Saturday, January 27, 2024

The Gang's (Almost) All Here

BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd has sent along scans of a couple of exceptional Bazooka Joe and the Gang original art pieces for everybody's viewing pleasure.  First up is Officer Bill, from an original character study on Bristol board, laid down by Wesley Morse:

Wait, what?!  There's no character named Officer Bill in the Bazooka Joe comics.  There is however, Sarge, the gruff but friendly cop on the beat (often seen directing traffic by the school) in whatever burg the gang called home:

That was actually a Bazooka comic, as eight of the characters rated a solo look in the first series of  one-cent tabs of the bubble gum in 1954. 

I ran the art by Mark Newgarden, who is wise in such matters, and he indicated he has a handful of these studies in his archives: Wilbur, Toughy, Tex, Walkie Talkie (more on those in a minute) and of course, the eye-patched hero himself, good ol' Bazooka Joe:

That one is just about identical to the finished version of Joe, seen here in a scan, again courtesy of Shep:

As a capper, there also exists a piece of art that Mr. Newgarden advises hung in a Topps conference room for years and it is a beauty, although the whereabouts of the original are unknown at present (but it's still believed to exist):

Seemingly a black-and-white stat (i.e. a photostat, a kind of early copying system that used a camera) with color added after reproduction, it depicts several characters that didn't last too long or ended up with new names. Let's go from left to right:

Bazooka Joe of course, comes first then we see his girlfriend Janet, Joe's kid brother Pesty, then sister L'il Pat, Toughy (formerly Butch, then later Tuffy), Wilbur, Mort, Tex (who seems redundant thanks to Pesty's presence), Bazooka Joe's Mom and Pop, Hungry Herman, Joe's dog Walkie Talkie and finally, Sarge.

Several recurring characters are not shown, even though they appeared with some consistency.  There were, for example, at least two teachers who were semi-regulars, one a young blonde woman and the other a white-haired, stouter Mrs. Grundy type. Various parents, relatives, townsfolk and even passing hobos made appearances in the strip.  

All these characters were around for years, even after Morse died in 1963, as Topps had a stash of comics in reserve they issued for almost two more decades, although by the mid-Seventies they began salting in more promo and prize comics before an early-Eighties redesign brought in new artists and some new characters as well (Metal Dude anybody?). But for literally hundreds, if not thousands, of adventures spanning a quarter-century, the original Bazooka Joe and his Gang were a familiar group to millions of penny-wielding kids.

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