Monday, September 21, 2015

Number 1790: Wacky Wolverton

Basil Wolverton not only had one of the most unusual and interesting names of any of the cartoonists of the Golden Age, his art was unique. It is impossible, once educated in Wolvertonia, not to recognize Basil’s artwork at first glance.

Not only is Wolverton’s comedy work* unique, but it is also funny, which sets it apart. I am speaking of real screwball humor. Very few cartoonists could pull it off, the alliteration and internal rhyming. The stuff he could pull out of his brain and put on paper is amazing to me.

Here are three BingBang Buster strips, and a Scoop Scuttle thrown in, because the BingBang Busters are only three pages each. Wolverton’s work was often filler material, but to collectors may have been the primary reason for buying a comic book.

BingBang Buster stories are from Black Diamond Western numbers 20-22 (1950), and Scoop Scuttle is from Daredevil Comics #18 (1943), all published by Lev Gleason.


J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

Basil Wolverton is one of my faves since I discovered his horror tales in the 80's. Then I checked his funny comics and his very interesting life.
I think the underground scene of 60's - 70's owes much to him.
I agree he is unique, but I always had a feeling that his mood is very similar to one of our most peculiar artists, a very funny guy called Benito Franco (!) Jacovitti. His humor was based on surrealistic jeux-de-mots, visual oddities and panels that reflected his "horror vacui". Here's one of his stories in English:

and his official site:

Every now and then I like pointing out these "parallel lines" in American and Italian artists. Hope it's not too annoying for you...

Ryan Anthony said...

"I don't like his work. I think it's ugly." So stated Jules Feiffer, an artist with one of the ugliest styles I've ever seen, of Basil Wolverton. Clearly, Feiffer wouldn't have voted to induct the late cartoonist into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991, but what the hell does he know? The New York Times, in 2009, dubbed Wolverton "The Michelangelo of Mad Magazine," an ironic tribute, since EC publisher William Gaines was not a fan of the man's work. And several famous artists, including Robert Crumb, have been influenced by BW's "spaghetti-and-meatball" styled renderings.

A guy named Piperson at The Great Comic Book Heroes blogspot wrote that Wolverton has "got a style that has a precision and detail that most reminds me of a wood block style. ... His work totally looks etched into the page with its incredible detail. There are no free or loose lines." Piperson went on to note that "the subjects [Wolverton] writes about are so otherworldly and yet oddly familiar, like something that I’ve seen in a dream. He always manages to find themes or images that strike me right where I least expect it but totally can relate to."

Plus, BW was incredibly versatile. Today's strips show his experience in vaudeville and as a radio-show host, but he also turned out some unique space action and true horror as well.

I wonder if the artist would have seen the humor in the fact that a morally and socially conservative Christian minister, who produced The Bible Story in the 70s, could have spawned outer-space comics that featured aliens, spaceships, and mushroom-like plants that were incredibly phallic in design. But then, he did create terrifying religiously themed apocalyptic art at the behest of a high-school-dropout-turned-ad-man-turned-church-founder with no formal theological training who was convinced that Anglo-Saxons descended from the "Lost Ten Tribes of the House of Israel" and that he'd been personally chosen by God to announce that the Book of Revelation would fall on the U.S. and Britain in the 30s. (Pappy posted a link to Wolverton's end-times art in '06.) Yet, according to some of what I've read online, Wolverton's creativity and religious convictions were strongly linked.

Either way, you're obviously a big fan, Pappy: you've put fifteen Wolverton-related posts on your blogzine!

Pappy said...

Ryan, yes, I am a Wolverton fan. I am familiar with his work for Herbert W. Armstrong, because my father, Big Pappy, subscribed to Armstrong's magazine, Plain Truth. Every time it arrived I grabbed it to see BW's Bible illustrations. I wish I had kept those issues, but my dad would take them next and I would never see them again. My father hid a book with Wolverton's apocalyptic illustrations from me, thinking it would upset me. Ha.

In the early '70s I got to see those illustrations published in Bill Spicer's Graphic Story Magazine #14. Then I was upset...but only because Big Pappy had held out on me.

On the other hand, Basil's artwork had the same effect on my brother as it did on Feiffer and Bill Gaines...maybe even further, because even today, at age 65, he refuses to look at it, just as he did when he was 11 or 12. "It makes me sick," he says. Hmmm. (In cases like that I like to invoke the wisdom of R. Crumb: "It's just lines on paper.")

Fifteen Wolverton posts? Is that all? I have some posting to do, then! Don't tell my brother.

Pappy said...

J D, I don't find it annoying, because you are broadening our knowledge of artists.

You are right that the underground scene owes much to Wolverton...he was popular just when the artists who made their marks in the late sixties and early seventies were growing up. He definitely had an influence.

Mike Britt said...

The Feiffer "ugly" quote on BW is from SQUATRONT #2...from my essay on meeting with Feiffer in 1959. I was a fifteen year old twerp at the time, knowing only Feiffer from his reprints in MAD. If I only knew then what I know now...I would have had at least a million questions to ask of him. As Basil suggested, I sent for the free six volumes of THE BIBLE STORY and still have them today. THE WOLVERTON BIBLE, published by Fantagraphics a few years back is still available...although some of the illustrations are reduced, cropped, enlarged and bleed when they really didn't need to be...but still a bargain at full retail of $25.