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A Personal Note, If I May

I think I met Russell Steele three times. He worked in the film and TV industry, part of the horde of behind-the-cameras technical and business staff who support most productions. Russell plied his trade on motion pictures such as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Phantom, and The Sum of All Fears, as well as such TV productions as Agent Carter and the current version of Hawaii Five-O.

He was also the college roommate of one of my oldest friends (and Gene Colan’s biographer), Tom Field — which is why, when Tom sent me a message early Sunday morning that Russell had passed away at age 53, it gave me pause and has since prompted me to pen these few words.

Just a few months ago, in August, I traveled back to central Maine to share an afternoon with this motley crew (I’m the motley fool in the middle, wearing the black shirt):

The Duck Soupers (abridged). At right, back to front: Dave, Mike, and Tom. At left, back to front: Doug, me, Walter. Missing from Photo: Lee, and Howard, who left us in 2014.

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The Punjab Magic Whistle!

In the Little Orphan Annie strip of February 24 1935 (reprinted in Vol. 6 of our series) a mysterious giant wearing a turban appears and offers to help the little mophead chop wood. It’s the first time Annie meets Punjab. When she offhandedly comments how nice it was to receive his help Punjab gives her a magic whistle and tells her that any time she needs his help, all she has to do is blow it and he would immediately appear. She is frightened and apprehensive because she has no idea who he is, but takes the whistle nonetheless, and Punjab disappears. A few days later, on March 3rd, Annie wonders if the whistle would really bring Punjab to her aid and blows it. Poof! Punjab appears out of nowhere! Later that month at a key moment in the classic Eli Eon saga, she blows the whistle yet again. Same result.

Eighteen years later, in strips reprinted in LOA Vol. 16, Annie needs help saving the life of a friend. In the June 1, 1953 strip she unexpectedly finds the magic whistle in her pocket and blows it. Punjab appears again! When asked where he came from, Punjab simply stated, “When the little princess blows the magic whistle, I appear.”

During the height of LOA licensed merchandise in the 1930s one manufacturer produced Little Orphan Annie sweaters, including “Magic Punjab Whistles” as premium incentives for retailers ordering full boxes of sweaters. So far as is known the whistles were never offered as for-sale items. Further, because the whistles don’t bear any markings, today’s collectors are generally unaware of them. Only one sweater box complete with five whistles is known to exist, making the “Magic Punjab Whistle” an extremely rare collectible.

Thanks to our good friend Richard Olson for giving us the background and scanning his sweater box and whistles for all to see!

 

Leaves Are Falling, Wheels Are Spinning

Our recently-released Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny is a major milestone on the LOAC Road to 200, and as we have done each month during our drive toward that 200th release, we’ve created a theme that allows us to load a cross-section of our books into the LOAC Wheel of Fortune, give ‘er a spin, and spotlight one randomly-chosen past book from the line.

October is a time of endings and beginnings. Major league baseball wraps up with its yearly postseason blast even as the harvest season concludes in many parts of the country, closing farm stands and making local fresh produce a memory throughout the long cold-weather months. Still, Hallowe’en’s spooks and spirits usher in the late-year holiday season and both the NBA and NHL start their own regular seasons, so October signals renewal, at least in some respects.

With that thought in mind we looked at our list of cartoonists to find those who were born in the month of October, as well as those who passed away in this month. It was an eclectic list: Lyman Young, of Tim Tyler’s Luck fame, was an October baby, as were Alex (Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim, Rip Kirby) Raymond and Bil Keane, original ringleader of the Family Circus. October was the month when we lost Jack (King Aroo) Kent, Noel Sickles, Gumps creator Sid Smith, and  Jiggs and Maggie’s referee, George McManus. When we extracted their titles from the complete LOAC roster, we had this list, in the order of their release:

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Rare Sparky Watts Screwball Strips…or Who Put the Boody in Rogers, Steve?

SCREWBALL! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny will be in stores and on sale tomorrow! To whet your appetite, here’s another Guest Blog by the book’s author, Paul C. Tumey

Before he became a soldier, Gordon “Boody” Rogers fought the Third Reich with pen and ink. In his Sparky Watts daily strip, he put his unlikely hero to work fighting Hitler. In his singular bawdy screwball style, Boody Rogers has Sparky combat Hitler by going to bed with him!

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Episode 015 with special guest Paul Tumey

This month, Kurtis talks with Paul Tumey about his new book, Screwball: The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny! Paul is an expert on platinum and golden age humor comics, in particular a genre that he has labeled “screwball”! The discussion includes talk about well-known cartoonists such as Opper and Herriman as well as forgotten cartoonists like Clare Dwiggins and Gene Ahern.

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