Brainiac On Banjo: Let’s Stumble In The Jungle

“Walking through forests of palm tree apartments. Scoff at the monkeys who live in their dark tents. Down by the waterhole, drunk every Friday, eating their nuts, saving their raisins for Sunday. Lions and tigers who wait in the shadows; they’re fast but they’re lazy, and sleep in green meadows.” From “Bungle in the Jungle,” written by Chip Taylor, Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Trevor Smith, Stig Anderson, Kamaal Fareed, Malik Taylor, Pras Michel, Forte, Benny Andersson, and Bjoern K Ulvaeus.

Let me start this week’s disquisition with an apology. A friend of mine sent me the above piece of art which he copped off the internet. He did not know who the artist was, but it so directly relates to my experiences as a comic book fan that I’m using it anyway, with sincere apologizes to its creator. It’s fantastic, it’s right on the money, and it directly addresses one of my major four-color bugaboos.

Outside of the obvious, which is clearly seen in the above purloined artwork, I never understood the massive appeal of jungle girl comics. By and large, these stories were exquisitely drawn but horribly overwritten. Of course, there wasn’t a lot of room to do brilliant heroic jungle action stories, and usually there was a male companion/savior involved. The late 40s / early 50s were like that. I guess women in four-color or full color needed saviors back then.

Only a handful of jungle heroes had “legs” — that is, the ability to successfully endure in their own title for a long period of time. There were a lot jungle women, mostly white, all in terrific shape and clothed in barnstorming costumes. Mind you, they all wore more than, say, Tarzan, but they wore it better.

These women were immortalized by a plethora of terrific artists such as Matt Baker, Frank Frazetta, Bill Everett, Bob Powell, George Evans, Lou Fine, Mort Meskin, Ralph Mayo, and Maurice Whitman… to name but a few. Clearly, these casting decisions made everybody quite happy.

Well before she became a punk rocker, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, was the best known of her ilk. Created for Fiction House in 1938 by Will Eisner (yup; that Will Eisner) and Jerry Iger, she graduated to her own title at the very end of 1941, which means she made it to the spinner racks on her own months before Wonder Woman.

You’ll forgive me for pointing out that, indeed, Wonder Woman had legs.

Sheena later had her own teevee series. In fact, she had two. The first starred “Irish” McCalla (replacing Anita Ekberg, who evidently chickened out at the last minute) and ran in 1956 – 1957. It received poor reviews and, after watching a couple more recently, the show deserved every word written about it. The second ran from 2000 to 2002 starring Gena Lee Nolin. The first lasted twenty-six episodes, the second ran for thirty-five episodes. Neither were blockbusters, to say the least. There also was a movie in 1984 starring Tanya Roberts that pulled in a bit over five million bananas.

In all the above comics and teevee shows, the writing usually sucked. There was no compelling reason for anybody to endure the effort of consumption other than the lead characters’ provocative attire… and lack thereof.

Yet “Jungle Girl” comics endured because of the often superlative artwork which fed nicely into the wonts of the adolescent audience at the time. It’s a bonafide genre, and some very entertaining stories were published in Ka-Zar, The Savage. Marvel’s Sheena, cleverly named Shanna (the She-Devil) was married to Ka-Zar and lived with him and their saber-toothed tiger in the Savage Land, a place that managed to attract the likes of Doctor Octopus. Bruce Jones wrote it (with Mike Carlin stepping in for the last issues) and, following jungle comics tradition, artists included Brent Anderson, Ron Frenz, Bob Hall, Armando Gil and Paul Neary, and edited by Louise Simonson and Danny Fingeroth. There’s an six pound omnibus edition out there, for those who desire further weight training.

I like the Savage Land. It has all the pleasures of the African jungle without the tacky racial considerations. It also has pterodactyls, and every story is more fun with pterodactyls.

As I stated, the allure of jungle girl comics has alluded me. I do note that these features seemed to disappear when skin magazines — a.k.a. “men’s sophisticates,” which is my favorite euphemism — started getting newsstand racking, so perhaps their major purpose was superseded.

Then again, that also was the time the Comics Code Authority came into existence. Ahhh, maybe that’s just a coincidence.