Comic Art Friday: Long tails, and ears for hats

When last we convened for Comic Art Friday, we took our first look at a spectacular new addition to my Common Elements gallery — this super-sized six-character commission by Florida artist Gene Gonzales entitled “Catfight of the Bands.”

Catfight of the Bands, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

Today, let’s take a closer examination of the first of those two battling trios. (Never fear — we’ll catch up with the other three famous felines next Friday.)

From the preponderance of superhero art that appears here on Comic Art Friday, one might presume that comics in that genre were the only funnybooks I read during my formative years. Au contraire, mon frere. While superhero comics were — and still are — my core reads, as a kid I devoured every kind of comic book that I could find on the newsstands of the military bases where I grew up. I read sword and sorcery comics (I still read the current iterations of Conan and Red Sonja), horror comics (a particular pleasure in the early ’70s was the DC anthology Weird War Tales, which featured stories of the supernatural set on battlefields throughout history), Western comics (everything from Kid Colt, Outlaw to Bat Lash), military comics (you couldn’t call yourself a genuine service brat without reading Sad Sack), and juvenile comics (yes, friends, I read Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich, too).

And, I read Archie Comics. Heck, I loved Archie Comics. I’m man enough to admit that I read Betty and Veronica religiously back in the day.

My favorite Archie magazine? Josie and the Pussycats.

Josie and the Pussycats, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

Actually, I was reading the adventures of Josie and her friends before there was a Josie and the Pussycats. The perky redheaded teenager made her comics debut in 1963, as the star of the series She’s Josie. (Josie’s creator, longtime Archie artist Dan DeCarlo, named the character after his wife.) She’s Josie soon became just plain Josie, and centered on typical Archie-style teenage humor involving Josie and her high school pals, several of whom still costarred in the book when Josie decided to start her own rock band in 1969. (Not coincidentally, the Archie gang had exploded onto Saturday morning TV as a prefab pop group around the same time.)

When Josie (whose surname flip-flopped for years between Jones and James before settling on McCoy early in this current decade), her best friend Melody (also a Jones for many years, her last name became Valentine in the live-action Josie and the Pussycats movie a few years ago, and the comics followed suit), and their newest comrade Valerie (née Smith, later consistently Brown) donned their now-familiar leopard-spotted leotards and kitty-ear tiaras, the title of their comic took on the name of their newly formed act.

Thus legends are born.

Before long, Josie and the Pussycats had their own animated TV series. The show was eponymously titled for the first two years of its run (1970-72), then took a sci-fi turn and morphed into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space for another two seasons. Josie and the gang’s TV adventures borrowed heavily from the successful formula of Hanna-Barbera’s already popular Scooby-Doo, mostly involving the girls and their retinue solving comedic mysteries.

As did the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats — actually real-life session musicians using the band’s fictional identity — recorded several bubblegum pop singles in the early ’70s. Three then-unknown singers were “cast” as the singing voices of the Pussycats. The real-world “Melody” was a blonde named Cherie Moor (real name: Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor), who came to greater fame later in the decade under her new stage name, Cheryl Ladd.

Ironically, most of the lead vocals on the Pussycats’ songs — including the familiar theme to the animated series — were performed by the singer cast as “Valerie,” Patrice Holloway, rather than by Cathy Dougher, who was “Josie.” Holloway almost didn’t the part, as Hanna-Barbera at first wanted to retool the Pussycats as an all-Caucasian trio. Music producer Danny Janssen, who assembled the real-life Pussycats and wrote several of their songs, refused to replace Holloway with a white performer. After several weeks of infighting, Hanna-Barbera agreed to restore Valerie to her original African-American heritage in the TV show, enabling Janssen to keep Holloway in the band. Valerie thus became the first black female character to appear regularly in an American animated TV show.

Three decades after their television debut, Josie and the Pussycats hit the live-action cinema. Rachael Leigh Cook portrayed Josie, Rosario Dawson played Valerie, and Tara Reid was typecast as the dizzy Melody. If you haven’t seen the movie… don’t. It’s 99 precious minutes of your life that you’ll never recoup. Trust me on this.

Josie and the Pussycats, blue pencil rough sketch by Gene Gonzales

Although I first hit on the idea to feature Josie and the girls opposite Catwoman and the two Black Cats a few years ago, it wasn’t until I saw Gene Gonzales’s rough sketch of the Pussycats on stage that I knew I’d found an artist with the appropriate sensibility to bring the concept to life. Thanks for allowing me to show off your inspiration, Gene!

Next week, we’ll wrap up our caterwauling by throwing the spotlight on the other half of this musical catfight.

Until then… that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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4 Comments on “Comic Art Friday: Long tails, and ears for hats”

  1. Sank Says:

    Sad Sack… that was my favorite comic as a kid hands down. They had about 4 different books as I recall, one where the sarge and and Sad Sack went to the navy, there was one with the WACs, there were a couple others. I loved them. I also read alot of Ritchie Rich and I was a huge horror book fan. Werewolf by Night was my favorite. But there was Boris Karloff magazine from Key Comics I think, Strange Tails or something like that.. I married a ghost..

    Wow, thanks Uncle Swan, haven’t thought of that stuff in years.

  2. SwanShadow Says:

    Sank: Glad you enjoyed it.

    Sad Sack was a classic. Definitely an essential element of the growing-up-military experience. Even the adult enlisted men read Sad Sack.

    I dug Werewolf by Night, too. I always thought it was funny that the werewolf’s name was Jack Russell — which is, of course, a breed of dog.

    That Boris Karloff series from Gold Key was called Tales of Mystery. Karloff probably had as much to do with the actual comics as Alfred Hitchcock had to do with the Three Investigators.

  3. Damon Says:

    Wow, what are the odds? Just posted today (one day after your post):

    http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/09/10/comic-book-legends-revealed-224/

    • SwanShadow Says:

      Damon: Yeah, I saw that Brian had a Josie column this weekend. (I love his “Comic Legends Revealed” feature. I look forward to it every week.) Gene Gonzales also posted a couple of Pussycats pinups on his blog, unrelated to the piece he did for me.

      Great minds not only think alike, but apparently, they also think Josie and the Pussycats.


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