by Zorikh Lequidre

Mr. Tawny

Strictly speaking, one could say that Tawky Tawny, the talking tiger was a "funny animal." After all, he was an anthropomorphic beast who spoke English, wore clothes, and walked on his hind legs. However, this popular character was unique among such creatures. He existed in the world of humans.

Tawky Tawny was created by writer Otto Binder and artist C.C. Beck in 1947. His first appearance in the story "Captain Marvel and the Talking Tiger" (Captain Marvel Adventures # 79, Dec. 1947) was relatively late in the history of the Big Red Cheese, but he soon became a fan favorite and proved himself to be a loyal, trustworthy pal to Billy Batson and Captain Marvel. By many accounts, he was the most human of characters in the Fawcett Universe, an eminently likeable creature with all the endearing strengths and weaknesses of a hardworking middle class guy.

His story began in a "wild region" (possibly India, indicated by the turbans on the loincloth-clad natives) where Mr. Tawny was fascinated by a hermit’s stories of life in the big city. Undeterred by the hermit’s disgust for civilization, the friendly feline stowed away on a ship bound for America. Once there the predictable terrified reactions towards a tiger walking down the street led to a confrontation with Captain Marvel. Mr. Tawny wound up in a zoo. The talking tiger escaped and, after unintentionally terrorizing the neighborhood while attempting to eat in a restaurant and buy clothes, literally bumped into Captain Marvel again. The good Captain, though startled at first by the idea that a tiger could talk, recognized Mr. Tawny's earnestness in wanting to fit into human society. In the spirit of fair play, Captain Marvel gave him assistance in getting a job. By the end of the tale, Mr. Tawny was an accepted and productive member of society, giving lectures at the local natural history museum.

During this story, artist C.C. Beck gradually changed Mr. Tawny's posture from that of a real tiger on all four legs, to an erect human posture, standing on his hind legs. It was the artistic skill of Beck that made the transformation so gradual that it was almost unnoticeable. By the end of the story it seemed perfectly natural that a talking tiger would walk, gesture, and wear clothes just like any human who happened to have furry orange paws and a tiger’s head.

In his second appearance, "Captain Marvel and the Return of Mr. Tawny" (Captain Marvel Adventures #82, March 1948) his origin and the reason for his ability to speak were revealed. Years ago in the jungle, a tiger cub's mother was shot by a hunter. The cub was found and adopted by Tom Todd, the young son of a missionary. It was Tom who gave him the name Mr. Tawny. When Mr. Tawny got older and bigger, he was accused of having killed a person. Tom was sure Mr. Tawny had not done it, and wished that the tiger could talk to him. Fortunately a local hermit (the same one from the first story) had invented a serum that gave the tiger the ability to speak like a human. Thus Tom was able to help Mr. Tawny clear his name. Through the course of the story, he was reunited with Tom Todd in the big city and cleared Tom's name of a crime he did not commit. This return of the favor was a heart-warming tale worthy of the best writing efforts of Otto Binder.

Mr. Tawny returned again in "Captain Marvel and Mr. Tawny’s New Home" (Captain Marvel Adventures #90, Nov. 1948). In this story Mr. Tawny tried to move into a new neighborhood where it turned out tigers were not wanted. Captain Marvel announce that the one thing he hated more than anything else was discrimination and prejudice, and by the end of the story the tiger was able to settle into his new home. In the last panel, however, Mr. Tawny was writing his name on his new mailbox when he realized he did not have a first name. A coupon was placed at the end of the story announcing a contest wherein readers would send in their suggestions for Mr. Tawny's first name, and it stated that the "winner will receive a handsome, full-color picture of Mr. Tawny and Captain Marvel."

Thousands of coupons and letters came in from all over the country. C.C. Beck recalled that it was an even greater response than that to the "Monster Society of Evil" serial. Two issues later, twice in the story “The Lionizing of Mr. Tawny” (Captain Marvel Adventurers #92, Jan. '49), Mr. Tawny mentioned the name contest. "Suggestions are piling up in response to my appeal for a first name, he said to Captain Marvel early on. "I'll pick out the winning entry soon."

Then, from the cover of Captain Marvel Adventures #96, a jubilant Mr. Tawny announced that the winning name had been chosen. "Hi Pals - I've picked a first name from the thousands you've sent in -- details inside!" The leadoff story of the issue ("Mr. Tawny Loses Faith in Mankind") gave a wonderful moment of connection between the real world of the readers and the fictional world of comic books. Mr. Tawny showed Captain Marvel the stacks of thousands of letters he had received with suggestions for his name. In the final panel, Captain Marvel and the grateful tiger held up a personal letter from Tawny to the readers “With heart-felt gratitude” he thanked them all for their participation and announced that readers Mary Garrisi and Pat Laughlin (both from Detroit, Mi.) were the winners. Throughout the story his new name was already being used: "Tawky" Tawny. The name was apparently an infantilism of the world "talky," referring to the tiger’s ability to speak.

Tawky Tawny settled into a comfortable middle-class existence, with a house in the suburbs, his job at the museum, and a penchant for suits with loud jackets. He proved to be an erudite speaker, occasionally exclaiming "you cut me to the quick" or some other such expression that proved his education and self-esteem. He was fiercely loyal to his friends, battling against Dr. Sivana in "Captain Marvel Battles the Plot Against the Universe" (Captain Marvel Adventures #100, Sept. 1949). The key element of almost all his stories, however, was the way he dealt with the various insecurities often felt by common folk. He would engage in such down-to-earth adventures as get-rich-quick schemes, struggling with his weight, and getting suckered into buying "personality potions." Yet by the end of each story, the virtues of hard work, honesty, and just being one’s self would win out, and he would remain the loveable, kind, generous, loyal, well-spoken, friendly fellow that everybody liked.

One key element of the Captain Marvel stories from Fawcett that Mr. Tawny facilitated was that of social issues, specifically racism. By having a cuddly, non-threatening, anthropomorphic tiger be the victim of prejudice, especially such a well-mannered, friendly, positive role model like Mr. Tawny, the idea of neighborhood housing discrimination seemed especially absurd, if not truly repugnant. The point in fact was that any discrimination or prejudice was wrong.

Who knows if this small statement for civil rights in any way influenced the movement that would change America in the 1950’s and ‘60’s? Although it may seem absurd today, the idea that every person, regardless of their appearance, deserves to live where they choose and an equal opportunity in society was a strong statement for its time. Bill Schelly points out in his biography of Binder Words of Wonder: The Life and Times of Otto Binder, the writer had made this statement before in his "Adam Link" stories, and that Binder truly felt it was an important message.

Throughout these stories, Captain Marvel was a supporting character. His powers would occasionally help Mr. Tawny get out of a jam or solve a mystery that the poor tiger was too self-involved to see, but the point of the story was the comedy of the man who was easily tempted to be what he was not.

In an article published in The Fawcett Companion, C.C. Beck claimed that Otto Binder based the character upon himself, and that the hard-working writer "had a lot of fun laughing at himself in the Mr. Tawny stories." John G. Pierce pointed out in the same book that older readers would have found much in common with the gentle jungle cat. "His occasional grumblings or dissatisfactions were excellent reflections of emotions most people have felt at one time or another." Stories would occasionally be introduced by a "Did you ever…" or "Who of us does not…" thus indicating that the protagonist (Mr. Tawny) was a representative of us all. Binder himself said in a 1974 interview with Matt Lage for the Fawcett Collector’s of America fanzine "We made Tawny as bumbling and loveable as we could, which led to reader sympathy…Tawny stories (were) like parodies of human life, showing our weaknesses."

After the demise of Fawcett Comics in 1953, an attempt was made to create a newspaper comic strip of Mr. Tawny without Captain Marvel. To this end six strips by Binder and Beck were drawn telling a story that was basically an adaptation of the story "Captain Marvel and Mr. Tawny’s Diet Dangers" (Captain Marvel Adventures #121, June 1951). Every syndicate to which it was offered rejected it. The explanation was that this type of humor strip had gone out of style. The demand was now for soap-opera-type strips. These samples saw print, finally, in Roy Thomas’ fanzine Alter Ego in the 1960’s, then later in Bill Schelly’s 2003 biography of Binder.

Though in only 23 stories from 1947 to 1953, Mr. Tawny was a beloved character and was part of DC Comics’ revival in 1972 and Jerry Ordway’s reboot in the 1990’s, about which more will be said later.

Outline of Captain Marvel history
Chapter 1: The Captain and the Major
Chapter 2: The Big Blue Guy
Chapter 3: The Big Red Guy
Chapter 4: Early Captain Marvel
Chapter 5: Powers and Personality
Chapter 6: Going Hollywood
Chapter 7: Friends and foes: The Lietenant Marvels
Chapter 8: Friends and Foes: Captain Marvel Junior
Chapter 9: Friends and Foes: Mary Marvel
Chapter 10: Friends and Foes: Mr. Tawny
Chapter 11: Friends and Foes: Dr. Sivana
Chapter 12: Mr Mind
Chapter 13: Friends and Foes: Other Foes
Chapter 14: Enter the Binder
Chapter 15: Superman V. Captan Marvel
Chapter 16


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