Forgotten Masterpiece: LUNATICKLE #2

There was no greater success story in the world of comic books in the 1950s as MAD Magazine. Even in the world of magazine publishing, the only thing that perhaps bettered it was the rise of PLAYBOY. When Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Gaines switched the dying EC line’s breakout hit from a comic book to a full-size magazine, they hit the mother lode in terms of profitability–profitability that editor Al Feldstein was able to maintain and even grow following Kurtzman’s departure. This success was not lost on other publishing outfits at the time, many of whom rushed to put out their own MAD knock-off magazines (just as the comic book publishers had tried to do when the series was a comic.)

One of those publishing houses was Fawcett, previously the home of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. They threw their resources into developing a more polished MAD imitator, which saw print as LUNATICKLE. Like so many others, LUNATICKLE failed to catch on and was discontinued after two issues. But in the second one, this story saw print–a fictionalized account of the comic book witch hunts of the early 1950s, the very forces that killed the EC line and which were responsible for MAD becoming a magazine in the first place.

The story was written by Jack Mendlesohn, who would go on to write features for MAD for several years hereafter. Apparently, Bill Gaines held no grudge from being characterized as “Sam Grisly”, the prime mover behind the horror comics boom and bust. The artwork was done by Lee Elias, then one of teh more in demand artists in comics thanks to his clean style. Here, his work is brought more into the MAD style through the use of graytones.

What’s interesting about this story is simply how fresh the whole thing was at the time this was done. EC didn’t give up the ghost until 1955 (apart from MAD), and this saw print in 1956, only a year later. So while it’s difficult to imagine who in the mainstream world would have been interested in a behind-the-scenes satire such as this one, it helps to recognize that this whole matter had been in the news a lot in the preceding months.

Al Feldstein, meanwhile, is parodied as “George Frankenstein”, which is generic enough for a causal audience while also being spot-on enough so that insiders would make the connection.

I dig this little cameo of the Golden Age Flash as Captain Quicktime, as well as the way his title mutates into Trapped in Quicklime in the manner that Moon Girl evolved into A Moon, A Girl, Romance!

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