Sunday, February 25, 2007

Number 98

Toth and Tufts in Drag Cartoons!

I got my first car in 1963. Those were the days when we thought all of the "bitchin" cars came out of Southern California. We--my buddies, me and most all the rest of the adolescent and adolescent-acting males in America--all wanted to be part of the car culture they had in that magical place of California.

That car culture produced one of the most unusual comics of all time, the black and white hot rod cartoon books, CAR'toons and later, Drag Cartoons. Both of these magazines were started in Southern California by racing enthusiast and cartoonist, Pete Millar. The story is that he created CAR'toons, walked out when he had a disagreement with the publisher, and started Drag Cartoons. Millar's artwork was pretty good, and the cover to this issue is extremely well done. But the art seems rooted in its era, maybe even earlier. It looks very 1950s to me, but it also seems perfect for the stories he was doing, about cars, hot rods and the kids who drove them.

In the earlier issues some of the best comic book artists who lived in Southern California worked for Drag Cartoons. In this installment of Pappy's I'm showing two of them, Alex Toth and Warren Tufts, both four-page stories from Drag Cartoons #2, December 1963. Toth is legendary for his comic book work, working in all sorts of genres. I think this example, "The Tell Tell Car," is a fine story. He didn't get a chance to work with satirical material often, and the splash panel shows the Mad influence of Mort Drucker. For you younger readers, the fellow making the speech in the splash is a caricature of distinguished actor E.G. Marshall. Along with "Mr. Brady," Robert Reed, he starred in a popular early 1960s TV drama called The Defenders.

Warren Tufts did a fantastic Western comic strip called Casey Ruggles, but as was claimed, was a perfectionist who spent a lot of hours at the drawing board and at some point quit the syndicated comic strip biz. The "Vincent Van Gears" story he did here shows how hard he worked. Every panel is beautifully composed and drawn. What a great-looking story with a very strangely grown-up Dennis Mitchell, swinging into a real close approximation of the Dick Tracy comic strip. Oh yeah, for you younger readers again: The "Kennedy foot bit" the hot-rodding Dennis refers to on the first page would be the Presidential Fitness Program founded by President Kennedy in the early '60s, putting more emphasis on physical activity. And we would think, less on driving. (John F. Kennedy was assassinated just before this issue went off sale.)

All of the men mentioned on this page are gone now. Millar died in 2003, Toth in 2006, and Tufts died in a flying accident in the late '70s or early '80s.

Drag Cartoons, its predecessor and its descendents, were products of their time, and had a loyal following of young readers for whom cars and that California car culture were "Bitchin, man, bitchin!"

1 comment:

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I am doing a history of Mad imitations and although I knew these magazines had Toth's work in them (from the beautiful reprint book done a couple of years ago) I didn't know parodies were done by other artists as well. Both the Crash Gordon piece and this one by Tufts are a revelation. Are there any others?