Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sugar and Spike: Two Babblin’ Babies – Weird Comic Bookery

From the outset, superhero comic books have attempted primarily to capture the imaginations of children and part them from their unearned pocket change. Sometimes a child character is added to the proceedings, as Robin was with Batman, or Bucky was with Captain America. Other times children will play front and center in the adventures, as in Jack Kirby’s Newsboy Legion or the Teen Titans. There’s often a fine line being trod here, an attempt to create characters meaningful to an eight year-old yet not ridiculous to a twelve year-old. Then there are comics like Sugar and Spike, which apparently wanted to court the untapped pre-literate toddler market. Brush up on your baby talk and read on to learn more about this relic from a Weirder DC Comics!

It would be impossible to overstress Sheldon Mayer’s importance to the history of comic books. He began his career in 1935 doing illustrations for National Allied Publications, a precursor company to DC Comics. Failing to get paid, Mayer jumped ship to M.C. Gaines’ shop where he pasted comic strips into the brand new comic book format—creating, in other words, some of the very first comic books ever produced. His first love was cartooning, and he created a semi-autobiographical character in Scribbly Jibbet for Dell Comics. His storytelling acumen was more of a commodity in the very early days of comic bookery, so he found work as Editor-in-Chief for All American Comics, working on the development of characters such as Hawkman, the Flash (Jay Garrick version), Green Lantern (Alan Scott version) and the Justice Society of America title that showcased the entire All American line. In 1948, having slogged through thirteen demanding, whirlwind years at the birth of comic books, he stepped down from his position at what had become National/DC Comics in order to pursue his primary love, and debuted the first issue of Scribbly. It lasted for fifteen.
Not a money back guarantee
This issue got them condemned by evangelists
Truth be told, the books Shelly Mayer worked on were not normally big sellers. He drew some stuff for DC’s funny animal books, even creating new characters like Bo Bunny and Doodles Duck. He never starved for work from DC, and was so respected that in 1955 he was tasked with creating a comic book that would compete with the Dennis the Menace craze—I guess that was a thing that happened—and so he created  Sugar Plumm and Cecil Wilson, aka Sugar and Spike, two babies whose consonant-laden baby talk could only be understood by each other and, as we come to learn, other babies. Which, incidentally, is not one thing like Dennis the Menace.
Next they'll farm our mess-making out to third world sweatshops
If you find your children in this situation, you are a bad parent
Mayer based Sugar and Spike on his own children and their peculiar behavior as babies. If the stories he wrote are also drawn from his parenting experience, then he should have been thrown in jail, because the essential premise of every Sugar and Spike story is that they put themselves in life-threatening situations repeatedly until they’re discovered in a pile of flour, or something, and made to sit in the corner. It’s not just normal baby hijinx, these kids are straight up flinging around buzzsaw blades and strolling right into lions’ cages and the only repercussion is that they have to sit in the corner. One:
A rare extra-Archie sighting of the Jughead hat
pay more attention to your goddamned kids, you sickos. For another thing, if you find your kid suspended over a wading pool filled with razor blades and rubbing alcohol, give them a spanking for crying out loud! The parents often act like their kids are nuisances to be shoved aside whenever possible, and sticking them in the corner for every infraction evinces that. For the most part, we never see the face of any adult: we see only their legs and hands and maybe some arm, but this is no Peanuts-style comic where adults exist off-panel; the adults in Sugar and Spike routinely interact with them and figure prominently in their adventures.  
Remember: The FBI won't get involved unless we cross state lines
Our parents are back on the boardwalk having a drink
One thing we learn during Sugar and Spike is that it’s not only human babies that can understand each other’s baby talk, but all baby animals are clued into this universal baby language that flies in the face of Biblical contention. We discover this fact when the tykes try to rescue a baby lobster that is able to plead for his life when the two are taken to a seafood restaurant—yes, they can even speak with baby lobsters! Later, they converse with other baby animals, and the ramifications are frightening: not only can babies unite and thwart their common foe (adults) through daycare and structured play dates, but they can also enlist the aid of the baby animal kingdom to do their bidding. Do you think you could stand down a pack of baby tigers? I’ll bet you’re at least subdued by the cuteness.
The novelty of lobster conversation runs out after five minutes
This strange comic and its bizarre premise lasted for ninety-eight issues, from 1955 to 1971, more a testament to Sheldon’s status as one of comics’ progenitors than the result of reliable sales. The cartooning is masterful and lively, carefully-rendered in his simplistic-looking style that is the hallmark of a practiced artist. But the comic is just weird. Each issue is split up into a half a dozen or more mini-stories that might have been perfectly slotted into any child’s anthology comic, yet it always had its own title. I caught wind of Sugar and Spike as a kid, when I got my hands on a Blue Ribbon Digest collection of the work, and it inspired me to create a comic about two kids that looked suspiciously like Ms. Sugar Plumm and Mr. “Spike” Wilson that hung out with an anthropomorphic handkerchief. So there’s something that resonates from the work, which essentially shares the same premise as Muppet Babies. The only difference is that Sugar and Spike were human babies while the Muppet Babies were baby puppets. Now that is really weird.
This is how 90% of Jim and Eric's conversations end

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