Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Jimmy Hatlo's Idiosyncratic Inferno: He Did It Every Time

(Jimmy Hatlo proving that where there's smoke there's fire....Hellfire!)

Squeaking perverse sexual inuendo past McCarthy-era comic strip censorship boards was not a feat the average commercial cartoonist could successfully tackle in America during the 1950s. Unless, of course, the artist's name was Jimmy Hatlo. In 1953, and again throughout most of 1958, a supplemental panel accompanying Hatlo's hugely successful They'll Do It Every Time, appeared weekly in major U.S. newspaper publications. The cartoon subtext, entitled Hatlo's Inferno, depicted the future torments of souls sent to Hell for committing "sins".

Individual Inferno panels featured depraved depictions of punishments for such criminals as an annoying viewer rapidly changing the channels on a television set, or an unmindful train conductor blocking traffic by driving his train back and forth at a raiload crossing. The mortal no-no's were met with oft-bizarre and sadistic consequences, such as the channel changer, chained to a construction crane, being slowly dipped in and out of a vat of oil. To save himself from being eventually smothered he had to try to switch off a big screen TV as it flicked from channel to channel. In the foreground, a large, brutish, orange devil announced to a Hades Sightseeing Tour of human visitors (Dante's cartoon counterparts) that the victim would not succeed as the "off" switch was just beyond his reach. Of course the sinner is clad only in skimpy white boxers (after all, it is supposed to be Hell). But lest you think that nudity was never "shown", it was sometimes implied (always with a devil or an object standing in just the right position to cover the subject's unmentionables). The train conductor met an even more dastardly demise. With one arm and leg chained to the back of a conductor's train car and the other arm and leg chained to another conductor's train car, the hapless, boxer-clad sinner screamed in pain as the cars began to pull away in opposite directions. Jaunty red devil conductors in each car looked back at the victim and smiled evilly as they pulled a rope which allowed the train whistles to blow.

The most amazing thing was that this feature ran on SUNDAY, the day of Judeo-Christian worship. The idea was that somehow these panels were humorous and they tied in with the concept of spiritual punishment in the afterlife for indiscretions during mortal existence. At the height of its success in the late '50s, the series was named "Best Panel" by The National Cartoonist's Society.

James Cecil Hatlo was born in September, 1898, in Providence, Rhode Island, under the sometimes prudish astrological sign of Virgo. But Jimmy Hatlo was anything but a prude. On February 5, 1929 Hatlo, a sports cartoonist, first introduced the comic strip They'll Do It Every Time, a tribute to the peevish paradoxes and pratfalls inflected on everyday innocents by the boorish crackpots of society. The strip, which first appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin, was distributed nationally in 1936 by King Features Syndicate and still runs today, forty-two years after Hatlo's death.

(They'll Do It Every Time panels were created from suggestions sent it by readers; often they were accompanied with a cartoon figure of the artist giving a "tip of the Hatlo hat")

In the mid-1940s, owing to its immense popularity, They'll Do It Every Time became part of the mutoscope card series. Sold from vending machines for around two cents apiece, mutoscope cards were the forerunners of risque playing cards. Generally the subject matter focused upon naively suggestive cheesecake drawings of young women. The cards, printed on heavy illustration board, have endured through the decades and are oft-sought items on venues such as E-BAY. Hatlo's mutoscopes are among the most lasting and prized examples of the line.

Not without an affinity for straight humor, Hatlo took one of his recurring They'll Do It Every Time characters, Henry Tremblechin, and created an ongoing strip. What evolved was a wildly popular character named Little Iodine, Tremblechin's ever-mischievous daughter. The Little Iodine strip became so sought after that it evolved into a self-titled comic book a la Archie and Dick Tracy. In 1946, a Little Iodine feature film, directed by Reginald Le Borg, and starring Jo Anne Marlowe as Little Iodine, was released. In the movie, Little Iodine, the original Problem Child, tries to break up her parents' marriage, and put the axe to another young couples' romance. In the end she has a change of heart but not before wreaking total havoc. Interestingly enough, actress Irene Ryan, who would go on to fame as "Granny Clampett" in the Beverly Hillbillies TV series, portrayed Little Iodine's mother.

(Little Iodine at the doubt playing off-key...)

The year 1955 saw Hatlo's Inferno expand beyond its Sunday supplement size as an entire Avon paperback edition containing many of the earlier panels. The cover, extremely suggestive for a mainstream 1950s cartoon, depicted a naked nurse being chased through Hell by a pack of lusty, naked, syringe-wielding red devils. The needles, positioned near the devils' crotches, were aimed at the nurse's bare buttocks (which along with her breasts, were delicately covered by the steam).

(Nancy Nurse about to be nailed by naughty nogoodnik denizens of the inferno)

The inferno panels, which included sexual suggestiveness, nudity, near-nudity, brutal murders, maiming, and basic maleficence of all kinds, managed to appear under the guise of hokey humor and raunchy retribution. The series ended in 1958 when Hatlo decided to abruptly discontinue Hatlo's Inferno. Hatlo died on December 3, 1963, in San Francisco, and They'll Do It Every Time, the less sadistic but just as vengeful ode to payback for obnoxious individuals, continues its run helmed by artist Al Scaduto who took the strip over from Hatlo's successor, Bob Dunn.


Blogger Ostrich said...

very nice jquinn.

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Blogger guymckoon said...

I grew up in the 1950's and remember The Hatlo Inferno in the comics. It was one of my favorites and did not know why it was discontinued until I recently read that Hatlo cancelled it. I wish the current artist drawing They'll Do It Everytime would revive the strip. I would infuriate a lot of people, but, what the hell? I'll even give Mr. Al a Tip O' My Hat if he will do this.

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