I have always enjoyed finding references to beatniks in comics, perhaps because they are usually in a humorous context. I don't recall seeing beatniks around in England when I was a kid - mods and rockers, yes, but I don't remember a beatnik, and I was certainly looking out for them. Maybe I didn't used to hang out in the right neighborhoods, or maybe it was more of an American thing, I'm not sure. Maybe they were all 'gone' by the time I was old enough to notice. Anyway, I've put together a selection of bits and pieces here from early 1960s comics that give a little taste of what I'm talking about, and at the end let's see what this collection of snippets from comics of that period tells us about the beatnik phenomenon, as if we were future archaeologists who'd dug up a pile of comic books and were seeking information about the society that produced them.
From the subscription coupon from Mad 67 (Dec 1961), we're already getting a glimpse of what constitutes a beatnik. There seems to be a connection with music. The beatnik wears a certain type of head gear, and has his facial hair trimmed into a beard that is restricted to his chin. He appears to be clicking his fingers, and perhaps this is a behavior associated with beatniks. He's wearing a loose fitting shirt. Certain words or phrases also appear associated with the language of the beatnik - "way out!", "real gone!", "sends me", "pad", "man", and "like". After a bit of research I came across an actual one page beatnik feature that was included in some of the DC funnies in the early 1960s. It was called... 'Beat Nick', and consisted of a collection of gag cartoons featuring this male beatnik character, drawn by Mort Drucker. Here's three, from The Adventures of Jerry Lewis 58, 59, and 62, respectively (May/June 1960, July/Aug 1960, and Jan/Feb 1961).
What these cartoons suggest is that beatniks are unconventional. They are sensitive to the cause of the oppressed, and have a fairly pessimistic view on the state of the world. They are supposedly angry young men. They tend to wear certain types of clothing, that includes baggy sweaters, tight fitting pants, and specific kinds of footwear. Female beatniks seem to wear their hair long, and dress in a similar fashion to the males. The bongo drum seems to be an instrument associated with beatniks, as do cafes with bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. More vocabulary - "dig", "crazy", and "chick".
A couple of DC titles of the period actually featured beatnik support characters. One such was A Date With Judy, nearing the end of its run. Judy's boyfriend Oogie's friend, Nervous, was clearly a beatnik. In this short story from A Date With Judy 78 (Aug/Sept 1960), Nervous is trying to land a job in the band of a jazz singer:
The association with bongo drums seems to be confirmed here. Lots more linguistics - "bread", "dad" or "daddio", "the craziest", "the most", "into orbit", and "cool cat". In the next Out Of This World post we'll look at another DC comic that had a beatnik as the buddy of the lead male character, plus when Bob Hope got mistaken for a beatnik.