Monday, February 2, 2009

Reprint This! Pussycat

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 several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is PUSSYCAT, a goofy spy parody helmed by a host of creators over its seven year run, chief among them Bill Ward, Larry Lieber, Jim Mooney and Wally West. Essentially a milder knockoff of Kurtzman and Elder's Little Annie Fanny, the five-page, black and white feature starred a ditzy blonde in the employ of S.C.O.R.E. and appeared sporadically in various "men's adventure" titles published by Marvel Comics' old sister company, Magazine Management.

There's very little information available online about Pussycat beyond what you can find at Wikipedia and the links therein. Basically, Martin Goodman had this line of really embarassing men's mags in the sixties and decided to fill some pages with a regular comic, like Playboy was doing, and grabbed whomever he could find at Marvel to brew up his idea. Fred Hembeck, writing in a 2005 essay about Pussycat, describes the mags as being "the sort that regularly featured paintings of well-endowed babes in torn clothing, equipped with machine guns, facing down evil Nazis on their covers." This goes some way to explain why a complete stripography of Pussycat has yet to emerge; the potential modern fanbase for the pun-filled va-va-voom strip doesn't exactly cross with the potential modern fanbase for those sorts of magazines.

While undeniably dated, derivative and sexist, the few Pussycat strips that made it to a second printing are nevertheless very silly and fun, and the artwork is often quite wonderful. Many of the episodes were drawn by Bill Ward, who is best known among one crowd for his decades of work at Cracked Mazagine and among another for his "good girl" artwork - I've never understood how it got that term - which you probably don't want to look up while you're at work. Pussycat, therefore, is just a dream project for his fans, because it's got a well-endowed cutie running around in her underwear foiling the schemes of the evil agents of L.U.S.T., and the rest of the cast are comedic caricatures in a funny parody of some pop culture trend of the moment, from hippies to astronauts to every point in between, and the stories are packed full of wordplay and groan-inducing puns.

As befits something that came from Spidey's publisher in the swinging sixties, the stories are fairly tame and PG-rated, but were just racy enough to thrill the young Marvelites of that decade when some were republished. It wasn't until the Dracula and Howard the Duck black-and-white mags of the 1970s that Marvel finally broke the nudity barrier; Pussycat's playful sexiness is about as bawdy as the nudist camp scene in Blake Edwards' A Shot in the Dark, and, if we're honest with ourselves, just as much a product of its time.

Eight of the Pussycat adventures were collected in a 1968 Marvel magazine called The Adventures of Pussycat. I don't believe this was complete at the time, and Wikipedia suggests that Jim Mooney-illustrated Pussycat adventures were showing up as late as 1971. Nevertheless, the thirty-five cent magazine was an instant collector's item which changes hands for a pretty penny today, and it's the only opportunity people have to read the stories without scouring around for back issues of magzines with names like Stag.

Without knowing how much material is actually out there, it's not easy to map out a suggested reprint, but it's more likely than not that it could all be compiled in one volume. Marvel has only taken baby steps towards acknowledging all the genres beyond superheroes and horror that they've published over the years. Their old romance and humor titles barely get a look in these days, so Pussycat's probably pretty far down on their list of priorities. There may not be that great a market for it, but I certainly enjoyed the episodes that I've seen, and I think other readers will, as well. So how about it, Marvel?

(Originally posted Feb. 2 2009 at Hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

No comments:

Post a Comment