Comics Time: Forbidden Worlds #114: “A Little Fat Nothing Named Herbie!”

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Forbidden Worlds #114: “A Little Fat Nothing Named Herbie!”

Shane O’Shea (Richard E. Hughes), writer

Ogden Whitney, artist

American Comics Group, 1963

14 pages

Read it at Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine

Buy it (I think) in Dark Horse’s Herbie Archives Vol. 1 from Amazon.com

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)

5 Responses to Comics Time: Forbidden Worlds #114: “A Little Fat Nothing Named Herbie!”

  1. jeffk says:

    That first Herbie Archive hardcover has been teetering on the edge of my Amazon shopping cart for a while now, and I think you just tipped it. That’s still more money than I really want to spend, but … I mean, how can I not at this point?

  2. Pappy says:

    Sean, Thanks for the plug for my Pappy’s blog.

    I thought I’d mention that many of the people who make the very things you’re talking about, Family Guy, the cartoons from Adult Swim, etc., are probably of an age where they read Herbie as youngsters. It probably had an impact on them the way old comics, TV shows or movie serials had on Lucas, Spielberg and others.

  3. Brian W says:

    I’ve always loved not just the strength of the art, but the juxtaposition of the different styles among Herbie, his parents, and the bizarre creatures that come into the fray. It’s a total collision of cartoonish Nancy styles with romance comics realism and nutjob horror/fantasy, which is what always drew me to the back-issue bins for these — the fact that O’Shea and Whitney were able to cram those stylistic realities together and make them work so well. And the historical celeb guest-spots are hilarious.

  4. Rickey Purdin says:

    Brian W. put the book on my radar like 3 years back and this review tipped it for me like it did for Jeffk!

    My wallet damns your double-team.

  5. They really are prohibitively expensive, that’s the thing. I’m hoping I can score cheap used copies at some point, either on Amazon or maybe at a con, or perhaps through something like Sequential Swap.