Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Miss Fury strip #269 and is collected in Tarpé Mills and Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944-1949 by IDW/The Library of American Comics in 2011. This strip was published on 6 July 1946, as far as I can determine. Enjoy!
I apologize for the blurry scan – this book is gigantic, and it almost didn’t fit on my scanner. Man, I have to get a bigger one …
I mentioned yesterday that I was going to cheat a little with regard to today’s post, because Miss Fury isn’t a comic book and therefore has no “first page” – it was a Sunday serial, so it pretty much never had a break for a new storyline, generally adding some elements that would become a new story before the major one wrapped up. But I wanted to feature Tarpé Mills and Miss Fury, her great creation, so I did, damn it! I picked a strip right after a major story arc wrapped up, because it’s as good as place as any for readers to try to catch up with Marla Drake and her friends and enemies. Let’s check it out!
In the title panel, Mills always put a character who would be crucial to that particular strip, in this case Albino Jo, a weird character who, when he was first introduced, was a Brazilian Indian who had been educated at Harvard and smoked a pipe. Later, he shows up as a well tailored criminologist. Oh, and his eyes glow. Because it’s COMICS! Anyway, he shows up in the corner of the title panel, letting us know he’s going to be in this strip. Then we get some exposition, as Mr. Martin explains to that woman (her name is Francine) what has been happening – they were in the ocean, their boat was sinking, smugglers were shooting at them … it’s all very thrilling. Francine is unimpressed, as she cuts him off because Marla – Miss Fury – has already told her about it, and even Martin himself has been blathering on about it. We also learn that Marla has flown back to New York to see her friend in the hospital, a friend who, we learn in Panel 4, is Albino Jo himself. Jo wants to hear all the details of the smuggling adventure, but before anyone can catch their breath, we find out that one of the smugglers ratted out some friends of his, who have barricaded themselves in a brownstone and are shooting it out with the cops. Exposition Jo goes on, explaining that the two men have taken a cop hostage, and then, like a good male chauvinist, he tells Marla to stay behind while he checks things out. We then switch to the bad guys, who have a plan to escape through an air shaft in the building. Man, that’s a lot of information in a small space! Not all of the Miss Fury strips have so much dialogue, but they are somewhat heavy with it. Mills, however, does a nice job keeping them out of the way – they don’t really interfere too much with the artwork.
Mills’ artwork is wonderful, and while she never does anything too radical with page layouts – it was a newspaper strip, after all, so there wasn’t much room for experimentation – she does a nice job within the panels. She was always very good at dressing her characters, as we see with Francine’s bathing suit and Marla’s wonderful red and white dress. Even Jo is fairly natty, while the hoods have on appropriate clothing. Marla carries her Miss Fury costume around in her purse, but she doesn’t change into it that often (she does, however, change in the next strip) because Mills is trying for some verisimilitude, and it’s not always convenient for Marla to change. Plus, it allows Mills to put Marla in some brilliant outfits like the one we see here. You notice the attention to detail in these strips – each character has a unique look, down to their hair styles (the men less than the women, naturally). Plus, unlike some of the strips we’ve seen this week, Mills is very careful about perspective and “realism” – the characters “fit” into the panel well, interact with each other realistically, and even though the dialogue is expository, it doesn’t feel arch or forced. Mills takes the time to give the characters different “voices” – this is obvious with the hoods, of course, but even though Marla and her circle move in the same high society as their regular “rogues’ gallery,” the usual bad guys have their own way of speaking that distinguishes them from Marla and her group. We see this here with the hoods, but it’s not surprising that they speak in their patois. Mills doesn’t move our eyes across the page as well as some other artists we’ve seen, mainly because she doesn’t have to due to the structure of the page. She does it in some instance – the first and fourth panels, for instance – but not too often.
I apologize for cheating, but I thought this was an interesting page because it does try to catch the readers up while still moving the story forward. Marla rarely got a break during the 1940s, as she swung from one adventure to another, and this was about as close to a “first page” as we get in the five years this book covers. I just thought it would be fun to show some of Mills’ art in case you hadn’t seen it, because dang! she was a good artist.
Next: The 1950s! Brace yourself for some romance, suspense, and who knows what else???? Steel yourself by moving slowly through the archives!