Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

“Bravo” on Steroids

“A coffee table book that needs only four legs to make it a real coffee table!!!”

That was the reaction of one of our longtime Friends of LOAC when he got a look at the Bravo for Adventure Artist’s Edition. This release marks The Library of American Comics’s first collaboration with the Artist’s Edition program so masterfully orchestrated by IDW editor Scott Dunbier, and this beautiful new book is a fitting capstone to Dean’s and my eight-year odyssey through the life and art of the Genius — Alex Toth.

BRAVO ARTIST ED

For those who’ve been living on Ceres for the past several years, an Artist’s Edition collects significant comics and reproduces them from the original artwork, at the original size. So yes, as our ol’ pal indicates, this version of Bravo For Adventure is jacked and pumped and larger than life!

How big is it, the longtime Tonight Show fans among you ask?

The Bravo A.E. is even taller than our oversize “Champagne Edition” books, such as Polly and Her Pals, and is much, much bigger than the standard-size books found at either comics shops or bookstores. If you’ll excuse just a little bit of flash glare, here’s the Bravo A.E. in comparison to both a collection of Simon and Kirby’s Boys’ Ranch (which is the same size as a typical Marvel Masterwork volume) and The Golden Peril, which is the very first Doc Savage paperback I ever bought, back in the early 1970s.

BRAVO & HARDCOVER & PPRBACK

You get the idea — you may have seen Bravo For Adventure before, but you’ve never seen it like this!

In addition to all three of Alex’s “Jesse Bravo” stories, this Artist’s Edition includes a wide variety of Toth’s sketches, scrap, and false starts on other, never-completed Bravo stories. Readers will also get to enjoy the previously-unpublished color pages intended to form part of Bravo‘s original 1975 release as a graphic album in France.

It is always a delight to study and enjoy an Alex Toth comics story, and it has been an enormous honor to be involved with preserving his work and chronicling his life in our three-volume set: Genius, Isolated; Genius, Illustrated; and Genius, Animated.

GENIUS Honors

Again, we sincerely thank Alex’s four children — Dana, Carrie, Eric, and Damon — for their invaluable support and assistance, and all those who helped us put so much of Alex’s remarkable work back into print for new generations of readers to learn from and savor.

A World of “Hurt”

While there is much to recommend in this science fictional modern age, the Good Old Days had at least some advantages. One of them was the ability to walk into an honest-to-Pete bookstore and pick out the exact copy of a new release that you wanted to buy and take home. I was especially lucky, because I spent years making regular pilgrimages to Harvard Square, the home of WordsWorth, a sizable, well-stocked establishment that sold every book at a discounted price. And if that wasn’t enough of a description of Heaven, WordsWorth was located just down the street from that grand ole comics shop, Million Year Picnic.

Million Year Picnic is still in business, but WordsWorth closed its doors in the autumn of 2004. Declining readership and expanded book buying options squeezed it — and many, many other independent bookstores — out of the marketplace.

One of those expanded options was, of course, Amazon.com. It began in 1994 specifically as an on-line bookseller; its growth into a retail giant big enough to blot out the sun has been chronicled elsewhere, better and more knowledgeably than I could do here. Amazon’s deep discounts make it attractive to many consumers, but some persons have been experiencing regular, persistent difficulties getting undamaged copies of LOAC books delivered from Amazon to their doorsteps.

One reader, a self-described “long-time, long-suffering customer” of Amazon’s, contacted us at the end of January to describe issues experienced when ordering LOAC books from Amazon. This person wrote: “I purchase from Amazon four LOAC titles: Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie, and Steve Canyon. I have collected other titles as well, including Terry and the Pirates and Russ Manning’s Tarzan. I can safely say that I have rarely accepted the first copy of any of these books shipped to me by Amazon.” Our correspondent went on to describe eight different “hurt” conditions that ranged from holes in the dust jackets and book covers to “marks, stains, and sticky residue” on the books and their jackets. As an example of one specific condition — torn just jackets — the writer included these pictures of Steve Canyon Volume 7, about which the person in question said: “I needed to place five orders [with Amazon] before receiving a relatively undamaged copy [from them].” (Emphasis the original author’s.)

CANYON V7_Front DJ

CANYON V7_Back DJ

After using Amazon’s Leave Packaging Feedback feature “more times than I can remember. The results have been nonexistent”, and making calls to Amazon Customer Service representatives, the reader turned to us to ask if we could help. “I have repeatedly tried to make them [Amazon] aware that the books [from LOAC] are collectibles that need extra care,” said our correspondent. “Amazon makes no allowances for this.”

Here at LOAC, we will do what we can to raise this situation to Amazon’s attention, and we have been in communication with the appropriate sales team within IDW Publishing, sharing our reader’s letter with them and getting their commitment to address the matter with the proper Amazon parties. Obviously, how Amazon chooses to conduct its business is up to them. Our regular distribution channels deliver large quantities of undamaged books to Amazon, so if LOAC books are reaching readers in hurt conditions, the logical conclusion is that Amazon’s procedures are creating opportunities for the damage to occur during the packing and shipping periods.

Meanwhile, if like our correspondent you receive damaged LOAC books from Amazon.com, what can you do to help the situation?

  1. 1. Do not accept damaged books.
  2. 2. Returned the damaged books to Amazon and ask for a replacement.
  3. 3. When returning damaged books, specifically note that the problem lies with Amazon’s shipping.

One thing that does not help is going to the book’s Amazon page and leaving an unfavorable review of the book to protest receiving a hurt copy. Amazon doesn’t screen reviews for comments about its pack-&-ship procedures, so a “down-graded” review only delivers collateral damage to LOAC and leaves Amazon unaffected.

If I may conclude by speaking personally: I am a long-time Amazon customer and find them an invaluable supplier in many ways. Like the person who wrote to us, I have in the past received books in damaged condition, but have followed the three steps above and received an acceptable replacement copy in short order. I may be fortunate in that respect; clearly, our correspondent consistently has had less successful experiences than my own. My hope is that, through whatever avenue one chooses, every LOAC reader receives our books in clean, undamaged condition. That’s what readers deserve in return for paying out their hard-earned cash.

But you’ll pardon me if at this moment I find myself just a bit nostalgic for those Good Old Days of Harvard Square and WordsWorth …

 

 

Inside Baseball

Some time ago Lorraine suggested we could offer readers occasional coverage in this space about what we do and how we do it. I admit I was of two minds about that idea, in part because of something that happened to me in the pre-LOAC days. I had an idea for some short story or other, a tale that would feature a writer as its protagonist, and I was sufficiently jazzed up about it to run the basic plot past one of my oldest, closest writer friends. His response was one simple, chilling line: “No one wants to read about writers.”

That reaction was like a dash of cold water straight to the face: my enthusiasm for the idea instantly vaporized. In my backbrain, at least, the idea that a writer (and editor’s) work is of no interest has stayed with me, which means I’m not sure any of you give a toss about what I do. Still, I am at least mature enough to admit Lorraine may be right and the visceral reaction I’ve long carried with me may be one hundred percent wrong. On that premise, here’s a peek under the hood at how the editing portion of the LOAC engine typically functions …

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It all starts with the manuscript. We take ’em however writers choose to prepare ’em. I still use the format guidelines editor George Scithers of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine would distribute back in the late 1970s for the cost of a self-addressed stamped envelope: double-spaced; serifed font; an inch margin all around the page; title, author’s name, and word count centered at the top of page one; author’s name/abbreviated title/page # in the upper right-hand corner of each page (a paperclip was expected to be in the upper-left corner, binding together the MS, back in those days when the IBM Selectric was king and Scithers was editing Asimov’s).  When the writer finishes his essay it’s delivered to Dean, who gets first-look, since he has to design the layout of the text pages. Dean makes suggestions and edits, then passes the MS along to me (if I’ve done the writing, he sends his mark-ups back to me).

I strive to deliver clean prose, and as the LOAC resident grammarian Dean doesn’t often pass grammar or spelling edits to me (though we occasionally do discuss phraseology, since some constructions are based on solid rules of English usage while others are matters of interpretation). The second set of eyes is always invaluable, though: when I strive to achieve a subtle effect Dean will make a quick remark if I’ve succeeded, or a longer one if he thinks I’ve failed. And some remarks, like this one to the MS for my essay for Steve Canyon Volume 7, offer an extra fact for me to consider in determining whether or not to rework a specific passage:

01_MS Markup

Dean’s mark-up in the right margin made me reconsider this brief passage in my essay for Steve Canyon Volume 7 …

 

02_Printed Result

… And here is the adjustment I made for the printed text (placed just to the right of this photo of Milton Caniff with the man who would become known as “Tricky Dick” Nixon).

If we’re editing another writer’s work, Dean gives it the first read, then passes the MS to me for comments, after which we go back to the writer for reaction and further input. All parties having weighed in, Dean then puts together the text section of the book and routes it to me, in PDF form, for final edits. Sometimes we catch simple typos that have escaped notice to this point, but sometimes I discover that a sentence or paragraph that looked just fine in MS form doesn’t accomplish its mission; as a result I rewrite it on the PDF. We’re also always on the hunt for overused words, as with this example from the PDF of my text from Li’l Abner Volume 7. We may swap one of the words for a synonym or, as in this case, do a recast of the sentence to make the use of one word in a short span of text less noticeable:

03_Galley Proofing

PDF edits to L’il Abner Volume 7. Adobe’s “sticky notes” feature is a wonderful thing!

Once Dean has made all the changes resulting from our edits and proofing, he sends the file to IDW, where their proofreaders give the essay a fresh going-over. When the proofreaders have worked their magic, the text section is complete and the book is quickly ready to ship to the printer.

When we started LOAC in 2007, Dean and I talked about how our essays should read. We both grew up admiring the William Shawn-edited New Yorker, where writers such as Pauline Kael and Roger Angell could be counted on to deliver sharp, clear, incisive reviews and observations in their regular features for that magazine. We are also both devotees of Strunk and White’s invaluable Elements of Style (I favor the Third Edition), and we bring many of their sensibilities to our books. We have an informal “style guide” that includes preferences such as:

[1] Italicize the name of a newspaper, not its town or city. That means we prefer St. Louis Post-Dispatch to St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

[2] Embrace the serial comma. Per the second of Strunk and White’s Elementary Rules of Usage, in lists of three or more items, we favor placing a comma after each listed item except the last. Yes, newspapers and several magazines have long omitted the last comma (known as the “serial comma”) — but those publications were originally designed to be read by on-the-go metropolitan commuters zipping rapidly from home to work and back again. Like most well-designed books, LOAC volumes are designed to be read at a more leisurely pace, so we employ the serial comma. Beyond pace, simple logic dictates the serial comma’s value. Think about it: the mental image of the last item called up by the list, “milk, cheese, bread and butter” is:

04_Bread and Butter

A very different mental image is conjured by the list: “milk, cheese, bread, and butter.” The bread and the butter are clearly meant to be considered as two separate items:

05A_Bread

05B_Butter

[3] Avoid informal, Internet-style constructions. I refer to this as “I/we/you/me”isms. The Internet, coupled with generations of students who have been taught to “write it the way you would say it,” has created an online style that is relaxed and conversational. This is fine in its place, but its place is often not in the text features in our books. While we’re acutely aware of our duty to entertain as well as inform, we believe we can do that and still keep a degree of formality to our text that reflects the amount of scholarship we have devoted to its content. After all, the language has evolved and surely will continue to evolve in decades to come, so adhering to long-standing, tried-and-true approaches seems the best way to insure that the typical LOAC book may in future years retain value as a resource for the next wave of comics scholars. Sentences containing constructions such as, “As we can plainly see in the August 22nd daily …” can easily be rewritten to eliminate the “we” reference; phrases like, “You’re in for a real treat when you see …” typically are better seen in our press releases and publicity features, not in our pages.

I used qualifiers in the paragraph above because we do have exceptions to this approach. Max Allan Collins’s regular Dick Tracy essay is informed by his unique perspective as the second-ever Tracy writer, the access he had to Chester Gould before that cartoonist’s 1985 passing, and by the sensibilities an author of his stature brings to the page. We’d be chumps not to welcome Max’s first-person observations on everyone’s favorite yellow-coated manhunter! We also take a more relaxed approach to several of our licensed titles since the audience for, say, Star Trek can be different than the audience for Little Orphan Annie and the information presented in the licensed series often has more of a “coverage of pop-culture” approach than a scholarly focus.

No one bats a thousand, including us, but we bring a lot of energy and attention to the text and special features that go into our books. Do readers notice? The longtime friend who cut down my short story idea so long ago would likely say, “No,” but all of us at LOAC care, and we like to think we’re not alone in that department.

If so — and if you’ve stayed with me through this entire posting — Lorraine will get to look at me and say, “Nyaaah, nyaaah!”

 

A Bicentennial Look Back

During a cold, snowy first week of 2017 here in New England, two things occurred to me: [1] we’re overdue for a Fantasy Comics Page in this space, and [2] 2017 marks the 241st anniversary of the acknowledged founding of the United States of America. We’re fewer than ten years away from the USA’s 250th birthday, the Sestercentennial! (Or Semiquincentennial, if you’re cut from Johnny Littlejohn/Hank McCoy polysyllabic cloth — the jury’s out on what the celebration will officially be called.)

When that pair of thoughts collided, I went back into the strips, looking to build a Fantasy Page from the first day of our Bicentennial Year, January 1, 1976. What I put together tickled me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It features a mix of comedy and adventure strips, popular long-running comics and more obscure fare. We begin with two of my all-time favorite series: Al Capp brings Baby New Year back to Li’l Abner (no one knew it at the time, but the strip had less than two years’ of life remaining), while Tom Ryan ignores the new year entirely in his always-wonderful Tumbleweeds.

Gus Arriola’s work always gives me a smile, so including Gordo on this Fantasy Page is a distinct pleasure — and one might think Flash Gordon could use New Year’s Day as an excuse to take a break from tromping around dungeons and fighting monsters, but this lovely example of Flash’s strip by Dan Barry proves that’s not the case. And who among us has not faced the “good diet resolution” dilemma Tom Batiuk presents in Funky Winkerbean? (Though I hope most of us last longer than this before breaking our resolutions!)

Lolly was a new strip to me, and I enjoy such finds, as well as going back to learn a bit about them. In this case, Lolly was the brainchild of former Disney Studios animator Pete Hansen and ran from 1955 to 1983. Lolly herself is a nicely-designed character, and the balance between her home and work life (she was an office employee, supervised by “Mr. Quimby”) gives her the same sort of plot grist that would make the Mary Tyler Moore Show such a hit throughout most of the ’70s (though Lolly, while appealing, is no Mar’!)

Junior Tracy’s Bicentennial New Year begins earlier than he’d like — note who’s sleeping next to him! You can read the first appearances of the Moon Maid in our just-released Dick Tracy Volume 21. Irwin Hasen was one of the treasures of the comics world, even when newspaper editors mistakenly identified him as “Irwin Hansen;” here’s how his Dondi started off 1976. Snoopy and Woodstock were partying hard in Peanuts, and appropriately, our Fantasy Page ends with a strip created specifically with the Bicentennial in mind, Yankee Doodles. This was also an unknown strip to me when I stumbled across it, but thanks to historian extraordinaire Allan Holtz and his invaluable “Stripper’s Guide” website, I learned this was a feature that lasted only fifty months, and was the product of three creators: Ben Templeton (later of Motley’s Crew fame), Fred W. Martin, and Don Kracke — think of the hilarity that could have ensued if the credits had said, “by Kracke!”

Who knows what sort of comics will arise to take advantage of the Sestercentennial? (Or the Semiquincentennial, should we opt for the longer name …)

Anyway, here’s our look back at January 1, 1976 —

1_abner

2_tumbleweeds

3_gordo

4_flash

5_funky

6_lolly

7_tracy

8_dondi

9_peanuts

10_yankee-d

Canyon’s Model Citizens (Part 2 of 2)

Before the pre-New-Year holidays we took a look at what I’d been able to find out about the two models, Loree Thomas and Gen Melia, who posed as Alice Santa Fe and Whitey Barker for Milton Caniff’s “Pipa Island/Red Cross” Steve Canyon storyline, which we just reprinted in Volume 7 of that LOAC series. If you missed it, you can catch up by clicking here.

Milton and models went together like baseball and hot dogs (or spaghetti and meatballs, for those of you with more refined palates), so I went back a bit further to look at a trio of other “Caniffite” models and what we could learn about them following their assignments in support of the Canyon strip …

You may recall these two young ladies from our 6th Steve Canyon volume:

lynn-terri_from-canyon-v6

Terri Keane, in uniform, and Lynn Thompson, in checkered shirt, posed as Scooter McGruder and Poteet Canyon for a photo session in support of a 1957 plotline that revolved around the Civil Air Patrol. Many photos from this assignment were used in publicity materials that appeared in various periodicals; here’s a shot of Caniff and Lynn, from a syndicated newspaper feature that I found in the Des Moines Register:

lynn-1

It may surprise you to learn Lynn and Terri were both teenagers when they did their Canyon work. This newspaper article, running nationwide in May, 1958, provides a lot of background on both girls, including personal details that would be frowned upon in the 21st Century, though it was a different society, with different mores, sixty years ago:

terri-and-lynn-1

Terri also landed a gig on series television in the late ’50s. Here’s an article describing her work:

terri-1

If you’d like a brief flash of Terri helping to intro the Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, you can see her at this link.

Arguably the most famous of the Canyon models Caniff used was Bek Steiner, who as Miss Mizzou made quite a splash when she appeared at halftime in the University of Missouri football stadium and doffed her character’s trademark trenchcoat (see our Steve Canyon Volume 3 for the detailed story). Here’s a a brief bit from the November 18, 1952 Macon, Missouri Chronicle-Herald with other information about Bek’s time at the school:

bek-1

Newspaper gossip columnists kept track of Bek even after her time as Mizzou ended. In early April, 1953 Dorothy Kilgallen told readers that Bek and musician Marty Mills were “closer than the baseball season,” but just before Memorial Day of that year another gossip feature said, “Don’t know about the chance of Johnny Ray reconciling with Marilyn Morrison. Anything is possible. But he has been paying lots of attention to Bek Steiner, a stunner at the Copacabana in New York.” By the wintertime of ’53, with cold temperatures and snow on the ground in the East and North, Bek had migrated westward, but city editors knew a photo of a beautiful woman in a bikini would warm readers’ hearts and featured a beaming Bek — left leg bent, head tilted to the right, back slightly arched and arms upraised and extended to either side — in a dark bikini. The copies of the story I’ve found are too blurred and dark for reproducing here, but her image was presented all in the name of culture! The caption informs readers, “All that’s changed in 2000 years is the means of capturing feminine beauty for posterity. Bek Steiner, 22-year-old dancer at Las Vegas, N. M., models a Bikini bathing suit, almost exactly like those which appear in mosaics recently excavated in Piazza Amerina, Sicily. Today, the camera captures beauty once preserved in bits of ceramic.”

The next two years were big ones in Bek’s personal life. She wed singer Chuck Nelson in 1954, and in his column It Happened Last Night, gossip monger Earl Wilson covered the nuptials with this tongue-in-cheek snippet:

bek-2

By the autumn of 1955 a child was on the way, as Dorothy Kilgallen reported at the bottom of the left column of this column (with a vivacious picture of Bek dominating the right-hand column):

bek-3

This is also a fine place to mention J.B. Winter’s fine, fun 2014 look at the character who was perhaps Milton Caniff’s biggest blonde bombshell, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics. You can see it at Amazon and the page on that site is well worth visiting, since one of Bek’s friends and her daughter remark on the book in the “Comments” section. They indicate that, as of 2014, Bek Steiner was alive and brightening the lives of family and friends. That is good news indeed for fans like us, because Bek’s fictional counterpart, Miss Mizzou, will be re-teaming with Caniff’s rock-jawed colonel in Steve Canyon Volume 8!

May Your Days Be Merry & Bright —

Dean and Lorraine and my wife and I are traveling (not together!) for the next several days. While we take a bit of a breather please accept our hopes that, whichever winter-solstice holiday you choose to celebrate, you have a mighty happy one!

I’ll be back before New Year’s Day with the second part of our look at Milton Caniff’s models, following their Steve Canyon assignments —

A_Book_Tree

Canyon’s Model Citizens (Part 1 of 2)

With Steve Canyon Volume 7 now on sale, Dean and I were reflecting on what a chock-full package this book proved to be. Previously-unreprinted Canyon strips! A detailed examination of the TV show based on the strip, thanks in large part to John Ellis, the impresario responsible for making the series available on DVD! A nifty “progression” feature showing one of Steve’s action poses evolving from pencil rough to finished inks! A photo of Caniff with then-Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon! Coverage — with pictures and a first-hand account — of Milt and Bunny’s 1960 trip to the Far East! And an extensive look at the development of the “Pipa Island/Red Cross” story, including a page of photos showcasing Caniff with two models, Loree Thomas and Gen Melia.

Milt’s use of models was a tried-and-true practice by the time of the Red Cross adventure, of course. Extending all the way back to his Terry and the Pirates days, with Nedra Harrison as the original model for the Dragon Lady and Kay Stearns serving as the flesh-and-blood April Kane, Caniff knew working with models helped inject verisimilitude into his artwork, while photos of those sessions helped promote his comic strips when included as part of magazine and newspaper publicity articles.

Over three hundred eight-by-ten glossies were shot during Caniff’s session with models Melia and Thomas. We looked at many, many pictures featuring the two ladies in order to select five for publication, and seeing that quintet of of photos again made me wonder when I sat down this week with my copy of Canyon Volume 7: “What else could we learn about Gen and Loree?”

As it turns out, a fair amount …

Roughly a year after portraying Xenia “Whitey” Barker for Caniff, blonde Gen Melia found romance that connected her to Old Hollywood. “The Voice of Broadway,” syndicated gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, printed news of a pending wedding in her May 12, 1961 column:

gen-1

Warner LeRoy’s father, Mervyn, directed 1931’s Little Caesar and, after landing at MGM as a producer, green-lighted The Wizard of Oz for that studio; mother Doris was the offspring of Harry Warner, the founder of Warner Bros. Mervyn and Doris had been divorced for almost twenty years by the time Warner and Gen announced their engagement. Mervyn remarried actress Katherine “Kitty” Spiegel in 1946, while shortly after her divorce from Mervyn became final, Doris quickly married director Charles Vidor, perhaps best known for helming A Farewell to Arms in 1957. Doris has a run of bad luck that included an incident at that wedding reception, as reported in this wire service tidbit:

gen-2

Note the misspelling of Gen’s first name!

For his part, Warner had early success in the theater and a director and producer. His controversial play Between Two Thieves caused some easily-offended members of the audience to walk out of the show in protest; at one showing a pair from the audience interrupted the performance to try to argue with the actors! Yet it was as a businessman and restaurateur where Warner found his greatest successes: he owned three prime New York locations: The Russian Tea Room, Maxwell’s Plum, and most famous of them all, Tavern on the Green.

Two years after walking down the aisle, Gen and Warner had their only child, Bridget, but even a young daughter could not cement a union buffeted by the stresses and strains of Manhattan’s high society. The couple eventually divorced and each remarried. As Gen Walton, Milton Caniff’s one-time model fell out of the spotlight for the rest of her life, but after years circulating among the “beautiful people,” a lower-profile lifestyle may have been a pleasantly comfortable fit.

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 Steve Canyon aficionados have now met Loree Thomas when she played the part of Alice Santa Fe, one of the long line of ladies who had a crush on America’s favorite bird-colonel, only to have him be oblivious to their feelings. By 1965 Loree was living in Long Beach, New York. She palled about with one Ginger Crossman, with the two gals visiting Ginger’s parents at their summer home in upscale Kennebunk, Maine. While researching this article, I found these two national ads for the same slimming program:

loree-1

loree-2

When we compare the Loree in these 1968-69 ads to the Loree in Caniff’s Red Cross photos, it seems highly unlikely they are the same person, given [A] their physical differences (which seem significant, even given the changes the passage of a decade can bring) and [B] the fact that “our” Loree would have already been married with two children by the time of her shoot with Milton. Still, what are the odds two women would have a name as unusual as “Loree Thomas?” Certainly it could be a coincidence, but here’s a conjecture to mull: what if the slimming-ad Loree is the mother of the “Alice Santa Fe” Loree? TV-personality Loree would have been in an excellent position to assist her daughter’s ambitions  — she might even have been acquainted with Caniff and used that connection to line up the Red Cross gig for teen-aged Loree.

This is all speculation, it’s true. Still — as we’ll see after the Christmas holiday, when Part Two of this series appears — Milton Caniff was definitely willing to use teenaged models …

It Takes All Kinds to Make a World …

In the text features for our LOAC titles we often quote from letters received by the cartoonist in question. Sometimes this is professional correspondence related to the business of syndicating or merchandising the strip and its characters, while other times we cite those individual readers who felt the burning urge to pen either high praise or high dudgeon and mail it to the artist.

But some letters are so far “off the beam” they would have no place inside our books. Let me share the highlights — and I use that term loosely — from one of my very favorites with you …

Postmarked from scenic Brooklyn, New York in September of 1955, the item in question arrived in an envelope bearing this address (pardon the extreme blurriness):

100_0943_cropped

Sent to, “Mr. Al Capp, Steve Canyon Cartoonist,” in care of the New York Daily Mirror, we see the first sign that something is amiss. As we know (but the writer apparently did not), Al Capp drew Li’l Abner. It was Milton Caniff who created and produced Steve Canyon!

The enclosed letter was typed all in capitals (before that approach was deemed to represent “shouting”). As you can tell from the envelope excerpt above, the copy of the letter I have is too blurred for good reproduction, but I carefully transcribed the contents of the original when I found it during one of our research trips to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University, so I’m able to replicate the all-caps format and include the various typos and misspellings, as well. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

The author begins:

 

DEAR SIR:

RUSSIAS CLAIMS ON PLANETARY DISCOVERY BY COSMIC SPACE SHIPS IN AN ARTICLE OF AUG. ’55 BY REUTERS NEWS DISPATCH, IS A LITTLE PREVIOUS.  IN AUG. OF ’53, PATIENT Z-125 IN WASHINGTON, D.C. REHEARSED THE STATE DEPARTMENT IN RIGHTS OF THE WORD OF  GOD ON FAR PLANETS.

THE EVOLUTION AND PROPAGATION OF THE THREE PLANETS NEAREST THE SUN-STAR ARE IN THE ICE, STONE AND BIBLE MAKING STAGES.  WIT H EARTH THE FARTHEST ADVANCED OF ORBIT EVOLUTION IN THE SUN-STAR UNIVERSE, THE BROTHER AND SISTER PLANETS HAVE BEEN IN COMMUNION WITH THE EARTH EVOLUTION.

BEING HINDERED IN STATIONING, AND ATMOSPHERIC PLANETARY ACCEPTANCE, W  WOULD BE A HURDLE RUSSIA MAY FIND DIFFICULT TO- OVER COME.

 

The author (who shall go nameless) then shifts to a discussion of the goddesses found in “GREEK FAIRY TALES” and a tale of The Resurrection cited as being revealed by “ST MATTHEW TO THE MULTITUDE IN EPISTLE C22.” In closing, the letter’s writer offers this:

 

POEM OF PROSE

A WEDLOCK BEING WAC, MARRIED AND M.D.,

IN THE 1st CHURCH BEILEVEING 6 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

NOW THERE’S 28 DAYS IN ONE MONTH;

BEING, TOO, WELOCKED IN 2nd CHURCH BELIEVING 22 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

THE LADY OF MONTHS THAT PASS.

THAT BEING NEAR THE PHYSICIAN.

THE LADY KNOWS HER Ps AND Qs.

THAT FAR MATHEMATICIAN KNOWS Y PLUS X = ZERO.

 

Finally, by way of apology, the correspondent concluded: “P.S. SORRY I’M NOT A GOOD ODE-IST, PLEASE FOR-GIVE MY SHORT COMINGS.”

Even a wit as keen as Al Capp seemed flummoxed by what he had just read. Still, because he was a swiftie, he saw in the letter an opportunity to throw a couple gentle jabs at his good friend, Caniff. He forwarded the letter to Milton along with a note dated September 22, 1955. In it, Al wrote:

 

“Dear Milt:

“Judging from the contents of this letter … this is one of your readers. It was sent to me because everyone thinks I do all the comic strips.”

 

That humorous note provided the perfect — errr-r-r — Capper to the original letter writer’s impenetrable attempt at communication. But the missive serves as a reminder that, just as in today’s 21st Century world of high-profile stars and instantaneous contact, where stories of “celebrity stalkers” or bedeviling on-line “trolls” regularly make the news, the classic penmen of the past received plenty of letters from those who fit the description of either cranks or crackpots. Technology changes, but the range of human response does not.

And if this little exchange provided you with a smile, remind me someday to reprint the letter Ernie Bushmiller wrote about one particular piece of fan mail …!

Movietone News (The KFS Edition)

I’m hoping that U.S. readers of this space have recovered from the twin effects of turkey-based tryptophan and early-morning Black Friday shopping — and that every American reading these words had a fine and fun Thanksgiving holiday. I still have family visiting for a few days, but while they’re otherwise occupied I wanted to finish our look at some of the classic comic strips that made their way onto the silver screen decades before the wave of comic-books-turned-film-franchises that currently dominate international box offices. Last time we checked out the movie adaptations of “The Big Three” from the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate — Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, and Little Orphan Annie — but the other behemoth in strip syndication, King Features, was also always ready to shift its most popular properties to a Hollywood footing. We’ll start this brief overview of King’s cinematic side with arguably their most influential comic strip of all …

Two years after it debuted in newspapers during the start of 1934, Flash Gordon came to movie palaces nationwide in an ambitious thirteen-chapter serial from Universal. As discussed in Volume Two of our Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim books, this cliffhanger proved so popular it spawned two sequels, was re-edited for release as a theatrical film and, later, as a feature for the syndicated TV market; generations of children grew to adulthood with this serial’s images of the Emperor’s palace, Mongo spaceships, and an always-breathless Dale Arden cemented into their memories. Much the same way the Flash Gordon strip helped bring science fiction to the newspaper masses, the Flash serial introduced SF to thousands of moviegoers.

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Title card for the original Flash Gordon serial. Note the prominent credit for cartoonist Alex Raymond.

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Who could blame King Vultan (John Lipson) if he has trouble diverting his gaze from the comely Jean Rogers? She assayed the role of Flash’s girlfriend, Dale Arden. Like the comic strip Dale, Rogers was a natural brunette, but the serial’s production staff decided audiences would respond better to Dale as a blonde.

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A nifty Flash publicity shot featuring, left-to-right, Priscilla Lawson as a zaftig Princess Aura, Rogers as Dale, and Buster Crabbe as the intrepid Flash Gordon, with Lipson’s Vultan literally looking over his shoulder. Charles Middleton is pitch-perfect as the ruthless, cunning Ming, the merciless ruler of Planet Mongo.

A year later, Universal Pictures brought Flash‘s topper strip, Jungle Jim, to movie audiences as a serial in twelve parts, with Grant Withers playing the part of Jim. More enduring was the late-1948 full-length movie version of the character Columbia distributed, which was a low-budget success, spawning more than a dozen sequels that appeared during a period from the end of the 1940s to the mid-1950s. The actor playing Jim Bradley for Columbia was arguably the most famous Tarzan of them all — multi-Olympic -gold-medalist, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller.

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In his early 40s by the time he left Tarzan’s loincloth behind for Jungle Jim’s safari hat, Weissmuller spent his entire career as a leading man playing either the Lord of the Jungle or the Manhunter of the Malay Peninsula. What other “name” actor can say his fame was built upon only two roles, both of them offshoots of newspaper comic strips?

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From later in the series, a lobby card for 1949’s The Lost Tribe. Note Elena Verdugo among the supporting cast; as discussed in our next Steve Canyon volume, she came close to having a recurring role in the short-lived Canyon TV series as Steve girl friend!

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If the chap in the pith helmet being led by Jim looks familiar, that’s because it’s none other than actor George Reeves in his pre-Superman days!

Since King’s roster of comics included so many humorous features, it’s only natural the biggest gag-strips morphed into cinematic incarnations. Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake’s twenty-eight Blondie films came out from 1938 through the mid-’40s and remained immensely popular as syndicated TV fare well into the 1960s. Less successful in execution to the Blondies, but very good looking in terms of the actors and costuming, are Monogram’s five Jiggs and Maggie pictures, starting with 1946’s Bringing Up Father.  This series starred Joe Yule as the hodcarrier-turned-millionaire Jiggs and Renie Riano as his social-climber wife, Maggie.

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Lobby card for Bringing Up Father. Maggie and Jiggs’s creator, cartoonist George McManus, also appeared in the movie as himself.

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From later in the series, this still is from Jiggs and Maggie in Jackpot Jitters. Like her comic strip counterpart, Riano’s Maggie is never shy about making men toe the line in her presence!

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The Bringing Up Father films received mixed reviews, at best. Their artistic merit can be debated, but certainly the two leads always look as if they might have stepped out of a panel of a McManus comic strip.

This look at comic strips come to life is hardly exhaustive, but it was fun to look back at select offerings with a Library of American Comics flavor. And for my friends who were remarking how extraordinary it is to see comic book properties being featured in 21st Century big-budget blockbusters, this little miniseries of articles might serve as a reminder that comics-to-film is nothing new under the sun … and that, as usual, the comic strips got there before the comic books did!

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