Continuing our review of the first two hundred LOAC books, which began here, take a look at our fifty-first to one hundredth releases …
We’re quickly closing in on the 50th anniversary of The Landing of the Eagle, as the Apollo 11 mission brought Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin safely to the surface of the Moon and back. Surely the media coverage of this golden anniversary is difficult to escape, and that’s as it should be — those of us who were alive to follow the voyage of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins (who remained in orbit, piloting the Command Module Columbia as his fellow astronauts trod the Lunar surface) remember it as one of those rare moments when much of the entire planet was united to celebrate an amazing accomplishment.
Being born in mid-July, I was nine years old when Apollo 11 blasted off for its date with destiny, but ten years old when Armstrong made his “one small step for a man.” Headlines across the country mirrored this one, from the Boston Globe, as Columbia roared skyward from Kennedy Space Center atop a Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969:
Several years ago we took some time in this space to show you what my LOAC bookshelf looked like. I shelve my books in alphabetical order by author, or by publisher where that makes more sense — for instance, while my William Saroyans are under “S”, my Fantastic Fours are under “M”, with the rest of my Marvel Comics collections. My Library of American Comics titles are therefore under “L,” and then shelved alphabetically in a logical way (well, logical to me, anyway), as you can see:
Thanksgiving is being celebrated in the U.S., with millions of travelers bound “over the river and through the woods” — if not to grandmother’s house, then to the home of some beloved family member. Air and rail travel have made trips of thousands of miles possible, transforming for many the official fourth-Thursday-of-November observance into a four-day holiday weekend.
Whether you’re staying close to home, crossing the country, or traveling some distance in between, may your Thanksgiving be a pleasant one — and may you gobble up this fantasy comics page from a Thanksgiving exactly fifty years old — from Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1967. It features familiar faces, as well as more esoteric comic strips, such as Born Loser by Art Sansom (the series was only two-and-a-half years old at this time, having debuted in May of 1965, though Sansom had previously worked on Chris Welkin – Planeteer and Vic Flint); Wayout by Ken Muse (not “Ben,” as this credit mistakenly indicates; you can learn more about Mr. Muse’s life and career here); Mell Lazarus’s lesser-known series, Miss Peach; and The Berrys, by Carl Grubert.
Stop a hundred random persons on the street and ask them which holiday they associate with the month of May. “Memorial Day” will certainly be the first many select. Others will choose “Mother’s Day.” Some will surely note that Ramadan starts on May 27th of this year.
Yet there are other holidays and observances tied to this often-most-pleasant-of-months. The very first day of the month is May Day, after all … Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly tied into the cultural zeitgeist … and this year Derby Day occurs one day later, on May 6th. The entire month is devoted to raising awareness for both Lyme Disease and Lupus. May 28th is National Burger Day, while the 31st is World No Tobacco Day.
For the purposes of this piece, however, we’re focused on the third Saturday in May, which is designated as Armed Forces Day in the United States. This observance was originally enacted in August of 1949 and marked the consolidation of the four major branches of the American military under the Department of Defense. The very first Armed Forces Day was also celebrated on a May 20th, in the year 1950.
So, with an itch to assemble one of our occasional “fantasy comics pages” that features various strips taken from one day in history, I decided to pick strips that were originally published on an Armed Forces Day early in the event’s history and settled on May 18, 1957.
I was pleased with the strips I chose from that date — a nice mix, I think, between drama continuities and comedy series, between easily-recognized strips (Archie, Mary Worth) and titles that have fallen into obscurity over time — Jeff Cobb, for example, or Morty Meekle. The former was artist Pete Hoffman’s adventure-hunting investigative reporter, the latter Dick Cavalli’s romance strip for NEA that quickly pushed the kid members of the supporting cast into the spotlight (by the mid-1960s Cavalli renamed the strip Winthrop, after the most prominent of the youngsters, making their takeover complete). Another modern-day obscurity I’ve included here is David Crane, launched in 1956 by Win Mortimer. In an interview with his widow published in Roy Thomas’s Alter Ego # 88, Mortimer’s widow described the strip by saying, “David Crane was small-town minister. Win had a good Biblical background; he could quote anything.”
I couldn’t resist including another installment of the delightful Penny, as well as a Long Sam — Bob Lubbers never made anyone forget Foster, Caniff, or Raymond, but he was a really excellent craftsman. Donald Duck was a “must-have” once I saw the newspaper Don was reading — J. Jonah Jameson take note! There’s not much smilin’ going on in this day’s Smilin’ Jack, and to mark the appearance of our tenth LOAC Essentials volume, featuring Norman Marsh’s Dan Dunn, I was glad to find a fresh example of Marsh’s later self-syndicated strip, Dan’l Hale.
As you look at this fantasy comics page, one thing may jump out at you — none of these strips make mention of Armed Forces Day! It will surely surprise no one to hear the May 18th, 1957 Steve Canyon was devoted to observing the day, and Caniffites can turn to page 78 of “Princess in Exile,” our sixth Steve Canyon volume, to see how the U.S. Cartoonist-in-Chief saluted the boys in uniform. For now, though, here’s our fantasy comics page from May 18, 1957 (click any strip for a larger view) …
Flag Day is June 14th, and this year isn’t just any Flag Day, it’s the 100th anniversary of Flag Day. Yes, in 1916 President Wilson established the date as a way each year to say, “Hurrah for the red-white-and-blue.” Flag Day isn’t an official Federal holiday the way Memorial and Labor Days are, and unlike “big” holidays such as Christmas and New Years, it has always pretty much passed without notice on the nation’s comics pages.
Still, since we haven’t done a “fantasy comics page” in a while, I thought it might be fun to mark this upcoming centennial with a new fantasy page made up of strips published on the fortieth anniversary of Flag Day, June 14th of 1956. Aside from their date of publication, there’s another common thread running through all of these strips. Can you guess what it is? (Click on any strip for a larger view.) Join me on the other side for the answer …
Note that, besides sharing the same date of publication, all the strips above feature one-word titles …
Blondie and Archie are “big name” strips with LOAC connections, while to the best of my recollection we’ve never run a Nancy in this space before.
Dick Moores and writer Ward Greene served up this installment of Scamp, while Pogo certainly needs no introduction to lovers of good comics everywhere. Gus Arriola’s Gordo always puts a smile on my face, while Henry serves up a very different view of childhood.
Finally, we put three now-relatively-forgotten strips into the mix: Grandma, from Charles Kuhn (who did hard manual labor, including serving as a fireman aboard USS Connecticut during World War I, then spent years as an editorial cartoonist before starting Grandma in 1947, when he was fifty-five years of age); The Reverend, by Bill O’Malley (a prolific magazine cartoonist who lived on the West Coast, placed work in magazines ranging from Ladies Home Journal to Playboy, and had his cartoons — related to golf, travel, and his “Two Little Nuns,” Sister Maureen and Sister Colleen — all collected into book form); and Chicagoan George Sixta’s Rivets (the lead character was based on several Navy mascots Sixta had observed during his own military tour of duty; Sixta worked for the Chicago Sun-Times; originally produced the strip Dick Draper, Foreign Correspondent; and published cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post, which is where Rivets made its debut before becoming a Field Enterprises comic strip). The star of Sixta’s strip is supposed to be a wire-haired terrier, and since my own dog is part (predominantly!) terrier, how could I pass up including Rivets in this “one-name wonders” fantasy comics page?
Here’s hoping everyone has a Happy Flag Day —
We just sent the first book in the Archie’s Swingin’ Sixties series to the printer, containing all of Bob Montana’s dailies from the start of the school year 1960 through spring vacation in 1963. Here are the first nine dailies to whet your appetite! Click on any daily to see a larger version.
The April 2, 1947 Archie daily featuring Riverdale’s favorite teenager using the word “butthole” continues to generate interest. We promised you a follow-up on this subject, and here it is.
Our late-May feature on the American Dialect Society (ADS) and their investigations into Archie’s usage of “butthole” prompted Friend of LOAC Mike Fontanelli to send us the following:
Still laughing over your recent LOAC blog post re: ARCHIE and his anachronistic potty-mouth! I have a wild guess – based purely on conjecture – that the term was short for “buttonhole,” (i.e., something that’s stamped out, assembly-line fashion.)
I admit I’ve found no usage of “buttonhole” as an adjective. (It’s only usage seems to be as a noun or a verb: meaning to detain someone against their will. That usage almost fits, albeit awkwardly.)
Also too, notice that the letterer, whether or not it was Montana himself, ran out of room in that speech balloon. Shortening words is sort of a colloquial/teenage slangy motif, (as in “What’s the dif?”, etc.) Perhaps he just shortened it for practical reasons, assuming the meaning would be clear from the context.
Well, I admit this is a stretch, but at least it’s kinda feasible. I only offer it as food for thought. I predict thousands of letters and emails to follow! This mystery will boggle linguists and dialecticians and for years to come…
Best, Mike Fontanelli
Mike is a leading authority on Al Capp/Li’l Abner, by the way – you can read his invaluable essays on Al and his Dogpatchian hijinx.
Shortly after receiving Mike’s ruminations, we again heard from Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the ADS. One of their members had discovered something of interest:
[Here’s] something that Ben Zimmer [of ADS] noted during the discussion of Archie’s use of “butthole” … I’ve attached a full-page PDF of the comics page from that day from The Zanesville (OH) Times-Recorder. As Ben notes, “butthole” is indeed seemingly (and partially) obliterated. Looks to me that this is the only word on the page that is pretty illegible. Even the teeny tiny print elsewhere on the page looks pretty good.
I’m guessing that Ben’s right: someone, perhaps at the paper itself, was offended. Click anywhere on the page to see an enlargement of the strip.
The folks at Archie Comics have recently taken steps to make their stories more topical or edgy (with the introduction of a gay character, and the twin “What If-?” Archie Marries Veronica andArchie Marries Betty story-tracks. Did they suspect that, sixty-five years ago, Archie would be generating so much additional interest over his casual use of the word “butthole”?
No, those aren’t the female counterparts of Beavis & Butt-Head—they’re the featured aspects of Bob Montana’s April 2, 1947 Archie daily strip, the one in which Archie tells Betty his ushering job at the Riverdale cinema “gets kind of butthole at times.”
This strip created a stir in some circles when it first appeared in our Eisner-winning 2010 Archie: 1946-1948. A book reviewer for one of the newspapers in my town of residence called special attention to this particular strip in her coverage of the book, noting that, “Googling ‘Archie + butthole’ generates literally dozens of hits.” We ran the strip again in this space in a February “travel back in time” piece showing the contents of a number of strips on the day-after-April-Fool’s-Day in 1947…and that appearance generated even more notice.
The American Dialect Society was founded in 1889 and continues strong today, more than a century later. The Society is “dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it. [Their] members include academics and amateurs, professors and students, professionals and dilettantes, teachers and writers, undergraduates and graduates. Anyone can join the society!”
On May 9th, Society representative Bonnie Taylor-Blake sent me this note:
As you may have heard, there’s quite a bit of interest in the language contained in that Archie strip published on 2 April 1947 … The appearance of “butthole” in a 1947 comic strip is currently a big topic of conversation among members of the American Dialect Society’s email discussion list (ADS-L). Linguists and lexicographers there are puzzled, mostly because (so far) we don’t have evidence that “butthole” was being used by Americans in the sense of boring or dull. It’s even debatable whether it was being used as a synonym for “dead-end.” It may have been used in the sense we’re accustomed to (blush), but evidence for that usage in the 1940s is difficult to find given that off-color connotation. Some have speculated that the appearance of “butthole” must have been the work of Montana’s letterer (if he had one) or possibly vandalism elsewhere in the production line. In the end, though, the question is whether “butthole” had a common meaning that was an alternative to how we now understand the word (blush).
Would you mind my asking you for your thoughts on this? I’m particularly interested in whether you know if Montana’s use of “butthole” and its appearance in family newspapers raised eyebrows soon after the 2 April strip was published. How did Archie readers of the time react to Archie’s observation? Or did it pass without comment? I assume, based on your observation, that Archie aficionados have been aware of the appearance of “butthole” in that issue of the strip. What’s the reaction among fans of the strip? Did Montana ever say anything about his use of “butthole”?
In my May 11th response, I told Bonnie we’ve seen no reaction to Montana’s strip from the ’40s, and speculated on a few reasons why that might be possible. I was able to speak with more certainty on the matter of “vandalism” of the strip by other hands:
Based on what we know, Bob Montana did all his own work in the 1940s, including doing the lettering. By the 1960s, when he was in his forties, Montana had an assistant who likely shouldered the bulk of the lettering responsibilities, but Montana was only 27 years old when the strip in question appears—he likely wasn’t making enough money to afford an assistant. And even if Montana did employ a letterer, there is zero chance the use of “butthole” could have passed by him unnoticed. The process of producing strips is: writing/penciling/lettering/inking…There is absolutely no doubt Montana penciled and inked his Archie comic strips, which means even if he passed the penciled art to someone else so a written script could be lettered onto the art, the results would have passed back to him so he could finish the piece by inking it. And if a letterer took the finished artboard after it was inked and inserted “butthole” for a prank just before it was shipped to the syndicate, the letterer would have been out of a job so fast the air would have crackled.
The concept of a syndicate wag changing the text to insert “butthole” before the strip was printed is not a billion to none, but it is a billion to one shot. Syndicates don’t want controversy because it can lead to newspapers dropping features, which takes money out of syndicate pockets; if “butthole” was potentially offensive, an employee changing the original word to the more controversial term would be cruising for a firing. Even if “butthole” was not yet a common term, changing Montana’s text without his knowledge or approval would also be a great way to lose one’s job (syndicate managers don’t want to placate irate cartoonists any more than they want to deal with irate editors and their readerships!).
So—”vandalism” by a Montana letterer or syndicate employee is the remotest of remote possibilities. Does this indicate “butthole” did not have the same meaning we attach to it today? Alternately, could it have been regional slang at the time (Montana visited all then-forty-eight states during his parents’ Vaudeville days and spent his teen years in New England, specifically New Hampshire and Massachusetts)? If that’s the case, Montana may have included it knowing it had meaning—whatever that meaning might be—only in a specific geographical area and would pass essentially unnoticed by a national audience.
Bonnie replied to me later that day, saying:
I really appreciate your insight on this. (There’s great stuff in what you’ve shared!) I think the general consensus, given dozens of e-mails passed around the listserv, was that “butthole” must’ve been pretty innocent/innocuous, and not a reference to an anatomical feature. (But how weird it is to see that word on the funny pages in 1947!) But then the question for linguists/lexicographers has been 1) what did Archie mean? (the job was boring? dead-end?), and 2) how come we’ve not run across this before? It’s pretty clear that this bit of slang has gone unnoticed by those who collect bits of slang. (If it has gone unnoticed, it’s a great find! Maybe it existed in Vaudeville circles or in New England, as you’ve suggested, or perhaps in the military?)
ADS continues to ruminate on and research this matter, and it’s certainly a pleasure and an honor to have helped prompt this line of inquiry among such a distinguished group. If further insight emerges, we’ll be sure to let you know! Meanwhile, you can learn more about the American Dialect Society—and keep watching, because the first Archie Sundays collection has just been published.
What could be better than a collection Bob Montana artwork? How about a companion collection presenting his pulchritudinous pencils (and inks) in full color? And who knows what sensational bits of slang will be revealed in this volume …?