Basil Wolverton’s Culture Corner

By Basil Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-308-8

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist, and – unlike most cartoonists of his time – preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929 but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk for Target Comics and RockmanUnderground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Seemingly tireless, Wolverton also produced an apparently endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as superman/boxing parody ‘Powerhouse Pepper’ to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as ‘Bedtime Bunk’, ‘Culture Quickie’ and ‘Bedtime Banter’.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp of Li‘l Abner fame to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton had been a member of Herbert W. Armstrong’s (prototype televangelist of a burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement) Radio Church of God since 1941. In 1956, he illustrated the founder’s pamphlet ‘1975 in Prophecy’ and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled ‘The Bible Story: the Story of Man’ which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. In many ways, these religious works are his most moving and powerful – and will the subject of a forthcoming review…

In 1973 he returned to the world of comic books, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In 2010 Fantagraphics collected a spectacular haul of Wolverton’s very best gag features in a uniquely informative hardback which is now also available in a fancy-shmancy sci fi digital edition.

Culture Corner ran as a surreal and sublimely screwball half-page “advice column” in Whiz Comics as well as The Marvel Family and The Daisy Handbook from 1946 to 1955, when publisher Fawcett sold off its comic division to Charlton Comics – including the very last unpublished strips. The hermit-cartoonist was clearly a meticulous creator, and his extensive files have bequeathed us a once-in-a-lifetime insight into his working practice and the editorial exigencies of the period.

Wolverton sent a fully pencilled rough of each proposed episode to Will Lieberson and Virginia Provisiaro (Executive editor and Whiz Comic’s editor respectively) who would comment, then commission or reject.

The returned pencils would then form the skeleton of the instalment. This marvellously madcap tome re-presents the full-colour strips with (almost) all of the original pencil roughs, – diligently stored by Wolverton for decades – as counterpoint and accompaniment, revealing the depth not only of Wolverton’s imagination at play but also his deft facility with design and inking.

Also included are some extra roughs and all the extent rejected ideas – still some of the most outrageous tomfoolery ever unleashed even after all these years.

Basil Wolverton was something of an inventor and DIY maestro, according to his son Monte’s illuminating introduction, and turned the family home into a dream-house Rube Goldberg or our own Professor Brainstawm would be proud of, and that febrile ingenuity is clearly seen in the advisements of Croucher K. Conk Q.O.C. (Queer Old Coot) as with awesome alliteration and pre-Rap rhyming riffs, the surly savant suggests solutions for some of life’s least tiresome troubles.

Among the welter of whacky wisdoms imparted here, some of the most timelessly true are ‘How to Raise Your Eyebrows’, ‘How to Eat your Spaghetti without Getting Wetty’, ‘How to Clap without Mishap’, ‘How to Stop Brooding if your Ears are Protruding’, ‘How to Bow’ and ‘How to Grope for Bathtub Soap’: prominent amongst more than a hundred other sage prescriptions, so whatever your age, alignment or species this crazy chronicle has something that will change your life – and often for the better!

Graphically grotesque, inveterately un-sane and scrupulously screwball, this lexicon of lost laughs is a must have item for anyone in need of certifiably classy cheering up.
© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.