For those of you who don’t know, Snagglepuss is a Hanna Barbera cartoon character created in 1959. He’s a pink mountain lion that wears an upturned collar, shirt cuffs and a tie. He’s best remembered by his catchphrases “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”, “Exit, stage left!”, and adding “even” to the end of his sentences – “He doesn’t know what to do, even!”. He appeared in his own series of shorts before becoming part of the regular cast of The Yogi Bear Show.
His signature pink color and lisp and exaggerated mannerisms led many to believe that the character is gay. This is currently being explored in Mark Russell’s new six- issue comic Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, in which the character is revived under a DC-Hanna Barbera collaboration. Snagglepuss is reimagined as a Southern Gothic playwright who happens to be gay in the 1950s, similar to Tennessee Williams.
I am enjoying the first issue and the set up lends itself well for an interesting dialogue about sexual orientation and the witch hunt in the mid-20th century for those who were different, or, to be blunt, those thought to be distorting the moral authority of America – be it Communist Party, pot smokers, or homosexuals.
Bringing Snagglepuss into this scenario allows Mark Russell to show the extent of what being forced into the closet meant for men and women, as well as react to the overwhelming scare that the government pressed upon members of the creative community. Many playwrights, directors, actors and the like were called before the House Sub-Committee for Un-American activities. They were interviewed vigorously to give up those who may have affiliations with known Communist Party members or those who might be homosexuals. The Red Scare was real, but so to was the Pink Scare. The men and women whose sexual orientation differed had only two options – remain in the closet and repress their true nature, or keep their identity close to themselves and a few trusted others.
In the first issue, Snagglepuss is the toast of Broadway with a hit show and a beautiful actress as his wife – for show only. Later he goes to the Village, the gay mecca of the ‘50s and ‘60s where he enters The Stonewall Inn, a venue that will serve as the focal point for gay liberation nearly two decades later. The bar is a known gay haven, allowing gays and lesbians to congregate and be themselves. It’s here that we see Snagglepuss truly at home and free. We can see the struggle he goes through trying to decide if he should stand up and be free or merely skate by in the shadows.
Reading the comic, it’s not hard to imagine that oppression seeping into every facet of life. The comic ties in the famed Dorothy Parker of the Algonquin Round Table, an association of incredible thinkers, writers and rabble-rousers that formed an elite literary collection in New York of the 1920s. Their Vicious Circle, as they were also known, inspired the young Snagglepuss to venture from the rural South to New York. And then there’s Lillian Hellman, a lesbian playwright and friend, who we see is a subject of Congressional investigation being bullied to give up others.
Mike Feehan’s art is beautiful and his ability to populate his panels with both human and anthromorphic animals is a sight to see. I think Mark Russell has a great story to tell and I’m along for the ride. The fact that the writer created a legendary revival of The Flintstones comic gives me great comfort for the rest of this series. Could Snagglepuss be the agent of social change? He is certainly being set up for that. But we all know heavy is the head that wears the crown, and for this queen it might be too much.