Esquire #394

Background

For anyone unclear on Esquire, allow me to refer you to my review of Esquire #382 where I gave you a brief history, talked about its unwieldy size, and referred to its editorial snootiness. It is filled with ads (“Dunham’s Executives: This brogue can lick any other brogue on campus!”), and fashion tips (“The Best-Dressed Collegiate: Husky Cords”) that seem on the verge of being way out of touch with the times. (You wouldn’t know it to look at it but this issue, like #382, is the “College Issue.”) This time, you have to plow through 108 pages of ads and review columns to get to the guts of the magazine, although, granted, the Book Review is by Malcolm Muggeridge and the Recordings Review is by Martin Mayer. (In theWikipedia article on Muggeridge, it says, “Muggeridge's predatory behavior towards women during his BBC years was brought to the attention of the public by a book about the recent history of the BBC. He is described as a ‘compulsive groper’ reportedly being nicknamed ‘The Pouncer’ and as ‘a man fully deserving of the acronym ‘NSIT—not safe in taxis’,” which sounds like just the kind of guy who would be writing for mid-60s Esquire.)

Story 'OK, You Passed the 2-S Test - Now You're Smart Enough for Comic Books" & "As Barry Jenkins, Ohio '69 Says: A Person Has to Have Intelligence to Read Them'

  Esquire #394
Summary: Spider-Man in Articles
Publisher: Arnold Gingrich
Editor: Harold T.P. Hayes

On the other hand, there were often compelling articles and works of fiction in each issue and the Esquire covers were always creative and provocative. Along with the blurb, “How Our Red Blooded Campus Heroes are Beating the Draft,” this cover shows our “red blooded campus hero” preparing to apply lipstick while giving us a look that seems to say, “Do you blame me?” The tiny print below the blurb says, “For 37 other ways, see page 125” and we will, sort of, in due time.

First, let’s skip to page 109. Are You Smart Enough to Beat the Draft, Stay in College and Read This Issue of Esquire? is “a sample of that student-draft-deferment test – the 2-S – [in case you were wondering what the 2-S meant in the story title listed above] required of freshmen in the lower half of their class, sophomores in the lower third and juniors in the lower fourth. A score of 70 or higher insures you of two more peace-loving semesters. The penalties for scoring less are dire.” Here are a couple of the questions:

3. Select the word that is the closest synonym or antonym for sidereal:

  • False
  • Heavenly
  • Passing
  • Blatent

Study the graph. Then answer questions 6 and 7.

7. Which of the following inferences regarding H-ion concentration is most tenable?

  • The relative amount of nitrogen is inversely proportional to soil moisture.
  • There is no change in H-ion concentration for amounts of rainfall greater than 27 inches.
  • Water is necessary for the soil acids to break down rock.
  • Within the limits shown, H-ion concentration is not a strictly linear function of rainfall.

I took the test and I made it by the skin of my teeth. Seven out of ten. For those that didn’t…”The next four pages are just for you.”

Namely …If You Flunked the 2-S Test, Nice Going, which is subtitled “You get to cut out these pinups and keep them in your duffel bag, soldier. And who gives a damn what sidereal means, anyway?” The four pinups are of four different models/actresses of the time posing as famous pinups. Jill Haworth does Chili Williams (“The Polka Dot Girl”), Pamela Tiffin does Rita Hayworth, Joey Heatherton does Betty Grable, and Elke Sommer does Ann Sheridan (“The Oomph Girl”). (If any of these names are unfamiliar…look ‘em up!) This spread, which could have been tacky or overly sexist, is actually pretty nicely done.

O.K., You Passed the 2-S Test – Now You’re Smart Enough for Comic Books is what we’ve been looking for. It’s subtitled, “What did Dostoevski know? The true message is carried by Marvel Comics, twelve cents an ish” and it features a Jack Kirby two-page spread of Thor, Namor, Iron Man, Hulk, Cap, the Torch, Dr. Strange, the Thing, and Spidey. (It’s always nice to see Jack doing Spidey.) The text tells us that William David Sherman, an English teacher at State University of New York at Buffalo, sent three dollars to Marvel requesting “twenty-five copies of issue number 46 (‘Those Who Would Destroy Us’); I wish to use them in my course on contemporary American Literature…I know the class will dig them, and I hope that in them they will see various archetypal and mythological patterns at work which would give them better insight to where things are today.” (It doesn’t say if William got the issues and, in fact, it doesn’t even tell us which comic series he wanted. It’s the Fantastic Four by the way.) The article also mentions that Stan “drew a bigger audience than President Eisenhower” at Bard College, that “some fifty thousand American college students, paying a dollar a head, belong to Merry Marvel Marching Societies” and that “one Ivy Leaguer told Stan Lee, ‘We think of Marvel Comics as the twentieth-century mythology and you as this generation’s Homer’.” But this is all prelude to the next article, which is…

As Barry Jenkins, Ohio ’69 Says: “A Person Has to Have Intelligence to Read Them”, subtitled, “Eight honest-to-God exegeses of Marvel Comics from Institutions of Higher Learning across the land.” The text tells us that college students are “flipping” over Marvel super-heroes because they “all have human problems.” “Spider-Man, in real life a college student named Peter Parker, is guilt-ridden, money-conscious, socially insecure, and gets blamed for things he didn’t do.” (A much better description than last year’s “fink kid.”) It also points out that they take “a tongue-in-cheek approach, which takes more than a third-grade education to appreciate…For example, in one issue, Spider-Man is desperately fighting the Looter as they both float high above the city suspended from a helium balloon. As the Looter tries to kick him in the face, Spidey asks, ‘Have you ever considered medical help because of your antisocial tendencies?’ And then, ‘Why is it that everyone I fight is overflowing with neurotic hostility?’ The Looter, hip to the absurdity of Spidey’s chatter, counters with, ‘You must be mad – talking that way while you battle for your life!’ Now, where else could you find stuff like that? Certainly not in your Brand Echh comic books.”

The spread features pictures of the students who are quoted along with drawings of the characters about whom they were quoting. The artwork is, again, by Jack Kirby. There are two Spidey comments. Richard Weingroff of the University of Maryland (shown reading Fantasy Masterpieces #3 June 1966) says, “Spidey is comicdom’s Hamlet, comicdom’s Raskolnikov. The uninitiated have disagreed about this of course – but we don’t feel we should hastily appraise Hamlet and Raskolnikov just because they are from literature.” Jack’s illustration shows Spidey holding Yorick’s skull. (I don’t have to explain any of these references, do I?) Jack Marchese of Stanford University (wearing his Spidey t-shirt) says, “The stories, heroes, and villains all have character – they are real. They are governed by emotions and ideals. In other words, the Marvel heroes are not witless put-ons, but rather they are personable human beings. Spider-Man, my favorite, exemplifies the poor college student, beset by woes, money problems, and the question of existence. In short, he is one of us.” My favorite of the rest is from Dave Stone of Cornell University who says, “Marvel often stretches the pseudoscientific imagination far into the phantasmagoria of other dimensions, problems of time and space, and even the semi-theological concept of creation. They are brilliantly illustrated, to a nearly hallucinogenic extent. Even the simple mortal-hero stories are illustrated with every panel as dramatically composed as anything Orson Welles ever put on film.”

So, has Esquire gotten religion? Are they buying into the views of college students? Have they left their snootiness behind? Well, if they had, they would have corrected the students’ spelling rather than put in a bunch of “sics.” Here’s poor Barry Jenkins of Ohio University, who got to be in the title of the article: “I think that Marvels are great for a very conceited reason – a person has to have intelligence to read them. I feel that comic book reading goes through three stages. First, the actual comic figures of talking dogs, pigs, and ducks. Then, as a person gets older, he moves up to the world of ‘real’ people (As exemplified by Brand Echh.) Finally, if he has the capacsity [sic], he moves into the relm [sic] of Marvels. It is definitely the Marvel Age of Comics.” Thanks for casting a shadow over Barry’s intelligence, Esquire!

Not All Your Supermen Are in the Funnies. Meet Super-Student! highlights five “activists,” two “professionals” and one “disaffiliate” amongst the students of the day. All are actual students expect the “disaffiliate” who is presented as “the Furtive Pusher” of drugs. All eight get cool Marie Severin illustrations, turning them into super-heroes. My favorite of the bunch is “Sylph of the Seventh Crisis: Whisper had it that lawyer Richard Nixon would be given an honorary degree at the University of Rochester! That foe of academic freedom? Had he not joined the onslaught against pro-Vietcongist Professor Genovese? [From Wikipedia: “At an April 23, 1965, teach-in at Rutgers University where he was teaching, Genovese stated, "Those of you who know me know that I am a Marxist and a Socialist. Therefore, unlike most of my distinguished colleagues here this morning, I do not fear or regret the impending Viet Cong victory in Vietnam. I welcome it’."] Yes, indeed! Junior Marjorie McDiarmid, newspaper editor, led the fray to deny Nixon the degree at any cost! Others eagerly joined her. The senior class got up a defiant petition! A referendum was called for. A sit-in was scheduled. Wait a minit! Nixon, panic-stricken, announced he wouldn’t accept a degree anyway! Success. But he would speak at Commencement…on the subject of academic freedom. One large helping of crow coming up!” Okay, so maybe Nixon got the better of the students that time but we know what happened to him. And Marjorie McDiarmid appears to currently be a Professor of Law at the University of West Virginia. Plus, she got to see herself depicted by Marie Severin as a hero dressed like Lorna, the Jungle Queen, riding an elephant with a black eye and with a little Nixon head on the point of her spear.

Marie also did the illustration for Four Ways to Go: A Road Map to Super-Prof: “thirty-three super-profs okayed by college editors the nation over.” Included are Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist at Caltech (“A look into the applications of quantum mechanics, the exclusion principle, approximation methods, angular momentum and the quantum theory of radiation.”) and Frithjof Bergmann, Philosophy professor at the University of Michigan (“Sifting for philosophy in literature, and finding it in Dostoevsky, Kafka, Gide, Sartre, Camus and others.”) I had Frithjof Bergmann as a professor in the 70s. He would stand over by the window, smoking a cigarette, and talk without pausing, looking out the window the whole time. He passed out photocopies of drafts of his book “On Being Free” as assignments. All of that smoking doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm. Wikipedia says he is still with us at the age of 89.

Marie also provided the illustration for Four Ways to Go: The Route of the Draft Reject. As the article says, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way out” and it gives some possibilities such as “Hay Fever (Severe)” and “Ye Olde Trick Knee.” (This is the “37 other ways” article referred to on the cover.) So, if two of the ways to go are traversing the country to listen to different Super-Prof lectures and to go the route of the draft reject, what are the other two ways to go? Four Ways to Go: Tommy Rodd Went to Jail is about a man who was “a pacifist who refused to register for the draft and violated his parole by demonstrating against the Vietnamese war.” And Four Ways to Go: The End of the Trip is an article about LSD takers who experienced “insanity as a permanent and irrevocable state of mind.”

There’s plenty more in this issue, including a lot of pieces worth checking out. There’s Introduction to (and Conclusion of) a Future Hero in which Joan Baez eulogizes her poet/novelist brother-in-law Richard Farina who had recently died in a motorcycle accident. There’s The Hobbit Habit, Joseph Mathewson’s article on J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s an excerpt from Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, not published for another eight years. There’s I Wasn’t Born For an Age Like this. Was Smith? Was Jones? Were You?, a memoir by George Woodcock about George Orwell. There’s a cartoon panel I love by Brian Savage (I think that’s the signature) with a kid talking to his parents and saying, “I know you’re going to think I’m a spoiled brat, but I want both of you to clear out of here by tomorrow morning!”

General Comments

And plenty more, including a cartoon still, unfortunately, timely today with a female employee reacting to her boss getting too close: “Mr. Bellows, let’s just go over the books!” If this was funny in 1966, it isn’t any more.

But, let’s leave it there. All in all, a damn fine read for fans of comics, Kirby, Severin, Joan Baez, Richard Farina, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, and Joseph Heller. Quite a leap forward from the snooty attitude in the previous year’s College Issue. I wonder what the College Issues for 1967, 1968, and 1969 were like?

Actually, if you really want to know, you can find out at classic.esquire.com which boasts that it features “every issue of Esquire ever published. 1933 to today.” You have to subscribe, of course, but you can look at the covers. Here are the College Issues for the years I mentioned above.

(That’s, top to bottom, Tiny Tim, Michael J. Pollard, and Arlo Guthrie on the 1968 one.)

Overall Rating

A great issue, overall. There’s still a trace of snootiness, so I’m going to take a little off and call it four and a half webs. Still, well done, Esquire! I wouldn’t have expected it of you.

Footnote

Next: We’re almost ready to jump into 1969, but first, one more rare, forgotten item. This one from 1965. The California Pelican Volume 72 #2.