For the December 1997 issue of The Comics Journal, the editors asked contributors to write about their favorite comic book story. While we are on the subject of EC comics — and my development as a pre-adolescent — my selection fits nicely here. This is an edited and truncated version, with the complete one available in my book Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & Pirates.
Sex and the Single 11-Year-Old
In my much rejected and thoroughly reviled black comedy, The Schiz, one of my major characters, Stanley Doone, a reclusive, sexually repressed cartoonist engrossed in the creation of a 2500-page graphic quadrumvirate, Lunacies, Failures, Disaster, Tragedy, Bum Luck & Other Commonplace Happenings of the 20th Century, reflects upon his favorite comic book story as a child. fifty healthy, intelligent, handsome men and fifty healthy, intelligent, beautiful women are selected by the leaders of a doomed earth to be frozen into a state of suspended animation for a lengthy rocket ship flight to a distant planet, where they are to awake, still youthful, vibrant, potent, and create a superior world. One man arranges to wake early…. He wakes one woman at a time. When he gets bored, he kills her and defrosts another…. (Stanley had) never forgotten the look on the rocketeer’s face as he lingered over the suspended animation chambers, pondering his next choice — blonde? brunette? redhead? — as if at a Baskin-Robbins counter — rum raisin? butter crunch? chopped chocolate?
That story, “50 Girls 50,” drawn by Al Williamson and written by Al Feldstein, appeared in Weird Science #20 (July/Aug. 1953.) Its full plot Stanley (and I) knew was more complex — and more twisted. Sid, the rocketeer charged with setting the timers on the Deep Freeze (D-F) units, is seduced by Wendy into arranging to wake with her before the others so they can enslave them and rule their new world. But he decides to rise earlier and party all the way across the void. His “appetizer” is Laura, and only after he has tired of (“It’s been almost a YEAR… and I want SOMEONE ELSE…”) and fatally paralyze-blasted her does he wake Wendy. She immediately blasts (“So long, sucker!”) him, for her true plan has been to rule with “THE GUY I REALLY LOVE.” Before losing consciousness, Sid reveals the last laugh is his. “(When Wendy) THAWS her ‘REAL LOVE’… she’s going to watch him turn PUTRESCENT. You see, the FIRST phase of my scheme was to KILL EVERY MAN ON THE SHIP.”
Upon mature re-reading, “50 Girls 50” turns out not to be so dire as I imagined. Earth is not “doomed”; this is a simple mission of planetary exploration (or imperialistic expansion); mankind will endure. Moreover, I had forgotten an entire moral theme. The mission’s chief planner, a white-bearded, John-Huston–as-God, patriarchal sort, had counseled the crew pre-blast-off that the selection process had factored in a “perfect mate” for each, whose finding would be “inevitable.” Sid dismisses this idea as “hokum,” but his final final thought is “Just ONE thing bothers me, LAURA! Why did I pick HER FIRST… OVER WENDY? Hmmmmmm.”
However, this suggestion of Sid’s greater loss — and monogomy’s greater rewards — is undercut by “50 Girls 50″‘s inner workings. He did find Laura. And after a year he blasted her. No, Stanley had grasped the story’s essence. Any doubt of that is blown away by Wally Wood’s cover. A man stands inside a spaceship whose walls are lined with row-upon-row of long-haired, full-lipped, hour-glass-figured women, dressed for their voyage in tight, low-cut, crotch-high dresses and lying in clear plastic tubes like cigars on display. “Alone in space with FIFTY FROZEN DOLLS just WAITING TO BE THAWED!” he is saying. “Now, let’s see! EENIE… MEENIE… MINEY…”
But in my novel Stanley is in his 30s. It is unlikely this could have been his favorite comic book story AS A CHILD. It is more likely that, in one of those endearing, imaginative, breath-taking interweavings of truth and fiction that so stimulate and reward scholars and students of my work (if there were any), it was ONE OF MINE.
Which raises some interesting questions.
Due to a parental embargo on what reading matter was allowed to cross our portals, it is probable that I first read “50 Girls 50” in the residence of a more open-bordered friend. However, since an actual, much- battered Weird Science #20 exists among my personal papers, it is reasonable to assume I had acquired my own copy. And since this comic is no more dog-eared than any other EC I have retained (and is in far better shape than many Mads) and “50 Girls 50” no more abused than any other story in the issue, its attraction for me and its power to spring from my buried past and flourish in my fiction of 40 years hence seems worthy of exploration.
I have previously argued without refutation — in fact, darn well without any comment whatsoever — that what accounted for EC’s appeal was not the quality of its prose (exemplary) or art work (unsurpassed) but its masterful orchestration of Sex-and-Violence. Certainly, that is what comes trumpeting (and bassooning) out of “50 Girls 50” today. But what I want to know is, whether I read it in Fletcher Sparrow’s bedroom in 1953, when I was 11, or alone, when I was 12, What-the-hell-did-I-make-of-it? What hooks did it plant that caused its thaw for re-examination from the D-F units of my brain?
To put things in brutal perspective, I did not read Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers until 1955, and, even then, more murky areas than I like to recall remained. This state held true among my friends, except for Max Garden, whose parents, progressive types who kept Das Kapital on full display in their living room throughout the McCarthy era, told him about sex when he was four. “The only problem was,” he says, “Is I couldn’t figure out why in the world anyone would do it.” When dirty jokes came along several years later, he got the idea sex was fun. “It wasn’t that I liked sex any better, but I liked jokes, and suddenly there were a lot more of them around. Then, when I was 12, I got a boner, and it all came together.”
In 1953 and 1954 my friends and I may have been trying to whip together an understanding of sex from Over Sexteen and “Pardon My Blooper” and “cracker” postcards of outhouses and farmers’ daughters and the occasional stray jack or trey from a Wolf Deck that reached our sweaty hands, but I don’t recall it making much of a ripple in our daily lives. For us, it was still boys on one side of the cafeteria or gym or square-dance class and girls on the other, coming together only when it was absolutely necessary to do-si-do. The box-step and Spin-the-Bottle and being riveted by the rape scene in Blackboard Jungle were a year or more away, and it would be a full two before I actually knew a contemporary who claimed to have done what-I-didn’t-even-know-it-was-that-you-did-yet. The July/Aug. 1953-me, in Sid’s place, would have defrosted one of the guys so he would have had company for Wiffle-Ball.