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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 158: Jungle Comics #15

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Jungle Comics #15 (a Fantomah story), which was published by Fiction House and is cover dated March 1941. This scan is from I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets!, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2007. Enjoy!

Oh, Org, you rapscallion!

Fletcher Hanks shows up again in these posts, because he’s just such a wacky creator, and I don’t know if I’ll ever randomly select the books that feature him again, so I wanted to get Fantomah in here. Fantomah, “the most remarkable woman that ever lived” (as opposed to his other major creation, Stardust, who’s the most remarkable man that ever lived), is Hanks’ contribution to the short-lived “jungle comics” craze. She has “phenomenal powers,” making her the first super-heroine in comics history (she first appeared in Jungle Comics #2, cover dated February 1940). She protects the “jungle-born” from douchebags like Org, on whom her “vigilant eye” falls. Org can hypnotize people with his jungle drum, and he wants to rule “Jungleland” (Bruce Springsteen will be disappointed). Hanks lets us know that Org doesn’t have a plan yet, so he’s wandering around trying to figure it out, and he finds giant hunting spiders which can, apparently kill elephants. Man, that’s handy!

Hanks’ stories are insane, but let’s check out his art. In the first panel, we get a glimpse of Org checking out the giant spiders attacking the elephants. Org certainly doesn’t look like a native of a jungle, but as Hanks never actually tells us where this jungle is (Africa, we can assume, but we don’t know), maybe Org does look like a native! The spider is sufficiently horrifying, and Hanks does a nice job with Org’s stony look and the elephants’ terror. Fantomah, naturally, is a blonde white woman in full makeup, but that’s to be expected, I suppose – ladies in the 1940s always had to look fancy, even when they were fighting evil in the jungle! Hanks uses the lightning bolt of her “vigilant eye” to lead us to Panel 3, where Org looks back at her disdainfully while playing a big drum. It’s a weird, almost-romantic series of panels – Fantomah doesn’t look all that angry at Org, while Org has that hipper-than-thou look because he’s a tough dude, and tough dudes don’t show their feelings! Of course, Fantomah causes a giant spider to eat Org later in the story, so “romantic” might be too strong a word, but I like that Hanks doesn’t make them all ragey when they’re looking at each other. In Panel 4, we’re in Org’s place when he finds the “unexplored valley” and the giant spiders, which helps create this idea of wonder and sheer terror at the size of the creatures. In Panel 5, he gives them human-like hands, which is even freakier. You don’t want that sucker coming at you, do you?

As we’ve already seen this year, Hanks was one crazy comics creator, but that’s what made him awesome. This page is a bit better than the one we’ve already seen, even though they came out in the same month and year. Technically, it’s laid out better, and Hanks’ line work seems stronger. Either way, both Stardust and Fantomah are wild characters doing some crazy shit.

Next: I’m cheating a little bit with this entry, but it’s my column and I can cheat if I want to! There’s no cheating in the archives, however!

7 Comments

Well, when kids can flash guitars just like switchblades, you might need a hypnotic jungle drum when the local cops rip this holy night…

Becca: I doubt if Springsteen ever heard of Hanks, but it would have been cool it he did!

I don’t know if you really can call the “jungle comics craze” short-lived. From the 1940s to the 1990s there were multiple jungle adventure books from at least three different publishers at any given time, and that’s not even counting Tarzan, Korak, or Ka-zar. Most of them didn’t last very long, but people kept trying. Jungle adventure didn’t really die out until fairly recently; although people still try it now and again, it’s more of a specialty, period-piece thing these days.

Well, first off I love that his name is Org.The look of mild disdain that appears to be his only expression is also terrific. Hypno drum? Sold. And to top it all of the art is oddly beautiful. The whole thing feels a little drug induced, which is just excellent, especially the tri-colored spiders with hands, HANDS!!? Nothing could stop them.

Fletcher Hanks, and this book, are awesome. This book is what started my interest in non-”Big 2″ Golden Age comics. And luckily, I’m sure partly as a result of the success of this book, there has been a ton of high quality collections of Golden Age goodness in the past several years. Supermen!, Art Out of Time, Four-Color Fear, Boody!, The Horror, Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics and so many more showcase the wide array of quality comics that were available during the Golden Age.

Growing up a super-hero fan, and only being aware of DC and Marvel’s Golden Age stories, I wasn’t a big fan. I found almost all of them to be boring with amateurish art and writing. The plethora of reprint volumes out now that aren’t Marvel or DC have proved me wrong. There was original and interesting work out there, I just hadn’t seen it before. Combined with the current availability of classic comic strip reprint books, it’s a good time to be a fan of Golden Age comics.

Greg: I CAN CALL IT WHAT I WANT!!!!! :)

I should have, I suppose, have written the “first” jungle comics craze, because it does seem to wax and wane, and the early ’40s were on time when it was waxing. But, as always, I bow to your expertise on the subject of older comics.

Sean: A lot of Hanks’ art feels a “little drug induced,” so who knows what he was doing?

Jazzbo: I really have to get the second Hanks book from Fantagraphics, because you’re right – there’s so much good stuff from the Golden Age that I never got to see when I was growing up.

Having Spiders eat Org could only be considered romantic by fans of Bill Levy’s Black Widow Comics…..

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