Apr 9, 2022

Little Max: A Gay Father in 1950s Comic Books

When I was a kid, whenever we visited my relatives in Indiana, I spent the night with my Cousin Buster in the trailer in the dark woods, and we would squeeze into his narrow twin bed, our bodies pressed together, reading Harvey Comics.  I read until long after he fell asleep, associating the tales of friendly ghosts and little devils with that warmth and affection.

Two boys together clinging, one the other never leaving....

In high school, I looked back on those moments of perfect happiness, and tried to get my hands on the Harvey Comics I read all those years ago (actually less than 10 years ago, but when you're 16, it seems like an eternity).

So I put an ad in the Rock Island Argus, and a very cute Augustana student named Clay answered with an offer of five Little Max comics from 1958-1959 for a dollar each.

I never heard of Little Max, they were from before I was born, and a dollar was four times what a comic cost on the newsstand.  But I bought them anyway.

It was a weird type of deja vu, like looking at a photo of your parents before you were born: familiar, yet bizarre, with a story going on that you are not a part of and can't possibly understand.  Readers were obviously expected to be familiar with these characters and their histories, but I had no idea who they were.

The star, Little Max, looks like Little Audrey in drag: he is drawn in the familiar Harvey style, cherubic-cute, with a big head and gigantic eyes. He doesn't speak, and his thought balloons are full of malapropisms that suggest a learning disorder: "They're both so kindly and generosity!"

His mentor, chum, adopted father, or something is Joe Palooka, a tall, very muscular guy with a weird toothless grin. Max calls him "Dear Joe."

Joe has also adopted or is mentoring an unnamed girl.  Max calls her "Dear Her."  "

She calls Max "Maxth" and Joe "Mith-ter Palooka."

In this Panel, she's looking at Max, not at Joe's swimsuit.

Most of adventures are slapstick, with Max trying to do a good deed that goes terribly wrong.  Here he dresses at an Easter Bunny, is treed by a dog, and reflects on how "embarristing" it is to be "previously engagemented."

There are also fantasies, in which Joe reads Max a fairy tale, and he acts it out in his head, or Max writes his own version.

Sometimes Max appears a bit older, free to wander around without adult supervision.  Although he still can't speak -- or use American Sign Language -- he makes himself understood adequately to interact with a group of friends.

Lots of stories are set on the beach, where Joe can wear a swimsuit and show off his physique, and Max can engage in some heroics (and, here, demonstrate a feminine limp wrist).

Other than the bizarre familiarity, I was attracted to the character of Max, heroic yet not macho, feminine yet never called a sissy.

And Joe Palooka, a single man who had adopted two children, but didn't have a wife or girlfriend.

I've done research since:

Joe Palooka was a naive immigrant boxer in a comic strip by Hal Fischer that premiered in 1921.  He was immensely popular, spinning off into movies, a radio series, Big-Little Books, toys, games, and comic books.  He was less popular by the 1950s, when his Harvey comic book series began, but Harvey in that era adapted several aging comic strip properties, including Terry and the Pirates and Blondie.

Little Max was a supporting character in the Palooka comic strip, a mute shoe-shine boy who Joe befriended.  He had his own comic book series from 1949 to 1961.

And I discovered the origin of Little Max: Max Bartikowsky, a boy artist Hal Fischer knew during his childhood, who roamed around town in his mother's floppy hat.  He became Big Max, owner of Bartikowsky Jewelry in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

He never married.

See also: Joe Palooka

The Subtext in Casper the Friendly Ghost

When I was a kid in the 1960s  and 1970s, my favorite comic book title was Harvey, with its odd jack-in-the-box logo and its fantasy characters (Casper the Friendly Ghost, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, Hot Stuff the Little Devil)

Harvey also produced comics about human kids, like Richie Rich, Little Dot, and Little Lotta.  Casper the Friendly Ghost was about a ghost boy who lives with three nameless adult guardians in the Enchanted Forest (Not to be confused with the inferior Charlton knockoff Timmy the Timid Ghost).

In Casper’s world, ghosts were not dead people, but beings in their own right, who are born, grow up, take jobs and houses, and eventually grow old and die.  Their main pastime and means to social prestige is scaring, but Casper refuses to scare. 

Gay-coded, but no sissy or milquetoast, Casper is a strong-willed nonconformist, a Vietnam-Era pacifist who refuses to follow the hawkish status quo of ghost society. So strong are his principles that even when his life is in danger, he refuses to “boo” his way to safety.

Casper has an ally and confidant in Wendy, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed witch girl in a red jumpsuit who lives with three guardians of her own. They are not romantically involved; they are merely friends and comrades, thrown together by their common disdain for the social institutions that tell them they must scare. Neither expresses any heterosexual interest. (The 1995 movie starring Devon Sawa turned Casper heterosexual.)

But occasionally Casper moves beyond a simple lack of heterosexual desire to offer a glimpse of that other world. His efforts to bond with other beings (almost always male) sometimes transcend the merely friendly, especially whe the objects of his attention are perfect strangers whose struggles may cost him his life.

He accompanies Oliver Ogre on a perilous journey to the moon (Casper 113, January 1968), and helps an ancient Egyptian pharaoh regain his throne from a villainous usurper in (Casper 117, August 1968).

 When his new friends are adult humans, pixies, or Greek gods, drawn with the hard tight chests and rippling biceps more commonly associated with the DC and Marvel lines, it is easy to locate romantic attraction among his motives.

We see similar gay subtexts in “The Evil Planet” (Casper in Space 6, June 1973): Casper dreams that he has joined the deep space expedition of Crash Hammerfist, a Buck Rogers-type adventurer drawn as a brawny muscleman. They land on The Evil Planet, where flying bird-men abduct Crash’s female companion, Gale. While Casper calmly evaluates their options, Crash goes to pieces:

Crash: This is a disaster! Look – my cape is ruined! I can’t explore this evil planet looking like this!

Casper: [Trying to keep him focused on the crisis.] Is Gale your girlfriend?

Crash: No. . .she’s my seamstress. She made this entire outfit. [Hand swishily on hip.] Do you like it?

Casper: [Looking decidedly suspicious.] Er. . .yes.

At Casper’s urging, they ignore the soiled cape and set out to rescue Gail. They discover that she is being forced to compete in a beauty contest; the winner will become the wife of Emperor Zinzang, a young, slim Castro Clone. 

 When Crash bursts in, flexing his muscles and issuing taunts, the Emperor seems quite impressed, if not downright attracted; he forgets all about the beauty contest and challenges the superhero to single combat. They spend several panels lunging, grabbing, and jumping on top of each other, in the process accidentally shredding their outfits so the interplay of their muscles becomes even more evident.

During a lull in the battle, the Emperor explains to Casper that he really likes Crash, and he’s not evil, he’s just crazed with power – he received a year’s worth of invulnerability for his 27th birthday, and he’s been behaving rudely ever since. But in a few minutes he’ll be 28, normal again, and Crash will annihilate him.

Casper suggests that he call a truce and apologize for abducting Gail, and then he and Crash could start over as friends. The Emperor agrees.

 Then, abruptly, Casper wakes up. We never find out if the Emperor selects a wife, or if Crash and Gail ever leave the Evil Planet. Should we attribute this sudden jerk into “reality” to the writer’ incompetence, to running out of space in the issue, or to the realization that the only logical conclusion to the story as portrayed involves Crash and the Emperor arm in arm, watching the sun set on the Evil Planet?

Apr 8, 2022

The Hottest 10 Ten Doctors of "Scrubs"

Spoiler alert: the guy's last name is actually Braff, not Branff, but when you conduct research, either will work.

I can't tell you how much I dislike Scrubs (2001-2010), the "comedy" about obnoxious doctors acting like jerks.  In last night's episode, they were all in a tizzy because Elliot (a female doctor) was dating a male nurse.  A male nurse!   They have never heard of such a thing!  He must be "the girl" in the relationship, and Elliot must be the "boy"

It wasn't just one character.  They all ridiculed the guy who degraded himself so much that he did a woman's job!

But at least there's substantial beefcake.  Not only patients.  The doctors take their shirts off every second.

 1. Zach Branff as J.D., the obnoxious narrating character: "Today I learned that relationships are hard."

2. Donald Faison as his bff Turk, who acts like a five-year old and is obsessed with the ladies.  He's the one who decided that going to the gym makes you a pathetic loser.  I can tell.  He's been in better shape.

3. Johnny Kastl as Doug, a skittish doctor who's terrified of his supervisor, and often runs away n a panic.

4. Dave Franco as Cole Aaronson, a spoiled fratboy doctor.

5. Travis Schuldt as Keith "The Dude" Dudemeister (I'm not making this up.)

More after the break.

Apr 7, 2022

"Cheaper by the Dozen": Twelve Kids, Some Beefcake

This is one of the iconic beefcake scenes of the 1960s, at least for those of us who were kids in an an era where bare chests were as rare as gay characters in the movies: the hunky 18-year old Tim Matheson takes his shirt off, for no apparent reason except to give teenagers something to look at.  The movie is Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968), about a  widow with 10 kids who marries a widower with 8 kids, resulting in a very large blended family,  The Brady Bunch times three.

It's all very heteronormative, promoting the value of excessive reproduction, in spite of world overpopulation and the economic problems of feeding that many people.  But who cares?  There was a hunk.

The 2005 remake stars Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo as the highly prolific parents.  Sean Faris, playing the oldest son, gets an extensive beefcake scene.  He's in the midst of shaving when he's called away for an emergency, so there's lather all over his face, but still, beefcake is beefcake.

The 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen, based on the memoirs of Frank Gilbreath, has a similar theme: Myra Loy and Clifton Webb star as the parents of twelve kids.  No blended family here; they actually reproduced twelve times.  Clifton Webb was gay in real life, and extremely swishy, so it seems difficult to imagine him having sex with a woman at all.  But that was probably the point: to "redeem" him by demonstrating that even swishy guys are heterosexual.

No beefcake here; the teenage children are both girls.  

In the 2003 remake and its 2005 sequel, Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt became the parents of the brood.  I haven't seen them -- I avoid movies starring Steve Martin -- but apparently Tom Welling as the oldest son gives us a requisite beefcake shot.  Some of the actors playing the younger kids have also grown up into hunks, such as twins Brent and Shane Kinsman.

Disney+ has just released their version of Cheaper by the Dozen (2022), with Zach Branff and Gabrielle Union as the parents.  It's modernized -- the family is interracial, the parents are divorced rather than widowed, and some of the kids are adopted.  But not too modernized: signs tell us that Black Lives Matter and that we should Resist Hate, but everyone is still heterosexual.  

I had high hopes for Luke Prael as the troubled teenager Seth.  But he displays no interest in boys or girls.

At least Zach Branff takes off his shirt a lot.

And his last name is actually Braff, not Branff.  It's just pronounced with an n, like that town in Canada.

Apr 6, 2022

Eight is Enough

Oh we spend our days like bright and shiny new dimes,
If we're ever puzzled by the changing times.
There's a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen window sill,
And eight is enought to fill our lives with love.

If that's the sort of thing that appeals to you, you probably got all warm and gushy on Wednesday nights during the late 1970s watching Eight is Enough (1977-81).  If you wondered just how much of a day a dime could buy, or your gag reflex set in at the very thought of plates of homemade wishes on the window sill, you turned the channel to  Good Times, Busting Loose, The Jeffersons, or Real People.  

In case you never managed to sit through an episode, you should know that Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) was a conservative newspaper columnist who liked to give anti-abortion speeches to captive audiences in elevators.  His tv wife died tragically during the first season, so he courted and married Abby (Betty Buckley). There were no gay characters -- though butch daughter Mary (Lani O'Grady) was certainly gay-coded, and some gay kids might have been interested in the three boys in his Walton-sized brood:

David (Grant Goodeve), a young adult employed in construction.  He achieved some teen idol fame, cutting a few records and enjoying guest shots on Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Northern Exposure.  He also played Steve Carrington's lover on Dynasty.  Today he is involved mostly in live theater.

Sorry for the bad reproduction, but this was the only swimsuit picture I could find.  Looks like the head is pasted on, but I think he's just being sullen.

Tommy (Willie Aames), a brooding, sullen bodybuilder-musician. He went on to fame in Paradise and Charles in Charge (with Scott Baio) before being beset-upon by financial and career problems.

Nicholas (Adam Rich), a smart-alecky preteen.  After Eight is Enough he had difficulties adjusting to the world outside show biz.  He has had arrests for drug possession, shoplifting, and breaking and entering.

By the way, Dick Van Patten belongs to a show biz dynasty, including siblings Joan and Tim, and children Vince, Jimmy, and Nels.

Apr 3, 2022

"The Last Bus": British Teens Bedeviled by Glowing Soccer Balls


The Last Bus, on Netflix, a British post-Apocalyptic horror series starring teenagers.  I wonder if they can't stop the bus, or they'll succumb to the zombie virus.  

Be careful: The Last Bus is also a movie about a man riding a bus because he has a dead wife, a movie about a bus trip that leads to disaster

Prologue: People in Hazmat suits carrying boxes labeled Monkhouse Dynamics.  They contain soccer ball-sized devices.  Whoops, one falls to the floor, pulsates, and flies away.  It doesn't end with a bang or a whimper, but with a soccer ball.

Scene 1:  The
Braelawn Academy.  Nerd Nas, whose gender is indeterminate but is played by the male-presenting Moosa Mostafa, and their Dad are waiting for a bus which will take them on a field trip to the Monkhouse Facility.  

Meanwhile, two girls taking a driving class swerve to avoid a hedgehog.  They wonder what it is doing out during the day: something must be wrong.  The bus leaves in 8 minutes; they zoom to get there in time.

And Depressed Tom (Daniel Frogson, top photo) is being driven by his glittery, gossipy Mom to the Academy.  When they arrive, she flirts with his friends Daniel (black) and Skely (young).  They discuss how hot she is, which makes Tom angry.  

Plus: flamboyant drama club kid Joshua (Nathanael Saleh), his bff, and a Genius Girl who interrogates Nerd Nas's Dad about his financial situation.  

Scene 2:
The smoking, doddering bus arrives.  Everyone looks disappointed, but they get on anyway.  The guy I thought was Nas's Dad is actually Mr. Short (Tom Basden), the chaperone.  

They drive along the rocky coast, the kids frolicking, Genius Girl disapproving.  A boy gets car sick.  A boy and a girl smooch.  

Nerd Nas gives us a plot dump: As you know, we are on our way to see billionaire scientist Dalton Monkhouse, who has invented the next generation of robots.  Depressed Tom's friend Daniel ridicules then, whereupon Car Girl ridicules his ability to get a girlfriend.  Hegemonic masculinity, good choice. And why isn't the adult intervening?  

Scene 3:  They get off the bus and switch to golf carts.  Hey, I thought they were going to be on that bus through the Apocalypse.  Some more traveling, and they arrive at a futuristic facility composed mostly of geodesic domes.  The slimy, sinister Dalton Monkhouse greets them via hologram.  

Daniel the Bully forces Depressed Tom to attack Nas.  Their sister advises that they "tone it down a bit."  Nas is called both "he" and "she" by various kids, so I'm guessing that they are transgender.

Scene 4: 
 While the others enter the facility, Nerd Naz sneaks into an "employees only" entrance.  Sister follows, and gets lost in a dark labyrinth.  She overhears the Hazmat suits discussing how one of their glowing soccer balls got away.  

Meanwhile, everyone is in a giant dining room, sipping on drinks and listening to Monkhouse the Messiah: "The world can be a dark place, but one man can bring the Light."  Through his patented hologram technology, he has achieved omnipresence: he's talking to everyone in the world at the same time!  

Monkhouse points out that all of the world's problems -- deforestation, extinct species, pollution, global warming -- are caused by people. 

I thought that the glowing soccer balls were designed to kill all of humanity, but instead they seem to be brainwashing devices: "Just look into the light."  

In the cave, Nas is being brainwashed by one, until Sister yells and scares it away.

"Believe me when I say," Monkhouse continues, "That I am sending you to a better place."

Suddenly the glowing soccer balls start evaporating people.  I guess they were killing machines after all.  Everyone panicks and runs and hides.  The end.

Beefcake: None.

Gay Characters:  The drama club kid, probably.  I can't tell if Nas is supposed to be transgender or not.

Heterosexism:  A little.

Will I Keep Watching:  I'm interested in how they will survive the glowing orbs from inside the belly of the beast.

Update:  I have watched every episode of The Last Bus.  Spoiler alert:

1. The people haven't been killed: they've been put in stasis until Earth's carbon dioxide levels recede.  It would have been nice to tell everyone that in the first place, instead of just zapping them.

2. Flamboyantly feminine Josh gets a girlfriend.  

3. No other romantic relationships appear.

4. And no gay subtexts.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...