Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review: DAN DeCARLO'S JETTA (IDW Publishing/Yoe Books, 2010)

The first offering in IDW/Yoe's "Good Girl Art Library" takes the form of a handsomely mounted reprinting of all three issues -- officially tagged issues #5-7, but that's due to a little publishing chicanery from an era that, amazing as it may seem to us, shied away from making a big deal of "risky" first issues -- of Standard Comics' JETTA, an early product of the luscious pen of the young and ambitious Dan DeCarlo. DeCarlo had already established himself at Timely/Marvel with such "good girl" titles as JEANNIE and MY FRIEND IRMA when Standard asked him to develop its new epic of teenage hijinks in a then-far-distant 21st century. JETTA apparently failed to click with audiences despite DeCarlo's best efforts, but the title definitely presages the creation of The Jetsons a decade later... that is, if you can imagine The Jetsons projecting cultural cliches forward from the early 1950s, rather than the early 1960s, and tagging Judy Jetson as its focal character.

DeCarlo's most distinctive and viscerally appealing work is probably the pin-up art he did for 1950s men's magazines, but the best of that material lay some years beyond JETTA's debut. He had also just begun working for Archie on the original BETTY AND VERONICA title, and what little I've seen of that work indicates that DeCarlo was sticking fairly closely to the then-regnant Archie house style (which he would ultimately uproot and smarten up considerably). JETTA is basically a contemporary ARCHIE comic with a lot of in-panel clutter added, a lot of space-related jargon inserted as "hep" patter, some extremely short skirts on most women... and, I'm sorry to say, far less distinctive characters on the stage. Jetta, her boyfriend Arky (no coincidence, there!), her rival-of-sorts Hilaria, menacing teacher Miss Gorgon, teenage gizmo-whiz... uh, Gizmo... and the rest don't really spark to life at any time, even when the unusual setting is new and interesting, as in issue #1/#5. Sometimes, the uncredited writers don't even try to disguise character swipes; Jetta's well-meaning but slightly bumbling father is a fairly brazen copy of Archie Andrews' Dad. The "dead hand of the present" seems to lie on JETTA's futuristic setting a bit more firmly than it later would on The Jetsons, as reflected in the graffiti-scrawl on characters' "Jetmobiles" -- that particular craze was already old in the 1950's, having peaked during the "Swing Era" and the WWII years. Even DeCarlo's fine artwork is undercut in several places by the use of lesser inkers. Jetta is certainly a treat for the eyes, though, and the good cheer exuded by DeCarlo's art lifts even these predictable situations a bit above the level of the mundane.

The book makes "weight" thanks to an enjoyable Introduction by Craig Yoe and a series of Jetta portraits by a variety of contemporary "good girl" artists, which run the glamour gamut from excellent to hideous (the latter of which, by contemporary standards, might actually be preferred by some). All in all, it's an interesting portrait of a talented young artist turning a less-than-stellar concept into something greater than the sum of its parts.

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