Friday, October 19, 2018

Hot Stuff #145

Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 19
Hot Stuff #145

Having a Devil of a time figuring out how this got made

Harvey comics was undoubtedly one of the most successful youth market comic book companies when I was growing up. Their initial title list were a ton of licensed properties way back before my time that included Green Hornet, Joe Palooka, Blondie, and Dick Tracy. That wasn’t the Harvey I grew up with, though.

Nope. My Harvey comics started with a property the company bought when they licensed a group of cartoon characters from Famous Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures. This occurred around 1951. The group included Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip, Little Audrey, and…a friendly little ghost named Casper.

Casper was a revelation for the company. So much so that they bought out Famous Studios in 1958 and repackaged all of their animated output as Harveytoons, the logo I recall seeing before them as a kid. Casper became Harvey’s top draw. And leaning on him, the publisher sought to expand the breadth of his brand and more importantly, make him the house style for new characters. These new books expanded to a jaw-dropping 23 titles.

The characters that spun out of Casper’s orbit were all of a generic body shape with a few tweaks to differentiate one from the other. Artist Warren Kremer’s work became the official house style in 1959. He was the mastermind behind many of the most well known Harvey spin off characters, including Hot Stuff. Also, he was co-creator with Albert Harvey of Richie Rich.

And I’m going to state that Harvey’s gaggle of characters were pretty subversive when you take into account the times in which they were created. Just look at them: Casper, a “friendly” child ghost; Wendy, a witch who wants to spread love and happiness; Richie Rich, a benevolent billionaire who is neither spoiled nor narcissistic; Hot Stuff, a devil who isn’t interested in stealing souls; and Little Dot, a girl who can be nice to people even while on her period. Probably getting one of those descriptions wrong.

I’m going to admit to owning SEVERAL of these comics as a child, but none survived. I read them all to pieces and then possibly ingested the pieces. They are so much a part of me that I cannot believe upon finding this copy in a discount bin that anyone would go through life without knowing about them. But Harvey folded doors in 1994, their characters moved over to a different licensing company, a division of Dreamworks, that hasn’t seen fit to produce a Casper-type book since 2010.

Right now though we get to deal with Hot Stuff, an enigma in the era of the comics code authority and the 1960’s in general. I mean Hot Stuff is a DEVIL. An actual devil, and how this book flew in the face of Christian conservative America is an unfathomable mystery to me. The same people that would freak out because rock stars grew their hair long and wore dark makeup in my 1980’s were the same group that two decades before had allowed their kids read Hot Stuff comics.

It kinda boggles the mind a bit.

Comic Vine goes as far as calling Hot Stuff the “original Hellboy” which is so clever that I want to steal it uncredited. They also point out the facts that make Hot Stuff a bit more palatable to those worried groups: 1. He didn’t live in Hell, but in a Medieval dimension full of Ogres, witches, enchanted objects, humans, and other devils, and 2. While he did possess a fiery temper, his general disposition was kind and helpful, being more likely to assist and protect humans than not.

With that we should probably dig in to the tales in this book, one of his 177 appearances in the Hot Stuff magazine. The book shared shelf space with three other Hot Stuff titles: Devil Kids starring Hot Stuff,  Hot Stuff Sizzlers, and (get this one) Hot Stuff Creepy Caves. But hunker down and pull up those asbestos shorts, we are going to jump into Hot Stuff number 145

"Sign Post Land”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown
Editor – unknown
September 1978

(For everyone’s illumination into my creative process, in doing research for this article I happened to type “Hot Stuff” in the search bar at one point without the word “comics.” Yes, for the rest of this article and perhaps several days that follow I will be bobbing my head as my brain plays Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” on endless loop until it drives me insane. Thank you, Google.)

So we begin our issue with this weird tale of Hot Stuff being upset because he never gets mail. One offhanded comment by the maildevil leads him to decide that he needs a sign post outside his cave if he is ever going to get any mail.

He finds one outside his neighbor the bear’s place that has a “Made in Sign Post Land” label engraved on the post and off we go on what has to be some writer and artist’s pot-induced storyline. 

For you see, Sign Post Land exists. It lives at the bottom of a pit beside a Sign Post advertising its existence. And Sign Post Land is full of living sign posts…

...who end up being kind of jerks.

And if Hot Stuff was a less discerning customer, he would have been in and out of Sign Post Land in no time. I mean, It’s a freaking sign post! Just pick one. 

But no. He keeps insulting the sign posts, which I think I mentioned were alive, until finally they’ve had enough of his shit.

And of course them kicking the crap out of him gets Hot Stuff’s blood boiling, so…

…yeah. Well if you thought he was going to get away with burning living beings until they were ashy piles, you haven’t been paying close attention to that Comics Code Authority stamp on the front of this book. And this is a book for children, so no immolations. Bludgeonings still might be on the table however.

Hot Stuff tries to get away by turning himself invisible, but the posts are too crafty to let that happen. Thankfully this talking bag of sign post seeds helps Hot Stuff effect an escape.

Remember what I said about bludgeonings.

This does get Hot Stuff back home, though and the wallop to the top of the head gives the little devil a grand idea.

He builds this amazing looking sign post himself. The End!

Except it isn’t, because Hot Stuff leans his pitchfork up against the new sign post, which being made out of wood, causes it to burst into flames. And then the butthole of a maildevil tells Hot Stuff he never has mail for him anyway. What a total jerk!

Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

And here was some of the best subversive humor a kid could ever want, all in one page. Devils, by their very nature, are evil. And Hot Stuff’s devil friends and relatives were no exception, however the evils they were fond of were very mild things. Like Grampa Blaze’s penchant for throwing around colorful language…

In my mind Grampa Blaze is being played by Samuel L. Jackson. There will be a second Grampa Blaze later on with a completely different look. None of these stories are credited, so it is possible that the one site I found with writer/artist names attached was incorrect. Either that or some of these are stock stories used for filler before the characters were generally established. Or the writer just got the name wrong. Who knows?

Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

Here we have a shocking introduction. This is near the very tail end of the Hot Stuff run and this issue introduces Glara, a girl version of Hot Stuff. Most of the other books like Richie Rich had a pseudo-love interest for their title characters by now, so this seems a little “late bloomer-ish” for our devil-may-care devil title.

This story also features some of the other intelligent beings in Hot Stuff’s world: the kind humans and the horrible ogres. The series had to have worse villains than devils as bad guys. Let’s see how well ogres fit that bill.

And in a very odd twist of things, our tale starts with Hot Stuff deciding to pluck an apple from a tree, after roasting it of course. It has an odd biblical feel to see the devil, an apple tree and the only eligible female the book will ever show as the staring place to our story. Here we go though.

While pondering this strange self-roasting apple tree, Hot Stuff is started by a beautiful (in little devil standards) female devil who sing-songs her first words to him. He decides he will be a gentledevil and offer they young maiden a roasted apple.(Gotta have some Hot Stuff!…Got to make love tonight!)

…but Glara proves she can roast her own apples, even without a fork. And she challenges Hot Stuff’s man…er, Devilhood by declaring she can roast apples faster than he can. And thus the gauntlet is thrown down.

Hot Stuff gets his usual hot under the collar and challenges her to a quick contest blowing up a boulder…

…which ends up completely humiliating him, because she can shoot flame blasts straight from her eyes. Sort of like my ex-wife could. (I kid! I kid!). Glara goes around showing off her skill at playing Cyclops from the X-Men, which includes lighting this campfire…

…much to the perplexed joy of this human camper.

Now we have the heavies of the series show up. Ogres and giants were typical bad-guys of these stores, being shown as brutish primitives who hated both devils and humans.

But that’s okay because they pose no threat at all. Glara can take care of them literally with her eyes crossed.

But those ogres aren’t all that dumb. They hatch a plan to sneak up on Glara and cover her eyes so she can’t flame blast them. Lucky for her Hot Stuff realizes he forgot to show off his forking skills.

Forking skills. Forking. F-O-R-K-I-N-G! If I meant to say the other thing I would have.

Which he gets to use to “save” Glara. Even though…

…heh, I love it that the woman is actually more powerful than the man in this series.

"Fork Failure”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

Now we have one of those trippy adventures that only can happen in a Hot Stuff comic. Out little devil has to get his fork recharged, so Uncle Vulcan lends a hand. As soon as the job is complete, Hot Stuff snatches up the fork to go give it a tryout.

Unfortuantely, Hot Stuff’s fork appears to be a little over-charged as it burns an apple to a crisp that he had intended to roast. In fact everything Hot Stuff hits with his fork tends to get a little too hot.

Remember that thing I said about this being a bit “trippy?” Check out the pond’s reaction to being heated.

This leads to a one-panel hissy fit by our diaper-wearing devil and then an attempt to use a glacier to cool off his fork.

The result of which is a huge avalanche as the glacier completely breaks up. At the same moment, Uncle Vulcan makes a startling discovery.

He gave Hot Stuff his “adult” level fork. He rushes off to make a quiet switch of the two and Hot Stuff’s tantrum gives him just the opportunity he’s looking for.

After the swap, Hot Stuff cools off enough to give the fork one more try and since it is his fork, it works to perfection. Unfortunately for Uncle Vulcan, its first zap catches him unawares. 

Hot Stuff is pleased that “his fork” has returned to normal and Vulcan states that he probably deserves the fried bottom for being so careless when he was working.

"Protective Cuss-tody”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

Lastly we come to one of my favorite bits in the book. Meet Hot Stuff’s foul-mouthed relative, Grampa Blaze. I love this bit so much because the book shows that devils love to stand around and cuss, which in today’s culture holds very little negative connotations. I mean, they drop F-bombs in song choruses these days.

In this story, however, Grampa’s such a good cusser that even Hot Stuff has to get far away when he does it. And in his travels, he comes across this castle bearing a strange sign. The sign says they have a job opening for castle guard. He goes inside to inquire with the prince…

All this leads to a genius idea in Hot Stuff’s brain…

…and in a jiffy, the little devil has Grampa installed as the new castle guard.

He is surprisingly effective.

In fact, he’s a little too effective. His level of cussing goes beyond Geto Boys or Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz CrunkJuice (had to include this link with a youtube for you. the cusswords come so fast that bleeping them sounds like putting an electronic beat over the hip-hop track) and it is just too much for the castle’s inhabitants.


Feeling under appreciated, Grampa Blaze takes off too, leaving Hot Stuff with the same problem – no one to protect the castle from the monsters he dislikes.

However, he’s never one to give up and in a few moments comes up with a clever solution that still uses Grampa’s cussing only on a recorded medium that can be turned off when the castle isn’t about to be under siege.

Eight or nine-year-old me would have LOVED this last story. The fact that it had cussing as the main topic was so grand, there’s no way the book would have survived my multiple readings.

Hot Stuff and Harvey are now a thing of the past. A revival has been attempted recently of the Casper property, but it fizzled. Richie Rich hasn’t been around in some time either. It’s a shame when you’ve grown so old that you have watched properties disappear from popular culture. I assume our parents thought the same when Mutt and Jeff, Gasoline Alley, and Snuffy Smith disappeared into obscurity.

At least this issue is preserved…and on display for the world to see here.

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