Feb 19 2012: Washing Powder: from Larry Harmon’s Laurel and Hardy Comic (DC Comics, 1960s)
There’s a curiously tangled story of image licensing behind the seemingly straightforward cash-in comic book on display here since even a decade or two after their cinema heyday (and the death of Oliver Hardy) the currency of the comic duo was still clearly sufficient to justify a fairly impressive range of tie-in products. Conscious of this, according to the information here, in 1961 a comics artist named Larry Harmon licensed the use of Laurel and Hardy’s image and onstage characters and recreated them as the cartoon figures seen in this strip (one of four in the comic as a whole). What’s intriguing, I suppose, is that in some ways these caricatures seem more like Laurel and Hardy than the two performers themselves seen on cinema screens – a result, perhaps, of the exaggeration and simplification of those onscreen personas and traits. It also struck me that across these twelve pages are around a hundred single drawings, yet the story itself is so breathlessly slight it barely takes a minute to read through it: the mismatch of craft and time expended to narrative created is alarming, even at the basic level on show here – and it’s definitely Hanna Barbera rather than Disney or Alan Moore, as far as comic artwork quality goes. Despite that, perhaps it does add something to an earlier post on the labour involved in washing for earlier generations, and for all the slightness there are moments here that could be snipped out and recontextualised to seem properly absurdist and profound: I’m especially impressed with the first four frames in panel nine, showing the two disappearing into white soap-suds and conveying a very literal ‘sinking feeling’ with a marvellously concentrated economy. We’ve all been there.