A Swimsuit Hiatus

Let’s look at some sequences from newspaper comics in the middle of the last century, starting just before the Second World War in 1938 with Bernard Dibble’s series known variously as Looy Dot Dope, The Misadventures of Louie or just Looy, depending on which paper you were reading it in. The hapless hero Louie is on a private beach with a friend when their seclusion is disturbed by a trespassing blonde in a two-piece bathing suit.

looy 1938 a

She explains that she’s trying to get away from a boor chosen by her aunt (and legal guardian) to be her fiancé.

looy context 1

The sympathetic Louie wonders what such a man must be like.

looy context

He finds out when Boris Bolgoff Bulgaria Baron turns up and tries to pick a fight with him, after which he will deal with the young lady…

1938 Looy

Except that Louie decks him, and so the spanking doesn’t happen.

Fast-forward to the very last weeks of the war, and Paul Robinson’s long-running Etta Kett strip featured a storyline in which Etta, desperate to meet a particular movie star, hears that said star sunbathes every day at a lighthouse a mile out to sea.

Etta Kett 1945 context 3

She swims out there, against the tide,

Etta Kett 1945 context 1

but what shows up is not the object of her desire but a storm, leaving her stranded.

Etta Kett 1945 context 2

Luckily for her, her boyfriend Ken has access to a seaplane. Unluckily for her, he also has opinions about what should happen to girls who undertake dangerous swims for trivial reasons:

1945 Aug 1 Etta Kett

Unluckily for us, he doesn’t do anything about it!

Also straddling the end of the war is ‘Coast of Jeopardy’, a story which ran in Frank Tinsley’s adventure strip Captain Yank from June to September 1945, when it reached a conclusion that couldn’t possibly have been planned from the start:

Captain Yank end of war

The girl bringing the joyful news for non-residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is Captain Yank’s red-headed girlfriend Wanda, a news photographer who has been assigned to cover the Pacific task force.

Captain Yank wanda color

Yank has been given a clandestine mission to survey the China coast prior to the landing of an invasion force, using a specially camouflaged boat skippered by Bob Hogan. His orders include a ban on press coverage, but Wanda is never one to allow orders to stop her getting a good picture. She hides on board, and is only discovered when the mission is already under way, unwittingly sleeping on top of the boat’s self-destruct mechanism, a payload of TNT. ‘A woman aboard ship means trouble,’ says Yank, and his opinions on how to handle stowaways are not unique to him:

1945 July 8 Captain Yank

Despite what he says there, however, Bob Hogan is not of the same mind, for reasons hinted at in the very next panel.

Captain Yank

You or I might think that having an attractive stern might increase a girl’s risk of being spanked, but it seems Captain Bob sees it differently. It’s the old story of how a pretty girl can get away with things – and if she enhances her appeal by wearing a bathing suit, then it seems she will get away with even more!

But you have only to look a little earlier in comics history to see that swimsuit girls didn’t bear an altogether charmed life. Roy Crane’s hero Captain Easy will give us our examples. The first comes from the Wash Tubbs strip in 1932, when he encounters the Latino general’s daughter Lola Fedora.

1932 wash Tubbs 7 Oct

She does beat it as instructed and so isn’t spanked – yet. But it later emerges that she is also trying to double-cross him, so when they next meet, as she puts it afterwards,

‘He geef me the spank. Oo, how I scream! Oo, how ‘e spank!’

Oo indeed! Though it has to be said that it’s not altogether clear why she should be wearing a bathing suit in the first place. That’s rectified in the second example, from 1937, when Easy has graduated to his own strip and is entangled with the deposed Crown Prince of Kleptomania (an imaginary European state, not a mental ailment), who is now down on his luck in America. The dictatorship that supplanted him fears that he may attempt to mount a counter-revolution, so they dispatch their secret agent Helga to the States with orders to get herself into a swimsuit. That’s not completely arbitrary, because the plot is for her to seduce Prince Hugo, and get him to forfeit the throne by marrying a commoner; so she needs to look as sexy as she can within the confines of a family newspaper strip…

Capt Easy 1937 context a

But Helga is possibly not the ablest graduate of the Kleptomanian secret agent academy, for two reasons. Firstly, because Prince Hugo sees through her ‘matrimonial trap’ easily enough, which leads to a fight in which Easy becomes involved.

‘Oo, how he spank!’ In some ways this is a close rerun of the Lola Fedora swimsuit spanking from five years earlier, with a more fully worked-out rationale for her outfit, though not necessarily for her overall involvement. For the second reason she’s not destined for Kleptomanian Double-O status is that she’s very easily distracted from her mission – and what distracts her is being spanked. It turns out that she enjoyed it – a lot!

So when she returns to base, it’s not altogether a surprise to find that she gets fired…

So it seems that, as an artist and storyteller, Roy Crane liked the idea of swimsuited girls being spanked. He certainly liked the spanking trope, because he was responsible for at least another five spanking scenes between 1937 and 1947, an uncommonly rich output from which we’ll glance at two more examples, before taking a longer look at a third. One is from Captain Easy in 1941…

and the other from a 1944 episode of Crane’s next comic strip venture, Buz Sawyer:

Both are powerful, well-executed spanking illustrations, in many ways superior to the examples from 1932 and 1937; but what I want to call attention to is the progressive increase in bodily coverage, right in the period when the other strips suggest that swimsuit spanking was being avoided. Crane never drew another of those, but we can see him moving back in that direction in another Buz Sawyer strip from 1947, in which Sawyer and an eminent plastic surgeon are abducted to Africa with the minor participation of a petty crook named Kitty Dean.

Buz Sawyer 1947 context ag

What none of them know, even Kitty, is that the whole thing is a dastardly plot to give a new face to a fugitive dictator who was thought to have died in a Berlin bunker two years before. Kitty is double-crossed by her Nazi employers and, overhearing Sawyer’s escape plan, forces him reluctantly to take her with him.

Buz Sawyer 1947 context ao

For a while, the pursuing enemy is put to one side and the Hitler facelift forgotten as the strip concentrates on the rigors of the journey downriver through the jungle towards the coast and freedom. Kitty does her utmost to look decorative and seductive, and though Sawyer mentions getting her more practical clothes to travel in, this never happens, perhaps in part because of where the story, and Kitty, are headed.

She resents the chores she has to do, really resents Sawyer’s lack of interest in her as a woman and eventually decides she’ll be better off stealing the canoe and going back to the Nazi camp. This leads to a close encounter with an equally deadly menace:

Buz Sawyer 1947

She also resents the rescue, and offers violence, with predictable results, at least for anyone who remembers what happened to Helga:

So the Roy Crane spanking trajectory is from swimsuits in the 1930s to an abbreviated ‘Jane’-style jungle dress in 1941, to jodhpurs in 1944, but then to Bermuda shorts in 1947. It’s only a short step from those shorts back to the swimsuit, and it was taken by the end of the 1940s, as we can begin to illustrate with this splendid Matt Baker panel from a romance comic book of July 1949:

03 Teenage Romances July 1949

We’ll take a more extended example from Zack Mosley’s Smilin’ Jack strip, which in 1952 featured a naughty girl named Pandora who schemes to break up Jack’s marriage by arranging to be marooned alone overnight with him in the Florida swamps. Confronted by Jack’s friend Nidney, she claims it was an accident, so he takes her upstream and confronts her with evidence of the truth:

Smilin Jack 1952 09 09

When Pandora protests innocence and tries counter-accusation (‘How dare you accuse me of such horrible things?’), Nidney goes into action:

Unlike the 1949 Matt Baker scene on the beach, there’s no compelling reason for Pandora to be wearing a bikini, though it’s also not quite as gratuitous as in the 1932 Roy Crane scene: they are outdoors on a boating trip, so she could legitimately dress for the sun and the water. But she’s also dressed to be spanked, to make the scene a spectacle of the kind that had been pointedly avoided in the 1940s, but was now returning in the 1950s and became all the more spectacular as the decade went on.

For a case in point, we won’t do better than what happened to a spoiled rich girl in ‘Robin Greene’s Date with Danger’, a 1957 serial in the Steve Roper strip, drawn at this time by William Overgard. The portrait used to introduce Robin in a trailer for the story suggests what a little devil she must be:

But our first sight of her in the story is pointedly from the other side, as she waves her father off at the airport:

steve roper 0

It’s a side of her that Overgard clearly enjoyed drawing, as we see in these examples from later in the story, after she has fallen into the bad company of an ‘easy rider’ motorbike hoodlum:

But let’s get back to the start: ‘Please at least try to keep out of trouble,’ asks her father; but Robin doesn’t, perhaps even can’t. While he’s out of town, she buzzes the airport control tower in a private plane, meaning that this time the trouble is big. It’s clearly a bid for paternal attention, but what she actually gets is a talking-to from the family lawyer. It almost looks like a throwback to the Forties: a naughty girl dressed for the pool being scolded in terms that are obviously headed for, but never actually reach, the words spank you:

steve roper a

But this one isn’t going nowhere…

Her father calls in Steve Roper to supply a minder for her, and he passes the job on to his sidekick, rugged Mike Nomad. Nomad resents having to play nursemaid, but does it conscientiously. The big problem is that Robin dislikes him intensely, and takes every opportunity to embarrass and humiliate him.

steve roper

The crunch comes out on a picnic, when she does her best to entrap him into inappropriate advances that would cost him his job, hence her choice of attire:

sr2

It’s a choice she has cause to regret after her scheme fails and, piqued, she offers more direct hostilities…

sr3

sr4

which means it’s time for Robin Greene’s Date with Spanking:

steve roper ots

steve roper otk

No 1940s evasion here: that wet swimsuit makes it quite possibly the most powerful and erotic spanking scene ever to feature in a newspaper strip.

And swimsuit spanking continued to be presented in comic book genres aimed at both genders, from raunchy Mexican Westerns to love stories, both represented here in examples from the mid-1970s:

This is a history that has striking parallels with the development of cinema spanking from the pre-Code era, through the dominance of the Hays Office and into its decline: the scenes started out racy, became more restrained, then went back to being racy again – with the difference that the raciness left the comics later and came back earlier. But in the middle, it really looks as if the closest you could get to a swimsuit spanking was an unfulfilled threat, conjuring up a pleasant idea but leaving it entirely in the mind of the reader. So it seems that what happened to America in the course of the 1930s went beyond the impact of the Production Code on Hollywood: it spread across different media, limiting the range of acceptable artistic expression, especially in matters with the kind of mildly erotic connotations that spanking has. But it was a phenomenon that passed…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.