Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

Talkin’ Toth: Part One

Alex Toth was the master craftsman of comics. He was outspoken, gifted, studious, prolific, and uncompromising. He drew a lot and he said a lot. Much of it will appear in our upcoming three books devoted to this great artist, and some we just couldn’t comfortably fit. Over the next month, we will share some of that material with you in this space, so—here is the first in a series of “Talkin’ Toth.”

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The splash page from “I Struck it Rich,” from Personal Love #11, published in September 1951 by Eastern Color.

 

TOTH REFLECTS ON HIS ROMANCE WORK IN A 1978 LETTER

As I recall, the whole scheme of these comics was to attract the pre-pubescent, if not adolescent, girl readership—those who were too old to read funny animal and hero comics, but still too young to read True Confessions-type “slicks”—so, the writers cut to the middle line, giving just enough, but not too much, story—load it with emotional scenes girls could relate to, and serve it up with credible artwork!

It worked very well, and for a good many years!

It affected my approach to every story I was to illustrate thereon—regardless of type—kinship was established with the writer, his motive, his copy, his delivery of dialogue, and his sequential breakdown of scenes to tell the story! I have had high regard for good writers, always! It’s thehack writer, of low talent, sensitivity, who has come under my fire, of whose work I’d reject, out of hand, returning scripts to befuddled editors who’d never heard of such goings-on before—thus, my reputation as a renegade grew—I’d had the privilege of working from good, sane scripts—and it spoilt me for the hack tripe of other writers, often puffed-up sorts who’d howl to editors about my changes or comments, never acknowledging the obvious reason for them: that their work was mediocre, minus a factor of ten!

* * * * *

Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth will be on sale in March.

 

As Rouge Would say:

Though comics are one of the bare handful of born-in-America artforms, their appeal crosses all political and geographical borders. Submitted as proof of this hypothesis—as if proof be needed!…one of the first European editions of a Library of American Comics book. In October, 2010, Nicholas Forsans, Jean-Baptiste Barbier, Antonie Mathon, and their fine co-workers at Bdartist(e) released a lovely translated-into-the-French version of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Volume 1. Here’s a look at their familiar-yet-different front dustjacket for the book:

French_Terry-1

More than two decades after Caniff’s passing and with almost sixty-five years gone by since he abandoned post-War China in favor of Horizons, Unlimited, Bdartist(e)’s release stands as testament to Milt’s unmatched talent and the timeless appeal of Terry Lee and his vivid, unforgettable supporting cast.

Their book follows our own Terry Volume 1 closely, but not exactly. Howard Chaykin’s introduction and my essay were retained; Dean’s preface was not. Like us, Bdartist(e) chose to provide a ribbon bookmark, but Randy Scott’s Index to Volume 1 has been replaced by eight pages of “Hommages:” interpretations of Terry in both color and black-&-white by Continental artists that served as a preview of a December 2010 exhibition on display at the publisher’s gallery, located at 55 rue Condorcet in Paris.

Aside from the text on the front endpapers, the daily reprinted on the back flap of the dustjacket, and the “Character Key to Our Cover” feature, the entire book has been translated into French, all the strips re-lettered. This means our European friends are deprived of Frank Engli’s beautiful lettering, but the work of Maximilien Chailleux is crisp and clean, and certainly it must be no easy task to place translated text within space defined for the “mother tongue.” Well done, M’sieur Chailleux!

As I browsed Terry et les Pirates, I speculated on the considerable challenge one faces in translating Caniff’s dialogue into another language. As the series unfolds, many of Milton’s characters use an increasingly snappy and sometime esoteric American slang, and several of his secondary players routinely fracture the King’s English as a reminder of their Asian or European origins (think of Singh-Singh’s love of “Pappermeents,” or Rouge, using one of her many aliases while confirming what Flippo Corkin has just wryly observed: “Preencess Rojo does have the prett-ee feegure!”). Is it possible to capture even the majority of the insouciance and humor contained in Milton’s scripting? Michel Pagel, who adapted the text in tome 1, will surely handle that considerable task with professionalism, skill, and care.

Alas, I’ll be a poor judge of his efforts—four years of school-years German left me ill-equipped to tackle a French translation!

Terry_french_text

 

Believe it or not, this is not the first time my work has been translated for European audiences. I own copies of both the French and German editions of Lee Weeks’s and my graphic novel,Batman: The Gauntlet. (There’s reportedly also a Spanish edition I’ve been unable to find – so if anyone knows where I can get a copy of Robin: Dia Un, I’d be greatly indebted … )LE_DEFI

Cover to the French edition of Gauntlet, which also featured a James Robinson/Lee Weeks
short story reprinted from Legends of the
Dark Knight #100)

 

On this side of the Atlantic, each week we’re bombarded with e-mails from readers requesting second printings of the LOAC Terry and the Pirates, since many volumes of the initial run are sold out, with copies commanding high prices on the secondary market ($200-300 for Volume Five!). While we have not yet completed our plans—there are scheduling, printing, and economic factors that have to be weighed and balanced—we will be offering second printings of Terry as we look to keep Milton Caniff’s original masterpiece in print during the second decade of the 21st Century. Watch this space for notification when the presses start rolling.

Meanwhile (with a lot of help from Google-Translate): Un grand merci à Bdartist(e) de me donner une copie de leur merveilleuse Terry et les pirates, tome 1! Mes félicitations pour produire un beau livre!

You’ll find the Amazon-France listing for Bdartist(e)’s Terry tome 1 here …

… While the page on Bdartist(e)’s website devoted to Terry – complete with French press coverage – is located here.

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part Three

Mike Esposito, the comic book artist and inker whose career spanned a half-century, has passed away at age eighty-three. In his memory, The Library of American Comics concludes our printing of the excerpted transcript of my interview with Mr. Esposito, who spoke with me in 2009 for our forthcoming Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth.

We begin this final installment with a discussion of work Alex did in the early 1950s for Esposito and his artistic partner and lifelong friend, Ross Andru, while they were publishing comics under the company name, “Mikeross Publications”:

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LOAC: OK, I’ve seen Joe Yank, but let me ask you about one of your books that I haven’t seen, a book called 3D Love.

ME: Oh yeah, we published that.

LOAC: And I heard that Alex did …

ME: Yeah, yeah. He did two great covers!

LOAC: All of Toth’s romance stuff is so fantastic. I spoke with John Romita about Toth – and you know how much romance work he did – and Romita said, “I learned how to do all the romance stuff just by looking at how Toth did it.”

ME: Yeah, John was up at DC, Johnny was starting up there, he was very young. In fact, Ross and I wanted Johnny to come to us when we were doing romance, and when we were doingWonder Woman. We wanted him to do the heads for us, and the figure of Wonder Woman only. But he didn’t want to do it, he didn’t want to get involved with the character, he wanted to do stuff where he’d draw the whole thing himself. And that worked for him – he’s done very well!

LOAC: Oh, yeah! And he’s such a nice guy, too …

ME: Oh, sure! We’re very close, still, he and I. We speak once or twice a week. He lives not too far from me.

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LOAC: You know, I think we’ve covered all the topics I had on my list. Thanks very much for your time. I still have a batch of people to talk to, but if somebody else tells me something and I want to run it past you, would it be all right to give you a quick call … ?

ME: Oh, of course! Now, what is this going into?

LOAC: Well, here’s a name you may remember – Dean Mullaney, who used to publish Eclipse Comics back in the ’80s and ’90s …

ME: Yeah, yeah, Eclipse, I remember.

LOAC: These days Dean and I are producing hardcover collections of strip reprints. We’ve got all of Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates back into print, and we’re doing Dick Tracy. Last year we did a collection of Noel Sickles’s Scorchy Smith

ME: Oh, great!

LOAC: That’s up for an Eisner Award this year …

ME: Really?

LOAC: So we decided this Toth biography would be a great follow-up to the Sickles.

ME: Well, I wish you guys lots of luck. I think I’m gonna go now – my phone is still running, but my voice is leaving!

LOAC: I understand how that goes! Thanks very much for your time – I appreciate it.

ME: All right, pal. ‘Bye now.

 

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Rest in peace, Mr. Esposito.

 

 

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part Two

We continue to honor the late Mike Esposito, who passed away at the end of October, by publishing the second excerpt from my 2009 interview with him. Mr. Esposito and I spoke in support of our upcoming release, Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, and we return to the interview at the beginning of a wide-ranging conversation about Alex:

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ME: As far as Toth goes, he was good right to the end. I get the Alter Ego magazine – he did a lot of articles for Jim Amash.

LOAC: Yeah, he really kept his interest in the field down through the years … and he definitely wasn’t shy with his opinions!

ME: Yeah, but he had the right to ’em, he was a real veteran …

LOAC: Sure.

ME: But you’re right about that. And all his articles and notes, every little thing, he would letter it himself – he wouldn’t write it, he would print it. And he had a way of lettering … he would have been a great full-time letterer, he had that knack. When you see my lettering it’s so sloppy, when I write a note to somebody or something. But he had control right to the end of his life. I used to see those little articles of his in Alter Ego – amazing! I couldn’t help but admire him for it. But I didn’t know he died so young. I never knew he was that sick.

LOAC: Well, the medical problems began, and they mounted up. And maybe he wasn’t as quick to get help as he should have been. But years before that, his wife passed away before him and that affected him, as well.

ME: Sure. Did he have any children?

LOAC: Yes, he had four children, two girls, two boys.

ME: I didn’t know that.

LOAC: Actually, we’re working with the kids, we’re doing the book with their approval, and we’re working with them …

ME: What about talent-wise? Are they art-interested?

LOAC: None of them have followed in his footsteps, obviously, but some of them work in design and photography, and there are grandchildren …

ME: That’s what I meant. Sometimes it steers toward music, sometimes it steers toward acting, but it all comes from the creative spark that gets passed along.

 

Espo_07

 

LOAC: Let me ask you a quick question in another area. I saw some of the stuff that you and [lifelong artistic partner, penciler] Ross [Andru] had done at Standard, some pages from Joe Yank

ME: Oh, yeah . . .

LOAC: It seemed to me that in some of that work, the two of you were going for a Toth-like look.

ME: Oh, definitely! Ross realized that he would overwork too much, and he tried to get a more visually-readable look to his stuff. Like the way Toth would do it, with the faces, the layouts, the backgrounds, and the figures in the foregrounds.

LOAC: One of the guys who inked a lot of Toth’s work, especially at Standard, was Mike Peppe. And Peppe was the art director there, too, right?

ME: Sure, sure. You know, he wanted to ink Ross. Ross had an argument with him. He said to Ross, “I want to do your inking,” and Ross said to Peppe, “No, Mike’s my partner for life.” We were kids, Ross and I, we grew up together, all the way through high school, the Music and Art High School. He said, “Partners for life.” Ross was young, and an up-and-comer, but he said, “No.” Peppe was actually shocked.

LOAC: Sure. In most businesses, there’s not a lot of that kind of loyalty.

ME: You’re right. But sometimes loyalty is because of your own insecurity.

LOAC: That’s true.

ME: Ross might have been more comfortable with me because he knew me from when we were kids – he trusted me.

LOAC: When you get a good working relationship together … if it’s not broke, why fix it?

ME: Especially if you’re paranoid. And we were! [National/DC editor Bob] Kanigher called us, “The Paranoid Twins!”

Espo18

The conclusion of my interview with Mike Esposito will appear tomorrow.

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part One

We at The Library of American Comics were saddened by the news of Mike Esposito’s passing on October 24th of this year, at the age of eighty-three. Mike was a mainstay of the comic book industry from the 1950s to the 1990s. During his career Mike produced material for companies including Fiction House, EC, National/DC (Metal Men, Wonder Woman, and a plethora of war stories), Standard (Joe Yank), Skywald, and Marvel (touching most of that company’s Silver Age characters under a handful of pseudonyms, with notable runs on several Spider-Man titles), retiring at the end of the 20th Century following several years of steady work for Archie Comics.

Of course, Mike was best known for inking the work of his lifelong friend, Ross Andru. In addition to producing thousands of pages of comic book art, the “Mikeross” team packaged comics and dabbled in publishing during both the 1950s and early 1970s.

I conducted a telephone interview with Mr. Esposito in 2009 as part of our research work for the upcoming Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth. I found him personable and opinionated, very open and knowledgeable; it was my distinct pleasure to have spoken with him. I’ve extracted the quotes I need from the interview for my Genius, Isolated text, but that leaves a significant amount of our discussion “on the cutting room floor.”

To pay our respects, The Library of American Comics will run the remainder of my interview with Mike Esposito in this space over three installments. We’ll run the text in Q&A format (unusual for us) to allow you to “hear” Mike in his own words.

We hope you’ll find what he has to say as entertaining and interesting as we did.

Espo_01

LOAC: Mr. Esposito? My name is Bruce Canwell, and mutual friends tell me you might be interested in talking a little bit about Alex with me.

ME: Well, I don’t have too much time I spent with Alex. I can only tell you what a great artist he was. Ross [Andru], my partner at the time, when we were young – Ross Andru loved Toth’s stuff, because Toth developed that decorative look, that two-dimensional look, which Ross didn’t understand when he was starting out.

Ross would overwork – when he saw the stuff up at Standard Comics, he realized the approach would be almost like props on a stage, the flat, decorative look. Two-dimensional – but it wasn’ttwo-dimensional, it was – the design was two-dimensional, but the way Toth did it, he brought depth to it.

When he did stuff for Dell Comics, it was unbelievable. Stuff like Zorro … I couldn’t believe his stuff. And I remember him when I was a young feller, up at DC. I was a young inker with Ross, working for Bob Kanigher, and Toth’s stuff was really unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

LOAC: Right, Alex did work with Kanigher.

ME: Oh, yeah. And he worked for Julius Schwartz …

LOAC: And before him, Shelley Mayer.

ME: And I think [Murray] Boltinoff, he did some work for. He was good. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much to do with one another, but artistically, what he did … as an artist myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate what he did. He was really, really way ahead of any of the other guys.

LOAC: Right. He was a major reason DC moderated their very quiet, Dan Barry “look” from that period …

Espo_04

ME: At DC, Toth did some great stuff. The Westerns – I loved the way he handled horses, and he was almost Caniff-like in his design. That’s before he got decorative. That’s when he was doing complete drawings.

LOAC: Sure – he was a big fan of both Caniff and Noel Sickles.

ME: Right, right! That’s where everybody stemmed from, that period. That’s why guys like Frank Miller became so famous, later, in that psychedelic look up at Marvel. Ross, myself, Johnny Romita – we came from the schools of Sickles and Caniff when they drew differently. Now let’s face it, Frank Miller is great, but it doesn’t have the warmth … it’s not warm. It doesn’t have the warmth of the ’40s and ’50s. But you can’t knock the guy – big movie director . . .

LOAC: Exactly right. He’s done pretty well for himself.

ME: I would say so. It’s just that, you develop a taste from over the years, back when you were young, and you can’t accept some of that psychedelic approach. Today, when I look at a comic book – I get ’em in the mail, I get ’em from Marvel and from DC, and when I see ’em, I say, “Gee, we didn’t think this way!” It’s so psychedelic — I use the word “psychedelic,” because … I don’t know if you know what I mean by “psychedelic” …

LOAC: Yeah, I think so – there’s such a sense of design in every page …

ME: Right, right, right! It’s hard to read! It’s got noise. I should use the word “noise” over “psychedelic” – it’s  screaming, it’s not quiet. When you look at John Buscema when he did the ant and the giant-girl – I did a couple stories with him on that, The Avengers. It’s so beautifully delineated on the page. Now, it’s very graphically different. But hey – the whole world takes a different look!

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More of my interview with Mike Esposito tomorrow.

 

 

 

The Return of the King of the Tunes

My first job was in radio broadcasting. I started as a copywriter at the top-rated album-rock station in my home state, 100,000-watt WIGY-FM. Today – last I heard, anyway – WIGY is an all-religious station, but back in the day we played (and sometimes helped make) Top 40 hits, mixed with album cuts and plenty of standards. Jack O’Brien, our program director, would sing along in the studio every time he played Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and never stumbled over a syllable, even when he was doing Phil Rizutto’s staccato play-by-play part. Believe it or not, our midday man was named Steve Rogers. Our morning drive jock, Bob Anderson, was a thorough-going professional and one of the funniest persons it has ever been my pleasure to know.

We did some fantastic promotions at WIGY. I caught for the station softball team and coached the basketball team (it was a great chance to do my Tommy Heinsohn impersonation, tossing my clipboard and jawing at the refs). We staged a “fantasy day parade” in the studio that sounded so realistic, police officials in the towns we had announced on our route were calling the station to ask if they should put officers at key intersections to handle traffic control. The jocks took over the station on July 4th, declaring their independence and playing whatever music they wanted to play. For years, I never watched the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati – I was living WKRP in Cincinnati.

Like everything else, radio has changed a lot since those days. I’ll get a small taste of how it’s changed starting at 3PM Friday, October 29, 2010, when I’m Scott Katz’s guest on his Internet radio show at www.ustownhall.com.

WIGY’s evening jock, wild-man Willie Mitchell, won’t be on hand to do two-man shtick with me, but Scott and I will be talking classic comics in general and The Library of American Comics in particular. The odds are mighty good we’ll discuss “coming soon” attractions such as Polly and Her Pals, popular favorites like Bloom County, eagerly-anticipated upcoming projects (including our Alex Toth biography, Genius Isolated), plus a sneak-peek at what to look for from LOAC as 2011 unfolds.

If you haven’t been to www.ustownhall.com, why not zip over and take a look? Extensive coverage of the New York Comic Con is available on-site, including a photo gallery containing a snapshot of Dean Mullaney and me manning the LOAC section of the IDW booth. And our resident expert on all things Dick Tracy, Max Allan Collins, has already appeared on Scott’s radio program; you’ll find a link to their interview, so be sure to listen to that informative and entertaining segment.

In my WIGY days, a lot of us talked about being, “The king of the tunes, the duke of the doo-wahs, the man with the stacks of hot wax.” Though I still have my FCC license, I won’t be playing any Warren Zevon or Rolling Stones, but I’m definitely looking forward to my return to radio!

I’m dialing in to talk with Scott Katz of www.ustownhall.com at 3PM on Friday, October 29th. Check the site to hear the show …

I Just Flew in From New York, and Boy…

…You know the rest. Rather than regale you with warmed-over Henny Youngman shtick (go ahead — Google him), here are my rapid-fire recollections of the whirlwind that was the New York Comic Con:

• Greatly enjoyed my first face-to-face meeting with fellow LOAC scribe Brian Walker and his father, the legendary Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey fame. Brian’s brand-new book on Doonesbury(done for another worthy publisher) looks mahvelous.

• Here’s the graphic IDW prepared so passing fans would recognize Dean: STANDEE1

Note his extra-curly hair and pupil-less eyes. I warned him not to eat that bagel leftover from Friday morning, but would he listen to me? Noooo-o-o-o …

• Guess which ultra-talented, ultra-cool, ultra-popular artist walked into the IDW booth on Sunday carrying a green satchel bearing the shamrocked logo of the winningest team in NBA history? Though we’d never previously met, that satchel prompted me to immediately approach him, introduce myself, and say, “Celtics, bay-bee!” To which he affirmed: “Celtics rule!”

• Memo to Lorraine Turner: no special apple juice in evidence all weekend long. Boo! Hiss! Boo!

• Very gratifying that Jim Steranko remembered we had once talked about the possibility of my working for him on his media magazine, Prevue. Some team-ups are meant to be: we combined efforts on 2008’s Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles. Made my day when Jim grinned and said, “We finally gave Scorchy the treatment it deserves!”

• Biggest surprise: getting the opportunity to meet Nicky Brown, granddaughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (see our Monday, October 4th entry, “Two Birds, One Blog”). Nicky is, as the old saying goes, a real pistol, and I had such fun getting to know her. You can read more about her famous grandfather at: http://majormalcolmwheelernicholson.com/wordpress/.

• Biggest disappointment: I failed to meet up with pals-via-keyboard Jeff Vaughn and Joey Cavalieri. Sorry to have missed you, gents!

• Because so many industry giants are helping us with Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, the project grows bigger and grander every day. Once again, Jim Steranko has provided invaluable assistance; I also got to spend time with Irwin Hasen — who was among the first persons I interviewed for the project — and Joe Kubert, who spoke with me about Alex scarcely a week before the convention. With contributions from titans like this (and Ruben Procopio, and James Robinson, and so many others), Genius, Isolated is on track to be the most ambitious project ever published under The Library of American Comics banner.

• Cracked up to learn IDW Chief Executive Officer Ted Adams thinks my caricature on this site makes me look like Captain Marvel’s arch-enemy, Dr. Sivana. How can you say that, Ted (you big red cheese!) …

• What a deee-light to catch up with Dauntless Don McGregor on Saturday! They broke the mold when they made Don, and I was pleased to be able to tell him I’d recently finished re-reading his groundbreaking Black Panther issues, collected by editor Cory Sedlmeier in a lovely Marvel Masterworks edition. As a boy I read those stories when they were first published; if memory serves, both Dean and my by-lines appeared in the Jungle Action letters column during that run.

• Finally, I was happy to meet for the first time: Melissa Singer of Tor Books – Glenn Whitmore – Tim Ogline – Ryder Windham – Larry Shell – Ken Steacy (after a steady diet of Annie’s mutt Sandy, Dean was glad to hear about different puppies, Ken!) – Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco – and …

…And you! If you stopped by the Library of American Comics area and talked to us about our line of books in particular or the great comic strips of the past in general, it was a pleasure to speak with you. My voice is still raspy as a result, but it was well worth it!

Here’s hoping your NYCC was as good as mine —

 

Two Birds, One Blog

During the recent LOAC mini-summit in Boston’s Back Bay, Lorraine Turner suggested that a good topic for this space would be a discussion of the questions readers might ask about my job.

I admit, I’m still mulling over how to address that topic – writing is a solitary pursuit, after all. In addition, years ago a close friend said, “People don’t want to read about writers.” I recalled my high school freshman English class rebelling halfway through John Steinbeck’s autobiographicalTravels with Charley: hmmm-m-m – maybe my friend was on to something. I don’t entirely agree with him, but I’ve come to believe it takes a writer as dynamic and entertaining as, say, Harlan Ellison to successfully fracture my friend’s rule of thumb. I have enough ego to think I do a pretty decent job of putting words into print, but let’s be honest: an Ellison I ain’t.

Recently, however, I finished reading a slender volume worth recommending to you that will also allow me to reflect a bit about how I approach my text features for LOAC titles. Submitted for your approval: Our Hero – Superman on Earth, by Tom DeHaven.

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Our Hero examines Superman’s history, his growth and evolution as a cultural icon, and his major appearances in media outside the comics (the movie serials and feature films, the live-action and animated TV series, the Broadway musical). It offers an insightful look at many of the key creators behind the Big Red S’s comics adventures – with emphasis, of course, on the amazing saga of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

I’m a long-time DeHaven reader – his novel Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies is an outstanding recreation of the Golden Age of Comic Strips and is also well worth reading – but my efforts for LOAC would put me on the side of Our Hero even if I had never previously read anything by this fine writer. The sheer volume of information DeHaven researched, read, distilled, and organized into a cohesive whole is staggering. I have a first-hand appreciation for this sort of thing, of course, and my reaction as I made my way through the book was consistently the same: “Wow!” DeHaven provides significant new information about pulp-era impresario Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, provided by the Major’s granddaughter, Nicky Brown – fascinating, not-to-be-missed stuff. And there are photos and illustrations sprinkled throughout the essay’s 206 pages.

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The book is hardly all facts ‘n’ figures. Rather, it’s a fast-paced, engaging, thoughtful assessment of the Man of Tomorrow, sprinkled with personal reflections that are insightful or humorous, sometimes both at the same time. Here is DeHaven on the gestation of the Broadway play, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman:

The songwriting team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, who’d been successful with Bye Bye Birdie in 1960 and the musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy in 1964, were looking for a next project when they asked magazine writers David Newman and Robert Benton … did they have any good ideas? It was Newman’s wife, Leslie, who suggested Superman after picking up a bunch of Action Comics from their kid’s bedroom floor. Newman and Benton thought it an inspired recommendation – this was, after all, the Pop Art era of Warhol lithographs and Lichtenstein paintings – and so did Strouse and Adams. Although usually it had taken the composers at least two years to write a score, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman was finished in just thirteen months.

After listening half a dozen times to the original cast recording, available again on CD, I think maybe they should’ve taken those extra eleven months …

• • • • •

Another reason Our Hero resonates with me? DeHaven does something I continually strive to do in my LOAC work: he has found the story that makes the information compelling, and he does his usual excellent job of telling that story. No matter how impressive the research and how revelatory the new information brought to light, when an essay is written in the manner of an eighth grade social studies paper, my interest quickly wanes and I start asking myself why I’m spending my all-too-precious reading time on a snoozefest when I could be reading one of the John D. MacDonald paperback originals beckoning me from my To Be Read shelves.

Fortunately, LOAC books don’t put me in that frame of mind: our writing staff consistently delivers the goods. Jeet Heer knows how to entertain readers while he makes us all smarter about Harold Gray, Orphan Annie, and the worlds in which they both inhabit; you’ll soon enjoy the distinctive Heer touch in our first Polly and Her Pals volume, as well. Meanwhile, over in Rip Kirby, a lifetime spent inside the comics industry allows Brian Walker to write about Alex Raymond and Der Ripper with great confidence, while his work in Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Seahelped that book earn its Eisner nomination.

And me? I do my thing, striving to make readers want to keep turning the pages. I don’t want a future high school freshman English class to rebel against one of my essays the way my English class rebelled against Travels with Charley…

Read more about Our Hero here. And about Derby Dugan here.

 

On My Walls

I never set out to collect original art, but over the years I’ve amassed a couple dozen pieces, all of which I’ve had matted and framed for display. I have my share of other, mass-produced items hanging, as well. The Graffiti Designs poster of James Bama’s cover for the Doc Savage supersaga The Monsters was a must-have, as was the Mike Kaluta poster, “The Shadow Ablaze.” And how could I pass up this classic shot of The Kid, smacking a home run in his first at-bat of the 1947 season:

TedWilliams

(Sorry, all you fans of Barry Bonds, Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, or any other masher you can list – four decades after he hung up his cleats, the incomparable Ted Williams remains the greatest hitter who ever lived.)

First-time visitors to my humble abode acknowledge the posters and photos, yet they linger over the originals. Some sketches were bought strictly out of fan appreciation – a Gil Kane Green Lantern; a color head shot of The Thing from “Mr. FF,” Joe Sinnott; a magical, mystical Doctor Strange by that painter with a pencil, Gene Colan.

Two big frames in my living room contain mementos from my own comic stories. In the late 1990s, some might recall, I spent several months writing freelance for DC Comics, arriving on the scene just in time for the business to take a major nosedive (the speculator bubble popped; Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy protection), but before the work dried up underneath me I teamed with my old friend, Lee Weeks, on the graphic novel Batman: The Gauntlet and had my “Huntress” short story for the Batman Chronicles anthology title illustrated by Jim Aparo. I’m pleased to own two pages from each of those stories and am proud to have worked with both those talented gentlemen.

Some too-generous friends have given me several originals, including a very wonderful Olive Oyl profile shot rescued from a waste paper basket at the Fleischer Studios by a member of the production staff and later sold at an Atlanta Fantasy Fair. Color notations around the edge of the piece lend one to believe this was put together for one of the three Fleischer two-reelers, the only color Popeye work they produced.

As LOAC was building up its head of steam, I decided to keep my eyes open for select originals from some of our books. I wasn’t about to break the bank (my prudent Scots heritage at work again), but for the right price I was willing to dabble in the original market.

The few Scorchy Smiths I found were priced well beyond the amount I was willing to pay, meaning I still have no original Noel Sickles piece. Yet I was lucky enough to snag a daily from his artistic stable-mate’s greatest creation:

Terry

Yes, that’s the March 11, ’39 Terry and the Pirates, as the “Indo-China” sequence rushes to its climax. Milton Caniff had been hospitalized at the start of this storyline; many believe Sickles assisted his close friend throughout, to help him get back on schedule. Look at the foliage in the background of that last panel and judge for yourself, but some of my friends believe I own both Caniff and Sickles work in this one strip …

Not long after acquiring the Terry, lightning struck again and I procured this, the February 23, 1953 Rip Kirby daily.rip

While Rip is nowhere to be seen, I’m a Honey Dorian fan, so owning a daily featuring Honey is fine by me. Raymond’s exacting, confident rendering continues to delight.

If you’ve read my text in King Aroo Volume 1, you’ve likely figured out I’m a big fan of the strip (and you are, too – right?). It was a red-letter day when I was able to land this January 30, 1960 Aroo original:aroo

The seller told me he was a Jack Kent fan, parting with the strip only reluctantly in order to raise money that would help him in a financial pinch. I sent him a copy of King Aroo when it went on sale – perhaps the seller having Kent strips in quantity at least partially counterbalanced his having parted with this original? I can only hope so.

Bringing Up Father led me a merry chase indeed. Four or five times I chased a McManus/ZekleyBUF only to come up short. In mid-summer, however, opportunity knocked and I opened the door…BUF

I’m mighty happy to have added this to my handful of original art. There’s Jiggs – there’s Maggie – there’s the Deco motif – there’s the surreal little background figure cutting capers. A neat, representative sampling of the best elements of this long-running strip.

As you might expect, I’ve become a familiar figure at my local framers over the fifteen years I’ve lived at my current residence. Here’s a heads-up, Brian and Sally, if you’re reading this – I’ll soon be coming through the door to ask you to work your magic so I can add Bringing Up Father to the other pieces of art on my walls!

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