ERB and Wally Wood
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2006
This article contains comic book nudity. The graphics are generally tasteful and innocent, but if you find sexy humor offensive, please go elsewhere!
What happens when two giants in their respective fields get together? Even if they never met, or even worked in the same decades? Sometimes you get a touch of greatness.
Edgar Rice Burroughs died in 1950, just a few years after a young man from Menahga, Minnesota arrived in New York City to begin lettering pages for Will Eisner, the man who drew and scripted the wildly successful THE SPIRT comic book. In short order he was doing the same for Milt Caniff (Terry and the Pirates). By 1949 Wally "Woody" Woods had his first illustrated story published in True Crime Comics. Two years later Wood was setting new standards doing covers and interiors for Avon's Eerie Comics. His talent as both an artist and storyteller grew at a phenomenal rate, based in part to producing hundreds of pages in a relatively short period of time. And then came Entertaining Comics (EC) and Wood's star rose straight to the top with his sharply defined graphics that re-invented gruesome monsters and luscious women in the comics publishing industry.
Anyone who is a fan of comics knows the Wallace Wood art-style -- and the name. And millions more know his art as it appeared in advertisements, record albums, children's books, even if they never learned the artist's name.
Others more knowledgable in the history of comics could tell you more, and I could a bit as well, but that's not why we're here today. I want to take a look at the link between Edgar Rice Burroughs and Wally Wood. I could say that both were largely self-taught at their respective trades. Wouldn't hurt to mention that both appeared to be overnight successes shortly after starting their creative output, or that they were superb storytellers with the ability to depict the thrilling wonder their readers so enjoyed--ERB with prose, Wood with graphic illustrations and occasionally a script or two. Both were driven to succeed, to perfect their craft. Ed Burroughs lived a long and relatively happy life, passing at that age of 74. Wally Wood's desire to produce only the best ulimately led to an alcohol dependency, which no doubt had an effect resulting in three failed marriages, ill-health, difficulties maintaining working relationships with editors and publishers, deteriorating health, then a series of strokes, and last, failing kidneys. It was the possibility of being on dyalsis for the rest of his life that most likely resulted in his suicide. He was only 54.
Like ERB, Wally Wood was, and continues to be, a legend in his industry. A few of his works are sought after by ERB fans who also like comics, such as his adaptation of Ralph Milne Farley's "An Earthman on Venus." Much of his work in the Warren magazines (Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella) resonate with the adventure romance the ERB fan so enjoys.
So, you may ask, beyond all the above, what is the link between Burroughs and Wood? I'll tell you: Sally Forth, girl commando! Sally Forth was conceived and created in 1968 as a full page feature for Overseas Weekly, an Army newspaper, whose only specification was that Sally was to appear naked at least once in every installment. Sally Forth, a sexy humor strip, followed the trials and tribulations of a sweet innocent female, a bit ditzy, who was always trying to protect her long-lost "virtue." Wood had a great deal of experience doing humor and parody, having been a main stay illutrator for Mad Comics and then 12 years more with the up-graded Mad Magazine.
Wood wrote the Sally Forth script and did thumbnail layouts which he passed to assistant Nicola Cuti (look him up, he went on to become another giant in the comics industry). The pencils were then inked and finished by Wood, who retaining complete control over each installment.
Toward the end of his life Wood re-issued the Sally Forth comics as small, limited edition books during a self-publishing venture. Two were released during his life time, the third shortly after his death. In 1998 Fantagraphics published The Complete Sally Forth edited by Bill Pearson, from which publication the images accompanying this article were taken. If you want to read all 134 installments of Sally Forth, buy the book! We're going to look at 14 in detail--the 14 that most closely link to Edgar Rice Burroughs!
A little background on the characters you're about to meet. Lt. Q.P. Dahl, the runt of the litter, commands Kicky McCann, judo and karate expert; Wild Bill Yonder, the unit's air support pilot; Hairy James, weapons and demolition; "...and Sally Forth, who has no special military abilities at all..." By the time the above installment begins the Co-Ed Commandos were blooded by taking on an overwhelming assault force via the clever ruse of having one of their members bathe nude in a river. Guess who!
Returning from that mission their transport is sunk by Captain Meno's submarine. The survivors are taken to his mysterious island. Sally is tricked into become the first human to fly a spaceship to Mars where she encounters Snorky (soon to become a regular in the strip). Sally is examined by a "brain" and it breaks, destroying Martian society (Kamtol, anyone?) Meanwhile, on Earth, Q.P. Dahl and the men are captives of natives who worship a talking idol (Master Mind of Mars). Dahl discovers Meno is the voice of the idol and commands the natives to let them go and turn over a flying saucer so they can rescue Sally. On Mars Sally helps the Martians defeat a self-replicating garbage monster which has begun to devour the planet since there's no garbage left (shades of Synthetic Men in reverse!). Her solution is to take the monster to Earth where there's a lot of garbage. Just so you know, I'm leaving a LOT out, such as Dahl and gang getting to Mars, their adventures there, and getting back in time for Sally to accidentally foil Captain Meno's nefarious plan to take over the world.
The group's next adventure involves a war between the Grand Duchy of Rottenbad ruled by Count Meoff and the United States, only America doesn't know about it. Other than a drafty castle similar to Blentz, the ERB references are few.
Hardly has that mission concluded before the Co-Ed Commandos are forced to deal with Count Vernacula, a Jewish vampire who laughs at crucifixes, Jeeves the butler (who looks like Frankenstein), a Mummy with a yen for chicken soup, Sally's little "doggie" a werewolf, and the return of Meno in a rodent's body. Hey, I said I was leaving things out!
The next story arc is actually a continuation of the one above: Meno, endeavouring to be restored to his body, uses the mind transference thing (without the need for surgery - Master Mind again) and places Sally's brain into a giant gorilla and the more intelligent mind of the ape into her body. Q.P. Dahl and the boys take Sally (ape mind) back to New York. Captain Meno cages the ape (Sally mind) and transports it on a rusty old steamer to New York to make a fortune. Later, ape-Sally is on top of the Empire State Building trying to save Sally-ape when a pair of WWI aircraft approach. She realizes that "I've seen this in a movie."
WHICH BRINGS US UP TO THE REAL ERB STUFF! Ultimately successful, Dahl and the boys are sent to infiltrate the African nation of Criteria to retrieve a highly sensitive formula which could unhinge the Free World (the forumla for Coca-Cola) while Sally, with Snorky, her Martian friend, return the giant ape (minds have been transferred) to Africa. Remember the strip above? that's the beginning.
After releasing the ape, Snorky and Sally are heading back when she's snatched (naked, taking a bath in the river) by the Bull-Chimp himself, the mighty Lord Grey Stripes. If you stare at the picture to the left (might be above) for five minutes, you'll notice the figure of a man in a tree. That figure looks very familiar, don't you think?
Lord Grey Stripes surprises Sally, who flees, but she is caught up and carried into the trees as if she weighs nothing. When Sally asks her captor: "But what do you do for fun?" the reply is: "Oh, kill an occassional elephant rustler, watch a virgin sacrifice--and scare the HELL out of the simple savages who think I'm God."
Do you guys want to know what's happening to Q.P. Dahl, Bill Yonder, Kicky McCann and Hairy James? I didn't think so! Okay, Sally and the bull-chimp arrive at his modest split-level treehouse. Looks quite a bit like Johnny Weismuller's...
Snorky, meanwhile, finds Sally's clothes and all the gear she had been carrying--they had no bearers for their safari. Distraught, the brave little Martian starts up a long steep hill, which happens to be the tail of a Brontosaurus. Off to the left we see the toothy grin of T-Rex through the trees! Criteria must be near Pal-ul-don.
Sally spends a few panels dodging the amorous Starzan. As he catches her, he hears an ape's voice: "Eek Eek! Ook! Ook!" Startled, he leaps out the window shouting: "It's Mother! Don't go 'way, I'll be right back!" Sadly, the jungle lord misses the vine and falls to the ground. A half-dozen bestial shapes appear. Sally, turns...
Snorky is rescued from standing in as an appetizer. Tarzan's flight with a thipdar wasn't as scenic, I'll bet. Back at the Criteria airport Q.P. Dahl and his African spy counterpart find themselves in hot water. What? Okay, okay! Back to Sally!
The beast men carry our nubile heroine dangling bound hand and foot on a pole. Soon they enter the village where the witch doctor, M'utha, weaing a gigantic mask that looks like Groucho Marx, complete with cigar informs Sally she has arrived in time for the Dumb Dumb Dance. Miffed, Sally replies: "I resent that!"
Private Forth is tied up again inside the hut. M'utha looks on as she worries the beast men will molest her. He assures her that won't happen. She's to be sacrificed. "Oh, well, that's different!"
Starzan has recovered. His faithful monkey friend N'chimpo speaks to him. Snorky is taken to Queen Sheema, who at first mistakes him as Fongool, the green monster god of the beast men. She then decides to use him in that capacity to order the beast men to put down their weapons. When Snorky asks why, she replies: "Then I and my Amazons rush in and kill them all!"
Snorky arrives in a puff of smoke, just in time to stop the sacrifice of Sally Forth. He calls out for the beast men to become peace-loving pacifists.
"You got to be kidding, God!"
"I just became an atheist!"
Outside the village Starzan has gathered his elephant friends. With a mighty swing on a vine, yelling, "BANZAI!" (with Kreegah in print at the bottom of the panel) Starzan pulls a George of the Jungle, coming to a very abrupt halt. However, the elephants have commenced their stampede upon the pre-arranged signal, with Starzan in their path! "Tandar! Bundolo!" he cries in vain. When the dust settles it appears the beast men have been routed--but it only appears that way!
Q.P. Dahl and Hairy James, having escaped their troubles in an aircraft, find the ejection seats operational (by accident). Parachuting down (coincidence ala ERB) they join Sally, Snorky and Starzan. Surrounded by the beast men, M'utha greets the new guests with an invite to the Dumb-Dumb. Starzan does a double-take and asks: "What's that?"
I'm gonna jump ahead a dozen or so panels--this part is just sight gags, bad puns, and even worse theatrical speeches. Time to get on with the good stuff!
Er... hold on a sec... Well, I suppose I should let you know that M'utha is unmasked and he's Gaucho Marx, international famous formula thief. NOW we can move on!
Starzan has valiantly abandoned the fellow captives, taking Sally with him back to the treehouse, whereupon the lecher resumes his chase of the poor girl. Cornered, Sally wails: "Beast-men! Amazons! Hyena men! If this is Africa, how come I don't see any blacks...?"
As the black men step over Starzan's unconscious body Sally mutters: "I had to ask!!"
Skip...skip...ah! Here we go! Sally is brought to the native village by the jubilant kidnapers, glad to have their own white goddess. Unfortunately others from the tribe cut a deal with neighbors for their white goddess, who looks at Sally and sentences her to death. Skip...skip... The natives decide the white goddesses will have to duke it out.
Sally kicks butt! ... (I'm leaving ALOT out! The things that Q.P. Dahl and Snorky suffer at the hands of the Amazons is...well, it's bad!) ... Sally attempts to assert her new diety by directing the natives to let her go. They suggest she doesn't press her luck. Then, from out of the jungle comes the hair-raising cry of the bull-chimp himself: "Yodel Ay De Hoo!" As quick as that Sally's rescued and, one-track mind that he has, Starzan goes back to the treehouse. Just as they are entering, he stops, shuddering in terror as he looks upon... JANE! Needless to say Starzan gets a good smackdown and falls out the window.
Hairy James, looking on, says: "Poor Starzan..."
Jane growls: "Lord Stripes!!"
Q.P. Dahl (well, you guys didn't want to wait for me to tell you what happened to those guys!) shakes his head. "Starzan Stripes! ...Get it?"
I count three "ughs" or similar and Sally's giggled "I like it!"
Rather than end on that low note, I'll fill you in a little more: The Co-Ed Commandos get home. Q.P. Dahl reports to General Torpor, who is pleased to know the formula was found.
Dahl, unfortunately, forgot to get it from Agent Schwartz!
By the way... the sysnopsis above is just at 1/3 of the entire series. Get the book!