even though it’s been
defunct since 1998,
you’ll probably not be
all that surprised
when I say I’m a big fan
of humor magazines…….
Humor magazines in English
have a long, storied history –
— going way back to “Punch”,
started in 1831.
The modern trend toward
was actually started in Poland –
they were printed in Polish, of course.
In the United States,
humor publications were
first oriented toward the ‘college’ crowd —
The Yale Record and Harvard Lampoon
both started in the 1870’s.
Although American adult-oriented
humor Magazines probably owe
a good deal of their lineage
to a publication called ” Judge”,
printed from 1881 to 1953 —
( and to a more short-lived one
called ” Vanity Fair ” )
My favorite pioneer of
the genre was called:
” Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang ” .
It was started in 1919 by a retired Army Captain
and veteran of the Spanish American War,
named Wilford “Billy” Fawcett.
Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang was
variously self-described as an :
” Explosion of Pedigreed Bunk (or Bull) ” ,
” Farm Yard Full of Fun and Filosophy ”
” America’s Magazine of Wit, Humor and Filosophy ” .
Fawcett explained what he was
trying to do with Capt. Billy’s thus:
” This little publication was created
with the idea of giving the former servicemen
a continuation of the pep and snap we got in the army,”
And the magazine did cause quite a stir,
—- especially in polite society .
Few periodicals reflect the post-WW I cultural change in American life as well as Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. To some people [it] represented the decline of morality and the flaunting of sexual immodesty; to others it signified an increase in openness. For much of the 1920s, Captain Billy’s was the most prominent comic magazine in America with its mix of racy poetry and naughty jokes and puns, aimed at a small-town audience with pretensions of “sophistication”.
Naughty and racy —
how could you go wrong, right?
it’s way back before my time,
when Robert Preston was describing
the moral decline of children in the year 1912:
“Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger?
A dime novel hidden in the corncrib?
Is he starting to memorize jokes
from Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang?”
I was hooked from that point.
Sure, the humor is dated,
and can offend people
who don’t remember
to consider the times and culture
in which it was produced.
It’s absolutely precious as a
historical reference, and fun, too.
Captain Billy employed a number of very skilled artists
like Frank Tashlin, and Norman Saunders….
It also spurred a number of imitators,
some of whom really couldn’t maintain
the same levels of quality
in terms of content,
art, and print craftsmanship…….
“Charlie Jones’ Laugh Book”
and “Esquire” ( founded in 1933).
Even Captain Billy
got into the knock-off action
with “Smokehouse Monthly”.
By the mid 1930’s,
Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang’s humor
seemed old-fashioned and
out of step with the times,
and the publishing empire
that it had created started focusing
on other types of periodicals,
comic books – ” Captain Marvel ” ,
paperbacks – ” Gold Medal Books “,
technology – ” Mechanix Illustrated ”
movie mags – ” Movie Story ”
noir fiction – ” Daring Detective”
men’s action – ” Cavalier ”
household advice- ” Family Circle”
But to me, any opportunity to laugh
makes the world a happier place,
and so the passing
of the Whiz Bang,
like the later passing
of the National Lampoon,
still fills me with a feeling of loss.
we still have plenty
of old copies laying around.