The other day I read a quote which said that “the hardest job to do is the one you never start”. That’s exactly the wrestling match I’ve been contesting for a couple of months. I have some friends who think it would be cool if I resumed writing about roleplaying games in this blog (as I used to do back when I first started it). I’ve been involved in RPGs since the start of the hobby (the original Dungeons and Dragons had been out just over a year when I got my first copy in early 1976), and comic book/superhero games were a special interest of mine back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, so a couple of people seem to think it would be a good idea if I wrote about the early titles in that genre. I’ve been wrestling with the notion for weeks now. The problem is, of course, the nature of the Interrant; anytime somebody mentions RPGs online the whole discourse seems to degenerate into some protracted polemical girl fight over systems and mechanics, and I don’t have the time or energy for that sort of pointless crapping around.

Speaking of “degenerate”, this blog gets an insane number of search engine hits due to variations of the search term “jungle porn”, apparently based on my post about Rulah, Jungle Goddess last September. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen vis a vis search engine hits after today’s post.

Fantasy literature was quite different pre-Tolkein than what one typically sees today on the bookstore racks. These days it’s endless rows of covers depicting elves, wizards, proto-hobbits, and other magical creatures. Back in the day (before the Arab-Israeli Wars and OPEC), fantasy adventures often had a Middle Eastern setting; the classic Thousand and One Nights was very influential then. Those tales of the Arabian Nights were available in many, many editions (including quite a few written for young readers; I read one such volume published in the 1930’s while on vacation last summer). Quite a few classic fantasy writers (such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Clark Ashton Smith) were influenced by those stories, while others (such as Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy) wrote original Arabian-flavored stories of their own; in Howard’s case, such stories were often disguised as tales set in Atlantis or the Hyborean Kingdoms (Howard often wrote a story as historical fiction and if it didn’t sell he would change the setting to a fantasy kingdom, after which the exact same story sold quite easily. A lot of the Conan stories began life as historical fiction yarns set in the Middle East during the Crusades).

Movies and animation also got into the act. Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Baghdad is a cinema classic of the silent era, and the early Fleischer brothers cartoons which cast Popeye in the role of Sinbad are still fondly remembered. By the 1940’s, Hollywood was cranking out costume dramas at a furious clip and the Arabian influence was apparent. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. followed in his (far more talented) dad’s footsteps with a 1947 Sinbad movie, Maureen O’Hara starred in 1949’s Baghdad, the ubiquitous Turhan Bey played a role in 1944’s Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The latter film also starred Maria Montez who played the bewitching Scheherazade in 1942’s Arabian Nights. There was additionally the extremely popular 1940 remake of The Thief of Baghdad which featured Conrad Veidt and Sabu (who was typecast as a turbaned Arabian or Indian kid in a few zillion movies, mainly being as he was from India and all).

It was inevitable that the comics would follow suit, especially so due to the rising popularity of good girl art. The introduction of the bikini in the late 1940’s also had an impact; if I had a dollar for every Golden Age comic book sporting a bikini-clad jungle princess, space adventuress, or hareem girl on its cover, I’d be lying on a tropical beach somewhere, enjoying an “adult beverage” with a young bikini girl of my own, and you and I would not be having this pleasant conversation (yes, “conversation” — the “Comments” box at the bottom of the page exists for a reason, you know…).

These days when we think of a woman from the Middle East, the common stereotype is of a woman covered head to toe in a burqa. Ironically, as recently as a generation ago the prevalent mental image was more like the exquisite Caroline Munro in her 1970’s appearance in a Sinbad movie:

Caroline Munro

That was also the 1940’s ideal, again based on imagery straight from The Thousand and One Nights. And since the comics genre has traditionally (and mostly accurately) been defined as “exploitative”, it was inevitable that something like Slave Girl Comics would have to appear on the stands. The only real question here is why it didn’t appear sooner.

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

The first issue of Slave Girl Comics begins with a “framing” story based on the idea of reincarnation. The closely related concepts of “racial memory” and “reincarnation” were also very popular at the time; Robert E. Howard flogged the former pretty hard in some of his tales, while the latter was the catalyst in Universal’s The Mummy in 1932 and was a frequent plot device in Golden Age comics (Hawkman’s origin being today the best-remembered example). Two strangers meet and seem to somehow recognize each other; through some item (weapon or bauble) endowed with mystic powers, the strangers learn that they were lovers in a past life. In most cases that sets the stage for present-day adventures. In the case of Slave Girl Comics, though, the plot device sets the scene for period yarns set instead during a vaguely-defined past era with an Arabian influence; in fact, the framing story is almost completely forgotten after the first few pages (it’s never mentioned again until the beginning of issue #2, and then for a scant three panels).

The story itself is pretty pedestrian: the usual “square-jawed hero repeatedly saves the sexy heroine” stuff we’ve read a million times. It’s a continuous tale (each story picks up roughly where the last one left off) in which the hero, Garth, and the heroine, Malu, don’t do much except travel from one kingdom to another and get into trouble (usually of the “potentate wishes to possess Malu and Garth has to save her” variety).

The main attraction here is Howard Larsen’s art, which is better than average. Larsen puts a fair amount of detail into his panels. While the plot is pretty average, the art is definitely worth a look. Still, while the idea of a comic book based on the adventures of a slave girl seems pretty enticing to those with prurient interests, despite the presence of scantily-clad women the art doesn’t really have quite enough “oomph” to catapult it into the realm of the classics of good girl art (imagine what Wally Wood or Frank Frazetta could have done with this series’ concept!), which may explain why the book lasted just two issues. It’s okay enough, though, and I’m sure that the title and tagging of this post will drive the “jungle porn” searchers absolutely bats. Here’s to another thousand or so hits!

The page scans are courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum, where you can also download and read both issues of Slave Girl Comics.

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Slave Girl Comics #1, February 1949

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2014, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.