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Dell Publishing Co.
I made a real find at the Dallas Comic Con yesterday -- a BTH reading copy of YAK YAK for 50 cents. Some tears and folds, but no crayon marks and all pages legible. I'd been curious about this title for some time, hearing how it was supposedly pitched at an older audience.
The cover shows a beardless beatnik, standing on a coffeeshop table, surrounded by his torporific pals, proclaiming, "Oh wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us!" (Uh, I think Burns wrote "ithers" -- itherwise, points for pretentiousness.) With a subtitle like, "A Pathology of Humor," well, it's safe to say we're out of Woody Woodpecker territory.
The front cover -- in fact, the entire issue -- is drawn by the great MAD artist, Jack Davis. I'll say right now, if you're a big Davis fan you'll definitely want YAK YAK. If not, you may want to hold off.
Inside front cover, a fake ad in gray wash: "Be sociable -- Have a Yak Yak" (Pepsi slogan.) Since there were only two issues of YAK YAK, that's a long time to be unsociable.
After the table of contents (!) we have a spoof called, "The Touchables." Agent Elliot Mess enters HQ.
"Mess! Ol' boy, you look all shot! Down in the dumps! What's the matter?"
"Everything you say is true, I was shot at, down in the dumps. No place is safe anymore!"
Boy, you start to take MAD for granted, and then you read dialogue like that...
What follows is not so much a specific parody of "The Untouchables" as a sketch making fun of cop show lingo, kind of like a Bob Hope skit. Mess wants to get info from a rat so one of the cops brings in a giant mousetrap that has caught Mighty Mouse. (Pop culture ref in a Dell book -- that's unusual.)
Ho ho, funny joke, let's move on, you'd think. Not a bit of it; Mess and company stop the story dead for one page trying to get Mighty to "rat" out his pals, and in fact Mighty sticks around for the rest of this five-page story. (As an aside, Mighty doesn't even fly or do anything super, which leads me to wonder if he was a last-minute substitute for a more famous cheese-eater.)
I won't spoil more of this story, instead I'll bring up some production points. Everything's typeset, no hand-lettering. Most of the artwork isn't filled-in; instead there are blocks of color (no borders) and the primary figures in each panel are left white. I know nothing of the publication history of YAK YAK, and didn't look it up to leave my impressions unsullied, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn it had originally been planned as a newsstand magazine like MAD or CRACKED. Certainly features like a table of contents leads me to think YAK YAK sees itself as competition to MAD.
After "The Touchables" grinds to a halt we have a one page gag called "A Yak Yak." A big lug puts an apple on the head of a little lug. He walks off to shoot his bow and arrow in the approved William Tell style. Instead he shoots the little lug through the heart. Immediately he rushes up -- and then walks away, munching the apple. A death joke in a Dell book -- who'd've thought it? (The characters are b&w but the apple is red throughout.)
Now an illustrated text piece on baseball, "How to Bat 400!" When you think Jack Davis, you think action, and the artwork delivers. Still no panel borders, just blocks of green, blue, pink, etc. Puts me in mind of very early Gold Key books.
Another "Yak Yak" gag.
Text piece with one illo, "Scrounging the World for Recipes by Drunken Wines." (Think cake mix.)
Another "Yak Yak." (Guys, even in 1961, you don't make an old gag new by casting it with beatniks -- although that gives new meaning to, "That one has whiskers on it!")
Center spread, black and light blue with brown tints: "A YAK YAK PREDICTION: The first man on the moon will be a dogcatcher! No doubt about it! How else can the moon be made safe for man unless somebody rounds up all the rats, dogs, cats, monkeys and guinea pigs previously sent?" And we see the dogcatcher at work -- chasing the aforementioned animals across the lunar surface -- encumbered by his space suit because there's no air on the moon where all these unprotected animals -- are-- just running around...... Man, I hope that was funnier in '61.
Another illustrated piece, "How To Win Friends." The message seems to be, "People will walk all over you unless you're rich." (Then, of course, they'll steal you blind -- but hey, one deeply cynical point at a time...)
Another "Yak Yak." (I don't describe these on the off-chance you might buy the book and get a FEW surprises; don't you appreciate my thoughtfulness?)
Now we have "DRAMA/REALISM," or as we might call it, "Media Literacy 101." One picture each for a dramatic movie scene and how it might play in real life. Much snappier than "The Touchables" due to the format.
Let's examine the Civil War scene (a favorite Jack Davis topic). The Young Son goes to Join the Boys in Gray. In the "Drama" segment, Big Daddy Colonel Sanders goes "Tish tish" while Hattie Jemima wipes her tears with her apron. "Farewell dear hearts," says the son, "Do not cry. The bugle calls me. I shall return. I have your locket next to my heart, Jenny Lee. I shall bring you a Yankee hat, little brother. Farewell."
In the "Realism" scene, we go from Tara to Tobacco Road. Son: "Awww, paw, yew know I get homesick." Paw: "Do you want your ol' daddy to go out there an' do yer fightin' fer ya? Now you git outa here! Don't come back till you get some Yankee notches on thet rifle!" And instead of a houseboy -- "Your hoss is waiting, Master Jamie!" -- there's a thuggish sergeant: "Time's a wastin."
The other genres covered are Western (another Davis favorite -- though this one steals a gag from Kurtzman's "Cowboy!"), Gunga Din, WWII and Tarzan. Notice: no monster pictures, no space operas, no cartoons. (Well, those aren't realistic to begin with, you might reply. But MAD did a similar piece years later featuring the specific movies "Home Alone" and "The Rescuers.") It's pretty obvious that YAK YAK might be on the spinner rack, but it isn't aimed at kids.
Or women either. Again the "Drama/Realism" piece has no musicals or love stories. Not only that but in the whole mag there's only a handful of pretty girls and they aren't emphasized in the slightest. YAK YAK might have some death jokes, might have some deeply cynical bits, might even flirt with race issues in the Gunga Din and Civil War scenes -- but no way were they going to bring up s-x (gasp!) in a Dell book. (No wonder it only lasted two issues...)
"Hysterical Historical Quizzical Quiz." Multiple guess. To the question, "Who was the first man to fly?" one of the choices is, "Clark Kent." Another question depends on the reader's knowledge of Bonaparte's retreat from Moscow. Can you imagine present-day MAD making such a gag and expecting its audience to get it?
"Yak Yak Nursery Rhymes." Mark Evanier once counseled beginning comedy writers, "Write something every day -- even if it's just a song parody." I'm not sure if nursery rhyme parodies rank above or below song parodies, but it can't be too far in either case. "Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie / Kissed the girls and made them cry. / And it's like he said before, / You can't hardly find them kind, no more!" Yes, that's popular TV comic "Lonesome George" Gobel as Georgie Porgie, Lonesome George, let's give him a hand folks. Other celebs pictured are Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, Jack Paar, Elvis, Lloyd Bridges and Sinatra. (Again, no women. And isn't '61 a little late for "Skinny Frank" jokes?) Caricature isn't the first thing that comes to mind concerning Jack Davis, but of course the man has done TIME and TV GUIDE covers.
One more Yak Yak, a reprise of the cover shot, and we're out. YAK YAK was certainly different from the other Dell Comics, a clear attempt at reaching a more adult fan. That there only were two issues is pretty clear evidence of a misfire. (You know, '61 isn't too long after the last comic-book issue of MAD -- I wonder if there were any fans who picked up YAK YAK expecting something along the lines of "Black and Blue Hawks" or "Superduperman"?) To me YAK YAK feels like an early-60s (newsstand) MAD with a little less bite than usual.