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Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1

Mark Russell writer
Mike Feehan artist
Ben Caldwell cover artist
Mark Morales inker
Paul Mounts colorist
DC $3.99

Murgatroyd Ad Caelum

Snagglepuss is a cartoon character that made an ambivalent impression on me during my grade school days when he appeared in cartoon segments of the Yogi Bear Show back in the 1960s. I found Snagglepuss funny just as I also knew he was different from other cartoon characters in ways that I couldn’t really articulate at the time while some of my fellow classmates had little to no difficulty in identifying me on the playground as a sissy. A mild name to be called today, it secretly terrified me because I had no idea how they knew my secret. It wasn’t as if I stood on the school grounds and loudly proclaimed Snagglepuss’ well known “exit stage left!” catchphrase let alone “Heavens to Murgatroyd”. (Honestly, it did happen at home.) This probably wasn’t an experience unique to me though at the time it felt as such.

Snagglepuss had mostly recessed in my mind aside from occasionally thinking about childhood memories. That is until DC’s surprising announcement about Mark Russell writing a mini series starring the Hanna Barbera property. I’d enjoyed his largely ignored and sadly too short Prez while passing on his dozen Flintstones issues, a decision I’ve recently rectified as a treat and preparation for this story.

Mark Russell takes readers back to America in 1953, a half dozen years before the mountain lion dandy’s debut in cartoons. One often imagines the 1950s as an idyllic paradise of carefree driving down Route 66 with the wind blowing through your hair and affordable housing and college waiting back home for when you marry your best girl and settle down to raise a family a la the popular radio and later television show Father Knows Best. Russell isn’t interested in that America. Russell is taking us on a journey of an America in which people and institutions are drunk on their zealous moral authority; an America with the Red Scare and the dreaded HUAC – House Un-American Activities Committee – whose efforts to purge Communism from the country and particularly from the film and literary communities made for news headlines. An America in which queer people must navigate with skill and luck to enjoy a small amount of personal expression in New York’s relatively laissez faire Greenwich Village. Snagglepuss reimagined by Russell as an anthropomorphic Truman Capote analog is our guide through both this pre-Stonewall demi monde and the cultural world inhabited by such peers as Peggy Guggenheim and Lillian Hellman while the young couple Henry and Alice, replete in respectable heteronormative costuming, dining out at a tony upstate supper club are the eyes through which Russell conveys an unseemliness of the American psyche. Snagglepuss too has a public facade; one that involves a woman acting as his wife in public appearances while later slipping away before the playwright discreetly meets his expat Cuban lover Pablo for drinks at the Stonewall Inn. The contrast between these two “date nights” could not be starker as we discover the real goal of Alice and Henry’s evening is to witness a grim event.

A television broadcast of HUAC members questioning author Lillian Hellman airs near where Snagglepuss and Pablo are seated inside the Stonewall. An unseen interrogator demands to know if she thinks “the Soviets are feeding their people plays about subversives and deviants?” to which Snagglepuss quips “Aw. What good is a world without subversives and deviants?” before lighting a cigarette. He further dismisses HUAC as clowns but Pablo will not have it. Russell frames an incident from Pablo’s past involving the Batista crackdown on known gay cruising spots with two warnings: “…the clown is a joke to everyone except the clown” followed by “Every nation is a monster in the making. And monsters will come for you whether you believe in them or not.” While this story is set sixty-five years ago America has always had a dark side and I find these warnings speak to the current states of our federal government, and radicalizing elements festering within conservative politics and evangelical delusional fervor even more than they would have in the McCarthy era.

Artist Mike Feehan and colorist Mark Morales do bang up jobs on bringing Russell’s script to life. Feehan’s deceptively simple linework creates a range of expressive human and anthropomorphic figures. Just look at his depictions of Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Peggy Guggeneheim. He nails their likenesses and I’d be surprised if Gigi Allen isn’t based on a certain writer known for her philosophy. Feehan skillfully employs horizontal panels to draw the reader’s eye into a variety of settings from the theater red carpet, a chauffeured limousine, Sing Sing prison to Peggy Guggenheim’s party. Morales is equally effective working with saturated and muted palettes. He also uses color as an abstracted pattern here and there in a way that caught my attention.

My hopes for this issue were exceeded by Russell and Feehan and my anticipation to read the remaining issues is substantially raised. Well done, gentlemen!

If while reading this issue or over the course of the mini series you find yourself intrigued by the history of queer culture in New York City then you might be interested in reading George Chauncey’s Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. Or look for or order it at your favorite local bookstore.

May 27, 2020
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