Help! (Harvey Kurtzman 1924-1993)

#1 - August 1960  Cover: Sid Caesar (1922-2014)
After the financial failures of Trump (two issues) and Humbug (eleven issues), Kurtzman decided to try a different format.  To save money and to fill pages, he began to use the Italian fumetti ("little puffs of smoke") style by adding humorous captions to movie publicity photos that he could get for free.  With 33 fumetti pages of the 64 pages, the first issue of Help! was the same length as his initial magazine version of Mad (#24 - July 1955).  I am not a fan of the fumetti style and was not particularly amused by any of the 33. 

In addition to the fumetti, the issue contained just six pages of original drawings and twelve pages of text by authors Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) and Rod Sterling (1924-1975).  Scheckley's story ("Hunting Problem") was previously published in 1955 in the collection, Citizen in Space.  Serling's story ("The Fever") was a curious selection for a self-proclaimed "humor magazine" since it was not at all funny but was the 17th episode (January 1960) of the first season of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964).

Unlike the first issues of Mad, Trump and Humbug, I found very little humor in the first issue of Help!  The best of the issue would be the true story related by Sid Caesar on the editorial page.  Jack Davis had one excellent full-page drawing ("Events You Don't Never Hear About") and Will Elder (1921-2008) filled two pages with a rather repetitive satire of television violence ("Television Tangle") mostly devoid of his usual "chick fat" humor.  However, Kurtzman was back in the publishing business and nobody could predict what the next issue would bring.

Kurtzman's editorial assistant was 25-year-old Gloria Steinem.  Her primary duty was to get free photographs of celebrities for the magazine covers. [JAM 4/15/2011]

#2 - September 1960 Cover: Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962)
The format of the second issue was nearly identical to the first.  There was very little original material.  The short stories were by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) and William Tenn.(aka Philip Klass 1920-2010).  Bierce first published his Civil War story ("An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge") in 1891.  The depressing science fiction story ("The Liberation of Earth") by Tenn was published in a collection in 1953.  Also reprinted was 13 pages from Kurtzman's Jungle Book ("Decadence Degenerated") which was a 1959 Pocket Book original.  The only new material in the magazine were the four pages of "Beauty is Truth?" - an anti-female poem by Kurtzman with drawings by Will Elder; and one full-page drawing by Ed Fisher.  In and around the drawings and text were 31 pages of fumetti.  Without a doubt, Kurtzman was producing a magazine with the lowest overhead cost in the history of publishing.

The name of the journalist ("Etaoin Shrdlu") in the Jungle Book reprint was also a name used by Mad magazine beginning with issue #51 (December 1959).  It is not clear whether Kurtzman or Mad editor Al Feldstein was first to use "etaoin shrdlu" as a joke name. [JAM 4/17/2011]

#3 - October 1960 Cover: Jerry Lewis

Humorist Roger Price (1918-1990) was featured in Kurtzman's first magazine (Mad #24) with "A Guide For Future Job Hunters."  Price also had an article in the first issue of Trump ("Why Christmas Is Nice"), and is shown smoking a copy of Humbug magazine (and holding a copy of his Mad Libs) on the inside cover of the last issue of Humbug.  In Help! #3, Price was the first celebrity to congratulate Kurtzman on his new venture in the magazine's first letters page.

Reprints in the issue were "Hands Off" by Robert Sheckley (1954), "Sredni Vashtar" by Saki (aka Hector Hugh Munro 1870-1916) that was first published in The Chronicles of Clover (1911), and "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980) from 1921.  Ed Fisher produced an eight-page fumetti "end of the world" story.  Original illustrations in the issue were by Kurtzman ("They're Out There"), Elder ("Chess"), Davis ("Civil War Vignettes"), Paul Coker Jr. ("Atomic Preparedness"), and New Yorker cartoonist Bernard Wiseman ("The Last Night at Mingle Manor - Where the Messes Mingle").  The two-page drawing by Wiseman was best of the bunch. [JAM 4/18/2011]

#4 - November 1960 Cover: Mort Sahl

Each copy of the issue was sold with an actual, individual air sickness bag for those who become sick while reading the magazine.  The feature eight-page, fumetti story (starring a very young Dick Van Dyke) was written by Bernard Shir-Cliff.  Reprinted short short stories were by Talmage Powell (!920-2000), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), Anthony Brode (Punch magazine) and Algis Budrys (1931-2008).  I had to look very hard to find the unsigned Will Elder drawing (page 46).  I was not sure that Elder drew it until I saw that one of the camels was smoking a cigarette.  Two pages of Jack Davis drawings were reprinted from Humbug.  A classic drawing by Arnold Roth ("The Great, Wide Hunter") is on page 60.

Kurtzman used the same joke about the 1960 election that Mad magazine used for its double-cover issue (Mad #60 - January 1961).  The magazine was designed so that the reader could remove one page after the election results were final to show that Help! was the first to predict the winner.  Of all the photographs that are reprinted in a 50 year-old issue, it is interesting to note those individuals who are still alive today: Sahl, Van Dyke, Brigitte Bardot, Fidel Castro, Rhonda Fleming and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.  There may be others by I do not recognize them. [JAM 4/20/2011]

#5 - December 1960 Cover: Dave Garroway (1913-1982)

Did we really need three pages of reprinted Little Nemo in Slumberland  by Winsor McCay (1869-1934)?  New material in the issue included a ten-page fumetti story ("Office Party") by Shir-Cliff starring Milt Kamen (1921-1977).  Elder, Roth and Fisher provided good drawings.  Nancy Kovack became the third "Kissie," after Help! #1 (unknown) and Jessica Walters (Help! #3).  Kurtzman tried to work a Christmas theme throughout but it seemed to fall short.  If I had been one of his readers in 1960, I would have been disappointed with the issue. [JAM 4/21/2011]

#6 - January 1961 Cover: Jonathan Winters (1925-2013)

Assistant Editor Gloria Steinem was the author of the fumetti story ("Beats-Ville USA") starring Roger Price.  She also placed herself on the cover photo behind Winters.  The cover photo was good.  The best short story in the issue was "The Prize of Peril" by Robert Sheckley  who predicted an extreme version of reality television long before reality shows became popular.  The story was first published in 1958 and was the subject of a German movie mad-for-tv in 1970.  I was very disappointed that there were no drawings by Will Elder in the issue.  This was the first time since Mad #23 that Elder had not contributed to a Kurtzman publication. [JAM 4/26/2011]

#7 - February 1961 Cover: Tom Poston (1921-2007)

Gahan Wilson made his first appearance in Help! with the three-page "Shadow-Play" and Paul Coker drew Ethel Merman (1908-1984) on Broadway.  Arnold Roth drew the half-page "The Optimist" but Elder and Davis were absent.  What exactly was Kurtzman doing for issue number seven?  Gloria Steinem wrote most of  the preface and Ed Fisher wrote the fumetti ("Baby, It's Occult Outside") starring Tom Poston.  Newcomer George Kirgo (1926-2004) wrote something that was "For the Birds."  The only evidence of the Kurtzman wit were mediocre captions on 26 old photographs, if he wrote them. [JAM 4/28/2011]

#8 - March 1961 Cover: Hugh Downs

There were some positive changes in this issue.  Will Elder returned with a five-page, 24-panel satire/parody ("Dogpatch Revisited") of the hillbillies of Al Capp (1909-1979) replete with Elder's signature cluttered panels and sight gags.  The article, written by Ed Fisher, was careful to avoid drawings of the major characters in L'il Abner since publisher Warren did not have the budget for litigation.  However, minor characters Lonesome Polecat and Hairless Joe did make an appearance on page 30. 

Kurtzman borrowed two cartoonists, Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) and Phil Interlandi (1924-2002) from Playboy to fill five pages.  Arnold Roth visited the grim reality of East vs. West Berlin.  Orson Bean was the star of another dull fumetti story.  And, 16-year-old Skip Williamson sold his first cartoon for "a munificent $5.00."  Williamson became one of the pioneers of the underground comix movement with Bijou Funnies starring Snappy Sammy Smoot.  [JAM 5/1/2011]

#9 - April 1961 Cover: Phil Ford (1919-2005) and Mimi Hines

The best article of the issue was "We Were Spies in a Ladies' Turkish Bath" by artist Susan Perl (1923-1983) and Gloria Steinem.  Elder drew three rather strange full-page cartoons titled "Rottenville," "Secretsville" and "Fearsburg."  The drawings are excellent but the humor is well hidden.  Paul Coker drew the three-page "Double Agent K-9" by Jan Kindler that was equally obscure.  It seems that Kurtzman was casting about to find a writer to feed his stable of artists.  Other than himself, he rarely found a good one in the first year of Help!

Ed Fisher wrote the forgettable fumetti story that starred Ford & Hines.  Much of the story was filmed in Steinem's apartment.  [JAM 5/2/2011]

#10 - May 1961 Cover: Jackie Gleason (1916-1987)

Kurtzman's pattern continued.  After nine consecutive monthly issues with 64 pages each, number ten was just 48 pages.  Kurtzman started the Mad (#24) magazine with 64 pages then reduced it to 56 pages for issues 25 to 28.  Both Trump issues had 56 pages.  Humbug became a magazine with issue #10 with just 32 pages.  The last issue of Humbug had 48 pages but most of the pages were reprints.  Was it a deadline problem or a financial problem (or both)?  There was also a signal of more changes to come: the issue number and year were removed from the cover.  It appeared that future publications of Help! would not be restricted a monthly schedule.

I would not have minded if his publication had been reduced to ten pages if those pages were as good as "77 Pennsy Strip" drawn by the great Will Elder and probably written by Kurtzman.  Elder filled his four pages with caricatures of political figures and movie stars as well the expected gags (look for Tarzan and Frankenstein's monster).  Note that Fidel Castro has a package of Smith Brothers cough drops.  In addition to Elder, original Mad artist John Severin returned for one page ("Troy").  The obligatory fumetti story starring Henny Youngman (1906-1998) was not worth the ink used to print it.  [JAM 5/4/2011]

#11 - June 1961 Cover: Jane Mason ?

This may have been the least funny of all Kurtzman publications.  The best pages were the Krazy Kat reprints from August 1937 and October 1938 by George Herriman (1880-1944).  Jack Davis offered some excellent drawings of the Patterson-Johanssen fight but I could not find a scintilla of the humor that the cover promised.  Jane Mason, the cover star appeared in an unfunny fumetti story with comedian Jack Carter.  I tried to learn more about Ms. Mason.  It appears that her acting career was short and that her main claim to fame was that of being the last girl friend of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). 

The issue really suffered from the absence of Will Elder.  Other than Davis and Paul C:oker's drawings of people holding newspapers, the only original drawings were in the $5.00 anything-goes section where future Mad magazine artist/writer Don (Duck) Edwing sold his first drawing.

Gloria Steinem was promoted to "contributing editor" but I did not see any evidence of a contribution.  George Kirgo wrote two more pages of drivel.  His writings seem to have no raison d'etre.  This second 48-page issue showed that Kurtzman was struggling with the monthly format. [JAM 5/5/2011]

#12 - September 1961 Cover: Will Jordan

Issue twelve was two months late but it was worth the wait.  The word "July" was blacked out in the top-left-hand corner and "Sept." was added to the top-right-hand corner.  The good news was that the zany Kurtzman-Elder team of Mad comic fame was back with the first Help! adventure of Goodman Beaver ("Goodman Meets T*rz*n").  [A non-Elder Goodman Beaver story appeared in Kurtzman's Jungle Book (1959) - "The Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite."]  The page-one index promised a topless "J*ne" but the page 25 version of the same drawing was censored.  The story opens with Goodman tied to a post by unfriendly natives.  There are at least 14 Elder gags on the splash page including an unknown player throwing horseshoes at Goodman's post.  The natives hear the call of the wild, "Hoo Hah!" which was the title of the first story in Mad #1.  As T*rz*n arrives (smoking a cigar) to save Goodman, a small white girl with a bow in her hair is seen strolling through the jungle.  T*rz*n calls his animal friends, which include Cheetah with a mop, a herd of pigs and the circus rejects, who subdue the natives allowing an escape.  When they arrive at the tree-house, T*rz*n tells J*ne to "put top on" so she removes her bottom garment to cover the top.  There are many birds and eggs in the tree-house.  T*rz*n has an electric razor for his chest.  An ape reaches through the window and grabs J*ne.  Somehow, J*ne has found a piece of fur to cover her bare bottom.  T*rz*n calls his animal friends againbut they decide not to help this time because a Russian couple has organized them into a union.  Tarshanov has a medal pinned to his chest.  The two jungle-men begin a contest of strength as a "bed pushing marathon" is seen in the background.  T*rz*n, J*ne, Goodman and Cheetah decide to leave the jungle and get jobs in the U.S.  The Nairobi Trio of the Ernie Kovacs Show and the native woman who has been chasing Goodman are also on the loading dock. 

The naive personality of Goodman Beaver was eventually transferred to the persona of Little Annie Fanny when Kurtzman & Elder began to draw the classic strip for Playboy.  Will Elder always said that the Goodman stories were his best work but I disagree.  His drawings for Mad and Playboy would get my vote.  When the Goodman Beaver series was reprinted in 1984, the panels were expanded to show the full glory of the Elder drawings.  Most of them had the bottom third removed to fit the five pages allotted in Help!

I prefer the emphasis on comic drawing in issue #12 as opposed to the wordier early issues of Help!  Gone were the old reprinted science fiction stories; and Kirgo's ramblings were confined to one page.  John Severin contributed his second full-page drawing with a version of Pickett's Charge that included Abe Lincoln among the soldiers.  Arnold Roth went to Russia and smuggled out a few revealing drawings.  Al Jaffee made his first appearance in Help! although all four pages were reprinted from Humbug.  And, unfortunately, the ever-present fumetti starring Jean Shepherd (1921-1999) filled space. [JAM 5/6/2011]

#13 - February 1962  Cover: unknown man and woman - "FOR ADULTS ONLY!"

What is this - a quarterly?  With publication date five months after #12, the issue numbering was discontinued in favor of "Vol. 2 No. 1."  Although the issue was late, the good news was that it contained seven pages of another excellent Goodman Beaver story ("Goodman Goes Playboy").  The bad news was that Kurtzman and the publisher were sued by the owner of Archie Comics over the parody of their characters.  Kurtzman could certainly have won the suit but neither he nor publisher Warren could afford the legal fees to fight it.  As part of the settlement, Kurtzman agreed to destroy back issues, to never reprint the story, and to give the original drawings to Archie Comics.  Therefore, the terrific art by Elder was not included in the 1984 Goodman Beaver reprint except for a few drawings used for the introductory explanation.  This was a tragic loss for classic humor fans who could only view this material by purchasing one of the rare original magazines that were distributed.  I have two of these that are yellowing and chipping as the years pass. 

This issue also features the reprint of The Spirit drawing by the legendary Will Eisner (1917-2005).  Eisner's stories were often a bit hokey and improbable but his black-and-white drawings were as good as any that the comic world has seen. [JAM 5/12/2011]

#14 - May 1962 - Cover: Jennifer Billingsley does the twist

Gloria Steinem has departed from this non-monthly publication that has now become "Goodman Beaver and some other stuff."  In this adventure, Goodman has encountered Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998) in scuba gear.  Who but Harvey Kurtzman would see the connection between Sea Hunt and Don Quixote?  You really need a magnifying glass to see all of the Elder jokes in the background and underwater.  My favorite is the cake mixer ride on the segregated beach.  Some of the Elder jokes, like the underwater file cabinet (page 79 of the reprint) were cut to fit the magazine. 

Underground comix (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) superstar Gilbert Shelton published his first cartoon on page 41. [JAM 5/15/2011]

#15 - August 1962 - Cover: 23 Swimsuit Models

This is the issue that publisher Warren used to print an apology to Archie Comics for the parody ("Goodman Goes Playboy") that appeared in Help! #13.  Kurtzman expressed his displeasure with that comment on the index page: "Harvey Kurtzman editor of all but apology; pg. 3."  Goodman was back ("Goodman Meets S*perm*n") in one of the best and most unusual parodies of Superman that I have ever seen.  In Kurtzman's parody, Supe has dropped out of the hero business because "everybody's rotten."  L*is L*ne drives a transistor sports car, wears form-fitting clothing and dates a hedge-fund billionaire.  Elder has filled every panel with his unsurpassed series of running jokes including the two-stage rocket that Supe uses to leap tall buildings.  At the same time as Goodman was co-starring in his fourth Help! adventure, his sister (Little Annie Fanny) was making her smashing debut in Playboy.

Seven pages of the political drawings of Thomas Nast (1840-1902) were reprinted in this issue.  [JAM 5/21/2011]

#16 - November 1962 - Cover: Jim Hampton ("Made in Japan")

This issue contains the final chapter of Goodman Beaver ("Goodman Gets a Gun") wherein Goodman accidentally impresses his circle of friends when they discover that he is wearing a gun.  A major character in this episode is "Liz Taylbone" (parody of Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011).  Taylbone had been married to "Nicky Hicky" and "Mikey Wildwood" and "Toddy Ayoe" and "Eddy Fishy" and "Richie Button" etc.  Also appearing in the story was Don Knotts (1924-2006) in his "Barney Fife" role.  Goodman tries to emulate Marlon Brando (1924-2004) but his friends are not impressed without the gun.  Elder had fun with the beach scenes using sunglasses as bathing suit accessories, and frying eggs and boiling coffee on the back of a male sunbather.

There were two other notable articles with original art in this issue.  Harvey Kurtzman provided a series of excellent drawings for his undercover review of a movie in-progress, Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962).  And, Help! introduced Wonder Wart Hog, the soon-to-be star of underground comix by Gilbert Shelton.  This version was tame compared to the X-rated Wart Hart stories of the future.  This fourth issue of the second (now quarterly) volume of Help! was published with the position of "Assistant Editor" vacant.  [JAM 5/22/2011]

#17 - February 1963 - Cover: Drama behind the door

Twenty-two-year-old Terry Gilliam, future member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, filled the position of assistant editor.  His strange drawings ("Quick, Henry, the Flit!") filled page 12.  Without Goodman, this was a very ordinary issue that relied heavily on the fumetti.  The significant aspect of this issue was the reprint of 16 of the rare Lace comic strips drawn by Milton Caniff (1907-1988) in 1942 for our military boys fighting in WWII.  The humor is weak but Caniff's artwork is excellent.

A letter of encouragement from underground comix genius, Robert Crumb was part of the editorial/letters section.  [JAM 5/23/2011]

#18 - May 1963 - Cover: Fidel Castro lookalike is ready to play baseball.

There was one nice drawing by Jack Davis and a few by Arnold Roth but not much else.  Without Elder, Help! is on the decline.  I just think those fumetti stories are so lame and totally without the Kurtzman touch.  Six pages were filled with reprints of some unfunny comics by Percy Crosby (1891-1964).  [JAM 5/24/2011]

#19 - October 1963 - Cover: Cross-Eyed Woman

Oops!  The magazine in not quite quarterly anymore.  The fumetti, a parody of The Untouchables with young Woody Allen playing "Mr. Big" wearing a fake moustache, was the best to date.  Vintage cartoons were missing but there were two pages of original Kurtzman drawings in his unique style.  The drawings were on page 17, not page 8 as shown on the index.  Strangely missing from the issue was the third episode of Wonder Wart Hog that was promised in the previous issue.  Is it possible that Kurtzman heeded the advice of reader Pete Millar from the Letters page?  There is an excellent drawing of Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher on page 37 but it is not signed.  Who drew that one?  This issue was better than #18 but it took five months to deliver.  It appears that Kurtzman was preoccupied with the success of Little Annie Fanny.  [JAM 5/25/2011]

#20 - February 1964 - Cover: Naked toddler reaches for the "Missile Button."

This one was just one month late and the Wart Hog has returned.  The fumetti was a parody of West Side Story with beach bums replacing the street gangs.  Some really old Mutt & Jeff cartoons were reprinted but the genius of Kurtzman was missing.  The coverage of the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" is an interesting slice of history but the racial jokes seem so inappropriate today.  Other than the dancing surfers and the pie-throwing granny, the humor in this issue was lacking. [JAM 5/26/2011]

#21 - October 1964 - Cover: "Anniversary Issue" - 18 of the previous 20 covers (excluding #9 and #11)

It was five months late and it did not contain a single original story or drawing.  This was just an excuse to reprint ten of the previous fumetti stories.  The letters section was expanded to three pages making room for complaints about "The Golden Book of God."  [JAM 5/28/2011]

#22 - January 1965 - Cover: Bald Beatles

Trimmed to 40 pages, the magazine is back with the promise of six issues per year.  The future underground comix artists are the stars of Help!  Robert Crumb provided eight pages with the first adventure of Fritz the Cat who does not yet have his name; and his artistic talent is displayed with his "Harlem" sketchbook.  Gilbert Shelton's "Wonder Wart Hog" is back with another five-page, pie-throwing saga including caricatures of Dick Tracy, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Ben Turpin, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops.  Skip Williamson added his Ajax ad parody.  Kurtzman was really trying to keep this magazine going in some form but obviously, the demands of the Playboy gig had become the major obstacle.  [JAM 5/28/2011]

#23 - March 1965 - Cover: Dancers

Wart Hog, worst fumetti story yet, Gahan Wilson, Milt Gross (1895-1953) reprint, etc.  [JAM 5/28/2011]

#24 - May 1965 - Cover: Well-dressed man wading through water.

John Cleese before MPFC proved to be the best of all the Help! fumetti actors with his portrayal of a man who falls in love with a Barbie doll.  Cleese and assistant editor Gilliam developed a comedic friendship that would continue for decades.  R. Crumb was back with another two-page Fritz episode.  The reprint cartoons were by T.S. Sullivant (1854-1926).  [JAM 5/28/2011]

#25 - July 1965 - Cover: Another Cross-Eyed Woman

Robert Crumb again proves that he is an excellent artist with his sketchbook drawings from Bulgaria of all places.  The Wart Hog goes to Mississippi and the rest is filled with reprints, captioned photos and two really bad fumetti stories.  The end is near.  [JAM 5/29/2011]

#26 - September 1965 - Cover: KKK attacks a man with a dark tan.

Was it just a coincidence that Help! magazine folded after publishing the excellent five-page (including cover) satire of the Ku Klux Klan by Terry Gilliam?  It is too bad that there is no record of the letters received after that article.  Although #26 was mostly more-of-the-same, Kurtzman saved the best for last with the final three pages ("Super Everything") drawn by Sam Cornell.  The article pays homage to Krazy Kat while satirizing superheroes with caricatures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Dick Tracy, Wonder Wart Hog and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

Help! magazine existed in three stages.  Harvey Kurtzman started with a monthly Esquire-like, 68-page product with reprinted science fiction stories, some new and some old animation, and lots of page-filling fumetti stories and free photographs.  Unlike Esquire, Playboy and others, Kurtzman could not afford to purchase original works of fiction.  Therefore, he converted the magazine to a 48-page, quarterly format with Goodman Beaver (drawn by the comic genius, Will Elder) as the main attraction.  After five excellent issues and one costly lawsuit, Hugh Hefner stole Goodman from Help! and transformed him into the buxom Little Annie Fanny.  The third stage of Help! found Kurtzman trying to return with a bi-monthly, 40-page format with Gilbert Shelton's Wonder Wart Hog replacing Goodman.  The hog was not up to the task and the demands of Playboy must have been too much for the editor.  Kurtzman's legacy of comic humor is significant.  Although he was always challenged by deadlines, budgets and an over-powering need to control the content, the 67 issues of Mad, Trump, Humbug and Help! as well as The Jungle Book and others represent a body of work that may never be equaled.  Well done, Mr. Kurtzman!  [JAM 5/29/2011]