent hiccup attacks. Roach craved the spicy condiment, knowing full well of its hazards to his health.

One warm spring evening, having consumed three "red hots" slathered with dijon mustard, Roach descended into the subway, to take a train home. As a packed rail car approached, Roach suffered a violent attack of the hiccups. He lost his balance, and fell in front of the speeding subway car. A potential genius of the comic arts was lost to us that sad day in 1943.

In this, the finest of Roach's "Hormone" tales, he applies his character's genius to the unlikely form of the common household pest, the flea. Roach was a champion of insect rights, and felt that fleas, spiders and even his namesake deserved fair treatment in this "land of opportunity."

Were Herschel Roach still alive, I imagine he'd be out there, living in a tent, occupying America with his political fervor. As a tribute to these unbathed, inarticulate youth crusaders, I dedicate this "Dr. Hormone" saga.

Well, 'tis time to "feed the occupiers," so end this post I must. I trust your Thanksgiving was peaceful and pleasant. May this holiday season shower you with warmth and kindness!