A bit of a retro-review here, tying into the recent Dorky/Geeky/Nerdy Podcast:
DC has certainly tried to profit from the Hanna-Barbera characters, though only Scooby-Doo retains cultural cachet. One of the more interesting results: a GLAAD Media Award-winning limited series/graphic novel from 2018 that reinvents Snagglepuss as a closeted gay playwright1 fighting conformity in an alternate 1950s2 America where anthropomorphic animals and humans co-exist. The Puss proves the darling of talk shows, makes the social scene with his beard wife, hangs with fellow author Huckleberry Hound, mentors Augie Doggie, runs cover for Marilyn Monroe, testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee– and slips away to see his human paramour at the Stonewall Inn.
No, I am not hallucinating. This 2018 graphic is an actual thing, and it’s surprisingly good.
–For the record, please state your name.
–American cultural icon.
–Assuming, of course, that we call this “culture.”
Title: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
Writer: Mark Russell
Artists: Mike Feehan, et al.
Published by DC Comics in August 2018.
We’re in a 1950s America where a Toon minority coexist happily with human beings. Someone dating a cartoon lion? No apparent problem. Same-sex love? That’s another matter entirely.
A closeted lesbian version of Roy Cohn has been charged to root out “perverts”– and persuade the popular writer Snagglepuss to open up about colleagues whose ideologies and/or sexual habits might interest the House Un-American Activities Committee. Does the playwright play the game and keep himself safe, or does he stand up as a gay American anthropomorph?
The writers have tackled aspects of the past that our present, in particular, tends to ignore. Everyone has heard about McCarthy and the Red Scare– but one of its sub-chapters, the Lavender Scare? Do we know exactly what version of America mobs of people now long to restore, and what went into the appearance of a unified culture? This story uses cartoon animals and comic tropes to personalize those questions and does a fair job, producing a comic worth reading…
…but it could have done so much more with this story. Snagglepuss meanders from actual personality to public persona to spokesperson for a world-view. The characters needed more fleshing out of their furry selves.
Originality: 3/6 We’ve had years now of dark or adult/YA-oriented reinventions of childhood material, but this one takes a concept (“Snagglepuss is gay”) that has been kicking around since the pink puss first exited stage left, and develops a strangely credible tale of a Hanna-Barbera second-stringer as a Truman Capote/Tennessee Williamsesque author experiencing love and hostility while being pursued by a lesbian Roy Cohn during the McCarthy Era. The Snagglepuss Chronicles earns points for originality.
Artwork: 5/6 Mike Feehan depicts a cartoony world that could almost be ours. It has problems– particularly in its flow– but it contains far more depths and levels of shading than its two-dimensional source material.
Characterization: 4/6 The characters work, but they’re uneven.
Emotional response: 5/6 The best works can be remarkably affecting.
Flow 4/6 Flow between panels could be better.
Overall: 5/6 Snagglepuss tells Auggie Doggie that “you do not fight battles because you expect to win” but “merely because they need to be fought.” His choices take the tale to an odd and uneven conclusion. In the end, I’m not certain we learn anything new from Exit Stage Left— though some readers will receive an introduction to some important topics. Flaws aside, this graphic work’s weirdly compelling blend of history, politics, and characters from old-time limited animation works, and received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book.
In total, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepus Chronicles receives 30/42
1. Snagglepuss, with his refined manners, theatrical affections, and Cowardly Lion-derived voice, has been read as a gay stereotype by older viewers.
2. The graphic novel’s notes acknowledge a number of other changes from our version of the world. During the time of this story, the Stonewall operated as a restaurant. It became a gay bar in 1966. In Snagglepuss’s New York, it has already become a hub of gay night-life.