Thursday, December 27, 2018

Roy Crane's Sultry - 1940's comic strip Buz Sawyer

In the late 1980s Pioneer Comics did several reprints of Roy Crane's classic 1940s comic strip, Buz Sawyer. I came across these at the comic shop when I was a kid.  The strips were reformatted to fit a comic book in a weird way, some panels were printed much larger than others.  This gave the black and white artwork with enlarged benday dots a very pop art feel.  The art of these comics is really top notch cartooning and Crane had a very original style that would go on to influence people like Alex Toth.  His characters have a very minimal rending - cartoony, while still capturing a lot of subtle emotions - but his backgrounds appear very realistic and three-dimensional.  A lot of this series was more recently published in a more lavish format from Fantagraphics.  Read today, these adventure strips come off as being somewhat racist and sexist and I am not the first one to make this observation.  I see these comics as more as a product of their time and these drawbacks do not really detract too much from all the interesting visuals and storytelling chops it has to offer. The comic is also notorious for lots of panels where Buz is spanking a girl's behind over his lap.  But I digress...

The strip I am looking at is from the last issue of the Pioneer series, #5, from 1988.  What stands out to me is the witty banter between the characters of Sawyer and Maharani/Cobra..who is later nicknamed Sultry.  It's a unique scene full of sexual innuendo and suggestive violence.  At one point, Buz ties Sultry up in a carpet rug.  Later, the calm and intelligent Sultry outwits the happy-go-lucky Sawyer.   She begs Sawyer two see her not as a woman, but as an equal.   Sawyer's response?  "You're much too alluring to want a man not to notice."  The content is very adult and it surprises me a bit, in retrospect, that this was so popular and published in newspapers. Still, you've got to love Roy Crane for his serious approach to storytelling.  You might not agree with all of his choices, but he was really ahead of his time in terms of making adventure stories with "real" characters, likable or not.

See below.

And finally, here is a Buz Sawyer print by Crane, published shortly after his death, again showing the sexual suggestiveness of this comic.

(the print was signed by "Mrs. Roy Crane" - his wife)
(Spanking, a common cartoon trope of the 1940s and 50s.  From another Buz Sawyer strip I found online but originally published in 1941)

RIP Roy Crane 1901-1977

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