Thursday, July 28, 2016

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : FULLER SPUNK AND COMPANY

If this isn't everything you ever wanted from an adventure comic then this is the wrong place for you.

It's comics' greatest porno OR, alternatively, it's an appealing comedy series which managed to eke out a single appearance (sort of) in the pages of Hyper-Mystery comics in 1940.

Listen, I'll be blunt: I like puns, I like adventure-comedy, I like crimefighting circus troupes and and love love love H.G.Peter, the artist best known for illustrating Wonder Woman but whose credits as an all-around cartoonist/writer are criminally overlooked in comics history. Give me all of that and I'm a happy camper, except for the existential malaise which overrides all human endeavor and will see us all turned to meaningless dirt in the centuries after out inevitable deaths. Besides that, that is.

No, no, don't worry, this is all going to plan!
Peter's art and writing lend itself to comedy, which is probably part of the appeal of his Wonder Woman stories -- the lightness and vibrancy of his often woodcut-like lines give the characters a bounce, energy and deceptive lightness which makes their improbable adventures seem additionally dream-like. Plus, could he draw the dames! Yow! Male gaze! How-lll!

Fuller Spunk is a retired actor and inventor turned detective. Known for having portrayed "Herlock Olmes" in stage productions, he assembles the rest of his vaudeville crew to pick up the case of a bank robbery which has netted the tidy sum of $50,000 in 1940 money. Today, that would be the entire value of all the money on Earth multiplied by a thousand, accounting for inflation and lottery tickets.

Among Spunk's team are Zig and Zag, identical twin contortionists, a titanic strongman named Snap and a juggling strongman dwarf named Snip, and then Marcel Nightingale -- who almost became an important footnote in comicdom!

While the first full adventure of Fuller Spunk and his Detective Agency didn't occur until the second issue of Hyper-Mystery, a full-page preview introducing all of the characters was printed in the first issue of the series, dated May 1940. In it, Marcel had a notably distinct profession; if the company's sole adventure, Marcel is a "hypnotist, magician and dramatic actor," portrayed with shirt sleeves rolled up and masculine arms showing, holding a sledgehammer in one hand and handing his jacket to his dainty assistant Fifi Eclair with the other. Pure machismo drips from his Arrow Shirt Ad good looks.

HOWEVER, Marcel is originally billed as a female impersonator with no other qualifying skills. "Marcel has played a girl parts in many prominent cases" explains the text, accompanying a more androgynous, pillow-lipped and smoky-eyed illustration of Marcel's features. "Marcel is hansom (sic) but no sissy in a fight ... watch him work sometime!" explains the text further.

Had Marcel been allowed to stick to his original CV, he would've tied Madam Fatal as comics' first crossdressing superhero (of a sort, anyway). At the very least, he would've been the first cross-dressing crimefighter in comics, but that particular accolade -- and the decades of derision which have plagued Madam Fatal -- could have been Marcel's.

Fuller Spunk and Company was only one of a handful of adventure-comedy strips which Peter put out prior to his Wonder Woman fame, and concurrent more-or-less with his delightful Man O'Metal feature over in Reg'lar Fellas. His flair for this sort of matter and the craftsmanship with which he executed it owed a great deal to his level of experience -- other comic creators were babies compared to Peters, a newspaper illustration veteran in his late fifties when he started doing comics. His passion for the medium and the opportunity to try his hand at full-length stories of his own devising are evident.

Another character from Fuller Spunk worth mentioning on the way out was Spunk's landlady, a former burlesque dancer named Ms.Peregrination who seems like a prototype for Etta Candy and was fond of an occasional tipple. This led to some terrific comedy-drunk business such as in the full page exchange below ...



3 comments:

Unknown said...

You know, Centaur Comics' Catman was running around dressed like an old lady about 8 months prior to Madam Fatal. He appeared in Amazing Man Comics #5 & 8.

KAM

Calamity Jon said...

A nice catch. Those are temporary disguises, though, whereas Madam Fatal's whole gimmick (as would have been Marcel, if he'd stuck to his original incarnation) was cross-dressing.

John Longenbaugh said...

You're right. This is basically the best comic ever.

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