Michel Fiffe’s interviewing and archiving skills cannot be doubted — nor, after his dynamic ZEGAS debut can his cartooning skills — but this time out he offers a compelling survey of the often uneasy, sometimes brilliant crossover between indy and superhero esthetics:

Plastic Man started it. This was the first superhero comic that, back in 1941, had humor as a main ingredient combined with straight up super heroics. Most of it was slapstick by nature, which suited Jack Cole’s style perfectly, and it still retained a sense of adventure that featured a character with more personality than the entire National Publications line combined.

Then there was Harvey Kurtzman, the man who gave comics a satiric voice through the pages of MAD in the 50s. For that alone we should be thankful, as one of Kurtzman’s strengths was humor, but we should not forget his narrative verve and his “truth in writing” philosophy. When it came to MAD, though, superheroes were just another subject to be made fun of, a fairly easy and sterile target at that point, but one that yielded funny results under Kurtzman’s direction.

Pictured, the great COOBER SKEEBER #2 which defined the whole relationship for a generation.


  1. MAD influenced the underground comics movement, as well as National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live.

    And while Plastic Man gets the spotlight, Red Tornado predates him. She is also one of the first female superheroes.

  2. “Discounting Howard the Duck, Marvel didn’t have a “humor” book until What The–?! during the late 80s…”

    Howard the Duck counts, even if it was the only title. (And did it influence Cerebus?) Then there’s Crazy, which ran for about 100 issues, and had lots of bold name creators, according to Wikipedia.

    And somewhere in this thesis, someone should consider “Silent Interlude”.

  3. Would have been nice to maybe see the humorous and irreverent Fred Hembeck get some mention.
    @Torstein, you are correct on Howard’s big influence on Cerebus, as Dave Sim says:
    ”The original idea was to do something like ‘Howard the Duck,’ ” said Sim, referring to the brilliant comic book of the ’70s, not the awful movie of a decade later. ”A funny animal in a world of humans. But I didn’t want to do a modern-day one because it would be too close to Howard. So it was either a science-fiction Howard the Duck or a barbarian Howard the Duck.’

    (I believe he goes on to say he went with barbarian because Conan (along with Howard)was all the rage at the time, and also he was a huge fan of Barry Windsor Smith.)