Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pappy’s Tenth Anniversary Sunday Special #5: The Mask of Fu Manchu

Author Sax Rohmer introduced the supervillain Fu Manchu to the world in 1913. He wrote some popular books, then like his contemporary Arthur Conan Doyle, he tried to kill off his creation just as Doyle had tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes. Fans clamored for more. Rohmer wrote 15 books about Fu Manchu, the last being published as late as 1959. Rohmer, who was born Arthur Henry Ward in 1883, died the year his last book was published of — you cannot make this up — Asian flu.

So Rohmer was alive the year this comic book adaptation of The Mask of Fu Manchu (novel published in 1932, comic book in 1951) was released by Avon. You will not find Rohmer’s name anywhere because for some reason in their comic book adaptations Avon sometimes left off the original author’s name.  It is odd to me, but there is no one left alive to tell us why. (You may recall that two weeks ago I showed an Avon adaptation of a popular novel where the author’s name was not deleted, so it was not a totally consistent practice for Avon.)

And yes, Fu Manchu is a blatant example of the racial attitudes toward Asians from that period, a viewpoint that seemed hard to kill even midway through the twentieth century. The lurid True Detective cover above is from 1930. I have been over that ground several times in this blog. I am not ignoring the “Yellow Peril” plotline, but I am showing the comic primarily because it is drawn by Wallace Wood and whomever was helping him at the time.

The second story is also of interest because it is drawn by Alvin Carl Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth was one of the rare African-American comic artists, who usually signed his work A. C. Hollingsworth. Later he left comics and went into fine art and teaching. He died in 2000 at age 72.

This ends the Anniversary Sunday Specials feature. I like the way this month’s posts turned out. I will be doing more Sunday Specials in the future, but not every week.

The actual start date for Pappy’s was July 26, 2006. 


Mr. Cavin said...

I've really enjoyed this month of Sundays, Pappy! I'm glad you took the opportunity to show off some longer stories, something that many golden-age and pre-code blogs justifiably can't so regularly do. I've become addicted to the usual five- to twelve-page stories, anthologized by genre perhaps, over this last decade; but I don't have nearly as much experience with these longer efforts from the time period. I think I enjoyed today's offering the best of the whole month, despite the somewhat embarrassing yellow peril orientalism (which, honestly, strikes me as being much lessened in this comics version than in the original Rohmer stories themselves, egregious skin colors notwithstanding). But boy howdy did Wood, or whoever was helping him at the time, kind of miss the boat on what Egypt looks like, huh? It's so flagrant that I almost have to imagine it was done on purpose.

Happy anniversary, man! Thanks for this month and these ten years, too.

Pappy said...

Mr Cavin, thanks for your comments. I believe you have been with this blog (as well as Karswell's blogs, where I also see your comments) for several years yourself.

Well (ahem!) my knowledge of Egypt is limited to programs on television and mummy movies, so I'm no judge on how accurate Wood's Egypt was. But I also don't believe a whole lot of research went into old comics with low page rates.

Daniel [] said...

The 1932 movie gives a very different telling of this story. I don't recommend it though, except for its historical significance. (The primary reason that I sought it out was that Myrna Loy appeared as Fah Lo See; but the version of that character in the movie is quite unappealing, not unlike the rest of the movie.)

It's unequivocally bad that some people think that there is an intrinsic link between race and merit, but the motivations for racialism are more nuanced than most people understand. I suspect that the typical consumer of these stories wasn't filled with racial animosity. (The sole recallable memory that I have from watching a Fu Manchu movie when I was a child was thinking that it were very terrible when he had a woman drowned; that she was Asian made it no less terrible for me.) Still, the corrosive effects were there, and much of them remains with us. Rohmer seemed not to care what he was doing to the Chinese (and to Asians more generally); and, while that is not as awful as a willful campaign of hatred, it is a rotten attitude.

(The cultural counter-weight to Fu Manchu was Charlie Chan. Those stories can also be problematic, but they tend to be misunderstood by modern American social-justice warriors (who confuse what they write between lines for something already written), and were actually quite popular in China.)

The … uhm, mythic presentation of Ægypt, of Muslims, and of the Chinese not-withstanding, this is fairly visually attractive story; Wood was or became capable of still better, but that's another matter. On the other hand, just how often are we to believe that Dr Fu would fall for decoys and for counterfeits?

Pappy said...

Daniel, I saw the movie years ago and barely remember anything about it except for the Caucasian-as-Asian cast...Boris Karloff notwithstanding, the real stretch of the imagination was Myrna Loy as Fu's daughter. They did unconscious and unconscionable stuff like that in Hollywood, right up until the '80s when Peter Ustinov was cast as Charlie Chan. Never saw that, nor did I ever see the Fu Manchu spoof with Peter Sellers as both Fu and Nayland Smith.

In Mask of Fu Manchu Charles Starrett (the Durango Kid) was the lilywhite good guy. There was a kinky bondage/whipping scene where watching Starrett get whipped was making Myrna Loy look positively orgasmic...or am I thinking of the dream I had of walking into a living Eric Stanton comic strip?

Daniel [] said...

The character of Fah Lo See in the 1932 movie was quite sadistic (as was her father), with no evidence that she had anything other than a sadistic lust for Granville, and there was indeed a scene in which Granville (played by Starrett) was furiously whipped, exactly for her gratification. (Of course, it was Hollywood's conception of a whipping, so there weren't any wounds of the sort that result from real whipping.)

Loy is said to have referred to the script as “obscene”.