Memories of the Comics, from Little Lulu to Tales of the Crypt

By Joe Darby

If you’ll indulge me this week, I’d like to reminisce about comics from the old days. When I was a lad, you could read the comics in two forms. One was in the daily newspaper, with the highlight being on Sunday, when a special section showed the comics in color — bright primary colors, too!

And then you could buy comic books, in any drug store or news stand. These little gems, at that time, cost 10 cents each. Even then, a true bargain, I do believe.

As my regular readers know, I love to read and I suppose I really got my start on comic books. I recall what I suppose we should call the Classics. Among my favorites were Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Woody Woodpecker and Tom and Jerry.

They all were, of course, animals with human characteristics who had a series of silly adventures guaranteed to sustain the attention span of kids as well as, I suspect, a lot of adults too. However, there was one kind of odd thing that I noticed about how those critters were drawn. What caught my eye was the manner in which they were dressed.

As I recall, Mickey, Donald, Woody and the rest of the gang always had shirts on, but no pants. Why that was I could never figure out at the time and I still can’t. It was all entirely innocent, of course, but if you think about it, it’s really kind of strange.

Anyway, moving on, to my mind the Classics were as good as it got. But there were other comics, about real human beings, not animals, that were just as much fun to read.

Any of you remember Little Lulu, a kind of chubby child who always came out good in the end? And her faithful friend Tubby, a little boy? Also, there was a great strip about another little girl, Nancy, who had a curly hairdo that looked much like an Afro, although she was Caucasian. She had a boyfriend, Sluggo, a tough but sweet little rascal, and she lived with here glamorous Aunt Fritzi.

I remember another comic that I really liked, about a little boy named Henry, a kind of skinny little fellow who was quite bald, I believe.

And then there were the cowboys, of course. My favorite was Red Ryder, and his young pal, Little Beaver, an Indian lad. I also recall comic books about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, although that duo gained more fame from a radio show and later a TV series, with the famous opening music, the William Tell Overture.

There were some great war comics too, including GI Joe long before he became an action figure. I remember enjoying comic books that showed GI Joe busily fighting in Korea and in every issue he destroyed many evil North Korean and Chinese Communist troops.

And how about Mutt and Jeff. One was tall and skinny and the other was short and stumpy. They often got up to shenanigans but, like almost all of the comics characters, came out right in the end.

Molly and Jiggs. They were always dressed up as if going to a ball, with Molly in an evening gown and Jiggs in a tux. More often than not, as I recall, Jiggs was up to mischief and usually had a flask containing adult beverages hidden somewhere on him.

And how about the Katz & Jammer Kids. They were part of a German-American family and they were pretty much little brats, but never got into such serious trouble that they couldn’t get out of it.

And then there were the comic books that either sparked a congressional investigation or threatened to. Those were the horror comics and I loved them. Such titles as Tales of the Crypt and the Vault of Horror were sure to capture the eye of curious youngsters like myself.

And the art in those comic books was delightfully lurid and sick. A decaying skeleton with an evil grin was often on the cover, strings of spittle hanging down from its teeth. Why, a kid just couldn’t wait to open up the book and see what evils lurked inside.

I had to try to keep those particular books hidden from Mother. She would have agreed with the congressmen who were saying that such comics were a horrible influence on the nation’s youth. And since Mother was the source of my spending money to buy comic books, I had to be clever in order to avoid ruining my access to such reading material.

To me, the heyday of comics was in the early 1950s. By the late ’50s, my reading taste was changing to real books. And besides, comic books shot up in price to 25 cents!

Of course, like a lot of things from that era, I wish I still had my comic books. They’d be worth a pretty penny, no doubt. But, along with all my toys and my first stamp collection — not to mention my 1950s baseball cards — they are all gone.

So here’s a final word of advice to you, my friends. They say if you’re trying to decide whether to throw something out or not, ask yourself if you would still want it five years from now. I would amend that to say, would you still want it 20, 30 or 40 years from now? Think about that carefully. And then keep it!

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