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Found in Translation: The Pink Panther

Some of my favorite comics as a little kid weren’t necessarily always the superhero stuff. No, I found just as much enjoyment out of the offerings from Gold Key/Whitman, usually the licensed adaptations of some of my then-favorite cartoons, books like BEEP BEEP! THE ROAD RUNNER, UNCLE SCROOGE and THE PINK PANTHER. What’s odd when looking back on them now is just how much of the fundamental personalities of those cartoons had to be changed, sometimes drastically, to make them work in the comics format. And yet as a kid, that never even occurred to me; never even blinked at it. For example, let’s take a look at the aforementioned BEEP BEEP! THE ROAD RUNNER. Clearly, the silent battle of wits between the Coyote and the Roadrunner couldn’t sustain a monthly comic-book series all by itself. So in the comic-book version, the Road Runner had a wife and three sons, all of whom spoke only in rhyming couplets as they avoided the perpetual attempts of the Coyote to capture and devour them. This, naturally, made perfect sense to me at the time.

For a better example of how a popular cartoon had to be changed for its comic-book translation, let’s take a look at a specific issue: in his case, THE PINK PANTHER #37 (September 1976). As was the case with all of the Gold Key/Whitman material, the stories went out uncredited, so I unfortunately have no idea as to the identity of the creators, although artist Warren Tufts is often credited with drawing most of the PINK PANTHER comics, and the examples herein look like the distinctive style of most other PANTHER comics I remember reading as a kid, so I’m inclined to say what we’re about to look at is Tufts’ work as well.

For those who may not be familiar with the original Pink Panther cartoons, they were generally silent, gag-filled affairs involving the Pink Panther engaging in some sort of competitive or antagonistic activity with the ubiquitous Little White Big-Nosed Man, all to the jazzy riffs of composer Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme.

For example, in what’s probably the best Pink Panther cartoon, director Friz Freleng’s “The Pink Phink,” the Pink Panther and the Little Man each attempt to paint the same house, with the Little Man painting in blue and the Panther in, logically, pink.

However, with the comics, you don’t have the music to fall back on, or as many opportunities for visual sight gags, and a completely mute lead character in a monthly comic just doesn’t seem like a viable option. So while the basic premise would be roughly the same (“the Pink Panther gets a job as a babysitter/TV chef/pool cleaner, and hilarity ensues”), the focus was now just as much on puns, jokes and dialogue as on visual gags, if not more. And while the jokes were often corny, it has to be admitted, they were still pretty funny:


What really strikes me about these Pink Panther comics is just how artistically stylish they were, in addition to still being pretty damned funny. Let’s take a closer look at one, “Le Chef Pink,” In which the Pink Panther is preparing a gourmet meal for his foxy panther girlfriend.


Look at that groovy ’70s style. As the evening progresses, the Pink Panther changes into something a bit more elegant:


The monocle and smoking jacket crack me up here, as does the fact that he’s apparently waxed his whiskers. He then presents the meal to his ladyfriend, who, it must be admitted, really seems to be into it:


Before she passes out in a fit of cuisine ecstasy, she arranges for the Pink Panther to get a guest spot on a local TV cooking show.


Unfortunately, it seems that the Pink Panther’s cooking credentials may just have been a tad overblown:


Nevertheless, he accepts the gig, and begins the program with his patented “Nutty Cheese Balls”:


I think I saw this on a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch, didn’t I?

The Panther continues his cooking lesson (including a hilarious shot of a chicken upside down in a cookpot, feet and all), making sure to show off his secret: organization:


Topping things off with a particularly explosive brand of Cherries Flambe brings the telecast to something of a standstill:


This tended to be how most of the Pink Panther’s occupations would turn out, be it babysitter…


…or pool cleaner:


Sure, these stories were predictable, but they were also predictably funny. In today’s comics market where comedy is practically extinct, I’d take a little of that predictability any day.

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