Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

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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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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Echoing Caniff

Other media were ahead of comics when it came to putting rampant hormones in front of their audiences. In the movies, ribald blonde bombshell Mae West cast the handsome but essentially unknown Cary Grant in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong, a box-office smash and Oscar nominee. West and Grant teamed again (regrettably, for the last time) the very next year in I’m No Angel, while in publishing, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller was released in France and James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice in the States. The steamy sexuality in both books created sensations and scandals — Cancer was banned in the U.S., while Boston took the same action with regard to Postman.

The comics, by contrast, kept most of their romantic relationships at the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald level — that is, until Milton Caniff devoted a week of 1936 Terry and the Pirates dailies to pushing gallant he-man Pat Ryan and the alluring-but-frustrated Burma into each others arms.

The climax of Caniff’s famous TERRY sequence occurs in these two strips, from March 19 and 20, 1936

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Septembers LOAC Wheel of Fortune: Just For Laughs! Redux

I know, I know — I said I had something planned for September, so we’d do our second humor-based spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune later in the autumn. I weighed the options and decided the idea I had for September would work even better if I held it back until October. That certainly appealed to me, since now I had a clear path to doing our focus on our funniest “funnies” in back-to-back installments. Hoo-hah!

You’ll notice that just before and just after our fiftieth release, we offered two delightful single-volume books, Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and the Little King and that splendid rare find, Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was. (I visited the Chuck Jones Gallery during a June visit to San Diego — a highly-recommended destination, if you’re a Jones-booster like me!) I also like to count myself in the forefront of Cliff Sterrett fans, so it’s a grand pleasure that we have offered readers Polly and Her Pals in two beautiful oversized “Champagne Edition” offerings, plus a year’s worth of dailies from 1933 in one of our LOAC Essentials books. Like Blondie, the earliest installments of The Family Circus are something I’m proud we’ve collected and preserved for 21st Century audiences. The humor offerings in our second hundred titles is weighted toward Walt Disney offerings, and notice that as the year has progressed, as Silly Symphonies Volume 4 indicates, our march toward our 200th Library of American Comics book is getting mighty close to that goal. Here’s the list, in order of release:

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The August LOAC Wheel of Fortune: Just for Laughs

We continue journeying toward our two hundredth Library of American Comics release with the August spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune – but before we give it a whirl, these few (semi-) serious paragraphs on a humorous subgenre –

I noted with interest that we’ve devoted almost twenty-five percent of the total LOAC output to some of the funniest of the funnies – and well over that percentage if you consider “story strips” like The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Baron Bean, Bungle Family, and Gasoline Alley to be comedy first and narrative continuity second. (I’ve chosen not to do that, to keep the list of titles under consideration to a manageable amount.) From dailies like 1933’s Polly and Her Pals and Herriman’s Krazy Kats that were published the next year (both collected in LOAC Essentials volumes) to more contemporary series such as Bobby London’s run on Popeye in Thimble Theater, The Library of American Comics has reprinted the crème de la rib-tickling crème. That commitment will continue, as you’ll see in the soon-to-be-released Screwball! book that will have you *plop!*ping with laughter into the nearest comfy chair (at least, we hope that’s where you land — *plop!*ping down onto a hardwood floor can hurt!).

Some of the LOAC parade of comedy also boasts historical significance – think of Dagwood Bumstead’s hunger strike and his eventual wedding to Miss Boopadoop in Blondie, Volume 1 – and some of it has sprung from our agreement with Disney (as you’ve surely noticed, the first word in Silly Symphonies is, well – Silly), but those are extra benefits added to comics designed to provoke smiles, chuckles, and out-and-out guffaws as they brighten up your day.

We have so many humor collections in our backlist, we’ll split it in twain and do two funny-funnies spins of the ol’ LOAC Wheel of Fortune, one this month and the other later in autumn (we have something planned for the September spin that is specifically tied to that month, so stay tuned for that!). Here is our August list of contenders …

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More About the Man Called Fritz

Last time in this space, we offered you insights into the life of talented artist Fred Kida offered by one of his sons and one of his grandchildren. The focus of that companion piece was the relationship between Mr. Kida – who was called “Fritz” by his family and close friends – and his wife, Elly. The couple was together over six decades.

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Fritz & Elly: A Love Story

Earlier this spring we released Spider-Man Volume 5, featuring the comic strip adventures of Marvel’s amazing arachnid from 1985-86. In preparing the text feature for the book I was lucky enough to gain additional insights into the life and career of one of the often-unheralded Spidey newspaper creators, Fred Kida. I got them from the most reliable sources available – via interviews with Paul Kida, one of Fred’s sons, and his granddaughter, Lani! One of the first things I learned was Fred’s nickname.

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Out of This World in July with The LOAC Wheel of Fortune

In keeping with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 — and in celebration of Star Wars Volume 3 winning the 2019 Eisner Award in its category of “Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips” (grateful thanks are extended to all who voted for it) — the theme of our July spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune is space opera. Here are our sixteen books that belong in that subgenre, in the order they were released:

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