Forbidden Worlds #114: “A Little Fat Nothing Named Herbie!”
Shane O’Shea (Richard E. Hughes), writer
Ogden Whitney, artist
American Comics Group, 1963
Not to be a vulgarian, but holy fucking shit, this is what Herbie comics are like? I mean, I knew the basic look and set-up, taciturn fat kid with a lollipop is actually a terrifying war machine with godlike powers of destruction, it’s from the ’60s and it’s a funny in a weird art-out-of-time way. But my God! The comedy in this thing is a solid 40, 45 years ahead of its time. You could animate this thing and it’d feel right at home on Adult Swim between Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, or make it a webcomic and stick it in your RSS feed along with The Perry Bible Fellowship,, or buy it from Buenaventura Press in a two-pack with the next issue of Boy’s Club. The two-panel tier, six-panel grid pages are really just perfect for a “set-up/punchline” gag structure with zero room for milking the humor out of things by taking too long with them, and for increasing the randomness of the juxtapositions. One panel, Jackie Kennedy is swooning with unrequited ardor for a morbidly obese child as JFK fumes in the background; the next, Herbie is soaring through the air on the back of a giant parrot. You know what I mean? The actual plot-based gags are similarly non sequitur–Herbie defeating an army of ghosts by suddenly being able to call the animals of the jungle to his defense by bellowing like Tarzan is the kind of thing you’d see in one of those two-minute sequences in The Family Guy where Stewie is suddenly reenacting William Shatner’s “Rocket Man” performance or Peter performs “Shipoopi” from The Music Man in its entirety. (I like The Family Guy; let’s not have that debate here.) Then there’s Ogden Whitney’s art, which is about 12 times as strong as it needs to be to make this work and 40,000 times more realistic. But it’s not just the contrast between the visuals and the subject matter that he has to recommend him; it’s also the angles he chooses for the planes of action within his panels, and his choices for the strip’s “actors”–the way the proud dads directly address the audience at the beginning just kills me. So does the visual shorthand he uses to depict Herbie planning his vengeance: a series of blackened thought balloons with bright red question marks in the middle. That’s exactly how I’m going to picture my own rage from here on out. For me it really all comes together in the final four panels, which silently culminate in a panel so deadpan it anticipates the awkward-pause comedy of everything from Space Ghost Coast to Coast to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hilarious. I want these books now, badly.
(via Tom Spurgeon)