California Pelican Volume 72 #2

Background

As I already said in the title blurb, “The California Pelican was a student humor magazine for the University of California at Berkeley. It ran, though not continuously, from 1903 to 1988.” This issue is a rare little nugget that will cost you a pretty penny in the collectors’ market, if you can find it at all. But, that’s what we’re here for.

Story 'A Critical Analysis of Contemporary Pop Art or Hey, Here's a Whole Bunch of Stuff About Comic Books!'

  California Pelican Volume 72 #2
Summary: Spider-Man on Cover; Marvel Comics Article
Editor: Bob Wieder
Cover Art: Bud Spindt
Article Writer: "Jolly Bob" Wieder

As you can see from the cover above, with Bud Spindt’s tracings of Ditko and Kirby, this is “The Far-Out Issue!!” Nothing says 1965 better than that. (Well, except maybe the SLATE reference or the Pot article inside.)

And in that “far-out” spirit, let’s do things a little differently this time. First, let’s look at A Critical Analysis of Contemporary Pop Art or Hey, Here’s a Whole Bunch of Stuff About Comic Books, which starts on page 29 and then let’s fill in other things worth mentioning from other parts of the magazine after that. Being a college humor magazine, the issue is peppered with jokes throughout, most of them pretty awful. Here’s one:

The husband and wife were sitting at the bar when suddenly a drunk sitting next to them let loose a violent fart. “How dast you fart before my beloved wife?” screamed the husband. “Oh, pardon me,” exclaimed the drunk, “I didn’t know it was her turn.”

But I did say we’d start with the comic book article. Written by editor “Jolly Bob” Wieder, “A Critical Analysis” is a wonderful send-up of Marvel Comics, using the very elements of the comics to make its satirical case. Or, as Homer Simpson put it, It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.

Bob begins his article with, “During the past couple of years, there has arisen at Berkeley (and other great centers of intelligentsia), a new and overwhelming craze: the Comic Book. But not just any old comic book. Ah no, none of these finky Batman and Little Lulu rags for the true intellectual. It seems that seekers of wisdom and truth will accept nothing less than MARVEL COMICS – the Playboy of comicdom…‘Why,’ you may ask, ‘have Marvel Comics become such a huge Thing is so short a time. Why are Sartre, Camus, Marx, and Dostoevsky being crowded off intellectual bookshelves to make way for Spider-man and the Hulk?’ The answer is simple – because they are REAL. Honest to God, Marvel super-heroes are for real. They are the kind of super-heroes you would be if you were a super-hero. They’re horny. They fight dirty. They fight for money. They’re all screwed up. They are honest-to-God real, nasty, lousy, cheaty people with superpowers.”

Bob proceeds to list nine articles to back up his thesis, such as “SECOND, they practice unnatural love…you’ve got timid little Sue Storm married to this guy who can stretch any part of his body into any shape, length, or size he feels like. How would you like to be his blushing young bride, eh girls? And if that isn’t suggestive enough, don’t forget that Sue still has that bloody force field. Any time Mr. Fantastic starts getting cute, or she feels like calling it a day, she just cuts on that invisible shield and ‘FORP’ – he’s right back out in left field. Even worse, what if she really cools it and makes herself invisible. Here’s the wedding night, and all of a sudden we hear Mr. Fantastic saying, ‘Goddamnit Sue, I know you’re down there…turn that damn thing off!’ Let’s face it – the Fantastic Four isn’t a comic book, it’s a Kinsey Report.” And let’s face it, we’ve all thought about this, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

Spidey is mentioned more than once. Here’s the fourth article: “…the Marvel super-heroes are cool. Really, these characters are swingers! Take the ‘Beast,’ for example. He’s one of the X-Men, and he really is a Beast. He looks like a Beast. He moves like a Beast. He smells like a Beast. But he thinks like a Cal student. That is, he’s a complete cynic. Whenever he gets into a tight spot, he starts to wisecrack at his enemy. This usually causes said enemy to bust up laughing, and the Beast blasts hell out of him. The Beast is the Lenny Bruce of comic books. The same goes for Daredevil and Spider-Man. In general, the Marvel characters just don’t take this super-hero business seriously – usually, the fate of the world rests in their hands, and usually, they couldn’t give less of a damn. If they went to Cal, they would make perfect T.A.’s.” [That’s Teaching Assistants.]

And here’s part of the fifth: “…by far the real-est thing about the Marvel characters, is their lack of skill. Let’s face it, if you had a bunch of super powers, you would still probably screw up half the time. The same goes for the Marvel Men. Take Daredevil for instance. ‘D.D.’ is this cat who got hit by a radioactive milk truck when he was a kid. The accident left him blind, but gave him a kind of radar sense, like a built-in DEW line. [From www.canada.co: “The Distant Early Warning Line, or DEW Line, was a series of radar stations across the arctic, from Alaska through Canada over Greenland to Iceland. The Americans conceived that the DEW line could detect enemy bombers coming over the North Pole that could threaten North American cities.”] Now Marvel bills him as ‘The Man Without Fear,’ which is the truth – Daredevil is absolutely fearless. The only problem is that he’s lousy. Every month this poor wimp goes up against the world’s most deadly super-villains, and every month he gets the living sh-t kicked out of him at least once. He’s fearless, alright, but it’s killing him. Every issue, month after month, there’s Daredevil, laying on the ground all torn and wiped out, mumbling, ‘I’m fearless, I’m fearless,.’ Big deal! – so he’s fearless – he hasn’t won a battle yet. He would have made a perfect leader for the VDC March.” [That’s the Vietnam Day Committee, staging an all-women march against the war. As reporter Ben Williams says in this clip, “Whether the point it was trying to make was successful, is not clear,” which may be the point Bob is making with this reference.]

“The same goes for Spider-Man. Every issue he gets clobbered out of existence by some bad guy, but he keeps coming back. He’s the super-hero’s Edward Strong.” [Edward Strong was, as Wikipedia puts it, the Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley between 1961 and 1965. He resigned in March 1965, in large part due to his actions during the Free Speech Movement, which was beginning at that time… When Strong resigned he issued a statement blaming Clark Kerr (who had resigned previously) for ‘capitulating to the tide of revolt, subversive of law and order.’ While acting as Chancellor, Strong favored harsh disciplinary policies, and was upset that Clark Kerr had made certain concessions to the ‘student rebels’ involved in the Free Speech Movement. Strong's actions during the Free Speech Movement were harshly criticized by some students and faculty members for the approach he took to free speech activity on campus.”]

Spidey is also in the seventh article: ”…ask yourself this question: ‘If I had super-powers, what would I do with them? Go out and fight deadly dangerous enemies in the name of justice and freedom and law and order?’ Hell no, you wouldn’t. You’d go make yourself a fast buck. And that’s what the Marvel heroes do. Take Spider-Man. Here’s this punk high-school kid who let himself get bitten by a radioactive spider. Now he had all these fantastic super-powers, and what’s the first thing he did? Right – he went on television for five thousand bucks. The only hangup was that he couldn’t cash the check. Really, how could he prove to the bank that he was the real Spider-Man. What’s he gonna show them, a reg card [probably, in this case, a draft card] reading, ‘Man, Spider-?’ In a pig’s eye. So the bank won’t cash this check, and he decides to go out and fight crooks. Why?? So he can take pictures of his own battles and sell them, for a fat fee, to New York’s biggest newspaper. Let’s face it, what good are super-powers if you can’t make any bread with them. Spidey’s got the right idea.”

Spidey is also included, briefly, in the ninth article which is “people don’t like the super-heroes very much. Everybody hates Spider-Man, because he’s such a wise mouth.”

Bob concludes with, “IN ESSENCE, the Marvel characters are real because they are generally all screwed up. Spider-Man has lost a couple of battles because his pants fell down. Iron Man rusts up solid in half his fights and ends up getting creamed. Thor has gotten tubed at least three times because he was making it with this nurse when he should have been looking over his shoulder. Hawkeye keeps breaking his damned arrows. By and large, the Marvel super-heroes have all the finesse of a turnip. BASICALLY, the reason for Marvel’s huge success and their emergence as a mammoth craze is simple – the Marvel super-heroes are the kind of conceited, nasty, underhanded, screwed-up bums that you would be if you were a super-hero. They are the first breed of super-characters that college students can really identify with. That is, deep down, they are really rotten!”

I wish Bob had left it there. Instead, he has a parenthetical in the “special thanks” section that says, “With very deep and sincere thanks to Smilin’ Stan Lee – writer and editor – and all the rest of the great Marvel Bullpen gang, for their aid, assistance, and fantastic tolerance during the production of this pack of lies…to say nothing of our gratitude for many hours of great entertainment.” You didn’t have to include that “pack of lies” part, Bob! Remember that Homer Simpson quote!

Have I made it clear enough that I love this article? It’s funny, perceptive, affectionate, and still rings true today. It’s too bad most Marvel fans never had a chance to see it.

At a small hotel in Miami Beach, a young lady was on the roof taking a sunbath clad only in a bikini. As there was no one near to spy on her, she decided to take a real sunbath. Taking off her bikini and lying on her stomach, she was enjoying herself when she heard footsteps. She quickly looked up to see the manager approaching. “Young lady, we do not mind your sunbathing, but we prohibit nude sunbathing.” “But there was no one close enough to see me,” she protested. “I know,” he replied, “but you’re lying on the skylight over the dining room.”

The Golden Book of Pot or Inside Maryjane or a Primer of Esoteric Tobaccos is another “Jolly Bob Weider” production. (Is it “Weider” or “Wieder?” This is the only place that lists him as “Weider.”) Illustrated by Gaston, it describes twenty types of potheads with a drawing to match. (Pot is “the only thing on earth the V.D.C. and the Hell’s Angels have in common.”) While this article pales in comparison to the Marvel one, it does have its moments. The first illustration is of Superman. “One of the things Pot can do is to give you unusual powers. Like you can leap tall curbstones with a single bound when you’re on Pot. If the wind is with you. Many Pot users are famous for having jumped tall brunettes without hardly batting an eye.” The third is of a guy who has swallowed his joint. “First, after the Joint hits his stomach, little pieces of it will get into his bloodstream and will give him a bad feeling known to medical men as ‘death.’ Second, Joints cost money, and if he doesn’t cough it up right away, his fellow heads will beat hell out of him.” The sixth has the Thing in a UC sweatshirt getting ready to step on another stoner. “Notice how mean and ugly he is. Pot can do that to you, too. Notice how he frowns as he stomps the other man’s face in. He is the kind who gives Pot a bad name. (Pot used to have a good name. Back when beer-drinking was in vogue, ‘Pot’ referred either to one’s stomach after drinking, or to the bowl one used to puke into. Today, ‘Pot’ refers either to the weed itself, or to the smell of the weed (which is identical to the smell of the bowl one used to puke into.)” The eighteenth is a drawing of Little Orphan Annie. “See this world famous literary personality. You have probably always admired her, but now see the truth. She is no more than a plain ordinary Head. Now you know why her eyes were always like that. And now you know why she always wore that same old red dress. She spent all her clothes money on Junk. Plus, she was Hung Up on the color red. And now you know why she always hung around with that dog. Boy! Talk about Turned On!” The piece finishes with a six-page fumetti of the Pelican staff having a Pot Party. “Members of the group seek new friends and new experiences. One staffer finds the wall to be a handy latrine. A few congenially pass out” and “As the staff gradually passes out, the party settles down to a warm and intimate lull. Two members are carried to waiting ambulances. One female staffer humorously feigns trouble breathing” and “Once returned to the scene of the merriment, it is further learned that the silly prank of the female staffer who feigned breathing trouble has turned out not to be a prank after all. With her last breath, she utters a congenial greeting to the returning staff” and “All of which is proof that if proper rules of etiquette and decorum are observed, the phobia against the Pot party is naught but shallow fear. Pot Parties are safe, sober, and above all, congenial.”

Oh yeah, then there’s the one about the gent whose wife died, and because he loved her very much, he had her cremated, and her ashes placed in an expensive vase. Naturally, he always kept the vase close at hand, on the desk in his den. Unfortunately, the guy was a tad careless with his cigar ashes, and every once in awhile he flicked them into the vase. Then one evening, one of his old buddies came over for a couple short ones, and during the course of the evening happened to glance into the vase. “Jesus, Fred,” he exclaimed, “Mildred is getting fat as hell these days, isn’t she?”

Yes, it’s tasteless. Yes, it’s sophomoric. And sexist. And racist. It’s a college humor magazine! From the 1960s! So, if you’re offended so far, you really won’t like Posse Galore, a collection of cheap bits that are exactly what you fear they are. “Then there’s the one about the lady sheriff who had eighty-five men in her posse. And the one about the lady sheriff whose posse was so small, she couldn’t get a single man with it. And the one about the lady sheriff who worked part time as a barber – once a month she shaved her whole posse.” You get the idea.

Then there’s the one about the two newlyweds who wanted to fly United, until the stewardess objected.

Miss Pelly (as in “Miss Pelican”) features a co-ed every issue, I presume. This issue has Dawn O’Hare. “At seventeen years of age, she is the youngest T.A. in the history of Berkeley. She is also the cutest.” And there are a number of photos of Dawn, bordering on cheesecake, but, perhaps, salvaged by this photo at the end.

“Ahoy there, you must be a Stanford Man.” “Indeed, yes. Pray how did you know?” “I saw your class ring when you were picking your nose.”

The inside back cover has a reproduction of the cover to Fantastic Four #45, December 1965, “Among us hide…the Inhumans!” Above it is the legend, “Vote SLATE!” What was SLATE? Well, Wikipedia says it was “a pioneer organization of the New Left and precursor of the Free Speech Movement and formative counterculture era, was a campus political party at the University of California, Berkeley from 1958 to 1966.” If you want more than that, the full article is here. There is also this from the SLATE archives.

“Care for a cigarette?” “Sir! I’m a Mills College girl!” [Women’s college in Oakland, California.] “Pardon me. Have a cigar.”

General Comments

If Bob Wieder ever did any other comedy writing after he got out of college, I can’t find any evidence of it. But even if he didn’t, “The Far-Out Issue!!” is something of which to be proud. I’m sure Bob edited and wrote for many other issues of the Pelican but, for an old Silver Age Marvel fan like me, this is the one that counts. Yes, it’s filled with cheap, offensive humor (as a college humor mag should be) with sex jokes and pot jokes but, even if all that turns you off, “A Critical Analysis of Contemporary Pop Art” makes it all worthwhile.

Overall Rating

I apologize for gushing like this because you probably won’t be able to find a copy. Even if you do find a copy it will cost you a fortune. I can’t promise you that it’s worth even a fraction of that fortune. But I am going to give it five webs.

Footnote

Next: You’ve waited patiently through The Avengers and all those chapters of Not Brand Echh. Through Give-A-Show and Castle of Frankenstein and Pow! and Esquire and this one. (You have been waiting patiently, haven’t you?) But your patience is about to be rewarded. At last, 1969 begins and it begins with ASM #68!