I recently sat down with a Saison Dupont and gave the new Buz Sawyer collection a read. Saison Dupont! It goes good with some stinky cheese.
I’m not going to write a review of the new Buz Sawyer compilation from Fantagraphics. Either you like the quaint writing from a bygone era of American history or you don’t. As for Roy Crane’s art? What can I say. It’s first rate. When I go to sleep I see it in my dreams. It causes me to fidget fitfully late at night, as deep down I know I’ll never be that good. If you hate your eyes, never look at any Roy Crane art. The above panel of an air-sea battle for example creates such a sense of depth with only black, white and some grey tones that it looks like a frame right out of a classic black and white movie.
And look at that underground cavern!
Check out this underground hideout!
Hints of Tintin perhaps?
Review? Hell, I wasn’t even going to read the comics. I just wanted to study the art. Trace the art. Squint at the art and caress it from time to time. After all, this collection contains a fan letter from a young Al Toth, so you know this is good stuff. You can see that Toth, John Severin and probably even Frank Miller were into this guy.
As far as reading it goes, I didn’t go in expecting much. I was both repulsed and fascinated by 1940’s America while at the same time drawn into the story. It was WW2 after all, and it’s no surprise that the Japanese are referred to as “monkeys” and portrayed as less than intelligent buck toothed adversaries. I’m not going to berate Roy Crane for how he may or may not have felt about race, as I never met the man or read an autobiography about him. To be fair, the introductory essay by comics historian Jeet Heer, points out that Mr. Crane traveled in Asia extensively after the war and “cringed at the way his assistant Hank Schlensker drew Fiendish Orientals.”
Also not surprising are the appearance of African Americans in the strip. All two of them. I spotted one railroad porter and one waiter. Both drawn with the exaggerated large lips and wide eyes often found in illustrations of the day. Sigh. Jeet Heer also elaborated on this by pointing out some editorial direction Roy got about showing blacks in the strip. He was urged NOT to show them if he could help it, as he would be “inviting trouble.” Again, I don’t know Roy’s personal feelings on this subject and I’m not judging him. Black culture and how it’s been represented throughout American pop culture is an essay for another time.
Roy produced Buz with the help of the U.S. navy at times so it was obviously going to be as positive a view of serving in the military as possible. I had expected a very white washed view of the war as far as the story was concerned, so I was surprised to see some rather graphic content introduced. One soldier is tortured to death, starting with the old bamboo under the fingernail treatment. And I have to admit that a later storyline involving a commander who keeps a list of which pilot will die next, was surprisingly engaging for a mere newspaper strip. Such a good story in fact that I won’t spoil it here for those who plan to read it.
Speaking of fast paced war stories! Spankings!
Or rather, sex!
Yes, “it” was hinted at and Roy obviously enjoyed drawing shapely women showing as much skin as was allowed. We are treated to a peek at Buz’s girlfriend, tot naked in the bathtub and are introduced to “Sultry,” a scantily clad underground rebel who helps our hero escape the Japanese. Rather than actual sex with Sultry though, we have some possible foreplay consisting of her trying to kill Buz, after which a spanking is administered. And after that, you guessed it, they get down to some hugs and kisses. Later in the story, Buz swims out to her yacht one night, and Sultry signals her arousal by pulling a knife on our hero. He strong-arms her, gives her a stern talking to and again they start with the smooches and dreamy eyed stares. When we next see Buz after the yacht scene, it’s morning and he’s back in his barracks assuring his pal that he is not just getting home, but just waking up like the other men! Thus letting the audience know he did NOT spend the night on the yacht with a beautiful woman. Yeah right, Buz.
Speaking of odd sex rituals, silly elf hats?!
Were these really the height of fashion in 1944? Really?
I should add, by the time I read this chapter I was on my third day of drinking my rather large bottle of Saison Dupont. I’d have to say three days is a day too long to keep this beer in the fridge. Still good with some cheese on the second day, but I’d add some pate´ to the mix at this point.
Maybe even some sweet gherkins.
I bought my copy at Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn.
At the time of this writing they have one more copy left.
It sits high up on a top shelf where none but the most worthy can touch it.