Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sally The OTHER Sleuth

One of the precursors to the mainstream comic books were the brief comic features wedged between the gritty stories in pulp magazines of the 1930s. The most notorious of these comic strips was Sally The Sleuth in Spicy Detective Stories.

"Strip" was the operative word for Sally's adventures, which invariably meant villains tearing off her clothes, even to the point of leaving her bare-breasted.

Sally worked for some inattentive honcho called "The Chief". His sole function was to assign Sally cases where she would be subjected to bondage and other predicaments designed to generate fetish fuel. Then he would arrive with reinforcements in the last few panels to extricate her.

This lurid material was illustrated in a spartan style, with uncomplicated ink lines, as though the artist was in a great hurry. Perhaps the police were about to raid his studio.

But that's NOT the Sally I wish to... um... explore.

I'm concerned with a later, more modest incarnation of Sally The Sleuth, who appeared in all 15 issues of Trojan Publication's Crime Smashers.

Her comic book stories were expansive enough to establish her job status: assistant to a private investigator dubbed "The Chief". Her workload still involved getting into trouble, but nothing that would land her in the Adults Only section.

This Sally was far more resourceful than her pulp counterpart. She could readily infiltrate the Underworld and didn't necessarily require a last minute assist to get out of scrapes. She was also canny enough to solve murder mysteries on her own.

But her boss remained a bit of a jerk.

Unfortunately, the overall quality of both the writing and illustration in Crime Smashers was uninspired, with Sally's adventures being no exception. The two most recognizable artists associated with her feature were Adolphe Barreaux (A.K.A. Charles Barr) and Keats Pertree, both of whom were deeply involved in the pulp magazine industry and performed rendering chores on the original Sally strip. But the visuals in the comic book version of Sally were consistently unremarkable.

Taken from Crime Smashers number 5, this story is one of the more interesting ones. The Grand Comic Book Database attributes the penciling to Wally Wood, which I consider wildly improbable due to the weak quality of the finished piece. Unless Wood drew all seven pages while tied up inside a trunk.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jane Martin Flies Under The Radar

Of the various women featured in the Fiction House line of comics, two held the record for sheer endurance. The most obvious one was Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle, whose prominence in Jumbo Comics merited star treatment practically ever issue.. and eventually landed her in a book of her own. And a television series.

The other less prominent heroine lasted for well over 100 issues of Wing Comics... with nothing more than a passing mention in a caption on the front cover for publicity. Her name was Jane Martin and she managed quite nicely without the benefit of an animal skin wardrobe.

The secret to Jane's longevity was her flexible career path. During her 100-plus issue run, she switched jobs four separate times.

She started her working life as a war relief nurse in Wings number 1 (September 1940), ostensibly for the International Red Cross. Her non-combatant status in the early days of World War 2 was open to question, however, as her activities in the field favored the Allies over the Germans.

When America officially entered the war, she wasted no time shifting over to the position of U.S. Army Nurse, becoming a certified pilot in the bargain. Given the action-oriented venue of Wings, the stories of this particular nurse veered toward Nazi-bashing instead of health maintenance. Regardless of what the enemy was scheming, Jane found herself in the wrong place at the right time to thwart it.

After so many unintentional run-ins with Axis conspirators, Jane bowed to the inevitable by hanging up her nurse's uniform and jumping abruptly into Allied espionage work.

Following the war's end, Jane found employment as a sales representative for an aircraft company. Not an easy job, but she was never reduced to selling planes door-to-door. The work provided her with a string of opportunities for tangling with the criminal element before the entire premise began to wear thin.

The following story, from Wings number 103 (March 1949), occurs after Jane's last career switch. She finally settled for the all-too typical vocation of working women in comics at the time: plucky news reporter. True to the Wings motif, she maintained her status as pilot, frequent flier, and trouble-chaser.

For those who need additional incentives to read this vintage piece: it was rendered by the legendary E.C. artist George Evans and featured something that was a nascent technology in those days: television.

Want more? How about a dastardly enemy spy whose face reminds me of Spiro T. Agnew?