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Sadly, this post contains no rapidly-spoken Spanish or chocolate assembly lines – I Love Lucy Comics #4

August 8, 2012

Lucille Ball is held up all the time as a pinnacle of comedy. The dirty secret? She wasn’t funny. That’s not harsh or out there, nor is it Jerry Lewis-y misogyny. Ball herself thought the same: “I’m not funny. What I am is brave.” True. (A bit of a pat on the back, but true nonetheless.) There are different kinds of bravery, and the humiliating lengths she’d put herself through, lengths that might not be seen as all that ladylike in the early post-War days, were certainly a unique brand of courage. Her comedic success didn’t depend on delivery or timing or wit. It depended on acting like a fool and twisting her face into every gruesome visage that you could imagine. (A female Lewis, if you will.) In that regard, she was a roaring success, because few other women would consent to stuffing themselves with chocolate (the I Love Lucy segment that’s to that show what the Fred Ames tomahawk toss is to Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show) and whining and crying like an overgrown baby. Being a clown has always been, and perhaps always will be, a male dominated field, and Ball tore through it.

The cartoonish onscreen persona of Lucy was tailor-made for comic books, and, lo and behold, there was indeed a companion comic. I Love Lucy Comics ran concurrently with the series in the 1950s, and its 35 issue run offered the Ricardos and the Mertzes a lot of room to be fools. The results, however, were often less than stellar. This particular issue has three stories for Lucy and Co.’s unique brand of nuttiness. In the first, she has delusions of becoming a magician, though she has about as much success as Bill Murray in Ghostbusters when it comes to doing the tablecloth yank:

Aside: She and Ethel never get all those fish back in water. Murderers.

Ricky Ricardo enters the picture, along with — surprise! — a magician who’s going to be doing his act at Ricky’s nightclub that evening. But the magician — surprise again! — is in a tight spot, because his female assistant is out of commission. Ricky then does what husbands (and wives) have been doing for eons, and fobs off his no-talent spouse on this poor trickster. And Lucy, of course, makes a mess of it:

The second story feels more like a madcap episode of the series, with Lucy and Ricky each simultaneously planning surprise anniversary parties. (Do people plan surprise anniversary parties? I guess they do. Feels like more of a birthday thing, though.) Lucy, as is her wont, causes a disaster in the kitchen, unleashing a hellish world-consuming cake monster:

Solution? That venerable, oft-cited chocolate gambit turns out to be a fairly versatile maneuver:

The last entry has Lucy going to open up a bank account with the loose change she found around the house (a couple of bucks), but wackiness ensues when the money-men mistake her for the heir to a wealthy woman named, coincidentally, “Ricardo.” They give her the royal treatment, poor Ricky somehow gets arrested, and fumblenuts Lucy locks herself and an executive inside a vault:

If I were locked in there with her, there’d only be one of us coming out alive. And it would be me. (The “locked inside a bank vault with a TV legend” gag was done much better many years later when Carol Burnett turned up on a Magnum, P.I. episode. Not this one. A different one.)

I’m not a huge fan of Lucy. Most memories I have of watching it was in syndicated reruns during weekday morning hours, which were only seen when I was out of school sick. So Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are forever lumped in with sore throats, fevers, nausea and the smell of ginger ale and chicken soup. I’d choose The Honeymooners ten times out of ten. But no one can deny the etched in stone success of the show. The comic? It’s alright, if a little too kiddy for a show that was all-ages. And the art goes overboard in trying to capture Ball’s distinctive wide-eyed look, giving her eyes that look as if they’ve been toothpicked open like Malcolm McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange. Switch to decaf, babe.

Malibu reprinted some of these old comics in the early 1990s boom, when everything that could be crammed into a spinner rack was. There’s never been a loving trade collection of the series (to my knowledge). It’s not an oversight that would send anyone into a frothing, rapid-fire Ricardo-esque rage.

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