In Pictopia! annotations

Cover of Anything Goes #2 - art by Frank Miller
Cover of Anything Goes #2 – art by Frank Miller

Below are annotations for In Pictopia! (13 pages, first published in Anything Goes #2,  Fantagraphics Books, 1986). A few of the notes are in reference to Alan Moore’s (unpublished) original script.

Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Donald Simpson with Peter Poplaski and Mike Kazaleh, Letterer: Donald Simpson, and Colorist: Eric Vincent

> Go to IP Publication History

Note: some of this stuff is obvious. If there’s stuff we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments, or email linton.joe [at] gmail.com

General summary: Protagonist Nocturno lives in Pictopia, a city populated by comics characters. Nocturno interacts with several comics characters, including stretching Flexible Flynn, before despairing over the demolition of portions of Pictopia.

(Cover unrelated to story. See Donald Simpson’s blog for later IP! unpublished cover art.)

Page 1: 3 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

panel 2

  • “Melted cheese” is the main ingredient of rarebit, and may or may not be a reference to another hot, sticky substance which young men may have trouble with in bed.
  • Visible on the wall is a poster advertising Nocturno the Necromancer, presumably from better days.

panel 3

  • First full appearance of protagonist Nocturno the Necromancer. Nocturno is more-or-less an analogue of the newspaper comic strip character Mandrake the Magician (1934-2013). Mandrake, who first appeared in 1934, is among the very first superheroes. Note the magician’s top hat, and white gloves on the chest of drawers, and the walking cane leaning against it, and the cloak hanging up on the hatstand.

Page 2: Title & Credits / 2 Panels

panel 1

  • This was not Moore’s original title. Per Simpson:

    the original title had been “In Fictopia,” which I promptly changed to In Pictopia—more visual, I thought (and if anyone objected, and nobody did, I could always change it back.

  • “second unit, big crowd scenes”, “animation”: According to Simpson:

    I drafted Kitchen Sink art director and Steve Canyon editor Pete Poplaski to pencil the barroom scene backgrounds and my junior high school bud Mike Kazaleh to pencil the scenes in “Funnytown.”

    • Mike Kazaleh:

      Don asked Pete Poplaski to pencil in some of the old timey comic strip characters and me to pencil in the funny animals. […] I penciled my bits onto Bristol board, then mailed the art to Don for finishing. The whole story was inked by Don.

  • While much of this story is about the contrast between the mediums of the newspaper comic strip and the newsstand comic book, the credits are suggestive of an animated cartoon. This is particularly true of the inclusion of “Carl Stalling musical score”. This is not a reference to the letterer (Simpson almost always letters stories he does the art for, and has done so here). Rather, Carl Stalling was a musical composer, most famous for his many years working on cartoon soundtracks for Warner Brothers.

panel 2

  • First appearance of Red and South Sea Sullivan.
  • “Prince Features” is a stand-in for King Features Syndicate (KFS), a Hearst subsidiary that distributed newspaper comic strips. Mandrake the Magician is a KFS-distributed strip. (Little Nemo was not initially with KFS, but a revival drawn by McCay’s son in the 1930s was.)
  • “Deadwood and Red” appear to be a version of Dagwood and Blondie (née Boopadoop) Bumstead from Blondie (created by Chic Young, 1930-), another KFS-distributed strip.
  • ??South Sea Sullivan may be inspired by Popeye (1919-) (yet another KFS character), though Sullivan is much less cartoony.
    • The script doesn’t identify Sullivan with any one  particular character, but rather “one of those South Sea adventurer types […] in imitation of Terry and the Pirates.”
Terry and the Pirates logo
Terry and the Pirates logo
  • The comics page on the wall, partially obscured by the first caption, appears to be a pastiche of Terry and the Pirates (created by Milton Caniff, 1934-1973), probably with the name changed to “Larry“. The Dragon Lady is visible above the caption (see also P6,p1).

Page 3: 4 Quarter-page Panels

panels 1-2

  • With varying degrees of coy language, it is implied here that Deadwood is in some sort of rehab facility for alcoholism, and Red has resorted to prostitution to pay the bills.

panel 3

  • Flying saucers – Are these a specific reference? Suggest??
  • “Romance quarter” – Romance comics were at one time the most popular genre. As of 1986, very few still remained in newspaper strips, and even fewer in newsstand comic books.
  • “Black and white areas of the city” – This part of the city represents newspaper comic strips, and is thus “black and white”. Perhaps some parts of the district get color on Sundays, to go with the Sunday color comics found in most newspapers?

panel 4

  • The flying super-hero outline recalls Superman. The sparkles in his wake, however, are more reminiscent of Marvelman. (In 1986, Moore was in the middle of his work on Marvelman.)
  • “Only Super-heroes can afford to live in color.” – A cynical statement, not entirely true in 1986 (or ever). It does, however, neatly capture Moore’s despair at the financial and cultural domination of the super-hero genre within the comics medium. By 1986, “independent comics” were a well-established phenomenon, but they were most often in black&white.

Page 4: 4 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

  • The “funnies ghetto” somewhat blends the line between animated cartoons and the comic books which were based on them, with many of the captions describing features that comic books can only imperfectly replicate. While “funny animal” comics remained popular in Europe, by 1986 they were very out of fashion in the US, hence their relegation to a “ghetto” here.
  • Are the characters here specific references? – Suggest??
    • None are identified as such in the script.

panel 2

  • The label on the car, “Los Bros. H.” suggests that the three delinquent mice lounging at it are meant to be Los Bros Hernandez, cartoonists who were published by Fantagraphics, and who also contributed to this issue of Anything Goes! The dog police officer is labeled “(Gary)”, thus may be meant to represent Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth (perhaps as filtered through Offisa Pupp).
    • These labels don’t appear in the script (though the scene is described). Perhaps they were an addition by one of the artists? The lettering appears to be Simpson’s.
  • Mice in foreground – Suggest??
    • Not specifically identified in script, though they fit the general atmosphere described.

panel 3

  • “sight gag” – The bird lady is lifting up her own shadow as if it were a carpet, in order to sweep dust out of the way lazily.
    • Is she a specific reference? – Suggest??
    • The script says no, though it does describe the sight gag carefully. More than that, the script has a caption describing the gag, that didn’t appear in the published version. Presumably it was thought the gag was drawn well enough not to need the support.

panel 4

  • Are the characters here specific references? – Suggest??
    • The bag lady mouse is described in the script.

Page 5: 3 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

  • The captions in this panel differ notably from the script. Possibly this sequence got a rewrite from Moore? The dialogue in panels 2-3 of this page also differs slightly from the script.

panel 2

  • First appearance of Flexible Flynn, Pictopia’s analogue for Plastic Man (created by Jack Cole, 1941-).
  • “about the only super-hero I could stand to talk to” -This appears to reflect Moore’s own views, see Afterword below.
Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, 1921
Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, 1921

panel 3

  • “Captain Billy’s” bar (mentioned here, shown on P6) refers to a magazine called Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, first published in 1919 by Wilford Hamilton ‘Captain Billy’ Fawcett. This reference is reinforced by Flynn drinking the house cocktail, a “whizbang” (see P6,p1.)
    Later on, in February 1940, various aspects of the name of that magazine would be used in another of Fawcett’s publications: Captain Marvel, AKA Billy Batson, made his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2 that month.

panel 4

  • No notes.

Page 6: 5 Mixed Panels

  • Much of the background for this sequence was penciled by Pete Poplaski.

panel 1

  • “Boxenbecker Boys” – The Katzenjammer Kids (created by Rudolph Dirks, 1897-2006).
  • “Private Hercules” – suggest??
  • “Tiger Lady” – The Dragon Lady, antagonist in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates (created by Milton Caniff, 1934-1973).
  • “Whizbangs, the house cocktail” – see P5,p3 above.
  • Left to right, recognizable characters include: (thanks Chase Garland for several)
    • The inhabitants of the bar include several that were suggested in Moore’s script, though not all of them, while including many other characters not specifically mentioned. The overall effect does seem to be what Moore was looking for.
    • On the far left, partially cut-off by the panel border is Walt Wallet the original main character from Gasoline Alley (created by Frank King, 1918-).
    • Short figure with cap, to Flynn’s right – Possibly Sluggo, from Nancy (created by Ernie Bushmiller, 1922-)?
    • In the foreground is Dragon Lady from Milt Caniff’s comic strip Terry and the Pirates (created by Milton Caniff, 1934-1973). (Though she is called “Tiger Lady” here, see caption).
    • Mostly-obscured character with hair in rows behind Flynn’s head – Suggest??
    • Blonde smiling woman behind Flynn’s head – Probably Burma from Terry and the Pirates (created by Milton Caniff, 1934-1973).
    • Figure with cross-hatched hat/hair/helmet – Suggest??
    • Short figure with large nose and billed hat – Possibly Sluggo? Suggest??

      Andy Gump
      Andy Gump
    • Bald figure with mustache and no jaw is Andy Gump of The Gumps (created by Sidney Smith, 1917-1959).
    • Small figure in foreground with flat cap, behind Dragon Lady – Possibly Dondi? Possibly Bobby Thatcher? Possibly “Cap” Stubbs?
    • In profile facing left is comic strip caveman Alley Oop (created by V. T. Hamlin, 1932-).
    • In the far back wearing aviation goggles is Smilin’ Jack from The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack (created by Zack Mosley, 1933-1973).

      Smilin’ Jack – via Wikipedia
    • Character with featureless eyes and odd hat – Suggest??
    • Balding figure with tin can hat – Happy Hooligan (created by Frederick Burr Opper, 1900-1932).
    • The masked man (second from right) is The Phantom (1936-), a comic strip hero created by Lee Falk who also created Mandrake the Magician.
    • Angry figure with chef’s hat – Rough House the chef, from Popeye (created by E. C. Segar, 1919-). He is especially angry to see Flynn stealing(?) a drink, as Rough House has frequently fallen for schemes by J. Wellington Wimpy to acquire free hamburgers.
    • Figure in upper right with turban – Punjab the Wizard, from Little Orphan Annie (created by Harold Gray, 1924-2010).

      Punjab the Wizard
      Punjab the Wizard
    • Somewhat featureless figure at far right – Possibly Daddy Warbucks, also from Little Orphan Annie (created by Harold Gray, 1924-2010).

panel 2

  • As noted by Simpson’s “apologies to R. Crumb”, this 3-panel fixed-camera sequence is a homage to Robert Crumb‘s ‘Stoned Agin.’
  • This “melting” sequence is also related to what Moore wrote in his c.1987 proposal for a never-realized story Twilight of the Superheroes:

    Plastic Man has a sort of horrible half formed vision in his head that he doesn’t like to think about concerning how he might finally end up. He might end up as just a puddle–he often wakes up screaming in the dead of the night from dreams about this

  • Black man in bowler with polka-dot tie – Suggest?? (Possibly Andy, of Amos and Andy, which had a brief comic strip version?)

    Red Tornado
    Red Tornado
  • In the back center is Sheldon Mayer’s Ma Hunkel, the Red Tornado. She first appeared in 1939 in All-American Comics #3 and is considered the first superhero parody.

    Mama Katzenjammer
    Mama Katzenjammer
  • At back right is Mama from The Katzenjammer Kids (created by Rudolph Dirks, 1897-2006).

panel 3

  • “Tailwind Tucker” – Probably Tailspin Tommy (created by Glenn Chaffin and Hal Forrest, 1928-1942).
  • “Muggsy and Juggs” – Maggie and Jiggs (created by George McManus, 1913-200).
  • Center left, shaded heavily is comic strip protagonist Little Orphan Annie  (created by Harold Gray, 1924-2010).
  • Older man with glasses and mustache – Suggest??
  • To the right looks like Herge’s Tintin (1929-1976).

panel 4

Snappy Sammy Smoot
Snappy Sammy Smoot
  • At left, with tall black hair – Snappy Sammy Smoot (created by Skip Williamson, 1968-1996). Atypically for this bar, Sammy is not a newspaper strip character, but comes from underground comix.
    • Moore’s panel description, while (typically) calling for far more content than could fit in one panel, does call here for some “underground types”.
  • On the right is Ching Chow (created by Sidney Smith and Stanley Link, 1927-1990), a demeaning Chinese stereotype comic strip character.

panel 5

  • No notes

Page 7: 3 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

  • The “dog man” seems like an aged version of Disney’s Goofy character (1932-). (Though the large buttons on his pants are characteristic of his friend Mickey Mouse).
  • The pervasive “HA” laughter does not appear in the script.

panel 2

  • Noted by Chase Garland: This and the following panel seem like commentary on political cartoons, a mainstay of newspapers long before comic strips become commonplace and arguably a sister or even parental figure to them.

panel 3

  • The man on the television is a caricature of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
    • The idea for the ad (and accompanying text) came from Don Simpson and do not appear in the script.

Page 8: 4 Quarter-page Panels

panel 1

  • No notes.

panel 2

  • No notes.

panel 3

Vigilante
Vigilante
  • The “hero” in the background seems visually based on the DC Comics character Vigilante (this version of the character created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, 1983-1986). Moore wrote two issues of Vigilante in 1985, the year prior to this story.
    • The script describes him as a combination of Vigilante and The Punisher.

panel 4

  • The unnamed costumed heroes’ insistence on draconian justice is similar to the exaggerated vigilance of “heroes” like Judge Dredd.
    • The foreground character is described in the script as having similarities to both Judge Dredd and the Rangers from American Flagg!.
  • “Dimstead” is the stand-in name for “Bumstead“.
  • The script has slightly different text for dialog and captions here, and in the first panel of page 9. Possibly due to a rewrite pass?

Page 9: 3 Horizontal Panels

  • Again, background characters were penciled by Pete Poplaski.

panel 1

  • See note to P8,p4.

panel 2

Old Doc Yak
Old Doc Yak
  • The script calls for the street to be deserted. Perhaps Pete Poplaski wanted to draw more old comics characters than would fit in the bar panels?
  • Goat-like figure at left: Old Doc Yak (created by Sidney Smith, 1912-1919) (thanks Chase Garland!).
  • Two figures with long squarish noses and mustaches – Suggest??
  • Figure with bowler hat, center bottom – Suggest?? Possibly Count Screwloose?
  • Figure with cornrow hair, around corner – Suggest??
  • Figure with top hat and cigar, lower right – Barney Google (created by Billy DeBeck, 1919-).

    Barney Google
    Barney Google
  • Chinese(?) figure with white mustache, upper right – Suggest??
Pruneface via dicktracy.wikia

panel 3

  • “Cactus face from Ace Tricky Investigates” resembles Pruneface, one of several distinctly misshapen Dick Tracy (created by Chester Gould, 1938-) villains.
  • Back row of characters:
    • man with long nose and mustache, upper left – Suggest??
    • figure with ornate helmet – Probably Wilma Deering as she appeared in the Buck Rogers comic strip (created by Philip Francis Nowlan and Dick Calkins, 1929-1967).
    • figure with glasses and polka dots – Suggest?? Possibly Josie Bungle of The Bungle Family.
    • short, balding, angry figure – Possibly Gopher Gus from Barney Baxter, or the husband in The Dingbat Family.
    • frowning figure with cap and cigar – Suggest??
    • Cactus Face (see above)
    • Nocturno
    • In domino mask and cowboy hat – The Lone Ranger (comic strip version created by Fran Striker and Kressy, 1938-1971). As Chase Garland notes “the character originated as a radio show before branching out, making him a bit of an oddity among the comic strip and book characters inhabiting Pictopia.”
    • Beefy blond boy – Joe Palooka (created by Ham Fisher, 1930-1984).

      Alice the Goon
      Alice the Goon
    • Dark-haired woman – Possibly Betty Boop? Suggest??
    • large figure with odd face – Alice the Goon of Popeye.
    • sharp-nosed figure – Suggest??
  • Foreground characters:
    • figure with shiny bowler hat, lower left – Kayo from Moon Mullins (created by Frank Willard, 1923-1991).
    • first bald figure – Henry (created by Carl Thomas Anderson, 1932-2018).

      The Yellow Kid
      The Yellow Kid
    • second bald figure – The Yellow Kid (created by Richard F. Outcault, 1895-1898).
    • first figure behind caption – Buster Brown (created by Richard F. Outcault, 1902-1921).
    • second figure behind caption – Suggest??

Page 10: 3 Horizontal Panels

  • Flexible Flynn (in blue) has been rebooted, transformed from a quirky mid-20th Century hero to a “more realistic… more sinister” 1990s superhero. This transformation references the very common re-tooling done in comics, where over time characters are often re-designed. The 1940s simpler detective Batman gives way to the 1950s goofier Batman, who is subsequently reinvented as the stark brutal noir Batman of the 1970s. The 1960s X-men fall into obscurity and are canceled around 1970; then they’re re-tooled in 1975 as the All-New X-men. There are hundreds of other examples, major and minor. Some of these changes are for the better, some worse. Often the revisions are more keeping up with popular fashion than substantive.
    Moore later commented on this comics trend in Supreme, a stand in for Superman. In “The Double Exposure Doom!” Moore invents a whole limbo dimension where former versions of Supreme dwell.

panel 1

  • The “New People” do not appear to be specific references, though their general aesthetic (leather, studs, etc.) reflects the greater violence that was becoming accepted in mainstream comics.
    • After so many clearly identifiable character references, the fact that none of these characters can be clearly recognized is presumably meant to be a bit of a mental shock for the reader. It puts the reader in closer identification with Nocturno, who is similarly thrown from the familiar to the strange.

panel 2

  • No notes.

panel 3

  • Nocturno may be identifying the visor as “more sinister somehow” due to a subconscious identification with the visor worn by the Vigilante analog on page 8. This similarity is not called out in the script.

Page 11: 3 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

  • No notes.

Panel 2

  • No notes.

Panel 3

  • No notes.

Page 12: 3 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

  • “We built this city on com-ic books” refers to a Starship‘s 1985 hit pop song “We Built This City [on Rock an’ Roll].”
    This is perhaps Moore and Simpson analogizing the similar way that comics and music industries exploit creatives whose talents fuel companies successes, only for companies to later abandon them as tastes change. Moore later returns to this theme in “Splash City Rocker” in Tomorrow Stories #11.

    • Youtuber Strange Brain Parts suggests that there may be a meta-commentary embedded in the use of this song. Starship was formerly Jefferson Starship, and earlier still Jefferson Airplane. What had been a ground-breaking countercultural band in the 1960s, by the 1980s had been “replaced” by a group whose signature song was “a cheesy, corporate anthem”. Despite being a massive commercial hit, the song has prominently featured on many “worst of all time” lists.
    • “We built this city on comic books” erases the historic underpinning of newspaper comic strips, which comic books emerged from directly. (Similarly, “Rock an’ Roll” came out of earlier musical forms, such as Jazz and Blues.)
    • Simpson claims to have come up with the idea to include this song. The script does not contain any dialogue for this panel.

Panel 2

  • No notes.

Panel 3

  • “some things just don’t fit the continuity any more.” – The move towards greater “realism” in the mid-1980s included a tendency to write out funny and/or animal characters from continuity.

Page 13: 3 Horizontal Panels

panel 1

  • No notes.

Panel 2

Left: First two panels of
Left: First two panels of “In Pictopia.” Right: Last two panels of “In Pictopia,”
  • Elizabeth Sandifer notes: “The overall structure is typically elliptical – both the first and last panels feature captions over blackness, while the second and penultimate panels feature POV shots of the main character’s hands.”
    • Although this sort of mirroring is a favorite device of Moore’s, it isn’t present in the script (which has slightly different panel descriptions at beginning and end), suggesting that Simpson created this.

Panel 3

  • Nocturno is, of course, a master of illusions.
  • While the script ends with “end.”, it’s not clear whether or not Moore intended that to appear as a concluding caption.

Afterword

  • In 1997, Moore wrote about In Pictopia (in his Foreword to Mr. Monster His Books of Forbidden Knowledge):

    I don’t like superheroes any more. Increasingly, when I find myself talking about superheroes and their influence upon the comics medium, I have the horrifying realization that I sound like the last John Bircher in Harlem: I say, “Things were O.K. when there were just one or two of them but, dammit, now they’re everywhere!” I say, “This used to be a good neighborhood. Now look at it. Decent people avoid it.” Sometimes I even say, “Look, I know these people. Hell, I even like one or two of them. They’re basically O.K. so long as they know their place!”

    Now, I understand that these statements require some explanation. Obviously, I have a problem. I understand that, but I’m prepared to talk about it.

    My genre xenophobia became most evident with the story “In Pictopia,” that I co-produced with Donald Simpson for Fantagraphics’ Anything Goes anthology: a vision of comicland in all its rich diversity, overrun and degraded by a posse of steroid-bloated valley-Nazis in grotesquely-colored bondage costumes.

    Because, when it comes down to it, the comics medium did used to be a good neighborhood. You could walk from Dogpatch to Gasoline Alley, or detour through Riverdale out to the wilds of Okefenokee and Coconino County, Now they’ve concreted over the whole works and turned it into a parking lot for all those Batmobiles and Fantasticars. They tore the guts out from the Vault of Horror and converted it to spacious loft accomodation. They bulldozed Boys’ Ranch, Duckburg, Joe Palooka’s Gym, and raised instead their mansions, towers, caves, and skyscrapers. The locals could no longer meet the rising rents. The decent people got squeezed out. And yes, things were O.K. when there were just a couple of them. Anyone remember Sparky Watts? Heh! Good ol’ Sparky! Credit to his genre. Unfortunately, good ol’ Sparky was the thin edge of the wedge. The supermen arrived in Technicolor droves, with the result that comicbooks, a medium once teeming with the wildly diverse life forms of a pop-culture Pre-Cambrian era, was whittled down by process of brutal and dull economic evolution until only one species remained.

    Finally, yes, I do know these people, and even like one or two of them. The protagonist of “In Pictopia” remarks that a Plastic Man-derived character named Flexible Flynn is the only superhero he has any time for, sentiments not dissimilar to my own.

    Why do I spare Plastic Man? Why damn a whole genre to the inner ring of the inferno and yet balk at Plastic Man, along with a small handful of others? Well, what it comes down to is this: these people are basically O.K., so long as they know their place.

    Plastic Man knew his place. So did The Spirit and The Fighting American. So did C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel.
    What sets these luminaries apart is that they were comicbook characters and they knew it. They reveled in it. They didn’t want to be taken seriously as sensitive human beings. They clowned unashamedly, with never a hankering to play Hamlet. They-or rather Messrs. Cole, Eisner, Beck, Simon and Kirby- understood intuitively that Hamlet was a role those characters were never intended to play, a realization I have only come upon belatedly.

    Yes, the comics medium should have its Hamlet, along with its L’Orphee and its Chinatown. Upon reflection, however, it would probably be better if the leading role in those productions were not given to a socially well-intentioned telekinetic cyborg from the planet Jangulor.

    Superheroes are just fine, so long as they know their place.

    This is followed by effusive praise of Mr. Monster as one such superhero.