Sometimes we just want to talk about old comics we found in bargain bins or antique stores or in our garages. Is that so wrong? Today we bring you RJ Casey’s debut at Loser City, an excited look back at the obscure couldabeen hit comic series Pink Flamingos, published by Simon & Schuster in the wake of their Maus success. But as Casey discovers, it couldn’t possibly be further away from Maus, instead it’s like a mad combo of Charlie’s Angels and Miami Vice, which only leaves Casey dreaming of a reality where Pink Flamingos was a smash hit.
Pink Flamingos is a comic about teen girls aimed at grade-school girls seemingly written by a hard-boiled old man. It’s glamor-shot-ready gangs getting down to brass tacks. It’s 90210 meets Dragnet. It’s those hardcover books in hair salons come to life. Ladies and gentlemen, frankly, we’ve got a fumbled franchise on our hands. Pink Flamingos could have been huge.
There are two major peripheral factors at play here outside the story. The first is that this comic is published by Simon & Schuster. The sweet smell of legitimacy still wafting off the previous year’s Maus, I’m sure this downtown publisher wanted to get in the newfangled graphic novel game in a big way. Then why not pick from the bin of never ending pitches and stalled scripts from their friends on basic cable? Pink Flamingos is, without a doubt, originally written for the TV screen. They even frame tidbits like “Int. Warehouse” or “Ext. Docks – Night” in caption blocks on each page.
The comic begins with the classic opening gambit: branding. Lana, the risky blonde model, rides her boat through the wake of Palm Beach. Get out of the way, literal pink flamingos in the water! When you’re driving a speedster with “a small decal of a pink flamingo” on the side you’ve got no time to heed to the wildlife in front of you.
You’ve just got to slide into your Pink Flamingos leather jacket, put in your Pink Flamingos earrings, and cruise your troubles away. “Is this visual integration, or what?” is an actual line from the book. Did I mention that this comic is fantastic?
You see, Lana’s made a raw deal with Joey. Our slick mystery man gave Lana a fur coat worth “$50,000” — Lana thought it was a gift, but Joey claims it was just a temporary prop to further her blossoming cat-walking career. Joey gives her two options: either give back the mink or spend a night in his bed. What’s a girl to do? Personally, I would probably return the coat because Joey’s a goon, but Lana chooses Door C, which is getting your hip motorcycle friends Carla, Amber, Jackie, and Jody together for a night ride. They intimidate him by shaking loose their glowing manes and revving their engines until he’s out of there. Oh yeah, Joey’s also sleeping with Jody’s mom.
Nothing makes sense in the best, most-’80s way possible. Every two pages, you enter a new scene, a new location. We get to know Jackie, 18, the intern at local WKTV, writing news reports and running the shots. Amber’s a waitress, Jody’s an angsty socialite, and Carla sings lead in a band with a “Latino/Funk sound.” All they want to do is find love, shop for shoes, and take down the vicelord of South Florida. The ladies hatch a plan that involves filming Joey conducting inconspicuous business on a yacht. They see him receive a suitcase full of cash, so they got him dead to rights. His face is plastered all over the news and now he’ll learn his lesson never to ask for loaned coats.
William Rieser is the artist of this book. He makes no attempt at motion and we’re all the better for it. Rieser’s pages give me the sense that he was a commercial and fashion illustration ingénue, and this was just another great gig for him to grace the world with hairstyles and Hawaiian shirts. The characters hold model poses and change outfits in every scene. In one panel Jackie is donning a plunging black jumpsuit with golden metal cuffs, Jody’s has on a checkered top and zebra print skirt, and Carla’s rocking a red evening gown, gloves and all. Backgrounds are usually teal and canary blocks of color with the occasional palm tree outline. Crayons and markers were used to color and it gives an appealing texture that isn’t seen in current comic books. The captions are green, the thought bubbles are pink, and signs are neon. Visualize the woman on the cover of Duran Duran’s Rio sipping from a bowling alley “jazz” cup and you’ll begin to picture the pastel panels in all their glory.
From what I know of the ’80s, record executives always had a contract on hand and an ear out for the next Kajagoogoo. Luckily for Carla, one exec was lurking around the huge empty warehouse on the docks her band practices in and now she’s got a deal. Next stop, New York! But not without her friends, of course. I’m not sure a sequel to this book exists or not, but it was teased on the back. The synopsis goes a little something like this: “… you’ve got to pay a price for love and success in the big city … and the girls aren’t so sure they want to pay.” They’ve really got to stop accepting handouts.
Pink Flamingos is one of history’s great “what ifs”. What if models were perfectly cast as this crew of flatfoot fashionistas? What if we were tuned into Pink Flamingos every Thursday at 8? What if a Pink Flamingos series of original graphic novels shaped the direct market for years to come? What if I was drinking coffee out of a Pink Flamingos thermos as we speak? Just like the whereabouts of that fur coat, the world will never know.
RJ Casey is a writer and co-founder of the small comic book publishing behemoth Yeti Press. He lives in Seattle and works for Fantagraphics Books. His musings on art can be found on his blog “I Like That” and follow him on twitter at @rjcaseywrites