Friday, February 20, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 5 of 5: Mysteries of the Jungle

Today I conclude my look at Angola's representation in early comic books! Again visiting Fiction House's Jungle Comics, we're in issue #153 (September, 1952) and a Mysteries of the Jungle feature entitled "The Death-Man of Angola" by Anthony D'Adamo.

Rather than featuring an ongoing character, Mysteries of the Jungle shifted its focus from story to story. In this tale we're delving into a tale of witch doctors set in "east Angola." It seems there was a powerful witch doctor named Zargo, "master of the temple of death." Zargo is unable to better the fortunes of his tribe through his ceremonies, but one day a young hunter named Wanderobo arrived and the hunting improved. Some of Zargo's priestesses suggested he initiate Wanderobo into their ranks, but instead Zargo summoned up magic to doom Wanderobo. It seems Zargo's real talent in sorcery was conjuring up death and it works as Wanderobo falls off a bridge into a pool of crocodiles.

With Wanderobo's death, the hunting economy plummets. A priestess tells Zargo she's figured out who's responsible and hands him a pouch containing an object which belongs to the responsible party. Zargo casts death upon the owner and soon after, monstrous demons enter Zargo's room and kills him; the priestess had placed one of Zargo's own bracelets into the pouch. With Zargo's death, the hunting improves again.

This tale steps outside the confines of the other stories I've looked at as it's straight-up supernatural - demons and evil spirits exist here in real, bodily forms. Witch doctors are a real problem in Angola, but only because of people who believe in their quackery - not because they can summon up demons. I'm a bit non-plussed about the supernatural aspects.

  • +2 estrelas for depicting leopards & crocodiles
  • -1 estrela for Zargo. Granting witch doctors any amount of credit is too much

TOTAL SCORE: Uma estrela!

Thank you for enduring this week-long look at Angola in early comic books. If you know of any other stories from the 40s or 50s which should have been on my hit list, please tell me about them!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 4 of 5: Jungle Tales (with Trader Jim)

Continuing with Fiction House's Jungle Comics we move into the very next issue, #151 (July, 1952) and a Jungle Tales feature starring one Trader Jim.

It seems Trader Jim is some white fellow travelling in Africa with a boy named Tommy. While at a trading post in Angola (or "the" trading post, according to the narrator), Jim hears there's trouble. A hunter called Big Tembu has been bragging about his exploits hunting elephants and thinks "ostriches and giraffes are for women to hunt!" He's so opinionated on this subject that he's about to crack a hunter named Moloki over the head, but Jim arrives to save Moloki and asks to hear Moloki's story.

Moloki begins talking about hunting ostriches in the Veldt which is... not in Angola. Anyway, he and his fellow hunters wear Ostrich heads upon their own so that they can approach the birds through the tall grass, then attack en masse by using bolos. Another hunter, Babongo, describes giraffe hunting and how alert and dangerous a giraffe can be. Jim concurs with both hunters and describes seeing a leopard attack an ostrich, zebra, antelope and giraffe at a water pool, but the ostrich and giraffe ganged up and killed the leopard. The assembled men decide to take a page out of the animals' playbook and gang up on Big Tembu, throwing him into a water pool to humiliate him so he'll stop bragging.

This is a pretty slight tale, but it is at least an interesting idea to get into the details of animal hunting. It's a respite from the usual big white hunter/jungle lord-type tales.

  • -1 estrela for placing the Veldt in Angola
  • +5 estrelas for using five animals found in Angola

TOTAL SCORE: Quatro estrelas!

Tomorrow: I wrap things up with one last Jungle Comics story!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 3 of 5: Camilla

As I continue my look at early comic book depictions of Angola, the focus finally shifts away from 1942 and into 1952 - albeit, still within Fiction House's Jungle Comics series. Turning to issue #150 (June, 1952) we have an adventure of the jungle queen Camilla by Victor Ibsen & Ralph Mayo!

As you can see from Jess Nevins' entry on Camilla at his Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes site, Camilla was once a less-conventional jungle heroine, being a true queen and rather villainous. Over time, her stories became much like the rest of Jungle Comics' fare as she switched to the typical Sheena-wannabe swimsuit garb. Much the same thing happened to Fletcher Hanks' wonderfully bizarre Jungle Comics heroine Fantomah, who became a typical "jungle girl" when Hanks left the series. Camilla's adventures seemed to be around the Congo area, so moving her to Angola for a feature isn't unbelievable.

We open on a safari led by Jules Ranier (our villain, as his cigarette-smoking and scowling eyebrows denote) travel through the jungle upon elephants (which is, admittedly, a very cool means to safari; sadly, Angola's current elephant population is - like all of their habitats - much smaller). Jules' aim is to reach a "confab" (as he terms it) of chiefs who are meeting together to discuss peaceful free trade; Jules intends to set the chiefs at each other's throats in order to line his own pockets as he owns a lot of land in the territory. However, the blonde, bikini-clad Camilla attacks Jules and scampers into the jungle with him as a prisoner. Jules' men try to pursue, but Camilla brought back-up - armed guards who start a fire to block off the elephants. Undaunted, Jules' men bring in local trackers who hunt using cheetahs as bloodhounds. Whoa, seriously? That is, again, very cool (and even true-to-life)!

The bloodhound cheetahs almost catch Camilla, but she leads the cheetahs right into the path of a band of gorillas, "their enemies of old." Wow, forget about the warring tribes, I want to know more about the gorilla-cheetah war! Camilla next evades warriors loyal to Jules by placing masks on some monkeys to trick the warriors into following a false trail while she escapes down the river with Jules (at this point I'm wondering why she wants to keep Jules alive, considering all the trouble his followers are making for her). Jules' men hunt Camilla's canoe into the night, but find only a decoy canoe with dummies set adrift in crocodile-infested waters. Once again, Camilla has won precious time and ultimately the peace treaty between the chiefs is made; one of the chiefs credits Camilla for making peace possible.

This wasn't that bad a story, so far as those "jungle girl" type tales go. Mayo's Camilla is easy on the eyes and the story makes no particular missteps in depicting Angola.

I should also note the story makes repeated references to kraals, a term used more properly in South Africa or Namibia for a cattle enclosure. It's not entirely right, but it's not completely wrong either. It will have no effect upon the final score. Speaking of which:

  • +4 estrelas for using four animals actually found in Angola
  • +1 estrela for bloodhound cheetahs
  • +1 estrela for Camilla's bikini

TOTAL SCORE: Seis estrelas!

Tomorrow: another Jungle Comics tale!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 2 of 5: Jungle Jingles

Having sped past the publisher Standard we move now to Fiction House and their series Jungle Comics - which is where the rest of this week's special Angola in the Comics feature will remain. Fiction House published Jungle Comics from 1940-1954 and it typically hosted an assortment of bare-chested jungle lord types or scantily-clad jungle queen types. However, this first plunge into their pages concerns neither!

A one-page space filler called "Jungle Jingles" appeared in Jungle Comics from issues #24-31 (with no creators credited other than "M.M.") and in issue #29 (May, 1942) we find a reference to Angola! Check it out for yourself:

We would call the "palla" an "impala," but otherwise, spot-on. And it rhymes! There were two other animal rhymes on this page, one devoted to the lion, the other to the aye-aye (of Madagascar).

  • +1 estrela for using an authentic Angolan animal
  • +1 estrela for rhyming the impala with "Valhalla"

TOTAL SCORE: Duas estrelas!

Return tomorrow for another expedition into Jungle Comics!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 1 of 5: Biff Powers

Comics and Angola. What do they have in common? Me, I suppose - I'm a lifelong comics fan (occasional dabbler in comics themselves) who has also been to Angola on a couple of occasions. Depictions of Africa can be found throughout comics, but I wondered - what is there of Angola, specifically? Thanks to the Grand Comics Database (to which I am an indexer) I found five early examples of Angola appearing in the comics. Thanks to the Digital Comic Museum, I found scans of all five stories. Why not offer my perspective on these comics and whether I think they do Angola justice?

Caveat: I have only been to southern Angola and only in the 2010s. The comics I'm about to review date from the 1940s and could conceivably be depicting central or northern Angola. I am not an authority on the country, simply an interested party.

We'll begin with publisher Standard and the title Startling Comics Vol.5 #2 (April, 1942). Like many comics of the time, Startling Comics was an anthology of various adventure features such as super heroes, detectives, cowboys and a few comedy features. We're concerned with one "Biff Powers, Big Game Hunter," a jungle trapper hero in the model of Alex Raymond's comic strip feature Jungle Jim. At the time, most comic book creators looked to the strips for inspiration and dreamed of leaving their dead-end comic book careers for the sweet financial security of a syndicated strip - thus, Jungle Jim had a host of imitators. The story is untitled and uncredited, but the Grand Comics Database titled it "The Wolf-Man of Angola" and credited it to August Froehlich.

We open with our hero in the "main office" of Carson Circus, the outfit for whom Biff performed his globetrotting deeds of daring animal captures. Biff's employer Tom shows him an article about a "Wolf-Man" which Biff reads out as "Weird creature terrorizes Angola natives as several vanish!" We the audience are not given any further details but this is enough to convince Biff to go hunting this "weird creature." "What a side-show star he'd make!" This seems like a lot of expense just to to obtain a sideshow attraction, but then Biff lived in the time of Big Circus Money. Biff's lover Marcia isn't thrilled by the idea ("Africa again?") but Biff soothes her by joking "Think of all the Pickaninnies poor Weki's got to feed!" Ouch. Setting aside whomever "Weki" might be, "Pickaninnies" are an old racist term for black children (it comes from the Portuguese, if Wikipedia can be believed, so at least that much is appropriate to Angola).

We move now to the ocean port of Luanda, Angola's capital as Biff and Marcia arrive. So, the creators know the capital of Angola, which is very good! ...And they evidently had no photo references because it looks like a dock on the Mississippi. Weki is there to meet them, he evidently being a familiar native guide. Weki's dressed in western fashions which is a nice change of pace from the usual loincloths one finds in such materials. Although, a day later Weki brings them to his village (he's of the Lunda tribe - and Lunda is an authentic tribal type) and by then he's dressed in the usual loincloth outfit. The Lunda village already has a white man, a somewhat husky fellow named Ormand who is obviously this story's villain (he's unattractive, which is a big tip-off). Ormand claims he came to study the Lundas' customs and confirms the "Wolf-Man" attacks, revealing the being to be called "Boma."

While pitching his tent, Biff sees some baboons and decides to capture "one of the small fry." What, he's going to leave the tent incomplete? Have your ADD diagnosed, Biff. Left alone, Marcia is threatened by a leopard, but Biff returns in time to shoot the leopard dead, saving her. At dawn of the following day Biff and Weki prepare to send out a hunting party, only to hear a commotion and find themselves face-to-face with Boma, a giant white man who is fighting baboons bare-handed. What exactly is Boma? As a "Wolf-Man," is he a Mowgli-type feral human? Or is he a Tarzan-type jungle lord? As a white man among beasts he seems very Tarzanny, but otherwise he's Mowglishy - in particular, he doesn't know English. Biff tries to convince Boma he's a friend, but Boma runs away into the bush. At this point, Ormand turns up, claiming the Lunda have turned against him. Sure enough, the Lunda soon attack Biff and Marcia, taking them both prisoner; Ormand uses his gun to force the Lunda to help him, but does nothing to help Biff and Marcia.

Fortunately, Boma returns and sets Biff and Marcia free, summoning up a wolf pack to assist him in escaping the village. When the trio catch up with Ormand they discover he'd actually been harvesting diamonds and forcing the Lunda to dig for him; Boma's supposed "victims" were actually other people Ormand had enslaved and murdered. Biff takes Ormand prisoner and lets Boma go back to the jungle. "Guess he'll be happier leading a dog's life, Marcia!" Marcia intends to keep the diamonds, apparently believing that finders are keepers. Ha-ha-ha, ain't that just like a woman? And so, the story ends.

While a typical white hunter/jungle man story, this was actually a fairly well-done production by the standards of 1942. To this day, comic book creators tend to think of Africa as an amorphous, hazily defined nation of either deserts or jungles. A little bit of effort went into using Angola here and I think it's worth totaling up my own arbitrarily-defined score to see how well it performed:

  • -1 estrela for the pickaninny remark
  • +2 estrelas for using Luanda
  • +1 estrela for Weki wearing a shirt and pants for one scene
  • +2 estrelas for using a real African tribe (Lunda)
  • +3 estrelas for using three animals which are actually found in Angola
  • -1 estrela for Marcia's blood diamonds

TOTAL SCORE: Seis estrelas!

Come back tomorrow for the next feature!