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.

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