Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gang Bang

One thing that's rarely discussed beyond the point of a trivia question when one reminisces about Wally Wood is his pornography. The two invaluable full-length biographies gloss over it and I wasn't even able to track down any information on the Internet where finding porn is NEVER hard to do! (I did, however, enjoy the "research!") The fact of the matter is that Woody was never afraid to draw a pretty girl, a naked girl or a girl having sex. Toward the end of his life, pornography became his main source of income, first from PURITAN (a pioneering hardcore newsstand mag), Al Goldstein's SCREW newspaper and its magazine counterpart, NATIONAL SCREW. Wood's WEIRD SEX FANTASY PORTFOLIO was the only commercial portfolio he ever released. His latter day move to the West Coast was facilitated by Barbara Friedman's Nuance Publications which published three issues of (supposedly) all-Wood sex comics in magazine form.
GANG BANG # 1 came out in 1980 and went through at least two printings that year. I remember getting it through a CBG ad from the publisher while the artist was still alive. Later, I recall seeing a different cover so it would go through at least one more printing. Nuance had also published at least two volumes of MISTY by Jim McQuade, a fantasy-oriented jungle girl style graphic novel for adults that was regularly advertised in CBG. When I ordered the first GANG BANG, I ended up on their mailing list and would get subsequent volumes from them through (some very bizarre!) direct mail advertising.

The fact that Wally Wood would do a complete hardcore porn comic somehow seemed at the time not so much a comedown as a natural progression. Starting with his gorgeous EC women, then his fifties girlie cartoons, the clothing optional SALLY FORTH comic strip, the portfolio and the mid-seventies adult magazine work...it just made sense for him to do a full-on sex comic book. In fact, in the aftermath of early seventies"porno chic," it was a pioneering move for a mainstream comic book artist of his caliber!

The problem, of course, was the circumstances. The times being what they were, GANG BANG could not have existed ten years earlier and yet THAT is when it might well have worked for Wood. By the time of its publication, his health was degenerating quickly and had been affecting his once-pristine art for several years. He was much slower, used more paste-ins and tracings than ever and had no assistants of the high quality he had used for years. As such, the first issue, although clearly Woodwork, is disappointing, the second is without a doubt the worst material he ever had published and the third, posthumous, issue consists of reprints of varying quality from other sources. That said, let's take as critical a look as possible at the contents of the three issues of GANG BANG.

Other than Jack Kirby, Wally Wood has probably been cover-referenced on more comics than any other artist. GANG BANG # 1 is one of them. Clearly the Wood name was looked at as a selling point even amongst the presumably less-discriminating audience which normally would buy this type of publication.
The "stories" included never rise above the level of the 1920's "8 Pagers." Stock characters are introduced and after a panel or so begin to have sex. Like the 8 Pagers, in fact, most of these strips are parodies of well-known comic strips, including Wood's own fan favorite SALLY FORTH.

I suppose it was only natural that Wood would use his own copyrighted feature, then so popular in his own oversized reprints. Natural...but ultimately regettable.The SALLY FORTH strip features the hapless heroine--here seen for the first time with pubic hair--who can't keep her clothes on, the diminutive Lt. QP Dahl and Wild Bill Yonder, all out of character from their long run in THE OVERSEAS WEEKLY but at least recognizably drawn. Many of the actual sex scenes show little of the artist's skill with blacks, lighting and detail and look like they might be lightbox tracings from other porn mags. The plot, such as it is, deals with Bill's exploiting of Sally as a sex surrogate. Seeing her actually having the sex only implied previously diminishes her status as a wide-eyed innocent and she comes across more as a naive "dumb blonde" than she ever did before. The original SALLY FORTH continuity (written in part, I believe, by Larry Hama) is silly, fun and carttonishly convoluted with the heroine's nakedness more a bonus than a plot point. Here, it's just sex and in the long run it doesn't really work.

LIL AN' ABNER, up next, showcases another of Woody's areas of expertise--his ability to mimic other art styles. In this case, we see country boy L'il Abner very much in the Al Capp style having sex with Moonbeam McSwine and then Daisy Lil (Mae), leading to the supposed "real" story behind their celebrated wedding. Well drawn but again looking rushed with the sex scenes not particularly erotic.

SO WHITE AND THE SIX DORKS, up next, is the most polished piece in this volume which leads me to think it may have been done earlier, possibly for PURITAN. Thereis some genuinely amusing art in this one but with the predictable outcome of group sex.

THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER is another well-drawn quickie based in part on the classic old joke that everyone's heard more about than they've actually heard! PERRY AND THE PRIVATES finishes up with the most rushed-looking work appearing in the mag and the first trace of what appears to be assistance from less than capable hands. Both parodied newspaper strips, L'IL ABNER and TERRY AND THE PIRATES, had completed their long runs several years before GANG BANG appeared.

Volume 2, originally published in March of the artist's last year, continues the tradition of Tijuana Bible-style parodies, complete with fake author names. Up first is PRINCE VIOLATE by "Hard Farter." Uh-huh. Even though his name appears even bigger (and in its classic gothic lettering) on the cover of this one, I will go so far as to say I don't see a TRACE of Wood in this art. If, in fact, he ever touched this strip it was so heavily inked and retouched as to remove any bit of the Wood touch other than the Zip-a-tone screens! Some panels look better than others but all of them look strictly amateurish.

SALLY FORTH gets another 12 pages next, as she ends up as an adult film star. There's lots more rushed looking tracings and recognizable pasteups from earlier, better appearances but there's also 4 or 5 pages that, like above, are so badly inked as to show little or no Wood influence, let alone actual work! The whole thing leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.

STUPORMAN MEETS BLUNDER WOMAN, especially from the man who brought the world the classic and amazing SUPERDUPERMAN, is the worst piece of drek Wood ever had a hand in that actually got printed. And it IS Wood, this time, albeit with at least the appearance of lesser hands. No question there. From its scratchy, unprofessional logo to its unfunny ending, it is absolutely disgusting...but not because of the sex scenes!

FLASHER GORDON seems to be drawn by the same guy that did PRINCE VIOLATE but, again, the astute reader is given no reason at all to believe this to be Wallace Wood. The piece after that, though, entitled THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION, is actually signed by Wood. If the fact that it namechecks PURITAN is any indication, I would say that it was meant for and possibly actually appeared in that magazine originally. Although it looks more like breakdowns than an actual publishable piece, it is an amusing look at changing sexual mores done in the artist's latter-day LUNAR TUNES style and utilizing tracings and redrawn panels from BIG APPLE COMIX and other sources. STARZAN, done (rather badly) in the Burne Hogarth style may or may not have detectable Woodwork. Not sure. Either way, it is a far cry from being well-done. The issue rounds out with what may have been a rejected cover but ends up as a smarmy but funny sketch in the classic Wally Wood humor style. It's the best thing in Volume 2.

GANG BANG publisher Barbara Friedman was, by all accounts, the one to find Wallace Wood's body after his late 1981 suicide. She had hired him and befriended him but that didn't keep her from continuing to exploit his name even after his death. A year and a half later, Nuance released GANG BANG # 3, with a cover touting "Wood's Women and Wit." The art used on the cover was originally meant for an unrealized Wood project to have been called STRANGE SYMPHONIES.

This issue is actually much better than the previous effort as it deals completely with previously published work. We open with 24 black and white pages of MALICE IN WONDERLAND, the dirty but witty softcore strip the artist had originally published in color in France and in NATIONAL SCREW before his health had gotten too bad . This strip shows Wood at perhaps a peak for his erotic work. Although cut up, repasted and in some cases blown up way too big, the wit and skill show through even though the presentation is hardly the finest this material would see.

This is followed by some reprinted gag pages from SCREW and the SEX FANTASY PORTFOLIO as well as a page of sketches that include everything from SALLY FORTH to THE WIZARD KING! The reappearance of one of the badly drawn Sally pages from the last volume rears its ugly head but then we move on to FLESH FUCKER MEETS WOMEN'S LIB, a second FLASH GORDON parody in this series, this one being done in 1977 in a softcore MAD-style for, I believe, THE NATIONAL SCREW again. It's not bad.
THE BLIZZARD OF OOZE, again cut up and repasted for some reason, originally appeared in PURITAN and is, as it sounds like, a hardcore WIZARD OF OZ parody. Although not as well-drawn as MALICE, it's hard to tell just how many of the strip's shortcomings are attributable to its less than stellar presentation here. Rounding out the issue are a few more extremely well done single panel bits from the Portfolio and SCREW.

Much of the GANG BANG 3 material was reprinted in a 1998 Fantagraphics/Eros Comics volume entitled NAUGHTY KNOTTY WOODY. That volume was edited by Bill Pearson but while it features superior quality reproduction and additional material (including behind the scenes stuff!), there is sadly no background or context given on the individual strips and artwork. In addition, the cover's claim that this was "the complete collection of Wallace Wood's erotic work" misleads as the various strips from the first two issues are completely absent.

At the end of the day, GANG BANG doesn't work as "turn-on" erotica, it works only in spots as erotic parody and little, if at all, as enjoyable art on any level. In the perhaps jaded eyes of hindsight, one is forced to look at the three issues of GANG BANG with disappointment and a melancholy sadness. Instead of what should have been a groundbreaking step, GANG BANG really has become quite literally little more than a dirty little bit of trivia in the long, distinguished career of Wallace Wood.

13 comments:

  1. Regarding my comment of the other day: "Even at his worst I liked Wood..." I had not seen his latter day stuff, had only heard about it. I'm not sure that I would like Woody at his worst. But, boy, as a story, Woody's life is intriguing. I think an interesting noir-ish film of his life could be made.

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  2. Hard to say how many printings there were of GANG BANG, but the first issue had at least 7 printings. At least five printings of #2 and at least three printings of the final issue. Also some of the later reprints of GB #2 were abridged with the TARZAN and SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN parodies missing, bringing the page count down to 32 pages.

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  3. Excellent post! I don't see it as sad that Woody worked in porn at all: Maybe, at the time, it was the only work he could get, and as you say, he was hardly a stranger to it. The sadness is in seeing his art deteriorate due to his illnesses & depression. A movie of his life wouldn't be cheery viewing, but would be fascinating. Who'd play him?

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  4. I might say Tarantino, but I don't know if he could muster the twinkle of the eye that Wood was capable of.

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  5. What about that guy who was the comic relief in the 2nd Conan film, Tracey Walter? Check out his photo on Wikepedia.Is that not Woody?

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  6. Pete--you are so right, he would be perfect!

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  7. For the most part, the worst of Wood is better than the beset of most others Sally Forth always had such innocence that "hard core" Sally is difficult to put into context at first but the it makes sense as natural evolution of the strip. Even reluctant evolution.

    xminusone@gmail.com

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  8. I had a signed copy of Gang Bang #1 that I picked up at a convention in '80 or '81. It disappeared a few years later. I think a roommate made off with it.

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  9. This is interesting, thanks. I understand your point that in terms of drawing naked women this was a natural progression, but on the other hand, unlike his early women who were so sexy, and even Sally Forth who is cartoonish and original, these are very flat generic drawings (for the most part)...as you explain. But the sad thing to me is his loss of originality - there is no story telling of interest and I wonder if that indicates a mind broken from alcohol (and drugs? Don't know if he was into that) or depression. It is sad that this incredibly creative man lost that spark - but I'd love to know if he felt that way. Maybe his opinion was that this was the most fun he ever had?

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  10. the media has made a big deal that the guy who murdered his wife and kids and blew up his house had lots of images of cartoon sex; just saying for what its worth...

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  11. I would like very much to see all Gang Bang issues in a nice oversize hardcover book.Is there any information about it?.Is it possible one of the rumored books yet to come,be about this?

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  12. Any word on a Gang Bang Omnibus or the Collected Gang Bang yet guys?

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  13. an ultimate Gang Bang collection is possible. The idea of ending such a stellar career with porn has always created a sadness in the hearts and minds of so many that cherished Wood. Had he done this material earlier and ended with a more universal last hurrah, this material might be seen in a very different light. Wood's health was in serious decline by the time of Gang Bang. That -- along with the adult genre primary goal of arousal -- influenced a looser art style. Still, with a recent, fresh look, the material stands up (puns accepted). Ironically, the last issue, #3, contains much of Wood's earliest XXX material and is surely the best of the series. All include his unique wit -- here he gets to apply it to some of his favorite themes (sex, fairy tales, classic comic-strips). Again, with any genre, including XXX, Wood's work proves to be among the best.

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