Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with mushroom clouds. Something about their unbridled destructive power, and their strange, haunting beauty.
Also; the possibility that you could draw a really good one. It looked super-cool, and everyone at school knew what it was.
In 1981, you got your nuke-related yuks from Marvel’s CRAZY magazine. MAD didn’t really bother with it, outside of the odd movie parody on something like The China Syndrome. CRAZY was totally on-board with WWIII hysteria humor. I wrote about this before, and I’m about to show you an article from the same issue; a feature that warped me as a boy as much as R. Crumb did, or Will Elder’s Woman Wonder!
“How To Profit From The Coming Nuclear Holocaust”, written by Steve Skeates and illustrated by Paul Kirchner.
See what I mean?? How super-cool is that mushroom cloud??
That’s where I got the itch. I didn’t know about Zip-A-Tone yet (that’s the dot patterns applied to certain areas, to enhance the illusion of depth), but I studied that cloud and did my best to render my own.
Look at that gouger with the stand! What a hilarious meanie!
Not only was this feature a seminal influence upon my sense of humor, it shaped the way I design and lay out comic books. It’s extremely gratifying to see how well it holds up today. You could reprint this without changing a thing.
That’s what inspired my character Kap’n Kill-Krazy, in the John’s Arm universe. There’s a solid joke in every block of text and illustration. There were issues of CRAZY that I ruined because there was a “book” or board game included that was so good, I wanted it to be real. I wanted a hardcover copy of How To Profit From The Coming Nuclear Holocaust on my bookshelf, next to the Boy Sprout handbook, and Everything You Need To Form Your Own Rock Group And Make Millions Of Dollars Even Though You Have No Musical Ability Whatsoever (also written by Skeates, with spectacular art by Trina Robbins). Think about the tactile desirability of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased. I’ve exceeded my italic limit for this month.
Next, we meet the Man of the Future!
That’s the first appearance of the “but I call them ugly” line, which came from an ubiquitous liver-spot creme advertisement on TV in the early ’80s. And how about that- a dick joke allusion! This mutant’s a regular panic!
Hey- would you like to know why I never confuse the words “horde” and “hoard”? The following page:
See that dude under the heading, with the button-down shirt? When I would get new clothes for school, that’s how I felt I looked. That’s basically my school picture.
And hey, look at the cover of that hypothetical issue of CRAZY. Another freakin’ sweet mushroom cloud!
On to the next chapter…
Kirchner’s art is always crisp, with terrific contrast. This is where I learned the words “hovel” and “preposterous”. It never dawned on me that you could just draw made-up machinery, like that excellent three-legged pants press. I thought a reader would write in and call your bluff; “That’s nothing like what a pants press would look like! I’ve worked with one myself,” et cetera. Do I even need to point out how gorgeous and creepy the art is?
The next page I included in the previous article:
That gives you an idea of the jaundice hue these pages have taken on in the past 30+ years. Personally, I like it, but I’m focusing on the art, so for our current purposes I’m tweaking the contrast and posting the pages in black & white. Look at that, though. Not only is every panel beautifully composed, each one is hilarious. Note the super effective inking of explosions and clouds. Look at the moat around “Strontiumburg”! Look at the great background in the last panel!
Next: the maps. As advertised, worth their weight in radioactive gold. (That’s a reference to Alas, Babylon.)
That’s right. You woke up this morning, with no idea how much your life would be improved. “Evilmutantsburg”. Just soak that in for a moment.
I also love “Goonsville”, “Deathwish”, and the credible inclusion of “Newark”.
It gets even better. No kidding, if the bombs drop, I’m absolutely certain you could make a fortune with these maps. They are both authentic and adaptable. And look- you can learn how to draw cool craters, too!
“Alfred” and “a couple of people” are clearly marked. These maps are invaluable.
“Judge Crater” is an obscure joke, unless you’re familiar with Trace Beaulieu and his sense of humor. Then it’s a great joke. “Whaddaya Sea” always gets a guffaw from me.
More yuks with the Man of the Future, and again, I love Paul Kirchner’s art:
The idea of living out of a car used to be considered “undesirable”, not “inevitable”.
That crumbling building; more beautiful destruction in illustration. It’s a fairly marketable skill in comic book inking, even now.
In the future, where will people get their news? YOU! Pretty damn accurate, huh? Especially because it’s all advice and recipes!
Some ads are thrown in to help you pad out your newspaper, calling back some previous gags, like “I call them ugly” and the three-sleeved headless sweater.
That sweater is funny on its own as a gag image, and speaking of “gag”, how about that old lady’s radiation burns?!
The next page I am omitting, because it gratuitously features numerous trademarked hero characters, reminding readers that despite the actual humor, they are still holding a Marvel comic. We’re talking characters from a particularly beloved era of a beloved “X” franchise, so I would prefer to move on and not get into the inevitable heartbreak we all, as a culture, experienced.
The article closes with a dramatization of what you should do when the bombs drop.
Look how good Kirchner is at rendering fabric drape and ground textures. And check it out; Paul can be as scary as Ralph Reese or Bernie Wrightson!
Drooling his own innards!!!
Next we get another ad page, recycling the sweater gag, this time with the idea of selling to people before the holocaust hits.
Amazing work on the melting guy, and that’s the third unique rendering of that goofy sweater. How I wish I’d had a mushroom cloud bib as a baby. It would certainly get people talking.
For the final page, we bid adieu to the Man of the Future, with more fabulous inking, and a last panel you’re going to want as a tattoo. Trust me.
Am I wrong?! That H-bomb dude would look rockin’ on a bicep, or a shoulder!