Bilkpoe (and fractured Stein)

The Zippy from the 5th, with writer Edgar Allan Poe (under the name Elgar Durwin Poboy) crossed with Army Sgt. Bilko from the tv show The Phil Silvers Show (in a mash-up of high culture and pop culture):


After these burlesques of Poe, today we get burlesques of Gertrude Stein:


No writer is safe.

Elgar Durwin Poboy and Evinrude Springsteen. #1 has a (rather demonic) caricature of Edgar Allan Poe in a Zippyan muumuu, and #2 has a caricature of Gertrude Stein, also in that muumuu. The names are absurd plays on the writers’ names: Elgar (the English composer Edward Elgar) for Edgar, Poboy (for po’boy, the New Orleans submarine sandwich) , and Durwin for Allan (probably an echo of the misnamings the character Endora on the tv show Bewitched came up with for her son-in-law Darrin — Delmore, Darryl, Darwin, Durwood, etc.);  Evinrude (the outboard motor company) for Gertrude and Springsteen (the singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen) for Stein.

Sgt. Bilko. From Wikipedia:

The Phil Silvers Show, originally titled You’ll Never Get Rich, is a sitcom which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1959 for 142 episodes, plus a 1959 special. The series starred Phil Silvers as Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko of the United States Army.

… The series was originally set in Fort Baxter, a sleepy, unremarkable U.S. Army post in the fictional town of Roseville, Kansas, and centered on the soldiers of the Fort Baxter motor pool under Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko. However, Bilko and his men seemed to spend very little time actually performing their duties — Bilko in particular spent most of his time trying to wheedle money through various get-rich-quick scams and promotions, or to find ways to get others to do his work for him. [Note the bilk ‘cheat, defraud’ in the name Bilko.]

While Bilko’s soldiers regularly helped him with his schemes, they were just as likely to become “pigeons” in one of his schemes. Nevertheless, Bilko exhibited an odd paternalism toward his victims, and would doggedly shield them from all outside antagonists. The sergeant’s attitude toward his men has been described thus: “They were his men and if anyone was going to take them, it was going to be him and only him.” Through it all, the platoon was generally loyal to Bilko despite their wariness of his crafty nature, and would depend on him to get them out of any military misfortune or outside mistreatment. In such circumstances, Bilko would employ the same psychological guile and chicanery he always used to outwit his suckers, but for good purposes.

Bilko’s swindles were usually directed toward (or behind the back of) Col. John T. Hall, the overmatched and beleaguered post commander who had early in his career been nicknamed “Melon Head”. Despite his flaws and weaknesses, Col. Hall would get the best of Bilko just enough to establish his credentials as a wary and vigilant adversary. The colonel would often be shown looking fretfully out his window, worried without explanation or evidence, simply because he knew that Bilko was out there somewhere, planning something. The colonel’s wife, Nell (Hope Sansberry), had only the kindest thoughts toward Bilko, who would shamelessly flatter her whenever he saw her.

Bilko and Hall were not always adversaries. In a famous 1956 episode, “The Case of Private Harry Speakup”, Bilko tries to help the Colonel set a speed record for inducting new recruits, which accidentally results in a recruit’s pet chimpanzee (whose failure to answer when addressed, “Hurry! Speak Up!” gets mistaken for his name) passing the medical and psychiatric exams, receiving a uniform, being formally sworn in, then honorably discharged minutes later to cover up the mistake. [Note the Tay-up in the second panel of #1. And the you meatballs there, pretty much the most extreme address term Bilko ever used to his men — this despite the fact that Army sergeants are notorious profane and rough on their men, and despite the fact that Silvers came to the show from a earlier career as a stand-up comedian, such performers being notoriously insultive of their audiences. He may have been a grifter, but Bilko was positively sweet.]

The first panel in #1 has Bilko; the second has one of his men, Pvt. Doberman; and the third has Col. Hall.

Bilko and Hall together:


The Poe sources. For the three passages in #1. Panel 1 is based on a familiar misquotation of Poe. From the Poe Museum’s site, a piece “Did Poe Really Say That?”:

“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” This quote is a Poe quote, just not as he stated it. Found in his short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” in the November 1845 issue of Graham’s Magazine, the statement is, “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” It is surprising the quote needed to be simplified to the form it is in today, when it was already quite simple to begin with. One definitely should pay attention to what Poe is saying. And it is probably best when reading supposed “Poe” quotes, to believe only half of what you see

Panel 2 is based on “The Raven”. From the Poetry Foundation site for theatpoem:

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more.”

And panel 3 is based on “Annabel Lee”. From the Poetry Foundation site for that poem:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

The Stein sources. For the four texts in #2. Panel 1 is based on this passage from Everybody’s Autobiography:

She took us to see her granddaughter who was teaching in the Dominican convent in San Raphael, we went across the bay on a ferry, that had not changed but Goat Island might just as well not have been there, anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.

And the panel mentions Wolfie’s Rascal House in Miami, which in fact is no longer there. From Wikipedia:

Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House was a Jewish delicatessen located at the intersection of 172nd Street and Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, which opened in May, 1954 and closed on March 30, 2008. Sporting a large neon sign in the front, the building was designed in the 1950s Miami Modern style which is common to much of the northern precincts of the Miami-area beaches.

The establishment catered to vacationing New Yorkers of Jewish descent; PanAmerican Airlines offered Wolfie’s Cheesecake as a menu item on flights between Miami and New York, while Northeast Airlines had the restaurant cater its same flights exclusively.


Panel 2 is based on this passage from Three Lives:

You look ridiculous if you dance, you look ridiculous if you don’t dance, so you might as well dance.

Panel 3 is based on this passage from Everybody’s Autobiography:

I rarely believe anything, because at the time of believing I am not really there to believe.

And panel 4 is based on a very short text with a complex history. In its original version, in Stein’s poem Sacred Emily, the line goes:

Rose is a rose is a rose.

and Rose is a person’s name. But Stein varied the line in later writings, to the version people recall today:

A rose is a rose is a rose.

(which is about the essence of being a rose, and its unvarying nature). The Zippy version adds a surrealist allusion to Pablo Picasso’s Cubism.

I suspect that another writer will soon be dragged into the Zippy spotlight.

One Response to “Bilkpoe (and fractured Stein)”

  1. John Baker Says:

    Fascinating post, and another example of how much can be needed to understand a comic strip, although I suppose Zippy is not really a fair example of that. Is it just my imagination, or does the Annabel Lee parody also suggest Robert W. Service?

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