Tuesday, June 28, 2011
by J.S. Holland
Greetings once again, my friends. Close the giant creaking door behind you, pull up a cobwebbed chair, and make yourselves comfortable while I, the Crap-Keeper, fix a pot of spidermint tea and blow the dust off the cover of another entry in my deep, dark, labyinthine dregs of comicdom archive in my Vault of Unintended Horror.
I keep trying to find the most jaw-droppingly awful comic book from my files, to exemplify just how bad it can get out there in the hairy world of forgotten off-brand funny-books of a bygone age. Problem is, even when I'm certain I've hit upon the worst comic book in the world, I start feeling sorry for it as one would for the dumbest kid in school and then I start developing a working aesthetic for it against my will. I'm just too soft hearted for my own good.
Charlton's Hunk is one of those comics that you find yourself rooting for out of sympathy, like a special-needs little brother. As you turn the pages, you find parts of your brain lamenting that God ever allowed it to exist, and other parts of your brain respecting it for persisting in existing. These are comics that make you feel embarrassed for everybody involved - not only embarrassed yourself for even viewing it, but feeling pangs of the shame that the Charlton guys must have endured when their friends, lovers, and family members saw a copy of Hunk and leafed briefly through it before looking up with an expression that telegraphed, "You made this? This is what you do for a living?"
I don't even remember how this copy of Hunk #5 (May 1962) came into my possession. I probably lost a lot of I.Q. points and brain cells, including the ones meant to retain that information, on contact with it. Imagine a Flintstones kinda deal, with an anachronistically civilized caveman society, except that the focus is on two little Cro-magnon kids - Freckle-faced red-headed "Hunk" and his shaggy-haired best friend, er, what is his name? I don't remember and I already filed the comic back down in the JSH wine cellar and comics crypt. Oh well. Drink your tea.
Almost every page in this comic has at least one panel rendered completely in silhouette - a sure sign of a burned-out hack trying to finish entire issues of a comic in one sitting, racing a grueling schedule and facing a deadline.
I felt like I was tripping when I saw this panel:
The context of the story is that Hunk and his buddy have been implausibly nominated Chiefs of the fire department, and they're riding around on a dinosaur putting out fires - as you can see from the panel shown at the top of this post. But in the panel shown here, the artist just drew their floating body-less HEADS sitting atop the dinosaur! The hell? Is this some sort of deliberate motif, a heretofore unmined storytelling technique we're seeing here? Or was the artist just ripped on Rye and driven half demented by the sound of his screaming kids in his one-room coldwater flat in Milwaukee?
And yet, is it really that far removed from the works of modern-day scribblers like Ron Rege, Jr.? Is a man better off living today where one can make a comic like this that makes a big hit on the internet and in hipster galleries, or have we lost something by no longer living in an era where a brain-damaged comic like this got to be in supermarkets, drugstores, grocery stores and department stores all over, placed directly in the sticky grasp of virtually every kid in North America?