For those of you who missed growing up in the 50s, you also undoubtedly missed Smilin Ed and His Buster Brown Gang or later on, after Smilin Ed died, Andy Devine stepped into his size - 14 Buster Brown Brogans and the show became known as Andys Gang
a wonderfully low-budget kiddie show, complete with fake prerecorded Peanut Gallery, a strange cast of characters, including Midnight, a stuffed wind-up cat, Squeaky the Mouse, and a Maniacal Rubber Frog named, Froggy the Gremlin, who brought a sort of rebellious, anti-social, raucous humor to the show
What does all this have to do with the story in question..? Well, Smilin George & His Gang opens up in the old Smilin Ed shows format, before degenerating into one of my favorite stories among those Ive done personally. Among other things, I just sorta love the concept of Ollie the Gremlin--wisht Id been able to do more with the character--but this was my last story for the last issue of Rip Off Comix, and as such it closed out the intermittent run of Uncle Joes Commie Strip
What was Uncle Joes Commie Strip?
you might ask
Uncle Joes Commie Strip, as I sometimes described it, was a melange of CheeseCake, CheepShots and Beetle Brained Political Humor. Uncle Joe himself hosted the strip, speaking in a sort of Lower Slobbovian dialect (a la Al Capp) as he narrated various odd propagandistic stories to his leedle Pal (i.e. Stooge), Howdy Ivan, a marionette of the sort you might have found on various kid shows of the 50s and early 60s
In fact, the Commie Strip was designed in a similar format to those old shows, as though that Fun-Luffink ex-Soviet Party Chairman, upon retirement had gone on to a career hosting this demented Kiddie TV puppet show
Most every episode would open with Uncle Joe or Howdy Ivan introducing the cast--including themselves, plus Commissar Svelte Svetlana, (later - Leedle Svetlana), Comrade Puppet Castro Boy, KG Bear, the T-34, along with miscellaneous antagonists, including Heidi and Etsuko, the Ghost of Trotsky and others. Then followed a bit of Playful Banter which could include anything from a bit of heavy-handed Roosky Humor to assault and battery (generally inflicted upon Howdy Ivan) before launching into one of Uncle Joes stories: Once Upon a Time Way back in 1941
and which generally made up the bulk of the strip. Joe's stories were usually intended to illustrate a point of dialectic, though not necessarily the point which the readers might have been led to expect
The Commie Strip seemed to puzzle those few who paused to think about it much at all - As one Socialist friend told me, He was puzzled about whether the strip was pro or anti-Socialism
As best he could figure, it seemed to be anti-Every Ideology - and I suppose it was
Just as Uncle Joe was a deliberately poor spokesman for the then still-active U.S.S.R., the various alternative characters to his heavy-handed point of view, who showed up in the strip, all seemed equally unpalatable
Whether Kapitalists, or Fascists, or Troskyites (Oh My!) they all had their foibles, and none seemed all that reassuring when selling their particular brand of demagoguery
To backtrack a bit - Or, if youre wondering about the reason for the Elves and all that
Now, myself, I dont generally do Elf material, but way back in the 80s there was a Mag titled Fantasy Book, which mostly featured semi-pro fantasy prose stories
And, for some obscure and unlikely reason, the publisher asked me to create a comic strip for it
I thought about the prospects a bit (about 5 minutes)... I really didnt have any affinity for Elf stuff... so I cooked up this concept to do a strip about the most obnoxious types of Elves possible
Nazi Ninja Fascist Elves
Surprisingly enough, they bought the idea
Then, a few issues later, a kid working at the local Comics Emporium asked me about the strip, only he misremembered the name, referring to them as the Communist Elves, and suddenly I realized that Id overlooked the most noxious type of Elves of All..! So, shortly thereafter, Uncle Joe and his minions invaded the strip conquered it, in fact and began dispensing their own brand of Roosky humor
Then, three issues later, Fantasy Book folded, and Joe and the gang - plus myself - were all out of a job
Sometime later, for reasons that also defy logic, the strip was picked up for Rip Off Comix at which point it was officially renamed Uncle Joes Commie Strip, and we blundered on through intermittent issues, until the Rip Off anthology itself folded and Joe was deposed once again
As such, Smilin George & his Gang was the last story that I did for the last issue of Rip Off Comix and it also more or less brings the Commie Strip to its untimely conclusion (I hadnt intended for this to be the end, but thats more or less how it turned out)
Though, Possibly I should mention that the whole gang got together one more time, for a One-Shot comix: "Uncle Joe's Commie Book featuring Cutey Bunny", in which the Bunnies teamed up with Uncle Joe to help retell an "Untold tale of World War II" (Actually it was about the Teheran Conference - Just a laugh a minute there - and since the comix was published, I suppose one might argue that it's no longer an "Untold Story")...
Of our cast of characters, Heidi and Etsuko, those Fascist Cuties, had been the original Protagonist - Antagonists of the strip, way back when it was called The Nasty Nazi Ninja Noodnik Elves, (or something of the sort). Later on, after Uncle Joe had taken over the strip and the name had changed, the girls carried on as the natural adversaries to Joes particular brand of Rooskie Humor
In this final story, they seem to have discarded their rather skimpy military uniforms in order to Dress for Success as they join the managerial lifestyle to help explain the New One World Order...
I dont know how much background on Heidi & Etsuko you really need... I dont believe we ever specifically established this in the old comix strip, but they are half-sisters... At first they seemed at each others necks with intentions purely homicidal... though later they did unite - perhaps through mutual animosity towards Uncle Joe - Till in our current story offering, they seem quite chummy... (Perhaps their mood swings arent all that far-fetched considering that they are family)
The original Nazi-Ninja Elf strip, I must admit, really wasnt very good - This at least partially due to my lack of empathy for the genre and characters - they were intended to be unlikeable - and in that, at least, they seemed to succeed... Then again, I often tried to stump myself, by creating unlikely cliffhanger endings that I had no clear idea as to how I was going to resolve... This made the whole thing a bit disjointed... Although after Uncle Joe took over narration duties, the strip seemed to settle down somewhat, probably because Joe had a definite agenda - whereas before, the only agenda had been mayhem for its own sake...
Uncle Joe is a character that I really enjoy..! while his namesake may have been a first-class BMF, in the comix he developed a sort of thuggish humor - like the Bully who considers hes doing you a favor when he doesnt hit you absolutely as hard as he can... Plus the Rooskie dialect is always fun, trying to think up improbable word-plays and double-think phrases... Its a dialog to be spoken, and I used to repeat it out loud, over and over again, to get the rhythm of the patter... trying out different combinations till it seemed to bounce along on its own cadence...
Then again, for some readers, this probably was a bit of tough going - especially when you take into account Heidi's tortured Katzenjammerisms and Etsuko's second-string Dlagon Lady inflections... At least, after a while, I gave up on distinctive type styles for each character's word balloons - This also made the hand-lettering a tad easier...
As for the change in format to: "Smilin' George and his Gang" - Well... Smilin George and his hand puppet Danny had made a few cameos in earlier editions of the strip, so for regular readers (all both of em) it may notve been a big surprise when Uncle Joe shows up to protest that his spot in the mag had been appropriated - as in fact it had
The quirky thing about this story is, Recalling back when it was originally written and drawn, the U.S.S.R. was seemingly reeling but still powerful - wed rolled through the Gulf War Incident, leaving an unresolved situation... (Bad for general peace of mind - but good for Military planners and Arms Merchants)... and then the Warsaw Pact, Which since World War II had stood armed and menacing behind their Iron Curtain, began to unravel... (If that isnt mixing metaphors to think of an Iron curtain unraveling instead of rusting... but perhaps they did a bit of both)... First Poland and then the others were declaring their freedom to forge their own futures, separate from the Mighty U.S.S.R. - East Germany threw in the towel and united with their western brethren, while the Berlin wall was thrown down, Something that I hadnt imagined that Id live to see... I was in grade school when it went up and the Wall, I suppose, more than any other artifact, became a symbol of the Russian Totalitarianism... Ironic, in that most people looked on it as a symbol of glowering power - while in reality, it reflected the failure of the system that erected it - it wasnt a bastion of defense, like the Great Wall of China, but a Cage to keep its citizens within... Its interesting to contemplate, that Stalin never wouldve needed a Berlin Wall, or countenanced the weakness it evidenced... While Nikita Khrushchev and his successors clutched it as a crutch and bandage to hold together the rupturing system...
But I digress, I suppose... And while the Warsaw Pact was disassembling, I dont think many of us expected the U.S.S.R. to just give it up and hand over the keys to an Empire, won over the decades through blood and terrible sacrifice... Surely the Commissars wouldnt just close the doors to the Kremlin and walk away from it all... But thats pretty much what they did... And for that, I think we owe them a great debt of gratitude...
But back to the story - if youre paying attention, towards the end we make a prediction that the USSR would break up and large portions of it would join the Third World
At the time, I considered this a bit of a long-shot that wouldnt be likely to happen till maybe 10 or 15 years down the line if at all - (and to give credit where its due, I was really only distilling information gathered from many sources)
Then, Imagine my surprise, when in the few months between delivery of the story and waiting for its publication, the rumblings within the Warsaw Pact began to reach the U.S.S.R., which itself began to disassemble
At first there was a wave of euphoria not only did it seem that the Cold War would soon be over (which seemed like a good thing at the time), but I had been Correct..! I could imagine myself proclaimed the next Cartoon Prophet (Look out, Cheech Wizard)! But then, with the accelerating rate of events I began to panic, it looked as though, while my prediction was proving correct, it might all be all over before my story was published..! This was nail-biting time,.. would the mag be published while there was still a U.S.S.R. to kick around..?? Then Rip Off missed its press date,.. So the mag was set back another month, and they missed it again..! (Turned out later that they were waiting for some other contributors who hadn't yet turned in their material)... At this point, they were so far behind that they had to re-solicit the mag, and when it finally did hit the stands, months later, the U.S.S.R. was but a fading memory (as were my dreams of Prophetorial Glory)
Oh well,.. guess thats the way it goes
Just, Ill probably never again get another chance to be that right about such a momentous moment in history
But as for the story itself, I think it still holds up well and has even more relevance today
Back when it was written, President George was trying to sell the idea of a New One World Order to a generally unreceptive or apathetic public
Today we are living in the New World Order
(Just a lot of you may not have realized it yet and some 10 years later, its no longer quite so new or quite so orderly)... Under President Bill-Boy the packaging changed, not the marching orders
And whether the New One World Order is a good or bad idea, I suppose is debatable
Myself, Im a bit ambivalent about the whole thing, since as long as we, the citizens of the world, submit to rule by the type of people who probably shouldnt be trusted to manage a 7-11, then the New One World Order in some form or another is likely inevitable
Today, we live in a world seemingly less stable than when the U.S.S.R. and USA went toe to toe - deadlocked in a Cold War Standoff... Most of the Thousands of Nuclear Warheads are still around - though some apparently have "Gone Missing"... While America, Japan and others seem bent on destroying ourselves through a gluttony of waste... The World Ecosystem is convulsing, possibly dying... But little if anything seems being done... While those few who bother to pay attention to the approaching catastrophe, basically watch helpless to help or hinder...
Could a regulated World Economy do anything to save ourselves from ourselves..?? It might... but I doubt it would... That's not the type of thing that generates corporate profits... and Politicians, by their very nature, are owned body and what little soul they have left, by Big Business, Big Labor, Big Money... A Leopard doesn't change its spots, any more than Pigs Fly... You know the old saying about why you should never attempt to teach a pig to fly..?? "Because you'll only frustrate yourself and annoy the Pig"...
The misc. pix on this page were drawn from various stories in a variety of publications... All were drawn & are Copyright by Yours Truly, Joshua Quagmire - While inkers include: Dick Glass, Dave Garcia, Dean Norton and of course F. Tubbins... Also extra extraneous kibitzing by Walt...
Now: What Time is it Komrad Kidskis...?