In '40s America, the House of Un-American Activities Committee set forth an agenda to shake loose those morally compromised from the thriving American theater and arts communities. This inquiry, after a series of highly publicized trials resulted in the Hollywood Blacklist, a list containing more than 300 entertainers, each deemed connected, or sympathetic to Communist ideology. It seems an unlikely platform, but author Mark Russell chooses this stage and the backdrop of McCarthyism for his 2018 re-invention of Saturday morning cartoon staple, Snagglepuss.
Reimagined as a gay playwright loosely based on Tennessee Williams, Snagglepuss lives two lives, each of which is threatened by the US response to the Red Scare. Those around him, people he idolizes and looks up to as free thinkers, are targeted and blacklisted by the HUAC, with Snagglepuss lining up next in their crosshairs. What follows is an empowering, but gloomy drama, one might be hard pressed to connect with its Hanna Barbera origins.
Still, superstar author Mark Russell connects the dots with persistent wit and resourcefulness. He incorporates familiar anthropomorphic icons such as Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw into this LGBT tale of tragedy and woe. Yes kids, the gang's all here. While the series is absolutely devastating during its dramatic highs, the nods to American culture and politics will keep the informed reader smiling, while Snagglepuss’ ever dry dialogue will flex that smile into a an ear-to-ear grin. These elements build to a climax equal parts hopeless and uplifting, with anti-fascist themes engraved on its sleeve-worn heart.
Anti-fascism should not be a subversive or unexpected motif, but by coupling the character with the fear driven witch hunts of the McCarthy era, Russell creates stark parallels to the ever looming threat of fascist ideology. The truth is that it’s always at our door, and when free-speech and art are challenged, we must recognize suppression for what it is, and respond in kind by resisting fear and empowering our cultural outliers. I would like to remind you again, that we are still talking about that funny pink lion with the bow tie. Heavens to Murgatroyd and all that.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is a drama steeped in the very real sensationalism of America’s half-century. There is an incredible amount of heart in this book, with the blood and tears of an impassioned lion man bursting from its pages. Its conclusion is just as clever as its opening pages, and is something every American should consider reading. After this undeniable success and the earlier brilliance of his Flintstones book, I wait with bated breath for which forgotten property Russell chooses to next reinvigorate.