Betty and Veronica. Josie and Pussycats Valerie and Melody. Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. The late Dan DeCarlo created, defined or refined each of those long-lived cartoon cuties, and now we have another name to add to the list of DeCarlo’s comic book heroines: Jetta, “the Teen-Age Sweetheart of the 21st Century.”
Jetta was the subject of a trio of mid-century teen comedy comics, with a sci-fi twist. Many of the gags were familiar, but the setting and slang were futuristic, or at least the 1950′s version of futuristic (We still don’t have flying cars and jetpacks, but we do have the miniskirt, so DeCarlo successfully predicted that particular trend).
If you haven’t met Jetta yet, Craig Yoe would be more than happy to make the introduction. Yoe is, of course, an astoundingly prolific cartoonist, designer, writer, editor, comics historian and DeCarlo fan, whose recent books have included The Art of Steve Ditko, Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers, The Great Anti-War Cartoons and Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster.
His latest is Dan DeCarlo’s Jetta, a beautifully designed hardcover collecting all three issues of Jetta, plus almost 40 pin-ups of the character from a wide variety of artists including Colleen Coover, Molly Crabapple, Andrew Pepoy, Dean Yeagle and Jay Stephens. Published with IDW, Jetta is the first volume of Yoe’s planned series of such collections, The Good Girl Art Library. I could tell you more about the book, but why don’t we ask a real expert instead?
Blog@Newsarama: Teen humor comics used to be a dime a dozen—well, a dime per issue—in your opinion, what makes Dan DeCarlo’s art so special that it still warrants the attention it gets? Like this book of yours, for example.
Craig Yoe: There’s a freshness, a brilliance to Dan’s work and, of course, sex appeal. On the latter, as sexy as the Dan DeCarlo girl was, she was the girl next door, or could have been. I never bought the idea that the Playboy centerfold was the girl next door—only in my dreams!
Blog@: As an artist yourself, how influential would you say DeCarlo was on you? And as a fan of sexy cartoon art—or am I being presumptuous? Most of the books of yours I have on my bookshelf have drawings of naked ladies in them—how big an influence would you say DeCarlo was on other artists who drew sexy girls?
CY: Well, Dan’s Betty and Veronica certainly were some of my first exposures to hot cartoon chicks. That appeal affected me when I was young and is something I have never outgrown. I have filled sketchbooks studying and copying Dan’s work to try and absorb some of the magic for my own art. I even used to solicit tips on how to draw from Dan himself when we would get together as friends.
But, hey, I’ve done many books on cartoon history without one naked girl in the—I think it says something about you that most of the books you own by me are the salacious ones!
When I solicited pinups by contemporary artists for the Dan DeCarlo’s Jetta book I easily found many top pinup and cartoon artists that love DeCarlo’s ladies. All of the thirty-seven artists I drafted to do pinups for the book were very enthusiastic about drawing a tribute to Dan. There is a lot of love for Dan’s art in the creative cartooning community, and it shows in the incredible work all the artists turned in!
Blog@: Despite being a lifetime admirer of DeCarlo’s artwork, I have to admit I had never even heard of Jetta until I heard about this collection. Is that unusual? Is it fair to say Jetta is an obscure work of DeCarlo’s, or does the fact that there were only three issues make it one that is somehow well known?
CY: Caleb, the comic was printed in the early 1950s by a small publisher with very spotty and low circulation. Many people have never heard of Jetta. I’m sure that’s part of the great appeal the book collection has: previously unknown, valuable and rich treasure as it were. And, at the end of the day, the big appeal is obviously that Jetta and her art and stories are plain, great fun!
Blog@: Can you tell us a little bit about how you first discovered Jetta, and what your initial reaction was?
CY: I actually discovered Jetta when I bought six pages of original art from a dealer many years ago. I had Dan autograph them for me when we became friends later, but it was years before I actually found my first, and the rest, of the issues of the comic. It took a while to track them down with the help of some good friends who are fellow comic collectors.
Of course, Jetta isn’t hard science fiction, but the setting of a futuristic girl with her schoolmates, á la Archie, and the rocket cars they jet around in is a… er, blast! Like many comic fans I have a soft spot in my heart for science fiction and science fiction-y stories. Jetta is wearing mini-skirts way before that actually happened in our culture. I really like Dan’s idea of the future, cartoon color, gleaming, art deco-y cityscapes, personal jet-packs and mini-skirts—there’s hope!
Blog@: Obviously DeCarlo himself is popular, and his style and work seems to still be the preeminent one at Archie Comics, but Jetta didn’t last long. Do you know why it might not have clicked with its audience the way Archie did? Your introduction indicates it may have had a lot to do with the stress the publisher was under at the time…?
CY: At the time Jetta was introduced, at the beginning of the fifties, the comic book industry was under attack by psychiatrists and educators. This was around the time the senate investigated the relationship between comic books and juvenile delinquency. Add to this that the first big wave of superheroes had wound down after World War II. This was why publishers were experimenting with unique genres, like Jetta, and doing their best to stay afloat (“Say, how about this concept, sexy funny teenagers in the future?”) So with everything that was happening and the publisher being small didn’t fare well for the future of the futuristic teen Jetta.
Blog@: Do you have a sense of how full or tight DeCarlo’s pencils were for these few issues? There is a quite noticeable difference in the artwork in several stories, presumably because of the styles of the various inkers.
CY: The first stories probably were from tight pencils, but also inked by Rudy Lapick, a close associate of Dan’s, who really made Dan’s work shine. But Dan assured me he penciled every story. Exactly how tight the pencils were on all the stories is lost to history.
Blog@: One of the things that distinguishes this book from similar recent collections is the inclusion of a pin-up gallery from a bunch of modern artists offering their interpretations of Jetta. What lead to your decision to incorporate the gallery?
CY: Well, first it was a practical decision, as the three issues of Jetta being reprinted didn’t make a book as thick as I like to make them. But it turned out to be a major part of the fun when the artists poured a lot of love and consummate skill into each pinup. The experiment was so successful that I will be having current artists be part of many of the future volumes in the Good Girl Art Library of which Dan DeCarlo’s Jetta is the first.
Blog@: How did you choose the contributors? I recognized many of the names, but not all…did you cast a net wider than comics?
CY: The book gave me a chance to work with many great artists from a number of disciplines. I wanted a variety of approaches to keep it interesting, but each artist had to be able to draw sexy with some humor and without crassness. I wanted people who could create fantastic pictures in the spirit of classic pinup artists and cartoonists like Dan. I’m very proud of the top-notch talent who did, not just some quick sketch, but wonderful finished color works of art. And each is fun and sexy, the operative words.
Blog@: Regarding The Good Girl Art Library, what else can we expect from the series in the future? Will they be artist focused or character focused or both?
CY: The future volumes are kind of under the wraps right now, though I can assure you there is plenty of terrific titles in the works. The Dan DeCarlo’s Jetta book is as huge hit as I was hoping it would be with its great contents to start off the line. This is enabling us to charge ahead with other exciting plans. I am going to tackle the subject of “Good Girl Art” from a number of angles, character and artist focused. I plan on not just focusing on artists and cartoonists of the past, but also current ones, too. I’d love to publish collections of some of the amazing artists who did a Jetta pinup in Dan DeCarlo’s Jetta, as an example.
Blog@: So how do you answer the perennial question: Betty or Veronica?
CY: My apologies to you, Caleb, and your chaste readers, but my honest answer to that question is this question: “Do I have to choose?”
Blog@: And how about the one you posed with this book: Jetta or Judy Jetson?
CY: Are you referring to Judy “Jailbait” Jetson? I’m not going there! I don’t look good in an orange jumpsuit! Now, Betty, Veronica, and Jetta may be of legal age if they’re high schools seniors, but even they are WAAAAYYYYY too young for me. These last questions are really for a much younger man…