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Comic Book Legends Revealed #326

Welcome to the three hundredth and twenty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, discover how a story about abortion, of all things, ended up with the effectual end of the Popeye daily comic strip. Plus, did Batman: The Killing Joke inspire a popular indie band? And did famous improvisational comedian Del Close really write a comic book?

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty-five.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: The writer/artist of the Popeye daily comic strip was fired for a series of strips involving jokes about abortion.

STATUS: True

Bobby London took over the Popeye daily comic strip from the great Bud Sagendorf in 1986 while Sagendorf continued on the Sunday strip.

In 1992, London was fired and the strip was effectively finished (they began reprinting old Sagendorf strips, which I believe they continue to do to this day). Sagendorf passed away in 1994 and was replaced on the Sunday strip by Hy Eisman, who has done the Sunday strip ever since.

What’s fascinating is WHY London was fired.

Courtesy of the great Mike Lynch, here are the final two weeks of strips that London sent in. It was these strips that got him fired. If you go to Mike’s site, he has the week of strips that lead into this one.

These were all unpublished.

The concept is that Olive Oyl becomes addicted to the Home Shopping Network. She gets a ton of items including a baby doll that she does not recall ordering. Here’s what happens next…

It is unquestionably controversial for a comic of its type for the time (heck, even now – and not just for the abortion stuff, but the priest stuff, as well), but firing London seems to be pretty harsh. Especially as these strips were never published, so it is not like the Syndicate was facing pressure from the public.

COMIC LEGEND: The band Killing Joke was named after Batman: The Killing Joke.

STATUS: False

On lists of “how bands got their names,” I kept seeing the assertion that the British post-punk (I don’t like that term but I can’t think of a better way to describe them – reader Bookhouse suggests “Dark Wave,” as opposed to New Wave. I think that does sound better, but I dunno if that applies, either. Reader Max Meanie says that the band currently calls themselves “industrial punk”) band Killing Joke took their name from the famous Batman comic book by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.

Here‘s one site making just such an assertion.

Naturally, since Killing Joke formed in the late 1970s and their debut album (below) came out in 1980….

then this is clearly not true.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets

often gets confused with being named after the band while in that instance, it WAS the other way around and the band Love and Rockets

took its name from the comic book.

An interesting question, though, is whether Moore and Bolland took the name of their comic from the band or whether they both just used the same term. I tend to imagine it is the latter, as the British slang term “killing joke” (meaning an ironic or paradoxical situation) really DOES describe Batman: The Killing Joke.

COMIC LEGEND: Del Close wrote a comic book.

STATUS: True

A couple months ago, reader Jake K. wrote in to ask:

Is it true Del Close, legendary improv master, wrote comics for DC?

This week seemed to be a good time to address this one since I can tie it in with Almost Hidden month, where I spotlight various cool comic books that have, for whatever reason, not yet been reprinted. Here is the archive of the comics featured so far. Well, Jake, Del Close did, indeed, write comic books. Specifically, he wrote a comic I would call an “uncollected classic.”

Del Close was a famous improvisational theater director and instructor in Chicago (and everywhere else, really). He directed at Second City for years. The list of people directly influenced by Close is staggering.

Here are a few names:
Dan Aykroyd
James Belushi
John Belushi
John Candy
Stephen Colbert
Chris Farley
Tina Fey
Shelley Long
Bill Murray
Mike Myers
Bob Odenkirk
Amy Poehler
Gilda Radner
Harold Ramis
Amy Sedaris
Dave Thomas
George Wendt

And I cut a lot of notable names from that list. It really is amazing the influence Close had on improv comedy.

He passed away in 1999. Close was familiar with John Ostrander from their respective work in the theater in Chicago, so in 1987, DC debuted the extremely interesting (if short-lived – just 18 issues) series Wasteland, written by Ostrander and Close and drawn by a rotating cast of artists. Initially, David Lloyd, William Messner-Loebs, George Freeman and Don Simpson did the art, but later artists worked into the rotation (like Rick Magyar, Bill Wray and Joe Orlando). Mike Gold edited the title (man, Mike Gold did such an amazing job for DC in the late 80s, didn’t he? Look at all the talent and new ideas he brought to the company. Very impressive).

The stories tended toward horror, but a lot of autobiographical stories from Close’s life in show business (and out) were also told.

Here’s a notable one from #9…

Fascinating.

Here’s a glimpse at possibly their most famous story, an absolutely brilliantly demented tale drawn by Ty Templeton…

Really, the whole series was very well done. Please collect it, DC!

Some time ago, John Ostrander reflected on the series on his message board. He had a great Del Close story that he noted that they never got around to using. It’s quite interesting. Check it out here.

Wasteland is also notable for accidentally printing the cover of #6 on #5 by mistake. Then they reprinted #5 with the right cover and went with a blank cover for #6.

Thank to Jake for the question!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook you’ll get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes! So go like us on Facebook to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

58 Comments

Wow, I find that Popeye cartoon more controversial for the last two panels (“Without Satan we’re out of a job”) than the remainder, but I can see how other people would find the other stuff near riotous. Crazy, never would have thought I would read something that black humored from Popeye! =)

Dark Wave is a better genre description for Killing Joke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_wave

The Killing Joke swiped its title from the band name. Yet another example of Alan Moore’s originality.

I LOVED Wasteland. Good to see it mentioned here.

Well, it might be inappropriate for Popeye, but those strips are hilarious!

Never heard of Wasteland before. It looks fantastic!

I think Del Close co-wrote some Munden’s Bar comics too.

Wow, those Popeye strips were pretty funny. I actually think the newspaper comic format is very well suited to dark, brutal humour, which is all the more shame that most of what’s published on those pages is so tepid.

I laughed my butt off at that Popeye stuff. Does this mean I’m going to hell?

Kevin T. Brown

August 5, 2011 at 9:57 am

Wasteland was an incredible series. It had people like David Lloyd, Don Simpson, William Messner-Loebs
and George Freeman doing the artwork! Good luck in finding it in back issue boxes though.

And, yes, he did write a few Munden’s Bar stories as well.

The Killing Joke swiped its title from the band name. Yet another example of Alan Moore’s originality.

And that Brian Cronin, swiping the name for all his columns from Bob Dylan lyrics, what a hack!

I actually think, and don’t quote me on this, I’ve read the phrase “killing joke” in a book that predates both the comic and the band. It seems likely that both picked up the name from this source, whatever it was, or maybe it was a common saying in the UK at one point.

Yeah, the term pre-dated the band, which is why I think the odds are that Moore and Bolland just took the same term as the band and did not name their book after the band.

Killing Joke is not darkwave. That’s ridiculous. The term may have started in the 80′s but became more accepted in the 90′s to describe dark-electro dance bands. The post-punk label is more appropriate but the band refers to itself currently as industrial punk. And there is no THE before the name. It’s simply KILLING JOKE. Great article by the way.

I remember loving Wasteland, always surprising to hear that something you knew was actualy a potential legend.
Wasn’t there also a robot called L Ron based on L Ron Hubbard at the same time in Superman I think.

Borrowed Wasteland from a friend way back in high school. It made a huge impression on me. I’ve got almost all the issues now (think I’m just missing one), but I would absolutely love for DC to collect it. Definitely falls under the category of “must read” for any fan of horror or mindbending comics; classic pre-Vertigo comics for big kids.

some stupid japanese name

August 5, 2011 at 10:38 am

Wasteland lasted 18 issues?
In all my many years of looking through back issue boxes I’ve never come across any issues aside from the first three. I always assumed it was a mini or was quickly cancelled.
Guess I got more digging to do!

L-Ron was a recurring character in the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, Kevin, and eventually even became a League member. He wasn’t based on Hubbard in personality–far from it–but yeah, his name was an obvious joke. Lesser-known robots in that same series included Hein-9 (as in Robert Heinlein) and K-Dikk (like Philip K. Dick). Later on L-Ron stuck up a romance with a robot named J-Lo and was especially impressed by her rear contours.

The Killing Joke: Another possibility is that Moore simply took the expression ‘the killing stroke’ and turned it into a pun appropriate to a Joker story.

1 – Could the Killing Joke reference have originated with Monty Python and the sketch about the allies creating the world’s funniest joke as a weapon?

2 – Another comic book related band name was Julian Cope’s original 70′s band The Teardrop Explodes, named after a line in Daredevil #71, written by Roy Thomas.

Thanks, Max. It is funny, I write the descriptions before I write the actual piece, so while I knew it was Killing Joke (and referred to them as such in the actual piece), I didn’t notice I used a “the” in description. I fixed it. I also added in your thoughts of how to describe them.

Another comic book influenced band is THE CHAMELEONS from Manchester. The band is named after the Spider-Man villain and arguably their biggest hit (in the US) is “Swamp Thing” written during the Alan Moore run.

Erik, you are correct. Killing Joke did take their name from the Monty Python sketch.

Maybe London was fired from Popeye due to his strip being totally terrible. That’s some of the worst stuff i have ever seen! Blech..

Hey Brian, thanks for answering my question. It’s always cool when two of my hobbies (improv and comics) collide. I gotta track that series down.

And hey, if anyone here is interested in seeing improv and comics collide in a different fashion, check out this video I made recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56W89m0ij2I

Always wondered about that Love and Rockets thing. I saw their video on Beavis and Butthead years ago. Typical alternative college stuff. I love that show. Never read the book.

It’s weird when comics and other media come out with similiar things or just similiar unique names. Alias is a good example. Both premiered about the same time and were about woman fighting or something.

Wasteland is highly over-rated (by those that remember it), though very experimental for DC at the time. Several stories (especially early ones) actually showed Close did not have a very good handle on comic writing though.

David J Haskins, the bass player for Love and Rockets, co-wrote “This Vicious Cabaret” and was in a band called Sinister Ducks. His co-writer and band colleague? Alan Moore. I love it how you tie it all together, Brian!

It’s funny that you did a write up about the abortion deal in the Popeye strip and Wasteland in the same post. If I recall correctly, there was a satirical story in one issues of Wasteland about a couple that had a child and then got frustrated with raising him. I think it was a near future type of story where they allowed post-birth “abortion”. The couple finally said they didn’t want to have a baby and so it was thrown out the window of a high story building. I found it to be very interesting because it was a parody of extreme right wing Christian’s view of birth control. I was also amazed that DC published that and there wasn’t any backlash. I guess that speaks a lot about how few fans of Wasteland there were.

I’d heard of those Popeye strips before, but I’d never seen them until now. I love it!!
I’m told London wrote other controversial stories in the Popeye series. I once saw one strip which showed Popeye sneaking around the docks late at night to meet with his ‘connection’. And then it showed a small boat smuggling a load of ‘Primo Bolivian Spinach’.

Perhaps I’m mistaken but I’d always heard that “killing joke” was comedians’ slang for the best joke in a stand-up’s repertoire, the one you turned to when all else failed because it “killed” the audience. If I’m right (and I’m not saying I am), it would predate Monty Python by at least a decade.

Oh wow- I OWN that Del Close issue It was given to me by a friendly comic-seller who insisted he never met anyone who read the series and didn’t like it. The Hubbard story is the best one in there, but the whole thing is great. I didn’t know it was a legend!

Alan Moore also cribbed the name Comedian from a masterful little Elvis Costello song (though of course he also blatantly acknowledges this in “Watchmen” itself). I always thought the movie should have used Costello’s tune during Comedian’s funeral rather than “Sound of Silent,” which took me right out of the film by reminding me of a much better one (“The Graduate,” obviously).

Wasteland is an awesome book. Sure, there were undergrounds and other alternative comics published at the same time, but that this kind of book came from DC at that time is quite impressive. It had a few misses, story-wise, but mostly hits. It was also impressive for almost entirely skipping over the “shocking twist ending!” typical of most horror anthologies before and since. It did have a comical story about retroactive abortion, in the first issue. I made a page for the series on facebook if anyone feels like liking it.

@Shaun M., I agree about the newspaper comic format being well suited to “dark, brutal humour”. I know it’s easy to trash Dilbert, and it does sometimes do the typical white collar office lite-humor stuff, but sometimes it’s downright brutal in its misanthropy. Look past the trappings of office humor and all that and it’s really quite often a dark, cynical, and mean strip.

I’m almost certain the Popeye strips DID run. I recall seeing a story on Entertainment Tonight about the storyline when I was a kid. There was even a “man on the street” segment that had random people in the street reading the strips and reacting to them.

The Comedian’s name is also sometime speculated to be a double reference to the Costello song and to Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians, about the Tonton Macoute and some spies who infiltrate the Duvalier government. Given that Edward Blake — itself a reference to film director Blake Edwards, best known for his comedies like the Pink Panther series — is a covert operative, it’s probably not entirely a coincidence.

Wow, that’s awesome. I’m in an improv troupe in Sacramento (icupcomedytroupe.com, SHAMELESS PLUG) and Del Close is one those few people that our co-founder always talks about in god-like terms. I’ll have to link him to this article. Those stories look amazing.

Moore would have certainly been aware of the band Killing Joke well before he wrote his story. I’m not inclined to think the name didn’t come at least partially from the band.

I also used to own a t-shirt I bought at a Killing Joke show that had a Bolland Joker on it. Someone told me the band were allowed to use the image for merchandising because Moore had named the book after the band.

Oh, and post-punk is more properly a period than a genre and fits Killing Joke nicely.

Post-punk is both a genre and a movement and certainly applies to Killing Joke, who were one of the more clearly Joy Division-influenced proto-Goth acts to emerge in the early ’80s. The book ‘Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84′ is a great read that will explain KJ’s place in the scheme of things. Dark wave isn’t any better than post-punk, as it’s often liberally applied to any post-punk or New Wave band that was “dark” to the point of being useless terminology.

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but I still vividly recall that a local paper of mine at the time (the Daily Southtown in the Chicago suburbs) carried that Popeye strip through at least the 7/22 installment. I remember being shocked and amused by it (indeed, Bobby London’s entire run is worth seeking out…he did some really great, really funny stuff, and he revitalized the strip). On or about the 23rd, the storyline was abruptly halted, and there was a small story in the paper saying that London had been fired by the syndicate, which had also withdrawn the storyline from publication. As I recall, the paper dropped Popeye entirely at the time, and replaced it with another strip altogether.

Shame is, we never got to learn how Popeye would pronounce “abortion”.

My money would have been on “Aborshkyun.”

“The Killing Joke swiped its title from the band name. Yet another example of Alan Moore’s originality.”

Mocking Alan Moore. What an original way to show off how cool and edgy you are. Take that, comic book writers who dare write stuff that’s actually readable!

(Seriously. I like this column, and the comments often include additional fun info. What I don’t get is why amongst them there’s always at least one unprovoked attack on Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis. Is this a decidedly anti-British forum or just anti-quality comics?)

Wow, those Popeye strips are out there. Bobby London was one of the Air Pirates, right? Have you ever featured them in the Legends? (Um, not sure what for…the Disney lawsuit, I guess.)

I would imagine that Alan Moore, having done strips for…Sounds magazine, I think?…in the ’70s would have known of the band Killing Joke, but that the slang term worked so well for the comic, he probably used it for that more.

I’m glad to see confirmation that L&R the band took it from the comic. I wasn’t positive that that was the case, but pretty sure.

It’s sad that you have to point out that a band that released material nearly a decade before the comic did not in fact take their name from that comic…

Woohoo, Wasteland! I came across 3 issues of this early on in my comics collecting and it’s…out there is an understatement. I’ve gotta dig it out and look at it again. I almost bought a bunch of issues of it on vacation several years back, but didn’t quite have the cash for it, darnit!

You left out my favorite story about Del Close — after he died, I believe that he willed his skull to Second City so that he could play Yorick in Hamlet.

And hey, this means that Ty’s blog will link to this post in their end of the week roundup. Yay!

random anonymous jerkoff

August 6, 2011 at 4:02 am

Whee-ooo – that Popeye stuff is outlandish, aye-yyy- yye, how could a creator possibly think that was going to fly in a newspaper at the time? That’s just asking to be fired, like showing up late for an important work meeting with a beer in hand. And extremely hackneyed writing if you ask this opinionated commenter.

Is that really a “legend” about Killing Joke, as soon as I saw it I said, whaahhhhh???? the band was almost a decade older than the comic, which I knew at the time it came out as a 12 year old and can be confirmed in two seconds. There should be some quotient of obscurity and complexity required for something to be given legend status, rather than just misinformation that can debunked in 2 seconds by anyone with the blurb of the top results of a search engine. If someone says Toronto is the capital of England, and its get reprinted, is that a legend too?

I certainly understand the point about the “Killing Joke” legend, random anonymous jerkoff, and if it were just that one site that listed the erroneous fact, then yeah, I’d agree (that just one person being way off doesn’t a legend make), but the erroneous fact really is quite ubiquitous. It popped up in a lot of different places where people list band names inspired by comic books. It is the prevalence of the “fact” that makes it work as a legend.

“What I don’t get is why amongst them there’s always at least one unprovoked attack on Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis.”

Because while they are certainly good writers, ALL of them have also written crap that often gets ignored by fans because of the absurd level of creator worship they get?

Anyway, comments:

I remember that Popeye Comic Strip and liked it well enough for its combination of modern jokes and Sagendorf-style art. I can see why the abortion joke would not be published, but firing the guy is indeed unfair, just tell him that wasn’t OK to do.

I’m pretty sure “Killing Joke” (or “Killer Joke”) is indeed a long standing comedy term.

Well, I’m glad to see I was right in ignoring that Wastelands comic back in the day. Not funny at all. Especially the part with the disemboweling (Geez, Cronin, you thought the Lois Lane thing the other day was too cruel to show but this isn’t? A little warning next time, please.)

“Because while they are certainly good writers, ALL of them have also written crap that often gets ignored by fans because of the absurd level of creator worship they get?”

They deserve unprovoked attacks on them because they have written bad works at some point in time? That is a terrible argument.

Enjoyable installment this time, Brian. Yes, Bobby London was one of the Air Pirates, and everyone should go out and buy Bob Levin’s terrific history of the Air Pirates “the Pirates and the Mouse”, from Fantagraphics. Great read. I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob when the book came out, and he’s a really nice guy, and a terrific writer.

It’s a good thing that you included Love and Rockets in the Killing Joke article, because I would bet the KJ rumor stems from people getting the two confused. After all, they aren’t that dissimilar: British goth-y bands which share their names influential ’80′s comics. By the way, might I suggest a follow-up? Gilbert Hernandez, in some of the later L&R magazines, did a strip featuring a garage band named Love and Rockets which ranted against the British band for stealing their name. Was this a reflection of ‘Beto’s true feelings, or was he just having a little fun?

I am certain that both the band and the graphic novel were named after a Monty Python sketch about a joke so funny you would laugh yourself to death if you heard it.

Here are two versions of the sketch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhmnOpoGAPw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdWGlJrG6sQ

Chrome Aardvark

August 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Not sure if Moore swiped the name from the band, but with the way he absorbs pop culture into his work it is entirely possible. What is definite is that Nirvana blatantly lifted the music from the Killing Joke song “Eighties” for their song “Come As You Are”.

Mr. F.G. – it’s not anti-British and it’s not anti-quality. It’s being cool and edgy.

Sijo – Killing Joke and Killer Joke are clearly separate terms.

Chrome Aardvark – It’s not the same song, musically. But I will admit: holy shit.

My favorite story from “wasteland” is in the very first issue.Titled “Foo Goo,” it concerns police detectives investigating a party where everyone present died with a smile on their faces.
Attendees sign release forms and then sample Foo Goo, which appears to be a mushroom. It grants the ultimate high for a couple of seconds, followed by death.
One detective makes light of the situation, but his partner sees how these people made the ultimate sacrifice to see or be god, even if it’s just for an instant.
He picks up the mushroom, sniffs it… what do you think he did next?

This just blew me away in 1987 when I read it, and it caused me to seek out more of Del Close’s work.
Fans should read Jeff Griggs’ book “Guru,” about his time as Close’s assistant during his latter days. Brilliant.

The most controversial part was having a great creator like Bobby London on the strip after all those years of staleness after Segar.

[...] COMIC BOOK LEGENDS REVEALED #326 from Comic Book Resources [...]

Ah, the 1980s, back when DC was actually innovative and pushing the medium forward.

Admittedly this is as trivial as it gets, but I think Del Close and Ty Templeton were roomates around the time Wasteland was published. For any improve fan, Al Caitlan was there as well if my timing is right.

I remember reading an article Del Close wrote years ago, essentially saying that one night, he was in a local bar, having a few drinks and watching some sort of awards show. Someone on the show gave a shout out to Del Close on air, saying they wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him. Del said “Hey, they’re talking about me,” but no one in the bar believed him.

Funny or sad? I’m not sure.

It was Betty Thomas who won an Emmy for Hill Street Blue and who mentioned Del in her acceptance speech.

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