Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Plop!: Nine-Thousand Four-Hundred and Ninety Days Late and a Dollar Short – Weird Comic Bookery

In 1952, William Gaines’ EC Comics, vanguards of the horror and science fiction comic book, released the first issue of MAD Magazine. This was a humor magazine, but instead of relying on one-panel gags and foolish jokes, it was a comic book built on satire—of media, of society, of every part of the milquetoast status quo that World War II veterans sought to establish. Unsurprisingly, MAD Magazine helped precipitate or hasten Senator Kefauver's hearings on juvenile delinquency that would effectively eliminate the horror comic book and put EC Comics out of business…save for that rascally publication MAD, which is still sold today. MAD Magazine also spawned so many imitators, beginning with Panic—which came from the same publisher, EC Comics, but was helmed by a different editor—and continuing on to Eh!, Sick, Nuts!?, Madhouse, Crazy, and From Here to Insanity, just to name a few. Most of these pretenders folded before the end of the 1950s, and MAD far and away dominated a genre of periodical it had practically created out of necessity. And then there was Plop!, DC Comics’ attempt to cash in on the MAD fad, twenty-one years after the fact.

The heavyweight pedigree behind Plop! is impressive: Carmine Infantino is named as the publisher, Joe Orlando was initially the editor, and the comic book featured regular
contributions by Sergio Aragonés, Basil Wolverton, Berni Wrightson, Nick Cardy, Wally Wood, Alex Toth, and dozens of other respected creators from the Golden Age of comic books on up to 1973. Initially, the comic was going to be called Zany, but during a dinner with Aragonés and Orlando, Carmine Infantino suggested that no magazine could be successful with a name like Plop! And then Orlando and Aragonés set out to prove him correct.

I'll sell you a gram of it for ten bucks.

The problem with Plop! is that it was a relic even before it was produced. Conceived as a horror/humor title, it was clearly meant to compete with Warren Publishing titles like Eerie and Creepy, as well as capitalize on a relaxing of the Comics Code that brought werewolves and vampires back to
the spinner rack. Each issue featured three or four “horror” stories, often similar in plotting and style to classic EC fare but much less interesting and well-executed. These stories would have the familiar twist endings that are the hallmark of serialized fiction, but story would often be so convoluted that the ending was more of a shrug than a surprise. I mean, unless your eyes are broken, it’s no chore to look at Nick Cardy or Steve Ditko artwork. But these stories were often neither scary nor funny—and lacked the ambiance and gore that helped sell the Warren Publications magazines with which they were trying to compete.

Thanks for the proto-boner, Frank Robbins!

In between these stories would be single-panel gag cartoons that were drawn by seemingly everybody in existence. Some of them were nicely-drawn works by Murphy Anderson or Frank Robbins, and others looked like they were doodled by some secretary during a boring executive meeting. To a one,
they were not funny. Some might cause the corners of your mouth to turn up ever so slightly in a reflexive smirk, but no person of sound mind should rightly make an agreeable utterance, and if you do emit a noise at one of these jokes you should definitely seek help. They would often be grouped loosely by theme, and bordered by a background rendered by Aragonés that looks like it was drawn in the dark. Frankly speaking, Sergio Aragonés is the main artist in Plop! and it really is some slipshod work. Perhaps he buckled under the volume, but many of the gag panels and horror stories he drew looked very rushed and unfinished.

The inspired both the Smurfs and Lizard Man Fuck Fest VI

The title limped along bi-monthly until 1976, eventually taking on advertisers, then getting passed among editorial (winding up with MAD Magazine alumnus E. Nelson Bridwell, though Tony Isabella did the final issue), changed its format slightly, and eventually had its plug pulled after it failed to gain one iota of relevance in a post-Watergate, Bicentennial-gripped America. Being that it came across largely as a repository for inventoried stories deemed too stupid for existing horror
anthology titles The House of Secrets and The House of Mystery, it wasn’t very relevant; born behind the times and without any appreciation for the fact that stories of suburban infidelity and grisly murder were less cautionary tales and more the stark reality that the Baby Boomer generation was attempting to eschew. Plop! was largely hack work with a few flashes of brilliance, which I suppose is no different than many other creative ventures. You can get the whole run pretty cheap, but there are two Blue Ribbon Digest collections out there that contain pretty much everything worth seeing from the entire run. And plenty that is not worth seeing, besides.
"Why did you emanate from that water pipe, Comic Book Spirit?"


  1. Yes, I suppose that if I read Plop today I would find it very weak - even a head scratcher, but as a 10 year old boy, I loved it. I wonder now exactly what they were trying to do and whether it was misguided or it went wrong somewhere along the way. I wish it could have all been up the the standard of those crazy Wolverton covers. DC was very ambitious/desperate to come up with new (non-superhero) things at the time and Joe Orlando seemed to be in charge of all that. I loved that it didn't have any ads and I applaud DC for that.

    The last couple of issues were absolute stinkers! I threw those away after the first read. Yuck

    1. I loved these as a kid...part of me still loves 'em now, for all their ham-fisted stupidity. I had the two Blue Ribbon Digest collections as a kid, which compiled pretty much anything remotely worth seeing from the run--it wasn't until later, hen I got the single issues, that I saw how even these meager smirk-worthy offerings were spread very thinly over too many issues!