The very existence of Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles feels subversive. Comic creators Mark Russell (writer) and Mike Feehan (pencils) took classic Hanna-Barbera characters and used them as a platform to talk about institutionalised homophobia in the 50s with harsh echoes for today.
Reframing the pink, theatre loving, fourth-wall breaking cougar (clearly coded gay in the cartoons) as a Tennessee Williams-styled superstar playwright in the middle of the early 50s ‘Lavendar Scare’, Snagglepuss navigates the opening of his Broadway play while the House Committee on Un-American Activities works to take down “subversives” all around him.
The story is replete with historical nods and cameos from famous faces of the time (Dorothy Parker, Marilyn Munroe, Arthur Miller and a thinly-veiled Clint Eastwood to name a few). In this world, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw drink at Stonewall and live their lives in the closet, as so many gay men were forced to do. Snagglepuss goes out in public with his wife, before heading to the Village to drink with his Cuban boyfriend Pablo.
Russell turns Snagglepuss’s animated quips into the witicisms worthy of Oscar Wilde, sharp and distracting turns of phrase that entertain his friends and infuriate his enemies. Huckleberry Hound has every reason to be depressed – forced to relocate cities and start a new life after being outed and Quickdraw McGraw is torn between living his life and his career in a homophobic police force. The Hanna-Barbera sheen gives colour and light to what is a dark and desperate tale, an obnoxious part of history that destroyed many real lives.
In the context of 2018 when the book was released, there was an instant timeliness to the rise of right-wing politics in the United States, and re-reading it now in 2020 the warnings are even clearer. Pablo’s speech to Snaggletooth about Cuba was a clear warning shot about the rise of populist leaders, and brings to mind Russell T. Davies’ Years & Years with its warnings of “clowns”.
The art (pencils by Mike Feehan, inks by Mark Morales, Sean Parsons and José Marzán Jr, colours by Paul Mounts) is crisp and expressive, and makes the book feel contemporary. It’s luscious to look at, blending just enough cartoonish elements to tip the hat to its origins without making it feel childish in the slightest.
In 2019 GLAAD awarded Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles its Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book, beating out some major competition from the likes of Marvel Comics’ Iceman, Runaways and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra series’s, indie blockbusters Lumberjanes and Strangers In Paradise, and DC Comics own Batwoman. Each of the competition are brilliant books, but there is something really powerful about Exit Stage Left that feels unique. Find it. Read it. This is the best kind of blend of franchise character with genuine storytelling.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is published by DC Comics and is available through your local, independent bookseller, specialist comic book store or online.