Herbie Popnecker, A.K.A. the Fat Fury, was the creation of writer Richard E. Hughes (here using the pseudonym Shane O’Shea) and artist Ogden Whitney. He first appeared in Unknown Worlds #20, published by the American Comics Group, Inc. in 1958, and this book reprints that first appearance, along with his appearances in ACG’s Forbidden Worlds issues 73, 94, 110, 114 and 116, and then the first five issues of his very own comic, Herbie.
Herbie is a kid whose dad thinks he is just a ‘little fat nothing’, and calls him this on an alarmingly regular basis, but when his dad isn’t looking, Herbie displays the powers of a god. He can talk to animals, walk in the air (and in space), time travel, enter fictional worlds (children’s story books, films, etc.), best any foe by whacking them with one of his beloved lollypops, and even the devil is scared of him. He may be a fat kid with glasses, who speaks in stunted sentences, a bit like Rorschach from the Watchmen (Note: I saw an interview with Alan Moore once where Moore said that Herbie was his favourite superhero!) but (most) women love him, and in this volume he is pursued by women such as Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II, among others. He also encounters many other important / famous people of the day, like JFK, Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, Cary Grant, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, as well as historical figures / fictional characters such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Antoinette, Wyatt Earp, King Arthur, Cinderella, etc. I imagine that Herbie must have been enormous fun to read if you were a kid in the late-fifties / early-sixties – particularly if you were a fat kid with glasses and had a verbally abusive dad – but I must admit I found his adventures a bit dated, rather repetitive, and found this book a bit of a chore to get through. I liked the Herbie character a lot and I am glad I got to read this, but I think just one issue of his adventures would have been enough for me. I enjoyed Ogden Whitney’s excellent artwork a lot more than I enjoyed the stories, and I found the biographies of Hughes and Whitney at the back of the book particularly interesting – I love reading the biographies of old cartoonists – even though they made grim reading.
Hughes and Whitney were apparently ACG’s answer to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as Hughes was the company’s editor and wrote most of the stories that appeared in its many (nearly forty) titles, under a variety of pseudonyms, and Whitney, who began his career drawing the Sandman in Adventure Comics in 1939, was ACG’s most prominent artist. However, Hughes ended his career answering letters of complaint for a New York department store and Whitney, an alcoholic, died in obscurity at some point in the 1970s (you know you died in obscurity when your biographers can’t even figure out exactly what year you died). Comics – don’t you just love ‘em?
This book has a very high recommended retail price of £37.99 / $49.95 but the Book Depository currently have it for a more reasonable £24.09 (compared to the Amazon price of £32.29). I bought my copy in a charity shop, last year, for £7.99.