Author Archive | Bruce Canwell
My wife and I bought our first bags of Hallowe’en candy today, gearing up for the hordes of ghoulies and ghosties who’ll be shouting, “Trick or treat!” at our front door at the end of the month. It’s easy to get in the swing of All Hallows around here — I don’t even need to see Hallowe’en-themed comic strips, like this 1980 grin from Tom Batiuk, to get me ready for this most innocently-fun of all holidays:
No, it’s easy for us to get in the Hallowe’en spirit because our neighbors down the street annually decorate their lawn in all manners of the macabre — inflatables (some of them over seven feet tall!), motion-activated exhibits, fog machines — you name it, they’ve probably done it during one Hallowe’en season or another.
Here’s a taste of how it looks in my neighborhood once the sun goes down …
So I’m busily working away on the text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 8 (a juicy assemblage of material that includes Milton Caniff turning real-life incidents into story fodder!) and I get this e-mail from my dear, long-time friend Doug Thornsjo. If you read the Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim you got a taste of Doug’s writing (and his voluminous knowledge of movie serials) in Volume 2, in which he produced an article about Buster Crabbe’s three chapterplay turns as Flash.
Doug knew that in Canyon we had provided some coverage of the Ideal toy line based on Milton Caniff’s high-flying colonel, items like the Jet Helmet …
It was a gala day in LOAC-land when we announced that our eleventh LOAC Essentials volume would reprint a mid-1940s selection of Edwina’s terrific Cap Stubbs & Tippie. This book represents the culmination of about a decade of planning. Let me explain that perhaps-startling statement …
I was first introduced to Edwina’s delightful view of small-town life in 1987, when I bought my copy of the twenty-fifth issue of Nemo magazine.
ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16TH: Dean reports that he’s back home, with full services restored. Now, if only Hurricane Maria doesn’t follow Irma’s path …
ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH: Still no electricity at Dean and Lorraine’s home, but they’ve “packed up the computers” and relocated to a hotel with full services. So LOAC is back up and running — in fact, Dean sent me Rich Handley’s text feature for Star Wars Volume 2 so I can edit it. In a word: Hoo-hah! (Or is that two words?)
ON MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 11TH: A fast update from Dean that was as brief as it was welcome: “No power, but AOK.” More updates as I receive them!
… As Hurricane Irma bears down on the state of Florida.
Here in New England my wife Krista and I are following storm coverage with fingers crossed, since we both have family members in The Sunshine State. Krista’s mother and step-father have buttoned up their home and driven north, crossing the border to escape Irma’s fury, while my sister, her family, and my mother are going to ride it out in a sturdy hotel (concrete construction). The hotel has its own generators, so they’re hopeful they’ll retain power and air conditioning under even the worst conditions.
LOAC’s Creative and Art Directors, Dean Mullaney and Lorraine Turner, are also Florida residents; they’re preparing to weather the blow in their home. Along with their neighbors, they realized the best place for patio furniture was submerged in the swimming pool, so on Friday, September 8th, Dean sent me these pictures of his handiwork:
A situation like this gives one pause to think of not only those in Florida who’ll be touched by the passage of Hurricane Irma, but also those in the Caribbean islands who have already suffered her wrath and are in dire need, as well as those in Texas and Louisiana who are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. If you have the means to contribute to the relief effort, you may want to consider a donation to The American Red Cross.
Whether or not you can help aid the hurricane victims, I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Dean, Lorraine, and all the persons in Florida as much luck as they can get, and share Krista’s and my hopes that they’ll get through this major storm with as little damage and disruption as possible. I’ll post an update in the days ahead as I get new information …
Among that circle of long-time friends I’ve referenced in this space on several occasions is Tom Field, perhaps best known in comics circles as the biographer of “Gentleman” Gene Colan (1926-2011). Tom and I both cut our comics teeth on late Silver Age Marvel Super-Heroes — thanks to Stan Lee’s inspired marketing and promotions, we grew up thinking of the talents behind those books by their first names. To us they were Jack and John (Buscema and Romita), Neal and Barry and, yes, Gene. I was introduced to Colan’s work with Daredevil # 33 (a one-off purchase during a visit to a small store that carried comics during a summertime family vacation), but returned to it as a regular reader with DD # 42, a perfect jumping-on point, since contrived fictional “brother” Mike Murdock had been “killed off,” an ambitious four-part story featuring new villain The Jester was just beginning, and it was easy for me to dive into the world of the Sightless Swashbuckler. Tom’s first issue was somewhat later than mine, but his reactions to Gene’s rendering of Daredevil’s hyper-kinetic acrobatic style of crime-fighting mirrored my own.
Our appreciation for Gene’s work grew as we did — his two stints on Doctor Strange still strike me as high watermarks for that series. His ability to deliver absurdist humor was on display when he paired with Steve Gerber for a memorable run on Howard the Duck, and the Wolfman/Colon/Palmer Tomb of Dracula delivered a powerfully moody, atmospheric dash of macabre adventure throughout the 1970s. We followed Gene to DC in the 1980s, where he was a natural to depict the saga of Batman, while also teaming with Don McGregor on two hard-boiled detective miniseries featuring Nathaniel Dusk (Colan and McGregor re-teamed at Eclipse Comics on a still-much-beloved series of Ragamuffins tales).
Tom and I met Gene Colan during an appearance he made at the huge Worcester, Massachusetts comics shop, That’s Entertainment. Tom and Gene struck up a years-long friendship as a result of that meeting, and in 2005 Tom published a fine retrospective of Gene’s career in TwoMorrow Publishing’s Secrets in the Shadows: The Art and Life of Gene Colan. Filled with artwork (the hardcover edition includes a portfolio section in full color) and featuring interviews with and quotes from several of Gene’s major collaborators (Stan Lee, Tom Palmer, Gerber, Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart), the book is a labor of love I have returned to many times over the past dozen years.
And what’s the point of this trip down memory lane, you ask? Why, just yesterday (August 26, 2017, for you calendar buffs) Tom and I got together for the first time in several months. We spent an afternoon catching up and talking about the important things in life — you know, families, friends, comics, and Boston professional sports — and as we prepared to part ways, Tom said, “I have something for you.” And he gave me this:
“This” is a page from Colan’s visual record of his World War II-era experiences in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Gene captured impressions of military life in a journal and sent illustrations along with his letters home to family while he was stationed in the Philippines in 1945. As Tom describes it (with a bit of help from Gene himself) on pages 25-26 of Secrets in the Shadows:
“A little bit Bill Mauldin, a touch of Milton Caniff, Colan’s service diary eased his transition into life overseas, and it gave him a bit of notoriety on base in Manila. By day, Colan was a truck driver in the motor pool; by night, he was an in-demand sketch artist.
“‘I would draw guys going overseas, draw the natives around our base,’ Colan says. ‘I remember drawing a Philippine girl by candlelight — I wanted to do it that way. And I also drew a picture of our tent boy. The major loved that drawing so much he said, “I’ll give you my jeep for the day if you’ll give me that picture!“‘”
This particular page, as you can see, was capturing activity just before Gene’s unit was called to duty in the Pacific — also before Gene came down with a powerful case of pneumonia that put him in a field hospital, delaying his own ship-out to Manila. You can also tell it’s seen hard use over the seventy-two years since it was created, but it’s nevertheless a precious artifact, one I’m proud to currently steward and pleased to share with you here.
And if you think there’s no connection between Gene Colan and LOAC, well, here’s Tom again, from page 15 of Secrets:
“There are three prominent comic strips Colan recalls from the 1930s:
” Al Capp’s Li’l Abner: The Dogpatch hillbillies were a source of amusement and inspiration for young Colan. ‘I had a hard time at school with some of the bullies, so Li’l Abner and Mammy Yokum kind of helped me through it. She was very tough!’
“Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates: The greatest adventure strip of its day was at its artistic height during Colan’s teens, and he was totally entranced by the growth of Terry Lee, Pat Ryan, and crew. ‘I can even remember the smell of the newsprint. I’d put the paper right up to my face …’ and get lost in Caniff’s stylish rendering of action, adventure, and adult romance.
“Coulton Waugh’s Dickie Dare: A boy, his dog, and their adventures ’round the world. Those are the elements that appealed most to Colan, who recalls this strip as his favorite among favorites. ‘Every day I couldn’t wait to see what would happen to that poor kid. The strip appeared in the New York Sun, and my father would always come out of the subway with a copy, on his way home from work. I would wait for him topside and I’d grab the paper just to see the next installment.'”
It’s no surprise a talent as singular as Gene Colan would have such good taste in comic strips, is it?
Gene has been gone more than five years now, but his work continues to be reprinted (Marvel has announced new softcovered Tomb of Dracula reprints, for example) — and Secrets in the Shadows is still in print and definitely comes recommended. At the TwoMorrows website you can use their search feature to find the book’s listing, view a preview on-screen (or download a PDF preview for later viewing), and place an order. After you’ve enjoyed Secrets, you’ll join Tom and me (if you haven’t already) as a lifelong fan of the one and only Gentleman Gene Colan.
Events of recent days leave me with a handful of folks to whom I owe thanks, and I might as well do it publicly (though I think I’ve already done it privately, as well — better too much thanks than not enough!) …
… I’ve previously written in this space about a group I’ve been lucky enough to count as friends for more than thirty-five years (click here). One of those friends, who has been a premier comic book artist for just about thirty of those thirty-five years, is Lee Weeks. On Thursday, August 10th Lee pointed our little band (including yr hmbl svnt) to an absolutely wonderful Vanity Fair piece: When Fairfield County Was the Comic-Strip Capital of the World. The writer, Cullen Murphy, has done us a true service in this outstanding work, which captures a place, time, and assemblage of talent and personalities that should be near and dear to our hearts. I don’t throw around phrases like “a must-read” very often, but in this case I believe it’s not hyperbole to label “When Fairfield County …” a must-read for LOACers everywhere. And after you’ve checked out what Mr. Murphy has to tell us, I think you’ll join me in thanking Lee for directing us to it.
… I’ve done a clutch of interviews this month, and so let me thank Howard Chaykin for taking time from his busy schedule to speak with me about his contributions to Star Hawks, and his mentor, the strip’s visual architect, Gil Kane. In our upcoming Star Hawks Volume 2 you’ll see more Kane, as well as sequences illustrated by both artist Ernie Colon and Chaykin himself, as this sample from January, 1979 shows. That action sequence in panels two and three is pure Chaykin:
Additionally, through circumstances that had a long gestation period and an unlikely chain of events, I’ve interviewed Lani Kida (granddaughter of Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip artist Fred Kida) and her father, Paul. Both these wonderful persons were generous with stories and memories of their talented relative, and while I’m still putting together all the pieces, I’m confident that in the near future you’ll be learning more about Fred Kida than you’ve found at any other source (and seeing rare artwork the family has shared, too!). Be watching for the fifth volume of our Amazing Spider-Man series, and keep watching this space, as well. Meanwhile, here’s a second look at a 1982 Kida Sunday featuring the wondrous wall-crawler and the malevolent monarch of Latveria, Doctor Doom —
… Thanks are hereby extended to the handful of faithful visitors to this space who wrote to tell me they’ve bought copies of John Sayles’s mammoth novel, A Moment in the Sun. (Here’s my original review.) My fingers are crossed you enjoy this sprawling epic as much as I did!
… Finally, a thanks we never lose sight of and one we can never offer enough: a big T*H*A*N*K Y*O*U to everyone who supports our efforts and buys our books. With all the options available to you and all the competition for your hard-earned entertainment dollar, it is humbling to know you choose to invest time and money in LOAC. We hope you’ll continue to enjoy the extensive reprints and associated rarities as much as we enjoy putting them together for you!
Are you saying to yourself, “Man, LOAC has collected about thirty years of Strip X, over twenty years of Strip Y, and almost fifteen years of Strip Z”? Are you wondering, “Haven’t we seen it all, heard it all, learned it all by now?” Are you thinking, “After tens of thousands of reprinted strips, behind-the-scenes photos, rarely-seen artwork, and quotes served up from fan mail, newspaper articles, and interviews with the cartoonists’ families and friends, what more do they have to share with us?”
Is that what you’re asking, Bunkie?
Well, we can give you the short answer in four words: “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!” And we’ll back it up by teasing you with these questions regarding four of our more senior ongoing projects …
She has a body any man would desire (but Li’l Abner is impervious to such charms) – so what is it about Nancy O.’s face that young Yokum finds irresistible? And how does it launch a coast-to-coast publicity campaign? (And for that matter, how does Abner go from panting after Nancy O. to marrying Daisy Mae?) The answers lie in our Big Wedding Edition, Volume 9 of Al Capp’s remarkable Li’l Abner …
In her own kind-hearted way, did Poteet Canyon promote the phrase, “Don’t have a cow” three decades before Bart Simpson made it popular? Check out Poteet’s unusual brush with the bovine in our next installment (Volume 8) of Milton Caniff’s picaresque Steve Canyon …
And which famous cartoonist (whose work also gets collected by LOAC) sent a note to Harold Gray that begins: “This is a fan letter … You’ve done a damned good job blasting the phony ‘Anti-Comic Book Crusade.’ If more cartoonists were aware of the danger of this thing, we might squash it …”? Jeet Heer has the answer for you in our fourteenth volume of the adventures of the kid with a heart of gold and a quick left hook – Little Orphan Annie!
As if this isn’t enough, factor in more Superman, more Disney, the conclusion of Red Barry, more Spider-Man, our first collection of For Better or For Worse, and one especially magic word (“Tippie”!). When you add it all up, we think you’ll agree The Library of American Comics train is chugging along at top speed!
I marked another birthday recently (“marked” seems a more appropriate description than “celebrated,” I think) and my mother and siblings all chipped in to get me a truly one-of-a-kind gift:
In case you’re wondering what makes a baseball “cool,” as you may be able to tell, this is a “game-used” ball, one inscribed by Hall of Famer and Number 8 of the Boston Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski. Further, “Yaz” annotated the ball in commemoration of his Triple Crown win in 1967.
Baseball’s Triple Crown occurs on those rare instances when a player leads his league at the end of a season in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (RBIs). Yaz’s Triple Crown made him the last player to accomplish the achievement for for forty-five years, until Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers “hit the trifecta” during a stellar 2012 season.
Yaz’s Triple Crown was especially significant, because ’67 was the year of the “Impossible Dream,” when Boston rebounded from a ninth-place finish the year before (in the days before leagues were divided into divisions based on geography) and won the American League pennant. In any team endeavor it takes the contributions of many to achieve a goal, yet those 1967 Red Sox were clearly following Yastrzemski’s lead. In tight race against the Minnesota Twins that decided the pennant winner on the last day of the season, Yaz had seven hits in eight at-bats, with six RBIs, during the dramatic final two games of the year. It exemplified his play for that entire campaign — more knowledgeable students of the game than me have proclaimed it, “the greatest single-season performance by any player in the modern era.” Though the Sox lost to the Cardinals in the ’67 World Series, Yaz hit .400 with three home runs and five RBIs for the Series.
Wag that I am, I’ve said the stains you see on the ball in the picture above were probably nicotine stains from Yaz’s fingers — in those less-enlightened times, he was one of many athletes who were known to regularly puff away on cigarettes. The tobacco certainly didn’t affect his longevity. Having previously shifted from patrolling left field to playing first base, a broken hand suffered in September 1975 by regular left fielder Jim Rice sent Yaz back to his familiar haunt in front of Fenway Park’s storied “Green Monster.” He played like a frisky young rookie instead of a fourteen-year veteran when the Red Sox returned to the World Series that year. The Red Sox again came up just a bit short: Yaz made the last out of a hard-fought Game 7, giving the championship to the “Big Red Machine” from Cincinnati, and he’d repeat that feat in 1978, during a dramatic one-game playoff against the New York Yankees after the two teams ended that season with identical records, tied for first place and forcing the one-shot, winner-take-all game.
Yaz retired from the game at age forty-four, in 1983; he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and the Red Sox retired his jersey number 8 in 1989 (at the time, only the fourth retired number in team history, placing him in the company of Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr — who is currently the oldest-living Hall of Famer — and the immortal Kid, Ted Williams).
So as you can see, for a baseball and Red Sox fan like me, my extended family did indeed find a special birthday gift for me. I’ll give you a last look, one that will also give you a look at the wallpaper I use on my computer screen — its creator is central to our next topic …
Long-time readers in this space may remember I also have a handful of close friends; we’ve been together for over thirty-five years now and we try to stay in touch as much as possible. It’s not as easy as one might think, given we’re now scattered across the Eastern Seaboard. One of these amigos who reside closest to me is someone to whom you’ve previously been introduced a time or two: Mike Dudley, who was best man at my wedding, and is the best man in just about every group in which he participates.
When Mike and I carve out time to get together, he typically shows up with either books he’s read that he thinks I might enjoy borrowing, or books he hands to me as gifts. Here’s the cover of one of Mike’s most recent finds:
This hardcover, copyrighted in 1946, is inscribed in a feminine hand on the inside to “Jimmy Asher” and dated “February 28, 1949.” One wonders how many hands this book has passed through and how many locations it has occupied in the almost eight decades since Jimmy Asher received it as a present.
It’s a prose story interspersed with black-and-white spot illustrations. Some illos are taken from Caniff’s Terry run. As three examples: the image on page 51 was lifted from the second panel of the March 23, 1936 strip; page 75’s art came from the last panel in the September 25, 1937 installment; and page 58’s picture is from the final panel of the April 11, 1936 daily. The latter is shown below, and if you compare it to that April 11th Terry you’ll see a certain amount of re-inking has gone on (look at Burma’s face, for example) …
Some of the illustrations are original to the book, but are clearly not from Caniff’s hand. I speculate they were done by longtime Caniff associate Ray Bailey, but so far I’ve yet to find corroboration of my theory.
The plot of the text story is an interesting mash-up of Terry plotlines and spans much of Caniff’s time on the series. It begins with backstory about both Terry Lee (age seventeen as we meet him here) and his traveling companion, Pat Ryan. Terry “had been reared by his grandfather Cyrus in a small Midwestern town.” Following his grandfather’s passing, Terry had stumbled upon the old man’s mysterious map promising “Manchu treasure.” He then sent a telegram to Ryan (“who had traveled extensively throughout China as a salesman and trouble-shooter for Cyrus’s importing firm”) and the two adventurers found themselves in the Mysterious East, where there was no treasure, but plenty of adventure, to be found.
Teamed with Connie, the trio crosses paths with Burma and continually cross figurative swords with Captain Judas. In a surprise revelation it turns out Pat is a member of the Secret Service, on Judas’s trail, and eventually Pat leaves his compatriots to track down the elusive Captain. Connie and Terry also part company, just in time for the book to finish with Terry earning his pilot’s wings at an air base run by Phil Corkin (“He’s a former Flying Tiger, and what a man!” one of Flip’s men informs Terry. “If he can fly like he can give orders, the Jap air force better give this field a wide berth!”). Nurse Taffy Tucker is also in the mix, as this image shows (again, it’s a lift from the August 8, 1942 Terry daily strip):
The story ends with Flip giving Terry his “Pilot’s Creed” speech, but just as the artwork in the book differs from that in the comic strips, the “Creed” text has also been subtly reworked. In that inspirational October 17, 1943 Sunday page, Flip warns Terry, “Don’t ever let me catch you being high-bicycle …” whereas in the book Flip says, “don’t ever let me catch you playing hotshot …”. In the book Flip drops the lighthearted reference to the Lord of the Underworld he used in the comic when he said, “You’ll get angry as the devil at the Army and it’s so-called red tape …”
It’s a fun “alternate universe” version of Terry Lee and his adventures, one I’m indebted to Mike for providing me. I’d heard of this book’s existence, but until this year had never owned a copy. It’s a pleasure to have it now, and on the remote chance he’s out there to read this, Jimmy Asher, I promise your book is in good hands!