Vicki appeared in the second batch of Atlas colour comics to reach the stands, arriving on Tuesday November 19th 1974 in the company of Wulf The Barbarian. Each was patently a grab for a pre-existing audience, Wulf, in the company of the previous week’s Iron Jaw, being aimed squarely at the fan of barbarian heroes while Vicki made a play for those fond of Archie Comics. As such, it made sense that Stan Goldberg had been hired for Vicki’s covers, his artwork being immediately redolent of Archie’s house style. (Indeed, in the very same month, Goldberg’s covers would also appear on the likes of Archie’s Sabrina The Teenage Witch #24 and Josie And The Pussycats #81, a matter I’ll be returning to.) As for Vicki’s interiors, these featured work from a considerable number of creators who’d contributed to Archie Comics strips. Some of these, such as Harry Shorten and Samm Schwartz, had formally stepped away from the company, while others, including Dan DeCarlo and Bob White, were, anonymously if often somewhat obviously, moonlighting.
The problem for anyone who bought Vicki #1 on the basis of its cover was that the comic’s interior features were actually reprints from the second half of the Sixties. What was promised on Goldberg’s cover really wasn’t what was delivered inside. If the tone of Goldberg’s cover for Vicki was just a touch more risqué than Archie were then tending to publish, it only reflected the sheer unrepentant slyness of the Goodmans’ regime at Atlas. For nothing even as mildly explicit as the swimming suits on Goldberg’s cover would appear in the stories that filled Vicki’s pages. For those interior pages were painfully strait-laced, containing nothing more salacious than a single panel of the title character in her bra while applying her make-up along with two frames hosting exceedingly chaste kisses. That mild and misleading promise of T’n’A wasn’t the half of it. Anyone buying the comic would then find its interiors lacked much of the charm, if not the misogyny, of Goldberg’s work. Nor could it be said, by anyone not already a convinced fan, that the majority of the tales in Vicki were of any quality but mediocre.
What Atlas passed off as “Vicki” were actually stories from Tower Comics’ sub-Archie market-jumper Tippy Teen, which, from 1965 to 1969, had racked up 25 purposefully anodyne issues. Aimed squarely at young girl readers, Tippy Teen occasionally flirted in the most general and facile fashion with the age’s pop culture, limply poking what might broadly be thought of as fun at the mores of the counter-culture as seen from an insurmountable social distance. More typical, or so it seems from the stories I’ve been able to track down, were the mass of by-rote teen comedy romances, largely indistinguishable each from the other.
Indeed, several Tippy Teen tales actually were pretty much identical to previously published stories, given writer Jack Mendelsohn’s habit of flogging off old scripts that had already seen print elsewhere. (As so often, these details come from the GCD site.) So it was that Vicki #1 arrived in late 1974 with an opening tale – A Stretch In Time – that wasn’t merely an uncredited eight year old reprint from 1965’s Tippy Teen #3, but a story that, to all intents and purposes, had originally been printed in 1954’s Candy #54. The age of the material couldn’t help but be obvious. Of everything that Seaboard/Atlas published, it was Vicki that best shows just how cynical and money-grubbing the company’s bottom-line was. Atlas was supposed to be a fresh new start for comicbooks, after all. But Vicki was just more of the same bottom-feeding business practises that had so often been publisher Martin Goodman’s M.O..
From what I’ve been able to read of Vicki’s source material, the most interesting aspects of Tippy Teen and her sister titles are its creators’ limp attempts to capture just enough of the period’s mass culture in order to appear unthreateningly contemporary. As can be seen – above – from the cover to October 1967’s Tippy Teen #16, the comic was as a matter of course painfully behind the times, as here, with its photo cut-out of a moddish mid-60s Twiggy just as the bloom was coming off of the high summer of psychedelia. Mod had long been yesterday’s news, and yet there, on that cover, was the word “MOD”, printed over and over again. Presumably, it wouldn’t have mattered much to those that bought and read the likes of Tippy Teen, the majority of whom would have perhaps been too old or too young to know, let alone care. But it takes a considerable degree of chutzpah – or was it simply disinterest? – to be that far behind the times while trumpeting the fact so brazenly.
However, the same broad audience might just have noticed that the photos of The Beatles on the back cover of 1969’s Tippy Teen #23 – see below – came from six years before. Even in the year that saw rock and roll’s first considerable spasm of nostalgia, it might have been thought that the back cover of a comic featuring “America’s Swingiest Teener” should have hosted photos of a far more hirsute Fab Four. In that, Tippy Teen appears to have inhabited a form of the mid-to-late Sixties that was the complete opposite of the age’s speedily mutating mass culture and its threatening political rebellions. There dwelled not the disintergrating Beatles of Yoko and happenings and heroin, mysticism and unkept beards, but the original Mop Tops instead. Because of this, the moments when less cuddly aspects of the age were briefly represented in Tippy Teen’s pages, such as a pin-up of Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention in TT23, seem almost shocking. Not because of any explicit content, but just because somebody had opted to acknowledge the very existence of an unconforming gaggle of troublemakers. Well, what would the neighbours say, or the PTA? What was the point of those folks appearing here?
Herein lay one of the major problems facing Atlas when reprinting this material. For tales offered up as part of what Atlas itself described as “the NEW house of ideas”, Vicki’s features were self-evidently stale and clearly of the past. The fashions reflected nothing of 1973/4, while any slang, when it dribbled into sight, was painfully anachronistic. (“Groovy”, for example, was very much not a go-to marker of the fashionable elites in the mid-Seventies.) At least the comics that the reprints originally came from had some tangable connection to the culture they claimed to represent. But in the pages of Vicki in the dying days of 1974, even those tiny fig-leaves of relevance were stripped away. Indeed, to search for anything that even suggested the world of the mid-70s was to come up empty. The only figure from American culture to appear in Vicki #1, or even to be referred to, was George Washington, a statue of whom, by a strange intrusion into the narrative of an otherwise absent brand of fantasy, passed judgement on the alibi of Vicki’s sometimes-boyfriend Tommy. (See below.)
It does appear that the stories in Vicki #1 were, at least in part, chosen because they most sidestepped the details, no matter how poorly captured, of the period in which they first saw print. If that’s true, then it’s a shame, because the tales which did see print didn’t seem any more of 1974 simply because of the relative absence of 1965-9. Rather, that lack of cultural specificity only revealed that the likes of Third Finger Right Hand would have been entirely acceptable to the staid marketplace of the Fifties. At least the likes of the mild satire of hippiedom that was 1968’s What’s Happening Baby?, from TT#19 and posted at the True Love Comics Tales blog here, was, in its campy self-righteousness, both amusing and telling. (See below.) After all, that mockery speaks volumes not about the alternative society of the time, but about the ageing white cartoonists who struggled to make the slightest sense of what was happening to America’s under-30s. What’s more, in that contempt, the comic’s pages carried an energy and conviction that often appeared to be largely missing elsewhere in Tippy Teen’s adventures. Disdain can be an energising force too, and much of the counter-culture did lie open to a few broad, scornful strokes of criticism.
to be continued, for it appears that there’s still another blog at least in Vicki and her place in the Atlas, er, era: