There have been PLAYBOY imitators almost since its beginnings in 1953. Some of them, like ROGUE, gave Hefner a run for his money with quality fiction, photography and illustration art. Others were just pale copies that didn’t last. In the 1970s, there was serious competition from PENTHOUSE and GALLERY and GENESIS. I always used to confuse GALLERY and GENESIS because they looked so much alike, right down to the masthead. All of these competitors tried to outdo each other with ever nastier art and articles. The photographers seemed to be inventing new ways to showcase the formerly secret inner workings of their models’ vaginas. There was a lot of pubic “bush” in those days, not like the decades before (and, curiously, not like now either.)  PLAYBOY had a great satirical comic strip called “Little Annie Fanny”, based (like Terry Southern & Mason Hoffenberg’s CANDY) on Voltaire’s CANDIDE: an innocent takes us on a tour of the modern world. Soon every men’s magazine had to have a comic strip. PENTHOUSE had “Wicked Wanda” and MALE had “Pussycat” and HUSTLER had whatever theirs was called, and so on down the line. GENESIS wanted on that bandwagon as well, and the cover of their April 1976 issue said “NEW X-RATED COMIC STRIP – SCARLETT O’HARLOT”. The first two issues with Scarlett featured the art of Gray Morrow. Now Gray Morrow was a fine illustrator, but “Scarlett O’Harlot” had a few problems: it wasn’t X-rated, it wasn’t interesting, and the kiss of death for a comic strip, it wasn’t funny. GENESIS had the solution in house – one of their regular cartoonists was Bill Wenzel. The same April 1976 issue that had Scarlett’s debut featured this full-page color cartoon on a different page, looking a lot like the Scarlett to come later that year: 

Bill Wenzel took over the “Scarlett O’Harlot” strip in August of 1976. He did one a month for each of the last five months of that year, all of them uncredited.  He did seven more installments in 1977 and one final appearance in March 1978. Starting with the January 1977 issue, he began signing his name to the first or last panel, or received credit on the table of contents.  In 1978 GENESIS tried to do “Scarlett” with different artists, but the magic was gone. After a different-style strip in June 1978 by a new artist, in which it is hard to tell which of the characters is supposed to be Scarlett, the series ended.

Wenzel’s “Scarletts” were always very funny, filled with satire, little side gags and rapid fire punchlines in the grand tradition of “Annie Fanny” creators Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder. They also gave us Wenzel Girls in positions we had never seen them in before and could scarcely have imagined. For instance, in the panel from the February 1977 installment shown below, Scarlett and five of her friends are giving King Kong a twelve-handed handjob. The little devil in the corner was a GENESIS mascot.

This is the checklist of the “Scarlett O’Harlot” comic strips in GENESIS magazine:

April 1976 – Gray Morrow (3 pages)                               “New X-rated Comic Strip”

June 1976 - Gray Morrow (uncredited) (3 pages)              Scarlett in China

August 1976 – Bill Wenzel (uncredited) (3 pages)            Policewoman Movie   

September 1976 – Bill Wenzel (uncredited) (4 pages)      National Football

October 1976 – Bill Wenzel (uncredited) (4 pages)          Presidential Conventions

November 1976 – Bill Wenzel (uncredited) (4 pages)      UFOs     

December 1976 – Bill Wenzel (uncredited) (4 pages)       CB Radio Truckers

January 1977 – Bill Wenzel (4 pages)                               With Santa at The North Pole

February 1977 – Bill Wenzel (4 pages)                              Kinky King Kong

May 1977 – Bill Wenzel (2 pages)                                     Spring Break

June 1977 – Bill Wenzel (3 pages)                                     Transcendental Meditation

August 1977 – Bill Wenzel (2 pages)                                 Scarlett in Russia

October 1977 – Bill Wenzel (2 pages)                                Bodybuilding Gym

December 1977 – Bill Wenzel (2 pages)                            College Fraternity Party

February 1978 – Vince (3 pages)                                        The Insidious Dr. Wang

March 1978 - Bill Wenzel (2 pages)                                   Scarlett in Outer Space

June 1978 – Brian Forbes (3 pages)                                    Gland Hotel Casino

I have a set of the “Scarlett O’Harlot” issues for sale. Contact me if you are interested.

Our Back Pages: Vintage Readers

The folks at Vintage Books wanted to introduce their great writers to a new generation of readers in the new century. They came up with a beautiful series called Vintage Readers. Each volume was titled VINTAGE ----- followed by the last name of one of their authors. Titles from heavy hitters like VINTAGE NABOKOV and VINTAGE MUNRO kicked off the series. VINTAGE HAMMETT was an immediate collectible, gathering four of his best stories with selections from all five of his novels. But when it came time to do a volume of Philip K. Dick, there was not a single staff member to be found who would agree to publish a new book called VINTAGE DICK. And so “VINTAGE DICK” appeared instead under the title VINTAGE PKD.