Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Oh, Wicked Wanda!

Bookshops are rubbish, aren’t they? All selling the same boring stuff, desperately chasing the easy money, book-club recommended, safe, prole-friendly junk. No imagination, no joi de vivre. Waterstones, I spit on you. Remember when bookshops took pride in having a bit of character, maybe specializing according to the owners’ cultural persuasion, with nary a whiff of Costa coffee, only the musty dust of aging books to stimulate the nostrils? Even the faithful second-hand book market ain’t what it used to be as Oxfam and the charidee shops focused their sights on exploiting the collectibles market. Actually, I don’t begrudge that too much, but the over-inflated market they created has robbed me of the satisfaction of getting many bargains any more, one of life's small pleasures.
Forced to find shelter from the rain the other day, during what is wryly described as summer here, I ducked into a chain bookstore and mooched through the comics (graphic novels, if you must). The usual dull fare of superheroes was punctuated by equally predictable ‘indie’ offerings and hipster fare such as Kramer’s Ergot. I flicked through waiting for the downpour to abate and lo, lurking at the back of KE no.8 was a smutty madeleine, poorly reprinted and slightly shrunken, but a nugget of ribald gold – Oh, Wicked Wanda!

I first made acquaintance with the charming buxom comic heiress at the tender age of ten. Precocious, yes. Actually it would probably be called neglect nowadays, but compared to what’s available to kids via the interweb this was pure innocence. My mate Charlie’s house had a large basement where we’d hide out, drink cream soda (It’s frothy, man!) and, after a sufficiently respectable pause, dive into his dad’s secret cupboard under the stairs to explore a young man’s vault of discovery (more Aladdin’s cave than Plato’s).

An enticing array of guns, smoking pipes (I say Carstairs, corncob or meerschaum today?), a sword, typewriters, Pirelli calendars, assorted junk and best of all an enormous stash of smut, which we would study in a gentlemanly fashion before ramming them back into the shelf and running back upstairs when we were called for our fish fingers and beans. The ladies in the magazines were majestic enough, but made only a temporary impression. Wanda’s strip (groan, ed.) had much more longevity in my pre-pubescent imagination.

I will direct readers here for the full facts and figures – bit of a cop-out, I know, but my meager knowledge is no match for Wiki.

Messrs Mullally & Embleton, smutters extrordinaire
Writer Frederic Mullally’s cultural and political jokes, caricatures and allusions were rather lost on me, but Ron Embleton’s lines and curves were faultless, the artist’s id given free rein to produce tasteless smut perfect for the simple-minded young man. Bryan Forbes’ early psychedelic illustrations are great too, a little more graphic and tasteful. Viewed today, many of the gags struggle to remain funny (were they ever funny?) and despite the strong female lead the misogynistic male take on lesbianism is undeniable. But with the general air of playful nonsense, daft plots (a touch of Michael Moorcock?) and post-sexual revolution libertarianism, it’s a captivating period piece.

Most of Wanda’s adventures were collected in a Penthouse anthology, long out of print, and used copies are rare and expensive. So come on Kramer’s Ergot and you trendy hipsters, it’s time to sort out a proper reprint and allow a new generation to appraise Wicked Wanda’s fulsome assets.

[In the meantime, there may be a further reading in the comments, ahem]



  2. Hello: I have an unusual item I would like some info on if possible. First my father was a surplus metal dealer many years ago in Providence RI - which is how I came by this item. It is a printing plate from the famous "Oh Wicked Wanda" cartoon in Penthous mag. It represents two full-facing pages. The edge of it is engraved (in reverse of course) with Vandercook and Job #5488. I could send a pic if needed. I found your site with Google. It am not sure what this is made of, but I think perhaps bronze.. heavy. I will really appreciate your response on this or if you could in turn direct me to where I might go about it.

    Thanks !!!

  3. My email for response on the printing plate ---

  4. Hi Charles, we're not really in a position to advise on the sale of such an obscure (but delightful!) item. Maybe try eBay, stating 'Buyer Collects' if it is very heavy? Or try contacting 20th century graphic art dealers? Otherwise it may be worth more to a scrap metal dealer.