Calgary playwrights delve into the gritty world of 40’s pulp comics
Bob Wood's comic Crime Does Not Pay, and his life, turned into a dark musical
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Calgarian writers David Rhymer and Kris Demeanor want to take you back to the seedy world comic books in the 40s.
We’re not talking about Batman or Superman here – we’re talking about pulp, violent comic books that were exploding in popularity across the U.S.
The duo have turned the period, specifically the life of real writer Bob Wood, into a darkly funny and heart-wrenching musical.
Before the country was swept up in worries that violent video games or rock and roll music would twist young morals, there were comics like the famed Crime Does Not Pay. The comic regularly dealt with young anti-heroes turning to a life of crime, often with violent ends. One famous cover has a man holding his wife’s face against a lit stove.
But before we get to the play, let’s talk about the era it’s set in.
Comics in the ‘40s
Comics were kind of considered the first pop media, according to Rhymer. In the ‘40s heyday, there were about 100-million comics being sold each month.
After the war, superheroes had dipped in popularity, and criminal adventure stories moved in.
Bob Wood and his series Crime Does Not Pay became an overnight sensation, often featuring tales of young workers stuck in dead-end jobs. Looking for a way out from their drudgery and misery, they look to a life of crime to make a buck – often feeling the real work would screw them over.
“There was a glamorous tinge to the stories that add a bit of celebrity regard for the criminal, the same as you would see in modern day stories about the mafia, where people respect them for doing it their own way,” explained Demeanor.
Unfortunately for Wood, opponents of the violence in these books claimed that copycat criminals were taking cues from comics. The government ended up established the Comic Code Authority, which severely scaled back what comic books could depict.
Wood’s book was front and centre when the code was brought in – it wasn’t the only example, but it’s seen as the straw the broke the camel’s back, because of it’s vast popularity. It alone sold 5-million copies per month.
The descent of Bob Wood
The play follows Wood through this journey, not only in terms of his comics, but his personal life.
Wood ended up following a similar trajectory as the characters he wrote. He became really famous, but after the code came in, he was no longer employable.
“He fell into a descent and ironically murdered his mistress in a hotel room,” said Rhymer. “There’s an incredibly irony here, that could have been a character in his own comic book.”
Rhymer describes the play as a visual delight – the whole story looks like a comic book, colour and dynamic, with use of projection and of course, a wealth of old and contemporary inspiration for the songs.
Crime Does Not Pay plays at the Downstage Theatre from March 2 to 11. For more information, visit www.downstage.ca.