Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lena (the) Hyena

Like most children of the 80s, I was emotionally scarred by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. And yeah, I don’t know what the creators were thinking with the whole Judge Doom reveal at the end either, aside from possibly fulfilling their part of some sort of dark pact with the American nightlight industry. It truly was a messed-up thing to unleash upon our young psyches. But as horrifying as Judge Doom was, it’s not the scene that haunted me. Now this may be one of those moments where I’m revealing more than I realize, but the scene that actually gave me nightmares starred a different scary toon: Lena Hyena.

If you don’t remember, Lena shows up in a scene in which Eddie is trekking through Toon Town in search of Jessica Rabbit. Eddie thinks he’s found her, but the sexy silhouette proves misleading: He’s actually just found Lena, a hag-faced anti-Jessica who reacts to Eddie’s presence with an unbridled lady lust not often seen in children’s cartoons. Eddie, of course, wants no part of her — really, no part — but Lena pursues him anyway. Something about her lusty, pop-eyed wild takes bothered me to the point that I had dreams about her chasing me down, making kissy-faces and showing me her weird lady underwear. Ahem.

Here’s the “A MAAAAAN?!” scene in case you don’t remember:

As with much of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, this scene is actually rooted in cartoon history, or at least thereabouts. A similarly named character appeared in the Al Capp comic strip Li’L Abner. (And in case you don’t follow me on my various social media, the title character is far hunkier and much less Baby Huey-esque than his name might imply. Just FYI.) In Abner, Lena was purportedly the ugliest woman in the world — even fouler than existing hag characters such as the witchy Nightmare Alice and the undateable Sadie Hawkins, the latter of whom the dance is named. From Wikipedia’s description:
Lena was so ugly that anyone who saw her was immediately driven mad. No sane person, therefore, could tell you what she looked like. After weeks of teasing his readers by hiding Lena's face behind “censored” stickers and strategically placed dialogue balloons, Capp invited fans to draw Lena in a famous nationwide contest in 1946.
That contest — which elicited over 500,000 entries and which was judged by a Justice League of beauty experts consisting of Frank Sinatra, Boris Karloff and Salvador Dali — was won by Basil Wolverton, whose take on Lena was truly, mind-bendingly gnarly.

If that image rings a bell — and it did with me, despite the fact that I didn’t grow up reading Li’l Abner — it’s probably because Wolverton’s uniquely awful take on ugly popped up in old MAD magazines, reprints of which I did read during my youth. Examples:

 And here’s a detailed look at that Lena sketch:

Comparatively, the Roger Rabbit take on Lena doesn’t look half bad. I can only imagine how scarred I’d have been had Lena Hyena been an animated version of Wolverton’s gross-out horrors.

Pop culture minutiae, previously:

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