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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "EYE EYE SIR" (WITCHES' TALES #24, 1954)

Though the word "mythic" is sometimes used as shorthand for seriousness and importance, there's no reason mythic works can't be humorous. Indeed, Northrop Frye's four "mythoi" cover both two "serious" forms and two "unserious" forms, and I've already included a number of comedic or ironic works in my attempt at a canon of mythcomics.

However, the stories selected for this canon do have to sustain a level of symbolic complexity, and even many of the classic MAD stories of the early 1950s don't reach that level. An exception is "Mickey Rodent," which sustains a sociological myth relating to the human use of language and custom. 

This week's mythcomic falls more into the psychological department. EC influenced more than a few comics-companies of the early 1950s, and according to this Bhob Stewart essay, Harvey Comics was one of the main disciples. In fact, by 1954 each Harvey title became oriented on a particular theme, with that of WITCHES' TALES being (as Stewart puts it) "funny horror." The story "Eye Eye Sir" could have appeared in any of the many imitators of MAD, and in its five short pages it outdoes a lot of MAD tales in giving the reader a winsome spoof of both horror and hardboiled detective fiction a la Mickey Spillane. As the only creator-attribution in GCD is that of artist Sid Check, I have to refer to him here as if he was the sole author.

I imagine many modern readers would find it difficult to understand how much the Mickey Spillane books changed 1940s pop culture. His work would probably be excoriated by the sort of ideological critics who worship at the feet of Laura Mulvey, who liked to conflate "the male gaze" with both sadism and scopophilia. Sadly, even a broken clock will be right a couple of times each day, and there's not much doubt that Spillane's work is all about males gazing at hot women-- to whom the Spillane heroes seek to make love, even if they must kill the women later-- and killing lots of male criminals along the way, often in explicitly sadistic fashion.




The image of the tough private dick cleaning his gun at his desk is immediately spoofed by Check in a very MAD-esque sequence; catching his finger in the cartridge. But more than the gag, I like the backstory provided by the voiceover of narrator/hero Rudy Crane, who mentions first that he got kicked out of college for trying show his female teacher "a couple of laughs-- after school." He's also established to be, not a street-smart guy living by his wits, but a counterfeit shamus who's been set up in the private dick business by a rich daddy.

No less archetypal is the entrance of the gorgeous female client into the detective's seedy office, but Check puts a spin on it: the lady doth wear heavy blue-lensed glasses. Every male in the story will remark upon the glasses, offering un-subtle confirmation that "guys don't make passes at girls that wear glasses." Even if one had never seen this sort of humorous repetition in a MAD comic, a reader could hardly fail to draw the conclusion that there's something special about these glasses.



Client "Lucy Latour" hires Crane to find her husband, who left her three years ago when he went out for a loaf of bread. Crane then escorts her to various places to interview witnesses about her husband, and when Crane isn't pawing at Latour-- apparently not much dissuaded by her married status-- he's roughing up the interviewees with barely concealed sadistic glee ("I grabbed him by the collar. I wished it was his throat.") 

Then on page five, we finally see what's behind the glasses.



Though "Eye Eye Sir" is a jape, I strongly suspect that the author(s) knew about the notorious ending of Spillane's 1952 KISS ME DEADLY. In this essay I examined some of the symbolic complexities of both the book and, to a lesser extent, the 1955 film adaptation. In the novel, Mike Hammer's femme fatale projects the illusion of beauty through her face alone, and conceals what Spillane calls "a picture of gruesome freakishness" beneath her clothes, "from her knees to her neck." Given that "Eye" must conclude with a joke, albeit a very creepy one, there's no explanation of why Latour has, in place of eyes, "two big sockets with candles inside them," as if she were some sort of humanoid jack-o-lantern. But like the ending of KISS ME DEADLY, it's a great joke on a concupiscent male. Here's Rudy Crane, whose only reason for wanting to see the gorgeous dame's eyes is to imagine them shining with love for him, and all he gets-- assuming, by the narration, that he survives-- is a look of utter and complete emptiness.

The entire story can be read here.



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