Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

Highly Recommended: Two by Jules Feiffer

We in the comics world do not devote enough attention to the treasure who is Jules Feiffer.

I first encountered his work in the Sunday newspapers of my boyhood. where his Feiffer feature appeared weekly. I bought his 1979 proto-graphic-novel, Tantrum, and the next year I hied myself to the local cineplex to see Robert Altman’s film Popeye — lovingly written for the screen by Jules Feiffer. His 1993 illustrated novel, The Man in the Ceiling, was one of my memorable late-20th-Century reading experiences; a story about a boy who dreams of creating comic books, it strongly resonated with me, to the point where many friends and family members received copies as Christmas gifts that year. I delighted in his string of early-21st-Century children’s books with titles like I’m Not Bobby! and The House Across the Street. A decade ago I came full circle and bought Fantagraphics’s complete collection of Feiffer’s Village Voice strips that were the precursors to the material I first read as a youngster.

While Feiffer has devoted much of his career to drawing cartoons featuring normal, everyday men, women, and children and has rarely intersected with the adventure comics that remain at the heart of the business even today, it’s always been clear to me that Feiffer is One of Us, a comics geek who embraces the warp and woof of the medium and has absorbed the same “classics” that we have. If we had ever had the chance to share a drink with some of the notable talents with whom Feiffer has rubbed elbows — with Altman or Gay Talese or Mike Nichols — what would we say to them? What would we have in common with them? Ah, but if we had the opportunity to bend an elbow with Jules Feiffer, the conversation would likely flow faster than the bartender could fill our glasses. We’d talk about our favorite Caniff Terry and the Pirates sequences — compare and contrast the work of E.C. Segar and George Herriman — pull out of him the stories from his youngest days, just starting out in the business, when he assisted Will Eisner on The Spirit.

I understand that the odds I’ll ever shake hands with Feiffer are small, but I have been lucky enough to renew my acquaintance with him through his most recent works. I am taking this space to unreservedly recommend them to you. His two interconnected graphic novels, Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, are wonderful accomplishments that remind us anew of their creator’s singular talents.

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Back to the Shelves

Several years ago we took some time in this space to show you what my LOAC bookshelf looked like. I shelve my books in alphabetical order by author, or by publisher where that makes more sense — for instance, while my William Saroyans are under “S”, my Fantastic Fours are under “M”, with the rest of my Marvel Comics collections. My Library of American Comics titles are therefore under “L,” and then shelved alphabetically in a logical way (well, logical to me, anyway), as you can see:

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Steve Canyon: Still Swinging in the Sixties!

One of the key points I raised in my text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 8 was that Milton Caniff’s picaresque adventure strip was still a hot property as the Sixties began to unfold. The perceived “Communist threat” was a very real part of life during that period, and the nuclear specter hung heavily over citizens of many countries (having spent my single-digit childhood years in the ’60s, I clearly remember the bi-level department store in my hometown, with both ground-level and basement shopping, and how the stairwells leading down to the basement prominently displayed “Fallout Shelter” decals). We too often try to examine the works of the past from a modern-day sensibility, ignoring a simple but accurate truth: It Was a Different World Back Then. (And our society couldn’t have arrived where it is today without our grandparents, parents, and some of us living through the way it was then … but that’s a thought for another day and another forum).

While doing some advance work for Canyon Volume 9 — which will feature more never-before-reprinted stories, this time from the years 1963-64 — the power of the feature to serve as a “draw” was once again brought home to me as I saw the plethora of advertisements and promotions for the series that ran in various client newspapers. Here’s a small cross-section of them, sure to whet the appetite of any Caniffite:

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A Fantasy Comics Page for The Holiday That Gets No Respect

Comics creators sometimes gave nods to the calendar in their ongoing newspaper strips. Year-in and year-out, many comics did special installments of their features to commemorate Christmas and, a week later, the farewell to the old year and the welcoming of its successor. Comics with a strong streak of patriotism saluted holidays like Independence Day, Armed Forces Day, and for a time, V-E and V-J Days.

But Groundhog Day? Fuhgedaboudit. The comics trade showed no love to that special early February day when millions of hearty northerners, fatigued by battling weeks of the subzero cold, ice, and snow that Ole Man Winter loves to dish out, looked to the humble groundhog for a sign that spring might soon be on its way. An event that has its roots in the 19th Century and is worthy of being marked on each year’s new calendars never seemed to excite the cartoonists who offered readers their daily dose of excitement and humor.

What did comic strips offer their audiences on that day when the woodchuck was acclaimed for something other than chucking wood? We thought you’d never ask — so, just for you, we prepared this fantasy comics page from February 2, 1935 …

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Dog Days & Original Art: Canwell’s 2018 Twin Teases

Here’s hoping this still-New-Year is off to a fine start for our readers and all the visitors to this space! It’s been a mighty frosty start to 2018 here in New England (as it was in many parts of the country), where we tied the meteorological record for twelve consecutive days where the high temperature never topped twenty degrees. It’s been so cold in the greater Boston area that my intrepid dog, Gypsy, has consented to wearing the sweater my wife bought for her on December 29th (something I never thought she would do) —

Despite the wintry chill in my area, I’m working on a variety of LOAC projects that promise to make 2018 a hot year indeed! Let me offer you a tiny peek at what you’ll be seeing under our logo in the weeks and months ahead.

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2017: The LOAC Year in Review

The Library of American Comics marked its tenth year of publication this summer, and using this milestone as a launching point, 2017 was the year LOAC took the comics world by storm. The familiar “word balloon” logo was emblazoned on a wide range of products including t-shirts, coffee mugs, towels, baseball caps, and even lace doilies to drape over the back of sofas or love-seats. There were the LOAC events at major conventions on both coasts. The article on us (with the biographical sidebar about Dean) in that July issue of Entertainment Weekly. And how about …

Wait. None of that really occurred. Sorry — sorry!

Instead, what happened during 2017 was that LOAC continued its mission to collect a wide range of entertaining and significant newspaper comics in permanent hardcover editions, helping to preserve the “strips” portion of comics, one of the handful of truly native American artforms.

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Santa Shows Up Early at My Home

We’ve discussed previously in this space that I try to get a representative example of artwork from some of my favorite LOAC books so they can be displayed in my home (On My Walls). I’ve added to my modest collection this year, and recently I visited my old pals Brian and Sally at Rainbow Art and Framing and asked them to put together a couple new pieces for me. They recently called and had things ready for me.

Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to snag an Alex Raymond Flash Gordon¬†original, but my introduction to our fourth and final Flash/Jungle Jim volume touched upon the appearances of those characters in the post-Raymond years, and I was able to snag this cel from the late-1970s Filmation Flash cartoon. Here’s how it looks now that it’s hanging on one of my living room wall:

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A Holiday Born Fifty Years Ago

Thanksgiving is being celebrated in the U.S., with millions of travelers bound “over the river and through the woods” — if not to grandmother’s house, then to the home of some beloved family member. Air and rail travel have made trips of thousands of miles possible, transforming for many the official fourth-Thursday-of-November observance into a four-day holiday weekend.

Whether you’re staying close to home, crossing the country, or traveling some distance in between, may your Thanksgiving be a pleasant one — and may you gobble up this fantasy comics page from a Thanksgiving exactly fifty years old — from Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1967. It features familiar faces, as well as more esoteric comic strips, such as Born Loser by Art Sansom (the series was only two-and-a-half years old at this time, having debuted in May of 1965, though Sansom had previously worked on Chris Welkin – Planeteer and Vic Flint); Wayout by Ken Muse (not “Ben,” as this credit mistakenly indicates; you can learn more about Mr. Muse’s life and career¬†here); Mell Lazarus’s lesser-known series, Miss Peach; and The Berrys, by Carl Grubert.


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