Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!
Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected two dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.
One of the most memorable comic strips I've ever run across was Frederick Mullally and the late Ron Embleton's OH, WICKED WANDA!, which detailed the machinations of a domineering, super-rich European heiress and her schemes of global domination. It's a strip most of you might have seen glimpses of once or twice, but very few people actually read, what with all the glorious amounts of sex and nudity to distract you from the storyline...
Around 1982 or 1983, I was in middle school and discreetly reading my dad's quarter-century run of Playboy when a formidable stack of new material made its way into the house. Dad had taken on a co-worker's collection of 1970s Penthouse mags when his new bride demanded that he dump them. Well, it didn't take long at all to determine that Penthouse was not in any way appealing, in pictures or in words, except for this remarkable, mind-blowing eight-page comic in the back of most of the issues.
Oh, Wicked Wanda! debuted in 1973 and spent the next eight years engaging in a savage satire of seventies politics and sexual conquests. Our heroine, Wanda von Kreesus, a brunette Amazon who was most often seen in a leather outfit with red thigh-highs and a riding crop, had inherited a Swiss bank in which most of the world's governments had deposited vital secrets. The series involved her various manipulations and schemes to take over the world, assisted by her young lover Candyfloss and a small military strike force made up of lesbians from many nations.
Wanda's adventures put her up against various world politicians, along with media celebrities, who were depicted in savage caricature and odd pseudonyms. Most commonly and mercilessly mocked was Ted Kennedy, who seemed to pop up every month standing in a swimming pool or a pond or a puddle and holding a steering wheel. After OPEC's actions triggered international inflation during the 1973 oil crisis, Wanda was often at work playing Ford and Brehznev against each other before the backdrop of Middle East politics.
Little of this, of course, made much sense to a thirteen year-old whose eye was first caught by Ron Embleton's artwork, and the gorgeous naked women on display. But I was curious enough to start learning what the hell was going on in the 1970s to make everybody act so crazy, and if you're familar enough with the news and events of that decade, then Oh, Wicked Wanda! genuinely shines as a brilliant piece of satire, easily on par with such period gems as Howard the Duck and the Doonesbury of the day. The typical panel composition, with little sidebar conversations among bystanders or Hollywood celebs or the writer and the artist, also evokes Jack Davis or Mort Drucker's work for Mad.
The strange thing is that Wanda is probably so easily dismissed as a sex strip that the remarkable humor, in equal parts bawdy, political and subtle, is completely overlooked. But the sex probably works against any possible reprint value the strip might have, even among publishers who specialize in adult material. Wanda and Candyfloss were probably the first lesbian couple that thousands of people ever read about, and it was arguably just as many people's first exposure to a BDSM lifestyle, but by modern standards, the series is far too tame to have any mileage as a "top-shelf book." Sure, there is full frontal nudity, but nothing explicit, and characters are always seen just before or after they've done the dirty, so a publisher like Eros Comix wouldn't see any value in it. On the other hand, there's more nudity and adult content in Wanda than any non-porn series outside of Playboy's Little Annie Fanny (the success of which certainly inspired Penthouse to commission an ongoing strip of some kind), and it's impossible to claim that the content is incidental to any reader's enjoyment of the comedy and the politics. There's also the problem that the original artwork is long since gone, and from what I understand, Penthouse's archives are in nowhere near the good shape that Playboy's are.
Looking back, it really did feel like an awkward fit in Penthouse even when it was running. Even from today's perspective, the magazine, in the 70s, just felt sleazy, dark, intense and secretive and totally lacking the joie de vivre that a healthy sex life brings. Oh, Wicked Wanda! was vibrant and silly and playful; the adult overtones are masked by the same veil of fun that you see in Bettie Page's smile. That suggests to me that Dark Horse, who have published a few collections of Page photographs by Jim Silke and her other fans, might be the right publisher for the series. Dark Horse also compiled the complete Little Annie Fanny in two volumes, though I expect they did so because of the sales potential of Annie's celebrated creators and artists (Kurtzman, Elder, Jaffee, Davis, etc) as much as the desire to have Annie back in print. It's certainly worth looking into again, and I hope somebody does!
(Originally posted October 26, 2007, 11:01 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)