Being that it’s 2015, it’s entirely possible—even probable—you’re aware of Betty Boop as only that ubiquitous character you see on mud flaps, keychains, and the lower back of that girl you were “friends” with in college. If this is the case, it’s a shame, but that’s also why it’s great Titan Comics has put together The Definitive Betty Boop: The Classic Comic Strip Collection to let you know what’s up.
Before Marilyn Monroe, before Jessica Rabbit, and before any number of powerful women working in the entertainment industry today, there was Betty Boop, and she was Hollywood’s “It girl” in the funny papers. Boop was created by Max Fleischer, one of the most influential people in the earliest days of animation and film. Besides Betty Boop, Fleischer also invented the Rotoscope, a device used to project live action scenes onto a light-table and allow animators to trace each frame, creating realistic animation. This technique was most notably, in recent memory, used by director Richard Linklater to create the films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#4A7097″ class=”” size=””]She was Hollywood’s “It girl” in the funny papers.[/pullquote]
One of the defining characteristics of Betty Boop and the character’s original run in the 1930s—originally appearing in the 1930 short Dizzy Dishes—is her sexuality. It sounds odd to say, but Betty Boop was a leading sex symbol of that era. She carried the confident sensuality of a Greta Garbo, Virginia Cherrill, or Paulette Goddard, but she wasn’t hindered as much as they and the rest of Hollywood’s actresses were by the Hays Code. As is mentioned in the excellent essay (Made of Pen and Ink, She Can Win You with a Wink by Brian Walker) included in The Definitive Betty Boop, the character’s look and personality were very much affected by the code, which set strict guidelines on certain things film studios could show in their productions, but with the consistent vision of one person, Fleischer, behind the character, she was able to adhere to the code without being watered down.
As a result, reading through the strips collected here makes you see she was very much ahead of her time. Of course, the character was being put forth by a male animator, but on the page, she was portrayed as a strong woman who chose to sexualize herself and use her femininity the way she wanted to use it and not be just eye candy or just an object for a male character. That’s something that someone like Marilyn Monroe was able to do a couple decades later and something that, in 2015, has only recently become commonplace, and Max Fleischer had the audacity to not only create a character who did that but also make her wildly successful.
There are two warnings in the front of this book. One such warning notifies the reader of the fact, being that this book collects some rare comics that haven’t been reprinted in 80 years, the reproduction quality may be lacking on some of the strips. That is completely understandable but, while some strips do differ in quality, none of them are anywhere approaching bad reproduction value. They’re legible, you can see the images clearly; and, in the case of the color strips, many are quite vibrant.
The second warning is another you expect from a collection of any material from pretty much any period of time in American history: some of these comic strips include some material that is “of the time”. I’ll just include one example here. A series of the black-and-white daily strips include a tribe of Native Americans who are starring in a film with Betty Boop. These Native Americans are depicted visually as stereotypical caricatures. However, if you look beyond that, you see something interesting. Boop’s director holds stereotypical views of Native Americans and is constantly expecting this tribe to behave in the stereotypical fashion he expects, but they are repeatedly shown to disprove those stereotypes. I chose to highlight this one instance because it shows the comic’s willingness to make a recurring character, Boop’s put-upon director, the fool. He’s the idiot who is always made the butt of the joke, and I like that.
In addition to collecting over 185 comic strips, both color and black-and-white, and the aforementioned essay by Brian Walker, The Definitive Betty Boop also includes a foreword written by two of Max Fleischer’s grandchildren, Mark Fleischer and Ginny Mahoney; Fleischer Studios’ first comic strip, Out of the Inkwell; Helen Kane’s The Original Boop-Boop-A-Doop Girl; and several images, including a 1934 model sheet of the character of Betty Boop by animator Willard Bowsky and a selection of promotional material showcasing the beginning of the Betty Boop merchandise phenomenon. From bars of candy to bars of soap, she has been pretty much everywhere in her 85 years of existence, and now she’s here in The Definitive Betty Boop from Titan Comics. Boop-Boop-A-Doop.