Is there depression in your expression? Does your back suffer from an itch you can’t ditch? Are you the kind of guy who wrestles with his tie? Basil Wolverton’s Culture Corner, which originally appeared in Fawcett’s Whiz Comics (a title that also featured the legendary Captain Marvel) from 1945 to 1952 and serves up humorous answers to these and may other social predicaments one might encounter. Wolverton was a professed “Producer of Preposterous Pictures of Peculiar People who Prowl this Perplexing Planet” and as you can see by now, was a master of wordplay.
This hardcover collection of half-page strips marks the first time the Culture Corner has been reprinted since the first time it appeared over 60 years ago. Along with collecting all of the published Culture Corners, the original roughs for each strip (if they still survive) are reprinted as well, giving readers a look into the creative process. More often than not, the roughs bear little difference from the finished product. A few of them bear eraser marks and smudges, as well as editor’s notes, which only serve to add to the fun. It’s like getting DVD extras on a Golden Age comic book! How often does that happen?
Along with the published Corners and sketches are tons of additional roughs that never saw the light of day for one reason or another. Some of them were rejected by editors, others by Wolverton himself. The vast majority of them are just as funny as the stuff that did see print, so it’s something of a mystery as to why one was chosen over another.
Reading this book was like unearthing a trunkload of old baby pictures… if the babies in question would eventually grow up to become Mad Magazine and Rat Fink. Wolverton’s influence can be spotted throughout history, both in his absurd sense of humor and his outrageous and often grotesque artistic style. It came as absolutely no surprise to me when I discovered that Wolverton eventually went on to work for Mad later on in his career. As a matter of fact, he’s the guy responsible for the iconic “Beautiful Girl of the Month” illustration that appeared on the cover of Mad #11 and in 2009, the New York Times dubbed him “The Michaelangelo of Mad Magazine” despite having appeared in just nine issues over two decades.
Anyway, back to the review… this is some really fun stuff. As a fan of Mad Magazine, both old and new (as well as satiric humor in general), I felt like I was privy to some lost collection of never-before-seen goodies… which is essentially what this collection is, as some of these strips haven’t been seen since my parents were in diapers! By today’s standards, some of the humor does seem a bit quaint; but like a Buddy Holly song on an oldies station or WWII-era tattoo flash, some art just stands the test of time and becomes classic. Basil Wolverton’s Culture Corner is a one-of-a-kind work and definitely falls into that category.
Given the volume of work collected here (including, as stated earlier, all published Culture Corner strips) as well as the sketches and roughs (which, I should add, were astonishingly preserved by their creator), it seems impossible to give this book anything less than an A. No, the wacky sense of humor not going to be for everyone, but it’s something that funny book historians and humor enthusiasts will definitely want to add to their collection.