Thrilling Monkey Tales!!!
A capsule history
When Dynamo Comics debuted its THRILLING MONKEY TALES series in the fall of 1957 (cover date February-March 1958), there was no obvious reason for excitement – science fiction anthology comics were a dime a dozen (well…they were a dime apiece, but you know what I mean), all but ubiquitous at the drug store spinner rack. All THRILLING MONKEY TALES had to distinguish it from its competitors was the promise of thrilling monkeys; or at least thrilling tales about monkeys, thrilling or otherwise. Dynamo seemed to gamble on the presumption that monkeys were themselves inherently thrilling, and apparently – judging from the lackluster hackwork that filled the pages of its first year – they were on to something: TMT sold well enough to go monthly with its April 1960 issue (#37), and sales only got bigger as Dynamo marched into the age of Camelot.
The first issue of THRILLING MONKEY TALES had not been numbered #1, but #30. The series debuted as HELL AWAITS THE GUILTY in October-November 1951, a high-selling crime/horror/suspense anthology title that ended abruptly with #17 (June-July 1954). Issue #18 (October-November 1954) featured the adventures of an Archie Comics-style heroine named ROBIE RENARDE, and was retitled accordingly. Intriguingly, Robie – other than being a redhead – bore a striking resemblance to a real-life (brunette) pinup girl who had briefly had a Dynamo series in 1952. Robie’s single-issue adventure was extremely difficult to read due to extensive "edits" made throughout the story, notably a number of awkwardly pasted word balloons (a few of which do not completely obscure the original dialogue) and occasionally quite sloppy applications of Wite-Out and Zip-A-Tone "shadowing" to the art (these all occur near unmentionable areas of Robie’s rather modest anatomy). Issue #19 (June-July 1955) reprinted the WWII adventures of patriotic wrestling heroes LUCHA LIBERTY, and was retitled accordingly; #19 sold moderately well, but the two issues of original Lucha Liberty material that followed (set in then-modern times) failed to hold onto an audience.
Issues #22 and #23 – whatever they featured – appear to have been pulped; no known copies exist, and the accounts of those who claim to have read them are suspect at best.
Beginning with #24 (February-March 1956), the series began to cycle through variations on a theme – it first became the adventure anthology THRILLING TALES, an unfortunately generic title for a series that ran the gamut from western to science fiction to war story to police procedural. It is hard to say whether this was a bold experiment or simply an instance of Dynamo unloading a wide array of inventory material all at once. The western and the sci-fi tales must have been most popular, for #25 appeared as the unlikely THRILLING TWO-GUN COWBOY OUTER SPACE TALES, a title the series would maintain until #27. The comparatively prosaic TALES THAT THRILL! was next, a sure sign that Dynamo had absolutely no idea where to turn. In desperation, THRILLING TALES returned with #29… but what was beneath those desperate words – that cover – made it plain where the book was headed, even if its publishers didn’t know. Yet.
The THRILLING TALES title surely grabbed no one (it never had before). But its feature story, "MONKEYS TAKE MANHATTAN!!" – shown off by a striking cover depicting a swarm of heavily armed spider monkeys in battle fatigues, knives clenched in their teeth, using ropes and spike-treaded combat boots to climb the Empire State Building while office workers stare out its windows in screaming terror – surely did. One of the fightin’ monkeys carries a huge, fluttering flag (it has a picture of a monkey on it) that we presume he intends to plant atop the Empire State; this one barks out: "I claim this land for… Monkeytopia!!!" These words, as it happened, were prophetic.
When Dynamo saw the sales figures on THRILLING TALES #29 – to say nothing of letter after letter praising "MONKEYS TAKE MANHATTAN!!!" – its course was clear. THRILLING MONKEY TALES #30 hit newsstands across America two months later, and although two of its four stories had nothing at all to do with monkeys (but did feature monkeys as background characters, clearly drawn into the stories by a different artist), three were terrible, and one was a reprint of a story from TALES THAT THRILL! #28 ("ORRGO THE UNSPEAKABLE!!" … except that Orrgo, originally a giant rock monster, was now a gigantic monkey, and one obviously drawn by the same uncredited artist who had drawn the incidental monkeys into the rest of the issue, and whose monkeys also sort of looked like dogs), it was a smash success.
Over the next few years, THRILLING MONKEY TALES told us of the monkey secret agent who assassinated Hitler; of the monkey into which Hitler’s brain was implanted; of the brilliant surgeon monkey who was forced to implant the brain by circumstances beyond his control; and of the heroic monkey who managed to kill Hitler’s brain without killing the monkey into which the brain had been implanted; of the monkeys who conquered Mars; of the monkeys from Mars; of monkey Vikings and monkey race car drivers and monkeys with wings and monkeys who hunted humans for sport and humans who hunted monkeys for sport but learned the error of their ways when Orrgo the Unspeakable (still a monkey) hunted them. The mileage in this idea was really pretty startling.
Of course, all most of you are really interested in is THRILLING MONKEY TALES #80 (March 1963) – an issue that came about solely because a little rival comics company had managed to get superheroes to sell again! But what was the angle? After all, Dynamo had only ever had a spandex hit with LUCHA LIBERTY…
Well, I think you can guess the rest! THRILLING MONKEY TALES FEATURING EL GORGO! #83 (June 1963) was the first issue that gave the big guy cover billing; by #96, he went from being the book’s lead story to having all twenty-four glorious pages to himself! But soon that wasn’t even enough – and now here we are at an all-new #1, with a title that won’t ever change – EL GORGO! The most thrilling monkey of them all!!!
Great googly moogly!
June 1, 1968