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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dan DeCarlo's "Josie and the Pussycats"

Have any of you heard of a comic book artist named Dan DeCarlo?

If not, I will talk about him a little bit as a bit of an introduction to the blog topic that I have chosen to discuss for today.  After all, without Dan DeCarlo, we wouldn’t have our topic for today, would we?

Anyway, Dan DeCarlo was born in New Rochelle, New York on December 12, 1919.  After graduating from high school in 1937, DeCarlo attended Manhattan’s Art School League for three years before being drafted into the United States Army in 1941.  He was stationed in Great Britain where he worked in the motor pool, and draftsman.  He also exhibited a talent for art when he used to paint company mascots on the noses of various airplanes used to fight in combat missions during World War II.

At some point, DeCarlo was also stationed in Belgium where he would eventually meet his future wife on a blind date shortly after the Battle of the Bulge.  Shortly after that date, the two married, and by 1948, the couple were back in the United States, the parents of twin boys, Dan DeCarlo Jr, and James DeCarlo.

About a year prior to that, DeCarlo had made the decision that he wanted to pursue a career in art professionally, and he had gotten his big break in 1947 being hired by Timely Comics.  Under then editor-in-chief Stan Lee, DeCarlo’s first gig was the teen-humour series “Jeanie”.  This was followed by a ten year stint on another comic book, “Millie the Model”, and worked on a short-lived syndicated comic strip “Willie Lumpkin”.

Yet, his biggest break would not come until the late 1950s, when DeCarlo would take on the job that would make him a fixture in the comic book world for over four decades.

At the time, he began freelancing for Archie Comics, looking for extra work.  Back then, he got very little pay, but he genuinely enjoyed the work.  But when he finished his work with Archie Comics and took on another job, the people at Archie Comics wanted to know why he didn’t contact them for more work.  DeCarlo explained that he needed more creative control, as he felt that they just wanted him to draw just like Bob Montana (the original artist that created the likeness of Archie back in the early 1940s).  When they convinced DeCarlo that he could use his own style, he changed his mind, and took on a more permanent job with Archie Comics.

What DeCarlo did was completely give the characters of Archie Comics a more modernized look that kept updating through the decades. 

Whether it was the 1960s...

...The 1970s...

...The 1980s...

...or even the 1990s, Dan DeCarlo helped make the Archie titles more updated, as well as much sexier.  I dare you to find a Betty and Veronica story set during the summer that does NOT have either of them in a little bikini swimsuit.  And, before you go thinking that he objectified women, might I add that he also drew the male characters in Speedo swimsuits as well. 

Certainly, the Archie titles were the ones that made Dan DeCarlo a huge star (in particular with the Betty and Veronica title).  However, Dan DeCarlo also had a hand in some other popular creations as well.  He created the Sabrina The Teen-Age Witch serial in 1962, and twenty years later brought a bit of controversy to Archie Comics by introducing the fiery red-headed bombshell Cheryl Blossom to the Archie universe.

And, then there’s this story about how another popular comic creation came to be created by DeCarlo.

You see, when Dan DeCarlo first met his wife, they found it difficult to communicate with each other using words.  She was originally from France, and when they met, she couldn’t speak a word of English.  So in order to communicate with her, he drew pictures for her, which immediately broke the ice.  It was an ingenious idea that worked like a charm...but little did Dan’s wife know that she would become the inspiration for one of Dan’s finest creations! 

After they had gotten married, the DeCarlo’s went on a cruise ship, and for whatever reason, Dan’s wife believed that it would be fun to bring along a costume to wear on the cruise.  This costume ended up being a cat suit!  I have no idea why she would bring a cat suit on the cruise or what the intention was, but I can only imagine.  Whatever the reason, the costume inspired Dan to do some sketching, essentially sketching his wife wearing the costume.  He thought nothing more of it until one day when his wife came home wearing a new hairstyle with a bow tied in it...and with that, Dan incorporated the hairstyle onto his new creation.

When it came time to naming his new character with the cat suit and hairstyle, no other name would have fit other than the woman who inspired the look in the first place.

And with that, the character of Josie McCoy was born, inspired by Dan DeCarlo’s wife, the late Josie Dumont DeCarlo.

Dan DeCarlo had intended to sell the creation to be used as a syndicated comic strip, but decided to focus solely on Willie Lumpkin instead of trying to do two comic strips at the same time.  When Lumpkin was cancelled, DeCarlo tried to shop the comic strip again, but was turned down.  However, Dan also had his job with Archie Comics by this point, and when he pitched the idea to take Josie and turn her into a comic book series to then Archie Comics head Richard Goldwater, he greenlighted the series, with a special preview of the comic book printed in Archie’s Pals N Gals #23.

A month later, the comic book series “She’s Josie” debuted in early 1963, where in addition to Josie, we met all of her friends, which included the following;

Melody – A beautiful, buxom blonde whose attractiveness can cause a 32-car pile-up in a matter of seconds.  She has a sweet disposition, but also has the negative stereotype of being a “dumb blonde”.

Pepper – A glasses-wearing, short-haired girl who has brains by the ton, but often ends up being incredibly cynical.

Sock – Pepper’s boyfriend, who is strong in body, but not very bright.

Albert – Josie’s boyfriend, a real beatnik character

Alexander Cabot III and Alexandra Cabot – The Cabot twins who are rich in money, but have overinflated egos.

The series would undergo a name change in 1965, when the title was simplified to being “Josie”, but the plot lines would remain the same for the first six years of the title.

Well, that was until 1969, when major changes began to be made.

It was decided that the cat costume that Josie DeCarlo wore on that cruise ship would be incorporated into the storyline as Josie decided to form an all-girl band.

An all girl band named “Josie and the Pussycats”!

Before that could happen though, a shake-up was needed within the comic.  For starters, some of the characters were removed from the series, never to be seen again.  The birth of the Pussycats meant a permanent exile for Pepper, Albert, and Sock.  Melody would remain with the series as the drummer for the Pussycats, and the Cabot twins would also be a huge part of the series.

In addition, three new characters were added.  In a throwback to Sabrina, Alexandra would get a cat named Sebastian, who could perform magic tricks.  Alan M, a blonde haired folk singer who ends up being caught in a love triangle between Josie and Alexandra was also added to the series.

The third addition was Valerie Smith, who eventually became the third Pussycat in the forty-fifth issue of “Josie and the Pussycats”, and who became one of the first African-American characters to regularly star in an Archie Comic title (Chuck Clayton did not arrive until the 1970s).

The plot lines for the Josie and the Pussycats comic were also tweaked with the new changes.  Sure, there were lots of stories where Josie and the gang dealt with a lot of teenage problems such as dating, homework, and school dances...but with the band angle, we also saw the band performing in various places all over the world.  We even had a few Archie crossovers where Josie and the gang would visit Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie in Riverdale, U.S.A.

The series continued until 1982.  After 1982, the series would later appear in one-off books in “Archie Giant Series Magazine” (1983-1990), a mini-series (1993-1994), and “Archie & Friends” (2001-2005).

Currently, Josie and the Pussycats are making appearances in the long-running “Archie” title, where Archie and Valerie begin dating each other in issue #608, so the Pussycats are not going away any time soon. 

The comic book series also spawned a Hanna-Barbera television cartoon, “Josie and the Pussycats” in 1970, running for two years before being retooled as “Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space” in 1972.

And in 2001, a live-action film based on the series was released which starred Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie, Rosario Dawson as Valerie, and Tara Reid as Melody.  The film wasn’t that great, and I didn’t care for how the film was produced, but I will hand credit to the casting directors...Tara Reid made a great Melody.

Sadly, it was this movie that kicked off the beginning of the end for Dan DeCarlo’s collaboration with Archie Comics.  While the film was being produced in early 2001, DeCarlo had gotten entangled in a battle with Archie Comics over the creation of Josie, and the battle reportedly got so heated that Archie Comics terminated DeCarlo’s employment with the company after over 40 years of service.  Later on in the year, a federal district court ruled that the copyright to the creation of Josie and the Pussycats was owned by Archie Comics, seconded by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by the lawyer of DeCarlo on December 11, 2001.

One week later, DeCarlo passed away from pneumonia at the age of 82.  He was predeceased by his sons (who also worked at Archie Comics as artists during the 1980s), and survived by his wife Josie (who passed away in March 2012).

I think that comic book figure Paul Dini (who was one of the last artists to work with DeCarlo before his December 2001 death) said it best when he described DeCarlo’s passing as tragic.  According to him, he was “at an age where many cartoonists are revered as treasures by more beneficent publishers”, and that Dan “felt spurned and slighted by the owners of properties that prospered greatly from his contributions.”

It seems that in the eleven years since DeCarlo’s passing, we may never really know what the real story behind his termination is.  The only thing that I will say is that his work on the Josie series, as well as the Archie series, will be greatly missed.  Although considering that a lot of the Archie Digest titles are now reprinting classic DeCarlo cover gags on their front covers, it’s safe to say that his legacy will live on through the millions of pages of art he created for the company.

And besides, if Josie and the Pussycats keep on making appearances in the Archie title, then in some ways, the legacy of the DeCarlo family will never truly die.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very nice tribute to one of the greatest (and under-appreciated) comic book artists of all time. As a long-time fan of his work, thank you!