Saturday, May 26, 2018

Humbugs!


After Mad, after Trump, there came Humbug. It was Image Comics decades before the launch of that later more famous brand. When Harvey Kurtzman left Mad for a host of reasons, he had a scheme with Hugh Hefner to launch Trump another magazine in the Mad mode but slicker and upscale. It lapsed after a mere two issues, so Kurtzman and the talent he'd assembled to produce Trump were left without a gig. So they decided to make their own gig, and pooled their money and became not only talent but owners of their own magazine. That magazine they named Humbug and in some of the most desperate times in American publishing history they launched.


With distribution avenues limited they sought a partner in Charlton Comics, a likely  mobbed-up operation which had its own distribution system in addition to publications. And for eleven issues spread over 1957 and 1958 Humbug hit the stands. The magazine was oddly sized for its first many issues and so landed somewhere between regular mags and comics and it cost more to book than did comics. It was not in full color, but that was not necessarily a hindrance. Mad was a hit and it was in black and white and Trump had been in color and apparently failed to find an audience, or enough of one fast enough. So Humbug tumbled along for nearly two years before the end and in those eleven issues Kurtzman and his gang of talented artists such as Jack Davis, Arnold Roth, Will Elder, and Al Jaffee made a pretty funny mag. Here is a much more detailed description of how Humbug came into being by Bill Schelly from his biography of Kurtzman.













Even while Humbug was still running, Kurtzman made a deal with Ballantine Books (which had just lost Mad reprints to Signet) to reprint some Humbug material in paperback form. It didn't have the same success alas.


Several years ago Fantagraphics reprinted the eleven issues of Humbug in two handsome volumes. They sport new covers, one by Al Jaffee and another by Arnold Roth.



I came into this world in 1957, so reading a magazine which so resolutely satirizes the events of that year and the next is a fascinating window in to the time I was born into.

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4 comments:

  1. Hi Rip,

    Daily reader from the UK. Nothing much to comment aside from the irony of a satirical magazine called Trump..

    Just wanted to say love what you do and keep it up

    Best

    Bud

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    1. Thanks for the kind words. No sign of me stopping anytime soon.

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  2. I picked up a second-hand copy of the Humbug Digest yeas ago, and for me the big surprise was Jack Davis; the penwork was so lush and intricate compared to the slashing brushlines in much of his commercial work. His Western cartoons looked like period engravings. And that splash panel to "Doll Baby" (reproduced much clearer in the digest than in the actual comics)seems richer and almost more iconic than the movie poster it referenced.

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    1. The Jack Davis work is phenomenal. I've seen some of the original pages online and the printing left I've seen left much detail behind.

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