Beware the Fat Furry!
Doctor Doom! The Red Skull! The Mirror Master! We have been menaced for decades by such flamboyantly costumed comic book supervillains as Galactor! The Green Goblin! Black Adam! The Yellow Claw! But not until now, with the publication of Alter-Ego #112, August 2012, have we known how narrowly we have missed one of the most bizarre costumed villains of all: an overweight wooly-bear caterpillar named The Fat Furry!
Or … have we? Bwhahahaha!
AE #112 has a 9-page article (PDF preview; see p13) on “‘Something … ?’: A Study of Comics Pioneer Richard E. Hughes” by Michael Vance. Briefly, Hughes (real name: Leo Rosenbaum) was involved with comic-book publishing from the mid-1930s to 1967, mostly as the publisher-editor-author of the American Comics Group. One of ACG’s most popular and unusual costumed -(sometimes) hero titles was Herbie.
Herbie Popnecker first appeared in a one-shot story in an ACG comic book in December 1958. He was so popular that he reappeared in several sequels in ACG titles, then won his own title that lasted for twenty-three issues from May 1964 until February 1967 when ACG went out of business. Herbie was possibly the only comic book to be responsible for a religion, the Church of Herbangelism, active in s-f fandom during the 1960s & ‘70s. Herbangelism lasts to today and sometimes hosts wine-&-cheese parties at Anthrocon and other Furry conventions.1
Teenaged Herbie Popnecker was short, fat, physically awkward, uncertain, socially shy, and an embarrassment to his parents. He was drawn in [Ogden] Whitney’s distinctive, minimalistic style, and although Herbie’s age was never revealed, he was probably twelve or thirteen years old, and embodied the self-image of most adolescent boys. But “the little fat nothing,” as he was referred to by his father, was also secretly magical (his powers gained from bizarre lollipops produced in the “Unknown”—an equally bizarre afterlife populated by Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, geeks, and angels). He was also cosmically known by all living and nonliving entities as the most dynamic, heroic, powerful being in the universe—known and admired by everyone (especially women) except his ignorant mom and dad. Herbie was every young boy’s power fantasy—a premise with some variations at the heart of most escapist literature. (Alter-Ego #112, page 52.)
The article claims that the grossly overweight, bottle-glassed, lollipop-loving, socially-awkward adolescent was a self-portrait by author Hughes under the pseudonym of Shane O’Shea. All stories were drawn by Ogden Whitney, although the covers for #15, #17 to #20, and #22-#23 were by Kurt Schaffenberger. Credits were often satiric, as “Shane O’Shea wrote dis, and Ogden Whitney drewed it.” “Annabel Hughes fondly remembered her husband’s love for the character and his laughter when he was writing Herbie’s satiric adventures.” (ibid.)
Herbie was a very anthropomorphic title, too! All the animals in the world could talk with Herbie, and were on a first-name basis with him. Herbie was known as the Fat Fury and the Plump Lump, and was often taunted by his enemies as the “fat, fat water rat, and red all over”. Said enemies included evil hypnotist The Black Whack, freelance Secret Agent X-413½, the Loch Ness Monster, supervillain Mr. Horrible, pirate Captain Skullbones, Fidel Castro, mad scientist Roderick Bump, the two-headed Red Chinese spy Foo-Manchoo (sure, nobody will notice a two-headed man), pizza-loving Dracula, and others of their ilk.
The article reveals that, although Herbie ceased publication with #23, three finished scripts had been prepared for #24. One of these was “The Fat Fury in Bughouse Blues” (12 pages), in which Herbie’s reputation is threatened by an evil imposter, a big, fat woolly-bear caterpillar wearing an imitation of the Fat Fury’s superhero costume as “the Fat Furry”. Yes, only in Herbie could it be assumed that the public would be unable to tell the difference between a human and a tiny caterpillar dressed like him.
Alter-Ego is published by Roy Thomas, a big comic-book fan. At the end of this article, he comments that it would be great if these three finished-but-unpublished scripts could be illustrated and published someday by Dark Horse Comics, the present holder of the Herbie copyrights. (Dark Horse is also the current English-language publisher of Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido’s French-language Blacksad cartoon-art anthropomorphic novels.) Yipe! So maybe the Fat Furry will still appear to menace us…
1 For information about the Church of Herbangelism and purchasing a copy of its Holy Babble, contact the Church’s pulpit-pounding Pope, Elst Weinstein, 7143 Breno Place, Alta Loma, Calif. 91701; firstname.lastname@example.org. Expect a LONG delay; these days Dr. Weinstein’s pediatrics practice takes priority over his freewheeling fannish pseudo-religion.