Axel-In-Charge: Starting "Civil War II," Ending "Darth Vader" and Introducing Grant Ward
Holy crap, #300. We’re in the home stretch now! (Be sure to check out #299, which is now up.) Tonight’s regular-sized super-extravaganza features a character I’ve been meaning to write about for a few hundred columns now. Who better to talk about in the epic #300 than the weirdest, wackiest comic book character of them all? (Don’t knock it till you archive it.)
300. Herbie Popnecker, the Fat Fury
The “little fat nothing” named Herbie, not to be confused with any famous Love Bugs or Human-Torch-replacing robots, is the greatest comic book character to come out of the 1950s. Created by Richard E. Hughes (as Shane O’Shea) and the fantastic artist Ogden Whitney for the American Comics Group company (which published a lot of nifty sci-fi and horror anthologies), Herbie broke all the rules of comics. His stories were weird, bizarre, surreal, ridiculous– I use these words quite often, but trust me when I say that no comic in the history of the universe has been more delightfully absurd than Herbie.
Herbie first appeared in 1958, in an issue of Forbidden Worlds. It started as a one-off at first, but over the years Herbie began to appear more and more, until he finally graduated to his own title in 1964. The stories were blisteringly insane. Herbie, you see, was just your average overweight young boy with a penchant for lollipops– that is, until he parents weren’t looking. Herbie ended up on fantastic adventures, utilizing his nigh-infinite superpowers to walk on air, travel through time, and accomplish just about anything. He met everyone from John F. Kennedy to Adlai Stevenson to Richard Burton to Satan himself. The laconic little fellow was a gentleman and a ladies’ man, hero to all who knew him.
In the eighth issue of his own book, Herbie decided to become a superhero, putting on pajamas, a cape, and a toilet plunger, and becoming none other than the Fat Fury! This only led his escapades to become even more ludicrous, and Herbie’s Fat Fury identity reappeared in every even-numbered issue of the title throughout the rest of its run.
(That Fat Fury page above is possibly my favorite comics page of all time.)
In the world of Herbie, almost nothing made sense. The book’s sense of humor was patently absurd. What I truly love about the title is not how amazingly crazy it was– don’t get me wrong, I adore that about Herbie, but what I truly love is the sheer audacity of it all. Hughes and Whitney clearly realized that comics can portray anything, going places and achieving feats that no other medium could handle– and so crafted a book that did anything and everything. Herbie knew no boundaries, no conventions. It was a comic that did whatever the hell it wanted to do.
The problem I have here is that it’s so hard to describe Herbie. His stories really have to be experienced. Hughes and Whitney brought such glorious madness to the page that I fear I can’t possibly bestow enough information upon you to truly do it justice. Luckily, Herbie’s been featured an uncanny amount of times in Scott Shaw!’s Oddball Comics column. You can find the entires here. Shaw! goes into great detail about the raw insanity found within Herbie’s pages– from the battle with Mao Zedong’s perfect spy (which is to say, a two-headed Chinese guy named Foo Manchoo with helicopter blades on his butt) to Dracula’s Pizza Parlor. These columns incited my love for all things Herbie.
I would love for Herbie to return in some fashion. A few companies have tried Herbie revivals– little guys like A+ and Avalon Communications, and bigger guys like Dark Horse– but none of them have taken off. I’ve no idea who has the rights these days, but I’d like to find out. Imagine a Herbie anthology with everyone’s favorite creators letting loose on sparklingly mad Herbie adventures! I’m sure no one can live up to Hughes and Whitney– perhaps it’s better that way, but I think we need to bring Herbie back to the masses. C’mon, we should at least have a few collections of the title! Who’s with me?
Maybe most people don’t remember Herbie, but, as the old saying goes, the Internet never forgets. Dial B for Blog featured a loving look at the little fat nothing. Don Markstein’s Toonopedia has not one, but two entries for him: one as Herbie, and one as the Fat Fury. And, as always, there’s the Wiki, which goes into detail about Herbie’s powers and gags.
Herbie’s father Pincus never believed in him, but I do. Thanks for being here with me for this 300th episode celebration. The year’s winding down! What will make the list? What won’t? Find out here, same Bill-time, same Bill-channel. (I think I made that joke before, actually. Bah. What do you want from me? New material? Want I should bop you with this here lollipop, buddy?)
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