Toytown Comics 1

Toytown Comics 1
(Cover title Toy Town Comics)
Swappers Quarterly and Almanac
February 1945
There is no date on the book; the date is from Gerber, Vol. 2. Art
credit is from Gerber and Overstreet, 30th Edition. The indicia
give the publisher as Swappers Quarterly and Almanac; Gerber
gives Toytown Publ./Orbit Publ.; Overstreet gives Toytown/Orbit
Publ./B. Antin/Swapper Quarterly. The parent company is usually
called Orbit. I think that some books were also published under
the names Our Publications, Patches Publications, Rural Home,
etc. I gather that publishing as a group of "loosely connected"
entities was standard operating procedure for reasons of
swapping paper supply during wartime shortages, and so that
parts of the company could go bankrupt without dragging down
the rest.

The book was probably edited by (Ms.) Rae Herman
[pseudonym Ray Herman], apparently a colorful character in
comic-book history.

The book was produced by the Iger studio, probably with
contributions from anyone available to meet a deadline.  The
cover shows Mertie Mouse, slingshot in hand, being chased by
other characters with lumps on their heads. The cover artwork is
certainly by L. B. Cole, although unsigned. He most likely inked
the cover, and the vibrant colors might be his work as well.

The cover design demonstrates a lot of manic energy and
motion, with all of the characters save one rushing toward the
lower right corner, guided by garish blue and yellow perspective
lines. On the right, one stationary character in somber black and
dark red peeks around the spine, looking directly at the reader.
His pointy-eared cowl and mask with a long, scalloped cape
look very familiar.

Chapter 1. The Potato Bug Invasion
Mertie Mouse loses his apartment and girl friend. He meets
Bertie Bat. Potato bugs attack the town. The plot is fairly surreal,
with a mob of anthropomorphic potato bugs attacking Mertie's
bag of potato chips. The writer tosses in several odd subplots
involving Mertie's henpecked, naive landlord, Tubby, and his
domineering wife, as well as Mertie's girlfriend and her violent
father, rumors of a mysterious and feared despot called Storm
King. Lurking around the edge of the story is the unidentified
Batman character shown on the cover. The characters are
mostly cynical and disagreeable, with the possible exception of
the Batman character, who is lonely in a petulant, "Casper the
Friendly Ghost" way. Typical dialog: Gertie's dad (looks like a
rat), holding up Bertie by the scruff of his neck, asks, "Yong man
– do you intend to marry by dotter?" Bertie replies, "Well --- since
you put it that way!" [next panel, speaking behind his hand in a
stage whisper] "What's in it fer me?" Gertie sobs as dad kicks
Mertie out the door!
The art is still most likely by L. B. Cole.

Chapter 2. Mertie Becomes Mayor
Mertie is arrested, then appointed mayor by the town council so
that he must tell the Storm King that the town cannot pay its
taxes. More surreal plot, more cynical funny animals.

Chapter 3. The River of Death
On his way to the Storm King's castle, Mertie is joined by Tubby
(his ex-landlord). They meet Christopher Q. Catt, who plans to
eat Mertie. Tubby builds a raft to cross a river. Christopher
pushes Mertie and Tubby into the river. Man, these are a bunch
of mean funny animals!
The splash panel is signed HC. The artwork is probably L. B.
Cole layouts with Hal Chambers finishes from Chapter 3 on.

Chapter 4. Terror from the Skies
Bertie Bat rescues Mertie and Tubby from alligators in the river.
Christopher takes credit, then sends a message to Vincent
Vulture. Vincent carries Mertie away. When Tubby heads out to
save him, Christopher threatens him with a gun but is knocked
out by Bertie Bat.

Time out for a two-page text story with half-page illustration,
probably by Cole, to satisfy postal regulations.
Mertie Mouse Cries Wolf
Mertie heads for Florabel's house expecting, "not without reason,
that he and Florabel would have a cozy evening together." A
crowd of moochers is gathered. Mertie isn't exactly concerned
about Florabel's affections, but rather wonders, "if things keep
up like this Florabel may find another boy friend. Then where will
I go nights? [!] There isn't another girl in town who will loan me
money." Mertie fakes a robbery at Florabel's then runs out when
a real robber arrives. Florabel captures the robber and punches
out Mertie.

Chapter 5. The Forest Ruler
Bertie Bat rescues Mertie from Vincent Vulture. They continue
together to the Storm King's castle. Freddie Fox promises the
Ruler of the Forest (a Cowardly Lion look-alike) a new set of
teeth in exchange for putting out a wanted poster for Mertie and
Bertie, who are soon arrested.

Chapter 6. The Dungeon of Doom
The Ruler of the Forest sentences Mertie and Bertie to the
Dungeon of Doom. Mertie persuades the monster of the
dungeon, an elephant, to break him and Bertie out of the castle.
Tubby reaches the Storm King's castle and is locked in a trunk
by Christopher.

Chapter 7. The Storm King's Castle
Mertie and Bertie reach the Storm King's castle where
Christopher Q. Catt and Freddie Fox beat them up and lock them
in a torture chamber. The torture scene surprisingly brutal for a
funny-animal book! Mertie is stretched on a rack and Bertie is
about to be closed in an iron maiden. Christopher and Freddie
reveal that they are the "Storm King", predicting rather than
causing storms. The Ruler of the Forest beats up Christopher,
Freddie and their gorilla Horrible Harold. Horrible Harold is a
hoot! He comes running out like Magilla Gorilla, yelling "Coming
Boss!" when called by Christopher. One panel later he gets the
snot punched out of him by a smirking Ruler of the Forest, who's
very mean when he's mad! That's his entire scene! Mertie, Bertie
and Tubby return home as heroes. The dialog in the last two
panels is amazing. Lonely Bertie says, "Now that you're famous,
Mertie – can I still be your pal?" [Watch out, Hoy!] Mertie replies,
"Sure! My first act as mayor will be to appoint you treasurer! You'll
handle all the cash!" [next panel, addressing the reader] "What a
racket this will be! Who said it doesn't pay to be a stinker?'

Wow, none of the moralistic tales that we've grown accustomed
to from the comic books and cartoons of the 1950s! The
characters are almost thoroughly unlikable, except for poor,
henpecked Tubby and poor, insecure Bertie. The dishonest and
lazy prosper through no efforts of their own. No one learns a
listen and reforms. The characters are as violent as Itchy and
Scratchy, with characters clubbed over the head with a full panel
"Whango!" complete with a star and Saturn. Others are tortured,
kicked, smacked in the chin with a telescope, knocked through a
wall, nearly drowned and about to be boiled alive. This is not a
comic book to read your kid for a bedtime story! I wonder whether
Wertham and the gang saw this one.

Jack Selegue