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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...

Friday, January 26, 2018


In a previous essay I won't trouble to track down, I wondered whether or not American "teen humor" comics had any potential to produce the symbolic discourse necessary for a mythcomic. Just the fact that both Gershon Legman and Frederick Wertham took a few shots at the genre might indicate that there was some potential for gold, where these two ignoramuses saw only dross. Legman was a little more explicit than Wertham about the psychosexual undercurrents of the genre, though like Wertham he was content to cite one supposedly disruptive example of said genre to prove his contentions. I quoted him in greater detail in this 2008 essay:

...there are published not only a handful of female crime-and western-comics, but whole series of so-called 'teen-age' comic-books specifically for girls, in which adolescent sexuality is achieved in sadistic disguise... through a continuous humiliation of scarecrow fathers and transvestist boyfriends by ravishingly pretty girls, beating up the men with flower-pots and clocks and brooms..."-- Gershon Legman, LOVE AND DEATH (1949), p. 47.
This quasi-Freudian reading manages the feat of making teen humor comics sound a lot more psychologically interesting than they really are. I've seen Legman's one example, a 1947 Timely issue of JEANIE, and it's no than so-so slapstick, though it does have a scene where a pretty girl's father gets conked by his daughter when she mistakes him for a burglar. "So-so slapstick" pretty well describes the majority of all teen humor comics from Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages-- and I speak as one who, whether motivated by intellectual genre-curiosity or by nostalgia for simpler times, has sampled most of the titles out there. Such forgotten ARCHIE-imitators as ALGIE, GINGER, MAZIE, DEXTER, and Thoth knows how many others sometimes had nice art, but offered little more.

Then I came across my copy of JOE COLLEGE #2. There were only two issues of this Hillman title over the years 1949 and 1950, and none of the stories in #1-- which I read on COMIC BOOK PLUS-- were anything special. Nor were any of the stories in #2, except for the cover-featured "Joe College" story. The artist on both of Joe's stories was Bob Powell, and though Joe's first story is ordinary, Powell did dip into some psychological waters for the second and last tale. The cover shown above, though it depicts an imaginary situation (a savage Indian seeks to lift Joe's scalp under the pose of being a barber), captures the essence of the tale's screwball premise.

By 1949 "Joe College" was a term for a fun-loving college student, and that's all there is to the series' youthful protagonist as he attends his alma mater, Hardknox University. But in the story I've retroactively entitled "Scalp Itch," all of the mythicity inheres in the young WASP's encounter with certain not-yet-vanished Americans.

Following a page on which Joe accidentally antagonists a cranky red man named "Horse Feathers" (a decorous euphemism for "horseshit"), one of Joe's professors explains the complicated reasons why there's a whole quasi-reservation of Indians on the campus grounds, Long ago an Indian tribe donated the land to the college's founder, and in a very improbable exchange, they and all their descendants got to live in some mansion near Hardknox. One assumes that the campus provides them some upkeep as well, though the professor asserts that all their money comes from standing around the campus begging for coins. (This is how Joe antagonizes Horse Feathers; mistaking him for a statue of an Indian and passing remarks about the redman's ugly mug.) On top of these considerations, the tribe gets two more privileges. First, one of their women-folk is apparently allowed to "roam der campus until she finds a mate," and though it's an ordinary mortal woman named Princess Dreamboat, Joe has somehow heard about this part of the custom and claims "I thought she was just a myth." However, Joe hasn't heard the second stipulation: that once every ten years, the men of the tribe "are allowed to take vun scalp from vun student"-- and though in practice this means nothing more than shaving the victim's head, it's definitely a demonstration of resentment at white people, since the Indians "always pick der longest and blondest hair."

Naturally, the two customs converge upon blonde, hapless Joe. First, he rescues the wandering maiden "Princess Dreamboat" from a waterfall, and she promptly falls in love with him. (Joe somehow neglects to mention that he has a steady girlfriend.)

At the same time, it happens to be the night when the tribal members can enact their hair-cutting hazing ritual, and Horse Feathers almost gets his wish, until Dreamboat intrudes in fine Pocohontas style.

I'll omit one of the climactic turnarounds, in which Horse Feathers's evil intent rebounds on him, but I will reprint the other climax, in which Joe's girlfriend catches the Indian maiden spooning with Joe, and proceeds to give her a trim job.

The fact that the Indian girl wants the white guy's loving feelings, while the men of her tribe want to cut something off of him, shouldn't require a lot of comment, beyond the commonplace notion that "hair= virility" in myth and folklore. I particularly like Dreamboat's line, "I've just been scalped by a savage white woman." The little tear in Horse Feathers' eye is a coincidental bonus, which takes on extra humor given its resemblance to this famous "crying Indian" commercial image.

I have no idea if JOE COLLEGE was Bob Powell's first "teen humor" comic book, though I know that he worked in the genre again in later years. The artist's wild sense of humor looks forward to the inspired lunacy of the MAD comic book that began two years after JOE COLLEGE's demise. though, oddly enough, Powell didn't do much if any work for EC Comics.

The entire story can be read here.

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