I’ve been reading and for the most part enjoying the updated relaunches of the various Hanna-Barbera characters that DC Comics has been putting out in recent years. Particularly, I really enjoyed writer Mark Russell’s version of The Flintstones. Recreating the Stone Age Family as a more post-modern satire poking fun at things like capitalism and organized religion,
But then I saw Russell did something again with an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, and this time it was Snagglepuss. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles was a six issue miniseries, and well, here are some thoughts.
Exit Stage Left, set in the 1950s, largely re-imagines Snagglepuss as Tennessee Williams. He’s a witty, popular playwright living in New York City. He’s publicly married to his leading actress Lila, but he’s privately a gay man in a relationship with a young man from Cuba with revolutionary tendencies. Lila, for what it is worth, is fully aware of what her marriage actually is and doesn’t seem to mind for the most part. S.P., as he is known, goes about his daily life, sneaking off to the Stonewall Inn to be more of himself, helping his childhood friend, another gay Southernern Huckleberry Hound, and visiting an old man in a nursing home for reasons that become clearer as the book goes on. All things being equal, he loves to drop a good, caustic bon mot and go about his life, creating art and enjoying life.
The problem is McCarthyism is alive and well, and a gender-swapped version of Roy Cohn is out to “save” America from the commies by, first and foremost, bringing people in the arts into line by making sure they don’t produce “degenerate” works, and her big target is the most popular playwright in America, Snagglepuss. Will S.P. name names to save his loved ones? Or will he stand up for artistic integrity?
Much of the series is about being gay in a repressive time, and sadly much of it still feels sadly relevant. Maybe there aren’t Congressional committees ruining the careers of people in the arts, but there are plenty of people who’d love to ruin a stranger’s career for saying the “wrong” thing politically, and sometimes those people are successful. Russell’s humor here isn’t what it was in his earlier work, and arguably, outside of the clever one-liners he uses, Snagglepuss isn’t a funny character, but an at-times deeply sad one. I suppose one could argue the original Snagglepuss wasn’t that funny either to anyone over the age of 12, but that’s neither here nor there. Russell doesn’t seem to be going for the same sort of humor he did on The Flintstones. This is perhaps more to make you think. 9 out of 10 job offers to squids.
By the by, a number of cartoon characters from Snagglepuss’s era do show up here beyond the aforementioned Huckleberry Hound and Lila Lion. But I did find it a little personally off-putting that for a book that was so much about sexuality and being true to your orientation in a trying time, that all of these male characters wore coats, shirts, and the like, but never pants. A dramatic panel of Snagglepuss going to testify in Congress, wearing a long trenchcoat, seemed to be a little undercut for me by his obvious lack of trousers.