Awesome Men Throughout History: Wesley Morse
Anyone in my readership who grew up reading indie comics or chewing Bazooka Joe gum will appreciate this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History, because he was integral to both. Wesley Morse isn’t a name that gets dropped much now, but he was kind of a big deal in his own time, and his body of work had a longer reach than most, including Morse himself, would have expected.
For starters, Morse was the guy who drew all the Bazooka Joe comics that came in each pack of unchewable gum. For real, that stuff was like chewing a manhole cover for the first five minutes or so. The comics were pretty standard for their intended era, but by the time I was a kid they were basically illustrated Dad Jokes that didn’t impress those of us who’d grown to appreciate the finer things, like Adam Sandler movies.
For the record, Adam Sandler movies are the Bazooka Joe comics of this generation, in that they’re dorky relics from a bygone era of comedy.
Anyway, Morse was a badass illustrator who churned out tons of pin-ups, programs, logos (including the Copacabana’s logo), magazine artwork, syndicated comic strips, and other commission work during his career. He also illustrated a lot of Tijuana bibles, aka the dirty 8-page comics that were sold under the counter in bars, tobacco shops, burlesque houses, and anywhere else men gathered.
Tijuana bibles were really popular during the Depression, when people needed as much distraction from the misery around them as possible, and were often unlicensed parodies of famous cartoons and celebrities. Morse’s series of bibles were all set during the World’s Fair, and are the most sought-after dirty comics from that era.
Now, hearing all this, you might be picturing Morse as a skinny, perverted, Robert Crumb-esque nerd, but he was quite the opposite. Morse was a stud, plain and simple. He drank with gangsters and famous actors, nailed some of the hottest women on the planet (including a young Barbara Stanwyck) before eventually settling down and getting married, and was the soft-spoken, debonair toast of the Manhattan nightclub scene.
I live near a nationally-renowned art school full of dumb hipsters who think they’re something special, but guys like Wesley Morse show them the door as far as coolness is concerned.
Morse’s son set up a website for him that goes into more detail about his artistic career, and is apparently writing a book about his dad as well. The website is worth checking out, and if you ever find one of Wesley Morse’s Tijuana bibles, guard it with your life.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.