Thursday, January 4, 2018
MYTHCOMICS: PIPSQUEAK PAPERS (1967-68)
Wally Wood's PIPSQUEAK PAPERS, first serialized in Wood's WITZEND magazine and reprinted in one issue by Eros Comics in 1993, is an ironic fantasy akin to his later WIZARD KING duology, reviewed here and here. In keeping with its name, PIPSQUEAK occupies a much smaller tapestry, for the story is only twelve pages long, originally set forth in three installments, respectively four, three, and five pages long. However, the story's conciseness enables Wood to explore his psychological concerns with unusual acuity.
Without delving into Wood's biographical background, it's sufficient to state that the artist, despite showing a unique facility for drawing glamorous women, often chose to focus on the shadow side of femininity. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would have boiled down to incoherent misogyny (or, in the case of a female artist, misandry). But Wood takes the simple trope of "how men and women repeatedly screw each other, and not in the good way" and gives the bare trope the power of an obsessive sexual mythology.
The story's first panel introduces its representation of feminine nature: the perpetually nude nymph Nudina, as she awakens one morning from the heart of a flower. Wood's captions specify that as she gambols about her fantasy-forest, she has the habit of posing an "eternal question" to anyone she meets: "Are you a man?" The reader has no idea how many times she's done this, or for what purpose, though later Wood grounds her repetitive guilelessness in the fact that Nudina's virginity renews itself every morning, no matter what's happened to her in the past. In any case, the reader first sees Nudina address the question to an unmoving humanoid sitting on a rock. He doesn't respond, for reasons that are explained later.
However, Nudina has a constant admirer who has apparently professed love to her many times before, a sprite named Pip. Nudina claims that she loves him as well, but she won't join with him because he looks like a "baby man," and just isn't developed enough to satisfy her. A few panels later Nudina's "love" is called into question, for Pip tells her that "my heart is yours." Being literal-minded, the nymph tells her suitor to send the object in question to her, and when a messenger brings a heart to Nudina's corner of the forest, she shows herself to be more voracious than virginal by cooking the heart and eating it.
Immediately afterward, a demonic fellow called "Llewd" approaches Nudina, and takes her "are you a man" question as an invitation. Pip-- who didn't really send the nymph his heart, just that of a slain animal-- attacks Llewd and gets kicked to the forest-curb for it. The sprite wanders away, and bumps into the same immobile humanoid Nudina saw before. Pip figures out that it's an artificial humanoid, whose skull is open so that its maker can put in a proper brain. Pip is small enough to crawl into the android's head and take control of it, much to the annoyance of Smug, the scientist who made the artificial man, and who can't stop Pip from making off with it. Pip uses his new body to trounce Llewd, at which point the "innocent" Nudina demands that her rescuer cut off the would-be rapist's head. Llewd takes a powder and Nudina surrenders herself to her rescuer-- the implication being that somehow, Pip is able to merge his equipment and the humanoid's to good effect.
Smug, however, retaliates by summoning a giant monster, instructed to find Pip and recover the artificial man. Meanwhile Nudina, despite having Pip around, manages to lead on at least two more forest-denizens, whom Pip again has to trounce, so that he begins to suspect that she's getting herself molested on purpose.
Then Nudina finds out that Pip is inside the body of her current boyfriend. The caption tells readers that she's secretly pleased to find out that the "baby man" who loves her is her indirect lover, but this may be because it gives her an excuse to become more demanding. Pip briefly finds surcease by appealing to her vanity, devising a literal pedestal and putting her on top of it to be admired. This doesn't last long, but Pip's problems get worse when he briefly leaves the humanoid and promptly loses it. The giant monster shows up, demanding to reclaim Smug's property. Pip cravenly saves himself by convincing the creature that Nudina is the humanoid Smug wants. Despite Nudina's protests that she's going to bear Pip's baby, the sprite watches while the monster carried off Nudina, and then goes home to bed.
Jaded Pip, however, can't completely forget his early, more innocent love. He begins to experience twinges of pain, and a forest-physician tells Pip that his "little heart is breaking." The sprite goes looking for the missing android, in order to trade it for Nudina, currently in the custody of Smug and being forced to clean the scientist's cave for him.
Pip's quest is promptly interrupted by a female sprite, Lascivia, who has no problems with the size of Pip's equipment. Then Pip has pain-twinges again, and resumes his quest, although Lascivia disputes the doctor's opinion, claiming that "we sprites have no emotions." Finally Pip re-acquires the android, and takes it back to Smug. Pip considers beating up the scientist and absconding with both Nudina and the android, but Smug has too many monsters backing him up.
However, feminine desire is once more a problem even when Pip and Nudina are free, for he realizes he can't satisfy her without the android. He tries to steal it, but Smug is too clever. The scientist captures Pip and recaptures Nudina, keeping them prisoner in his cave to use as drudges. Thus Pip not only loses his freedom, he must share his quarters with a woman he loves but can't satisfy, who is more demanding than ever in her pregnancy. Further, when her birth-pangs begin, Pip's pains return in what seems like the ritual of couvade. Then Nudina has her child, and Pip tries one last time to distance himself by wondering if he's really the father. Nudina shows him that the newborn is exactly identical to Pip-- he can even walk like Pip after being born-- and so Pip can't even be unique in his misery.
If this story had a moral, it would read something like, "Don't trust women; they're just endless chasms demanding sacrifices to their egos or their desires." It's a banal moral, and presumably there are one or two hetero women somewhere who might hold similar opinions regarding men. Still, I'm not sure there's a female author who has expressed her animus with as much ingenuity as Wally Wood.