'Bingo and Glum in Fairy Tale Land' (Jingle Jangle Comics #17, October 1945). Story and art by Woody Gelman. 

Woody Gelman was a U.S. editor and art director, working mainly for the chewing gum company Topps. On its bubblegum wrappers, Topps printed collectable comic strips starring characters like 'Bazooka Joe' (1954), of which Gelman was co-creator. Later, Gelman also oversaw production of succesful series of Topps trading cards. The most notorious of these was 'Mars Attacks' (1962), a Gelman co-creation that later inspired Tim Burton's SF comedy film 'Mars Attacks' (1996). Also active in the comic book industry, Gelman was co-creator of the funny animal feature 'The Dodo and The Frog' (1947-1957), which appeared in the Funny Stuff title by DC Comics. Last but not least, he was the founder of Nostalgia Press, a publishing company responsible for classy reprints of classic comic books and strips.

Early life and career
Woodrow Wilson Gelman was born in 1915 in Brooklyn, New York City, though some sources claim Chicago, Illinois. He was named after then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Gelman was swift in writing as well as drawing. He attended the City College of New York, followed by Cooper Union and Pratt Institute. According to the Grand Comics Database, he ranked René Bull, Edmond Dulac, Hal Foster and Winsor McCay among his main graphic influences. 

Animation career
Gelman's graphic career took off in 1937, when he worked as an in-betweener, assistant animator and scriptwriter for Max and Dave Fleischer's animation studio. Gelman contributed to various 'Popeye' cartoons, based on E.C. Segar's iconic comic strip sailor, as well as the studio's feature films 'Gulliver's Travels' (1939) and 'Mr. Bug Goes to Town' (1941). Unfortunately, the latter bombed so badly at the box office, that the Fleischer Studios went bankrupt. Paramount took over the company, but both Fleischer brothers left and went their own way. Renamed the Famous Studios, the animation studio kept producing 'Popeye' cartoons. In 1943, they moved their operations from Miami, Florida, to New York City. Gelman remained an employee until 26 October 1945, when he and several other employees, including fellow animator Ben Solomon, were fired for trying to organize a union. 

Famous Funnies cover by Woody GelmanFamous Funnies cover by Woody Gelman
Cover illustrations for Famous Funnies issue #123 (October 1944) and #128 (March 1945). 

Comic book career
While in the early 1940s Gelman worked as an animator for Famous Studios, he was one of several employees who earned extra income as a writer and artist in the upcoming comic book market. It was an easy transition, since the comic book production company Sangor Studio had its office only a few blocks away from the Famous Studio building. Sangor's Cinema Comics was located at 45 West 45th Street in New York City, while Famous housed its personnel at 25 West 45th Street. Sangor Studio was a so-called "packager", that produced full comic books for publishers like Ned Pines and The American Comics Group (ACG). Early comics by Woody Gelman appeared between May-December 1943 in the Ned Pines titles Coo Coo Comics, Goofy Comics and Happy Comics. Between 1943 and 1945, Gelman wrote, pencilled and inked stories for the ACG funny animal comic book titles Ha Ha Comics and Giggle Comics. By 1944, he appeared regularly in comic books by Eastern Color Printing, including Famous Funnies, Jingle Jangle Comics and Heroic Comics, before ending his comic book tenure in DC Comics' Funny Folks and Funny Stuff titles.

Most of Gelman's output were funny animal stories, starring anthropomorphic characters like 'Horatio Hare', 'Doggie Dave' (both Giggle Comics), 'Boopy Ostrich' (Happy Comics) and 'Nutsy Squirrel' (Funny Folks). For the latter feature, about a not too bright squirrel and an only slightly smarter professor, Gelman collaborated as writer with former Fleischer animator Irving Dressler, who was later succeeded by Rube Grossman. Gelman also worked with humorous human characters, like 'The Kid from Brooklyn' (Heroic Comics), 'Timid Timmie', 'Mr. Macgonigle' (Ha Ha Comics) and 'Hortense the Lovable Brat' (Jingle Jangle Comics). Different in tone was 'Bingo and Glum in Fairytale Land', a more dramatic series starring the adventures of a little boy and girl in a wonderful fantasy world, appearing in Jingle Jangle Comics.


'Hortense the Loveable Brat meets Alice in Wonderland', 'Jingle Jangle Comics' #16, August 1945. Story and art by Woody Gelman. 

The Dodo and the Frog
Gelman's longest-running comic feature was 'The Dodo and the Frog' (1947-1957), published in Funny Stuff by DC Comics. Debuting in February 1947, the series was co-created with former Fleischer colleague Otto Feuer. While Gelman did story and layouts, Feuer provided the finished art and inking. In this funny animal comic, a dim-witted dodo named Dunbar is constantly fooled by an opportunistic frog named Fennimore (sometimes spelled as "Fenimore"). Fennimore loves to take advantage of Dunbar's stupidity, but in the end he usually gets a dose of his own medicine. In one memorable story, Dunbar claims that he knows "a guy who can out-jump" Fennimore. When the frog bets him that he can't, Dunbar brings in Superman. This crossover was possible since both 'Superman' and 'The Dodo and the Frog' were owned by the same company, DC Comics. 

'The Dodo and the Frog' was popular enough to continue in DC's Comic Cavalcade series from December 1948 until the final issue in 1954. Later that year, in October 1954, DC's Funny Stuff comic book changed its title to 'The Dodo and the Frog'. Although now having their own title, the trickster tales of the amoral amphibian and bird-brained bird didn't last long. New stories came out irregularly. Their final confrontation appeared in issue #92 of November 1957. 

The Dodo and the Frog by Woody Gelman
'The Dodo and the Frog' (Funny Stuff #19, March 1947). Artwork by Otto Feuer. 

Solomon & Gelman
After being fired by the Famous Studios in 1945, Gelman and fellow animator Ben Solomon founded their own art advertising studio, Solomon & Gelman Inc., located at 230 West 41st Street, New York. The company later moved its headquarters to 247 West 46th Street. Gelman was in charge of writing and conceptualizing ideas, while Solomon focused on artwork. They created advertisements starring licensed fictional characters for various companies, including the ice cream brand Popsicle and its mascot Popsicle Pete. Another commercial client was Topps, producer of the Bazooka chewing gum brand. Solomon and Gelman delivered such good service that in 1951 they were asked to join the Topps staff. They left their own company, but it continued its business in the years after. In 1955, Solomon & Gelman produced a series of adventure novellas for young boys, titled 'The Triple Nickel Library', because of the low price. Most stories were adaptations of popular films and TV series.

Topps
While Gelman was still co-head of Solomon & Gelman, they often collaborated with Topps' Chewing Gum. In the fall of 1951, Topps wanted to boost their sales. Given that rival chewing gum companies like Goudey Gum, World Wide Gum and Bowman Gum, had added collectable trading cards in their packages in the past, Topps decided to imitate this idea. Each card contained biographical and statistical trivia about popular U.S. baseball players. Gelman and graphic designer Sy Berger co-created the first Topps baseball card in 1952. Two years later, Bowman Gum quit its trading card series and in 1956 Topps bought them out. With virtually no competition, Topps became the most prominent producer of chewing gum baseball trading cards until 1981. 

In 1953, Solomon and Gelman left their own company to respectively become art director and creative director of Topps. Gelman later became editor, writer and head of Topps's Product Development Department. Over the next decades, Gelman oversaw various succesful series for Topps, including 'Bazooka Joe', 'Crazy Cards', 'Mars Attacks' and 'Wacky Packages'. 

Bazooka Joe
Gelman's best-known advertising character for Topps is Bazooka Joe. In 1952, Topps introduced another novelty to their chewing gum packages, namely a two-strip comic. The idea itself wasn't new. As early as the 1930s, another chewing gum brand, Dubble Bubble, had produced 'Dub and Bub - The Dubble Bubble Twins', drawn by an artist signing with Fleer. This was followed by Dubble Bubble's classic 'Pud' comics drawn by Ray Thompson. Long before 1952, Topps itself had also added mini-comics within their chewing gum wrappers, but these always starred pre-existing licensed characters. 'Bazooka, the Atom Bubble Boy' was their first original creation, but didn't catch on. In every wrapper episode, the Atom Bubble Boy blew huge bubble gum bubbles to solve small problems or, in far more heroic fashion, save the day. 

In 1954, Topps organized a contest to give the character a new name. To make it a bit easier for the young contestants, they gave six possible suggestions: "Fly-Boy", "Birdie", "Bazookio", "Sky-King", "Rocket-Bot" and "Blowhard" (this last name might have caused some unfortunate innuendo in later, less innocent times). One reader eventually came up with a cooler sounding name, Bazooka Joe. A new name warranted a new image and so Gelman asked artist Wesley Morse to redesign the character. Just like the original Atom Bubble Boy, Bazooka Joe is an expert in blowing bubbles. The eye-patched boy, with his large blue cap, was also given some friends, designed by Morse. Jane is his steady girlfriend. Orville (later Pesty) wears a sombrero, Hungry Herman has an enormous appetite and Mort's sweater spans so tight around his body that it covers his mouth and stretches his neck. Other recurring characters  are the tough street kid Toughie and Walkie Talkie the dog. While some cartoons feature Bazooka Joe doing something heroic, others are mainly gags with corny punchlines. 

The popular 'Bazooka Joe' comics enjoyed a long lifespan, running uninterruptedly from 1954 until 2012. Between 1967 and 1990, Jay Lynch wrote several episodes. In the 1980s, Howard Cruse also drew 'Bazooka Joe' comics, while in the 1990s Craig Yoe redesigned the characters. In 1989, the full title 'Bazooka Joe & The Gang' was dropped because of negative connotations with the word "gang". Instead, the comics now appeared as 'Bazooka Joe & Company'. Throughout the decades, Bazooka Joe's group of friends went through a number of changes. In 1989, Joe's new pals were the music fan Metaldude, the girl Ursula and his girlfriend Zena. In 2006, he hung out with Casey, Cindy, DJ, Wolfgang, Jake and Kevin. It took until 2012 before Topps discontinued the 'Bazooka Joe' comic strips. 

Of all chewing gum advertising characters, 'Bazooka Joe' became the most iconic, even surpassing the much older 'Pud' of Dubble Bubble, drawn by Ray Thompson. 'Bazooka Joe' inspired the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Company to release its own chewing gum comics throughout the 1950s, starring a character called 'Tommy Swell'. Between 1957 and 1958, Blony Bubble Gum, also released mini comics starring Bob Montana's 'Archie'. Bazooka Joe also had a strong impact on the rock music industry. Adam Ant's first band was named Bazooka Joe, before he conquered the hit parade with his other group, Adam and the Ants. 'Bazooka Joe' is also the title of a 1980 song by the Belgian band T.C. Matic, as well as a 1986 song by U.S. metal group Big Black.


Baseball bubble gum wrapper for Topps. 

Crazy Cards/ Atrocities of the Civil War
For the Topps trading card lines, Gelman asked Wallace Wood to make a card series named 'Crazy Cards', which spoofed Robert L. Ripley's 'Believe It or Not' fun fact newspaper feature. Another popular series was 'Atrocities of the Civil War' (1960), released to celebrate the centennial of the U.S. Civil War. The cards had a strong focus on gory violence. 

Mars Attacks
Together with Len Brown, Woody Gelman also wrote the concept and script for a trading card series named 'Mars Attacks' (1962). This narrative about a Martian invasion was told in a series of collectable illustrations, drawn by Wallace Wood, Bob Powell, and Zina Saunders and painted by Norman Saunders. The cards were notable for their creepy imagery. The Martians had skull-like faces with enormous brains sticking out on top. Several scenes featured gory violence and sexually suggestive moments, making parents concerned but children all the more gullible to own them. Topps was forced to tone down the content of some cards and eventually cancelled the series. Still, the series kept a legendary status. In 1984, Rossem Enterprises and Renata Galasso reissued the original series.


'Destroying a Dog' - 'Mars Attacks', trading card nr. 36. 

In 1988, 'Mars Attacks' received a comic book spin-off through Pocket Comics. It was scripted by Mario A. Bruni and Bruce Spaulding Fuller, while Fuller, Greg Capullo, John Herbert, Tom Vincent and Mike Kenny provided illustrations. A more succesful reboot of the original cards occured in 1994 with the 'Mars Attacks Archives', which featured artistic contributions by 22 artists, among them Gelman, Keith Giffen, Ken Steacy, Ted Boothanakit, Earl Norem, Drew Friedman, John Poind, Charles Adlard, Kevin Altieri, Leonard Brown, Simon Bisley, John Bolton, Frank Brunner, Mark and Joe Chiardiello, Ricardo Delgado, Larson Fastner, Miran Kim, Michael Ploog, John Rheaume, Mark Schultz, Joe Smith, Bill Stout, Tim Truman and John Van Fleet. A new comic book adaptation was released around the same time, written by Keith Giffen with art by Charles Adlard. 'Mars Attacks' reached more global fame through Tim Burton's cult science fiction film 'Mars Attacks!' (1996), which starred Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan and Natalie Portman.

During his time with Topps, Woody Gelman was also notable for giving both veteran comic artists and future legends regular jobs and a steady income, among them Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Stan Hart, Jay Lynch, Bob Powell, John Severin, Art Spiegelman, Tom Sutton, Bhob Stewart, Basil Wolverton and Wallace Wood. Particularly the 'Wacky Packages' trading cards offered many creators a succesful project for decades.

Collector
Throughout his life, Gelman built up a large collection of late 19th-century and early 20th-century illustrated magazines and comic magazines, both from the U.S. and Europe. He owned several original newspaper comics by Winsor McCay, which are nowadays in possession of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Interviewed by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Artist issue #14, Gelman associate Len Brown remembered that Gelman owned film posters and copies of Amazing Stories, Judge, Life and various pulp magazines: "Woody said that he lost money on it, because back in those days no one cared about such things and there was no real way to sell it." In 1960, Gelman was an associate editor of The American Card Catalog. As early as 1965, he wrote an article about early 20th-century cartoonist T.S. Sullivant, printed in issue #24 (May 1965) of Harvey Kurtzman's magazine Help!. 

Gelman and comic historian Bill Blackbeard provided the forewords to the Winsor McCay compilation books 'Little Nemo 1905-1906' (Nostalgia Press, 1976) and 'Winsor McCay's Dream Days' (Hyperion Press, 1977). Gelman also contributed to an exhibition of McCay's work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, curated by A. Hyatt Mayor. Gelman also wrote the foreword to 'The Best of Charles Dana Gibson' (Bounty Books/Crown Publishers, 1969), compiling work by graphic designer Charles Dana Gibson. 

Nostalgia Press
In 1965, Woody Gelman founded Nostalgia Press, a company specialized in reprinting old-fashioned memorabilia, from cards and photographs to posters and comics. Their first effort, 'The Picture History of Charlie Chaplin' (Nostalgia Press, 1965), features a huge collection of imagery related to Hollywood comedian Charlie Chaplin. Thanks to Gelman's efforts, classic comics like Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland', Jimmy Hatlo's 'Little Iodine', George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon', EC's Horror Comics, John Terry and Noel Sickles' 'Scorchy Smith', E.C. Segar's 'Thimble Theatre', Lee Falk's 'Mandrake the Magician', Harold Foster's 'Prince Vailiant' and Milton Caniff's 'Terry and the Pirates' all received reprints. This allowed old fans the chance to reread their favorites, while giving new audiences the chance to rediscover the glory days of these classic series. Nostalgia Press also reprinted a collection of E.C. Comics' horror stories, under the title 'Horror Comics of the 1950s' (1971). A promotional letter written by Gelman about his book was printed in the June 1972 issue of Mad Magazine (#151). 

In 1967, Nostalgia Press tried to launch its own magazine, Nostalgia Illustrated. Even though Gelman made a dummy issue, it was never published. Instead, Gelman sold the rights and the concept to Magazine Management, who arranged a deal with Curtis Magazines. On 1 January 1975, the first issue of Nostalgia Illustrated hit the market. Each issue featured old-fashioned photographs, writings, ads and artwork, including comics, ranging from the 19th century through the 1950s. Lavishly designed, it aimed at readers with a sentiment for days of long ago. Gelman was a regular creative consultant and contributor up and until the final issue, #8 (August 1975). 

Final years and death
For his archival work, Woody Gelman received the 1971 Shazam Award for "Preservation and Popularization of Comic Art". In 1974 or 1975, Gelman retired. His last major endeavour were a series of nostalgic photo books about Elvis Presley, published after the rock legend's death in 1977. For Crown Books, Woody Gelman and Len Brown also produced postcard books about the SF franchises 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and 'Star Trek'. In 1978, Woody Gelman had a stroke and fell into a coma. He passed away at age 62 in Valley Stream, New York. Len Brown succeeded him as creative director of Topps.

Two of Gelman's relatives gained some notability in their own right. His niece Susan Gelman (b. 1957) is a psychologist and linguist, while his nephew Andrew Gelman (b. 1965) is a statistician. 


'Nostalgia Comics' #4. 

Solomon and Gelman at the Topps Archive blog

Series and books by Woody Gelman you can order today:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.