'Bingo and Glum in Fairy Tale Land' (Jingle Jangle Comics #17).

Woody Gelman was an editor and art director for the chewing gum company Topps, who distributed bubblegum wrapper comics like 'Popsicle Pete' and 'Bazooka Joe' (1954), whom he co-created. Topps later also started a succesful series of trading cards. The most notorious of these was 'Mars Attacks' (1962), a co-creation of Gelman which later inspired Tim Burton's SF comedy film 'Mars Attacks' (1995). Gelman was co-creator of the funny animal series 'The Dodo and The Frog' (1947-1957) too. 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 Gelman was born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1915. He attended the City College of New York, followed by Cooper Union and Pratt Institute. His graphic career took off in 1939, when he worked for Max and Dave Fleischer's animation studio as an in-betweener, assistant animator and scriptwriter. He worked on various 'Popeye' cartoons, based on the character created by E.C. Segar. Together with one of his co-animators, Ben Solomon, he tried to organize an union in 1944. Unfortunately their bosses got heed of the plan and fired everyone involved.

Famous Funnies cover by Woody GelmanFamous Funnies cover by Woody Gelman

Comics career
Gelman began a new career as a comic artist. His earliest work appeared in Coo Coo Comics and Goofy Comics by Pines in 1943 and 1944. For Eastern Color Printing, he drew covers for Famous Funnies, as well as the features 'The Kid from Brooklyn' in Heroic Comics and 'Bingo and Glum in Fairy Tale Land' and 'Hortense the Lovable Brat' in Jingle Jangle Comics, in 1945-1946. He wrote and drew various "funny animal" series for DC Comics, such as 'Nutsy Squirrel' (1946) in collaboration with former Fleischer animator Irving Dressler, who was later succeeded by Rube Gossman.

'Jingle Jangle Comics' #16.

The Dodo and the Frog
Together with another ex-Fleischer animator, Otto Feuer, Gelman made 'The Dodo and the Frog' (1947-1957) which debuted in DC's Funny Stuff. These comics were typical trickster tales, where Fenimore Frog outwitted the dimwitted Dunbar Dodo yet in the end usually got the lid on his own nose. The series later also ran in Comic Cavalcade and between October 1954 and November 1957 it received its own titled comic book series. Around the same time, Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman moved back from Florida to New York. The former animators established their own company there: Solomon & Gelman, which specialized in advertising comics. In 1955 they also created the 'Triple Nickel' book series, which were adaptations of popular films and TV series retold for a juvenile audience. When Topps chewing gum made Solomon & Gelman a lucrative offer to join them, the business partners closed down their company.

The Dodo and the Frog by Woody Gelman
'The Dodo and the Frog' (Funny Stuff #19).

Bazooka Joe
Solomon became art director for Topps, while Gelman acted as creative director. They oversaw various advertising campaigns, such as around Topps' bubble gum. Inside each gum wrapper of their brand Bazooka was a little two-panel comic strip starring a character named 'Bazooka, the Atom Bubble Boy'. Every storyline had the little boy blow huge bubble gum bubbles to defeat criminals, rescue people and solve problems in general. In 1954 Topps organized a contest to find a new name for the character. To make it a bit easier for the young contestants they already suggested six possible names: 'Fly-Boy', 'Birdie', 'Bazookio', 'Sky-King', 'Rocket-Bot' and 'Blowhard' (this last name might have caused some unfortunate innuendo in later, less innocent times). A reader eventually came up with 'Bazooka Joe', which is still the character's name today. Gelman asked Wesley Morse to design the character. Just like his predecessor, Bazooka Joe is an expert in blowing bubbles with problem-solving abilities. The eye-patch wearing boy with his large blue cap received some friends too, which were also 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, the music fan Metaldude and the dog Walkie Talkie. While some cartoons featured Bazooka doing something heroic, several others were more gag-based.

The 'Bazooka Joe' comics were guaranteed a long lifespan and ran uninterrupted from 1954 until 2012. Between 1967 and 1990 Jay Lynch wrote several episodes. Of all chewing gum advertising characters 'Bazooka Joe' became the most iconic, even surpassing the much older 'Pud' of Dubble Bubble which was drawn by Ray Thompson. Bazooka Joe inspired the name of Adam Ant's first rock band in the 1970s, as well as a 1980 song by T.C. Matic and a 1986 song by Big Black.

Crazy Cards & Mars Attacks
Gelman also let Sy Berger design Topps' baseball 1952 trading card line, which featured portraits of popular baseball players. Wallace Wood was asked to make a card series named 'Crazy Cards', which spoofed Robert L. Ripley's 'Believe It or Not'. Gelman and Len Brown furthermore wrote the script to 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, Zina Saunders and 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, which made parents concerned but children all the more gullible to own them. Still Topps was forced to tone down the content of some cards and eventually cancelled the series. This naturally kept the legend alive. In 1984 Rossem Enterprises and Renata Galasso reissued the original series.

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 worldwide fame through Tim Burton's science fiction film 'Mars Attacks!' (1996), which starred Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan and Natalie Portman. The picture later gained cult status.

Gelman's time at Topps was furthermore important for giving several veteran comic artists and future legends 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 gave them a succesful project for decades.

Nostalgia Press
In 1967 Gelman founded Nostalgia Press, a company specializing in reprinting old-fashioned memorabilia, from cards to comics. Thanks to his 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' ('Popeye'), Lee Falk's 'Mandrake the Magician', Harold Foster's 'Prince Vailiant' and Milton Caniff's 'Terry and the Pirates' were reprinted for new audiences.

Woody Gelman passed away from a stroke in 1978. Len Brown succeeded him as creative director of Topps.

'Nostalgia Comics' #4. 

Solomon and Gelman at the Topps Archive blog

Series and books by Woody Gelman you can order today:


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