American movies and comic books during the 1930’s and 1940’s catered to a broad range of tastes (as we’ve discussed several times previously in this blog). Today’s movies and comics tend heavily toward adventure genres, but “pop culture” of the Golden Age of comics spanned a wider range of story types, many of which might seem surprising to today’s comic readers and moviegoers.
During the turbulent Thirties and Forties, during which the world suffered through a major economic depression and the largest, most destructive war in history, many Americans sought to forget their troubles at the local moviehouse. Comedies and musicals were very popular during this period, as well as a genre that might be termed “family” movies; in this connotation we’re not speaking about movies for families (although they certainly were that) but, rather, movies about families. Movie patrons found a great deal of comfort in movies about “normal” day-to-day family life, a means to remember (albeit in a idealized form) the way things used to be, forget their present day troubles, and hope for a more stable future.
The most popular of these films was a series of sixteen movies starring Mickey Rooney in the role of Andy Hardy. Starting with 1937’s A Family Affair, the movies were released at more-or-less regular intervals through 1946, with a final “reunion” movie released in 1958. These movies depicted an idealized view of American life set in a fictional midwestern town called Carvel. The simple plots center on the Hardy family: Judge Hardy, his wife, their two daughters, their son Andy (the role which made Rooney a star), and an extended family member or two. The plots of the films would seem very familiar to TV viewers of situation comedies, being as the Hardy films were essentially the template for a host of family-oriented television series over the decades. In a typical Hardy movie, Andy would get himself into trouble over girls, or money, or a job, or some school issue, and go to his father for advice. Judge Hardy would gently (but sternly) advise his son, after which Andy would go on to do the proper moral thing to resolve the conflict.
As mentioned, the Hardy films were copied endlessly by television from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Nearly every situation comedy with family as its subject owes something to the Andy Hardy movies, with Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show being excellent examples from early television. The basic format was still widely popular in the 1980’s, as evidenced by shows like Growing Pains and Family Ties. We might find it strange today that people would go to a theater and pay to see this type of movie, but bear in mind that network television didn’t exist during the period of the Hardy films; the public hadn’t yet been bombarded with televised family stories which carried a moral lesson. The Andy Hardy films were a form of escape for people who yearned to see an end to economic depression, war, rationing, and a turbulent world (much the same reasoning which made dozens of televised family-based situation comedies very successful during the turbulent 1960’s).
Likewise, Golden Age comic stories weren’t always about a costumed superhero collaring gangsters or breaking up rackets. In fact, “small” stories about families, sports, nature, and a host of other real-life subjects made up a significant portion of comic book output during the 1930’s and 1940’s. You’ll recall from previous posts that many Golden Age comic books were “anthology” titles, composed of many stories encompassing a variety of genres. A comic book might have a “star” character, often a superhero featured on the cover and who would appear in a long lead-off story. The rest of the book might be an eclectic mix of mystery, sports, nature, and humor stories. And there were a fair number of “small” stories which featured normal, everyday people, including junior high and high school aged kids.
That brings us to today’s tale, which was printed in Rural Home Publishing’s February 1945 issue of Cannonball Comics. The title ran just two issues in early 1945; its “meat and potatoes” were three adventure or superhero characters. But the remainder of the two books consisted of several humorous characters, and one feature which spotlighted a would-be high school sports hero named Ted Hardy.
It’s hard to believe that the choice of the character’s last name was an accident; when Cannonball Comics #1 hit the stands, there had already been fourteen films in the Andy Hardy series. We don’t know the identity of the author (as is usually the case with 1940’s comics, we’re left with more questions than answers), but we do know that the tale was drawn by the great Charles Quinlan (who we’ve met before in the Big Blog o’Fun). Quinlan’s art is full of small details, including facial expressions which contribute much to the story. As you read the story, pay some attention to the faces of characters who aren’t speaking; it can tell you a lot about some of the key players in the story, and it’s a technique that I wish many present-day comic artists would learn (as many artists seem capable of rendering only two facial expressions: angry and really angry).
The story itself is one of my favorites from Golden Age comics. Sure, it’s predictable and maybe even a little trite, but it’s got a lot of heart. Even in today’s turbulent times, even a jaded old reader like myself sometimes needs a little reassurance that things work out all right and that there can still be an occasional happy ending.
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Have fun! — Steve
Copyright 2017, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.