Wednesday, 4 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Uncle Scrooge #9 (March 1955)

60 YEARS AGO - March 1955
Cover artwork by Carl Barks.
UNCLE SCROOGE #9 (Dell Comics)
"The Lemming with the Locket"
By Carl Barks (w,a)
One of thee great secrets of comics hidden from the mainstream of superhero adventures is the work of Carl Barks. It's no exaggeration to put Barks works among the all-time greats of the medium. I'm talking about Will EisnerJack KirbyAlex TothJoe KubertOsamu TezukaHal Foster and Winsor McCay. Though he worked in the not-very-well respected field of cartoon illustration, he belongs among that pantheon, without question. Matter of fact he was one of the first three members of the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

If you're anything like me, you grew up watching DuckTales and being blown away by the highly imaginative stories and the colorful populace of Duckberg. Well it turns out, most if not all of that originally came from Carl Barks. In later life I've read issues of Dell Comics Uncle Scrooge that were adapted whole hog into DuckTales episodes, stories that remained vivid to me all these years later.

Carl Barks was totally anonymous in 1955, he was never credited in the comics for his Disney stories, it wasn't until comics "fandom" became a thing that the inside baseball stories started getting passed around and Barks found his recognition. Now, he is known primarily as the "Good Duck Artist" and for good reason. This issue is particularly memorable due to the high anxiety levels the reader feels when sympathizing with the money-obsessed Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge has just locked all his money in an impenetrable vault, there are pages of set-up for the vault's absolute impregnability. The only way in or out is by a key, which due to zany and unfortunate circumstance ends up around the neck of a cheese-obsessed lemming and hilarity ensues.

After reading this issue and having a good snicker, the more adventurous youth of America no doubt hit the jukebox at the local malt shoppe and spun this little record:

FATS DOMINO - "I Know" b/w "Thinkin' of You" (7", 78rpm single)
Rock & Roll was just about to hit the big time (more on that in a minute). Antoine "Fats" Domino was roughly half a year shy from his breakthrough moment "Ain't That a Shame" (keep your eyes peeled to Comics Suck! on September 4 for a discussion on that record). But that doesn't mean the big man didn't have a sublime moment or two in him while no one was looking. In many ways "I Know" is a typical jump blues record, indicative of the uptempo, horn-driven style, but there's something more going on here if you listen closely. Listen to the sound of the guitar. This is an early fuzz rock record with a solo that would make the garage bands of the 60's stand up and take notice. It's not something that the overindulged audiences of today would consider to be "scorching", but it was more than evocative and illicit enough to make a modern listener why the rock n roll style was named after a euphemism for humpin'.

By this point in time, Fats was 5 years into a go-nowhere recording career, stuck tickling the ivories to the same old crowds in the same old clubs at home in New Orleans. While his musical hero Louis Jordan was topping the "race" charts with songs like "Saturday Night Fish Fry", Domino was releasing a raft of locally successful, but nationally ignored singles like "Baby Please" and "Don't Leave Me This Way". The (sexually charged) frustration evident in the titles and felt in the performances on record was arguably too racy for mainstream audiences at the time. But once the tide turned and the youngsters of the nation caught on, it was this very frustration that they could relate to which would eventually propel Fats into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, say what you want about its merits.

But none of it might have happened. Things could all have turned out differently if censors had had their druthers. There wouldn't be a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame to honor musical mavericks like Fats Domino if the newly dubbed "teen-agers" of America hadn't engaged in a quiet uprising.

Parents would tell their adolescents that what they were going through was a passing fad, and that may or may not have been true on an individual level, but the excitement that first wave of rock n roll enthusiasts felt left a legacy that reverberates through both popular and underground music to this day. And it all started with an outing to the theater.

Blackboard Jungle was the Dangerous Minds of its day: an unflinching look at unruly youth through the eyes of an inner city school teacher. It may seem mildly laughable today, but this film was at the cutting edge of cinematic badassery. It showed kids having bad or even nihilistic attitudes smoking and fighting in the classroom, but more importantly, it created a broad and internationally distributed canvass on which a craze was graffitied.

When the drum solo kicks in during the title sequence to ring in Bill Haley & the Comets's "Rock Around the Clock" it marked the beginning of the end of the crew cut, prudish cultural sensibilites and socially conservative mores that ruled the accepted norms of the day. This was the beginning of the popularity of rock n roll.

Voice-over hype during the trailer says it all: "Many people said this story could not, must not, dared not be shown! The picture already has the movie and book world gasping! Blackboard Jungle deals with an explosive subject: the teen-age terror in the schools! It is the toughest, frankest, most realistic film since 'On the Waterfront'! It is fiction, but fiction torn from modern Big City Savagery!"

Blackboard Jungle was released in theaters on March 19, 1955. It was directed by Richard Brooks, whose other notable film work included Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the acclaimed but perplexingly out-of-print Looking for Mr. Goodbar. The film starred Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Margaret Hayes and Sidney Poitier whose role was sadly downplayed in the trailer.

You can watch the trailer right here, aside from that one racist gaffe, it's both hilarious and bad ass:


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