Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

When “Quick Takes” Meet “Coming Attractions” —

— You get a piece like this one, in which we answer the often-asked question, “What’s ahead for LOAC in the months to come?”

Firstuvall, we got your space opera right here! As 2017 unfolds you’ll see us wrap up our UK Star Trek comics and release the middle volumes in both our Star Wars and Star Hawks trilogies. To whet your appetite for the exploits of Rex, Sniffer, Alice K., and Chavez, here’s an April 1979 beauty, done in Gil Kane’s inimitable style:

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ZAM!, indeed …

Old friends will continue to make fresh appearances — Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, and also our fourth Skippy book! This endearing kids-strip is always a delight, and Jared Gardner’s insights into the increasingly-troubled life of cartoonist Percy Crosby is compelling reading, an important addition to our understanding of comics history.

One of our old friends will offer something extra-special to readers — our upcoming Li’l Abner Volume 9 will provide a handful of strips that have never before been reprinted in continuity! What the dickens does THAT mean, you ask? Well, sharp-eyed readers of the Kitchen Sink Press Abner reprints from the 1980s/90s may remember there was a gap in the continuous run of strips between KSP Volumes 17 and 18 — the 1951 strips reprinted in Vol 17 ended on December 29th, with Fearless Fosdick still at the mercy of the “Atom Bum”. Vol 18 opened in Dogpatch with the January 21, 1952 daily, focusing on Abner and his brand-new chemistry set. What happened to the dailies in between? What was the fate of the Atom Bum? Here’s a snippet from one of the missing strips that makes it look bad for America’s ideel …

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We asked Denis Kitchen about the missing strips and he reported that a layout problem in Volume 18 caused the dailies in question to be unintentionally dropped (and KSP had reprinted the full story of the Atom Bum in the first of their two Fearless Fosdick collections, published in 1990). Denis is always an invaluable part of our Li’l Abner team and he’s as happy as we are to see these strips being reprinted in continuity for the very first time. And oh, by the way, the other strips in our Abner Volume 9 are also literally History-Making — the mystery of Nancy O wraps up in 1951, and a major event in 1952 made the prestigious cover of Life magazine!

We have more than old friends to offer — as we recently discussed, we’ll also be welcoming Lynn Johnston’s exceptional For Better of For Worse to the LOAC line of books.

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We’ll have more Disney comics for you to enjoy (don’t quack up — more Donald Duck Sundays are coming soon!), and Superman will be wrapping up the 1950s in a colorful collection of Sunday pages. Meanwhile, our next LOAC Essentials will showcase a strip we’ve used in a past “fantasy day comics page” or two (so you can use our “Search” feature to do a little research and start guessing …). This feature is one of my very favorites, but I won’t be writing the Introduction to the book, because we’ve lined up someone who may love this work even more than I do!

Of course, I will be writing the essay for Steve Canyon Volume 8 as we take Stevenson B.’s adventures deeper into the years of the Kennedy Administration. Here’s a sneak-peek at Milton Caniff’s Christmas thought for his audience, circa 1962:

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Bottom line: what’s coming from The Library of American Comics in the months ahead? Loads of adventure and comedy — stories ranging from the Dogpatch hills to the depths of the Barnum Star System — and work by award-winning talents spanning the 1940s through 1970s. If you agree that’s a nice lineup, please join us for those books you’re sure to enjoy!

The Fantasy Comics Page Salutes …

Stop a hundred random persons on the street and ask them which holiday they associate with the month of May. “Memorial Day” will certainly be the first many select. Others will choose “Mother’s Day.” Some will surely note that Ramadan starts on May 27th of this year.

Yet there are other holidays and observances tied to this often-most-pleasant-of-months. The very first day of the month is May Day, after all … Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly tied into the cultural zeitgeist … and this year Derby Day occurs one day later, on May 6th. The entire month is devoted to raising awareness for both Lyme Disease and Lupus. May 28th is National Burger Day, while the 31st is World No Tobacco Day.

For the purposes of this piece, however, we’re focused on the third Saturday in May, which is designated as Armed Forces Day in the United States. This observance was originally enacted in August of 1949 and marked the consolidation of the four major branches of the American military under the Department of Defense. The very first Armed Forces Day was also celebrated on a May 20th, in the year 1950.

So, with an itch to assemble one of our occasional “fantasy comics pages” that features various strips taken from one day in history, I decided to pick strips that were originally published on an Armed Forces Day early in the event’s history and settled on May 18, 1957.

ASD_Honolulu STAR-BULLETIN_Sat 19570518

I was pleased with the strips I chose from that date — a nice mix, I think, between drama continuities and comedy series, between easily-recognized strips (Archie, Mary Worth) and titles that have fallen into obscurity over time — Jeff Cobb, for example, or Morty Meekle. The former was artist Pete Hoffman’s adventure-hunting investigative reporter, the latter Dick Cavalli’s romance strip for NEA that quickly pushed the kid members of the supporting cast into the spotlight (by the mid-1960s Cavalli renamed the strip Winthrop, after the most prominent of the youngsters, making their takeover complete). Another modern-day obscurity I’ve included here is David Crane, launched in 1956 by Win Mortimer. In an interview with his widow published in Roy Thomas’s Alter Ego # 88, Mortimer’s widow described the strip by saying, “David Crane was small-town minister. Win had a good Biblical background; he could quote anything.”

I couldn’t resist including another installment  of the delightful Penny, as well as a Long Sam — Bob Lubbers never made anyone forget Foster, Caniff, or Raymond, but he was a really excellent craftsman.  Donald Duck was a “must-have” once I saw the newspaper Don was reading — J. Jonah Jameson take note! There’s not much smilin’ going on in this day’s Smilin’ Jack, and to mark the appearance of our tenth LOAC Essentials volume, featuring Norman Marsh’s Dan Dunn, I was glad to find a fresh example of Marsh’s later self-syndicated strip, Dan’l Hale.

As you look at this fantasy comics page, one thing may jump out at you — none of these strips make mention of Armed Forces Day! It will surely surprise no one to hear the May 18th, 1957 Steve Canyon was devoted to observing the day, and Caniffites can turn to page 78 of “Princess in Exile,” our sixth Steve Canyon volume, to see how the U.S. Cartoonist-in-Chief saluted the boys in uniform. For now, though, here’s our fantasy comics page from May 18, 1957 (click any strip for a larger view) …

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DAVID CRANE_19570518

PENNY_19570518

MARY WORTH_19570518

DANL HALE_19570518

MORTY MEEKLE_10621696

JEFF COBB_19570518

ARCHIE_19570518

SMILIN JACK_19570518

For Better or For Worse…? Definitely For Better!

You may have seen the announcement in some of the leading comics news-sites, but in case you missed it, we at LOAC are both proud and pleased to welcome For Better or For Worse to our lineup of titles. FBoFW was the first family-oriented comic strip created and produced by a female cartoonist — until FBoFW‘s launch in 1979, strips like Blondie or Family Circus were the product of the male of the species. Lynn Johnston’s exceptional work on this series stands as one of the signature achievements of late 20th/early 21st Century cartooning, and beginning this fall LOAC will republish For Better or For Worse in its entirety, in a series of nine hardcovers.

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Johnston chronicles the lives of the Pattersons — Elly and John, and their children Michael, Elizabeth, and (eventually) April — in an extended family saga that is by turns funny, dramatic, touching, and resonant to the lives of those of us who inhabit the so-called real world. If you can’t identify with moment after moment as FBoFW unfolds, you’re likely living in a cave. LOAC Art Director Lorraine Turner — who’ll co-edit the series — put it this way: “Life is like a tide that ebbs and flows—raising children, caring for aging parents, and accepting the aches and pains of getting older. Lynn Johnston allowed us to witness—and sometimes laugh at—a part of ourselves through the eyes of her characters.”

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From FBoFW’s first year — the September 19th daily for that year.

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The Pattersons welcome in a new year in this strip from January 5, 1985.

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Time marches on, but some experiences never change, as Johnston points out in this March 16, 2000 FBoFW installment.

If asked for gift-giving recommendations  in the arena of “Comics for Those Who Don’t Know About Comics,” For Better or For Worse would be high on my list. It’s difficult for me to think of higher praise than that, so whether you’ll be revisiting old times with the Patterson family or meeting them for the very first time, I hope you’ll join us in welcoming For Better of For Worse to the distinguished LOAC roster of comics strips!

Three Takes, with Sound Effects

Put together while the Red Sox were picking up their first 2017 road win, a 7-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers …

ZAM! As Dean recently posted in this space, our Star Hawks Volume 1 will soon be on sale everywhere, and this longtime Hawks fan is mighty glad to see Rex, Chavez, and their friends back in print! Even though the series never ran in any of the local newspapers I took, I was eager to see it or anything about it back in those pre-internet days. After all, by the time Star Hawks debuted I had read hundreds of Gil Kane-drawn comic books and was a B*I*G fan. I was also regularly buying the major science fiction magazines at that time, and had read many a short story by Hawks writer Ron Goulart. (I later learned Goulart had ghosted the dozen original novels starring The Avenger that Warner Books published after completing their reprint of the twenty-four pulp adventures featuring Dick Benson and his Justice Inc. team, each written by Paul Ernst; still later I became acquainted with Mr. Goulart’s extensive comics research and scholarship.)

So my appreciation for both Goulart and Kane’s talents piqued my interest about the Star Hawks — and my first acquaintance with them came not through the comics, but through the original Hawks novels Mr. Goulat wrote, and which were published with Gil’s spot illustrations, in 1980 and 1981 by Playboy Press.

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The front covers to EMPIRE 99 (the first original STAR HAWKS prose novel) and its sequel, THE CYBORG KING.

As you can see, I still own those books! They didn’t disappoint me, delivering Goulart’s patented style of action and humor, plus some fine interior black-and-white illustrations that are Pure Kane.

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Back cover text and Gil Kane art for the EMPIRE 99 paperback.

Eventually Star Hawks was reprinted and I was on hand to plunk down my money every time a new edition was released. This latest incarnation of the Hawks is my favorite — after all, this time I got to play a small role in putting it together! Aside from the hands-on fun, our layout prints one two-tier daily per page, making this book read like one of our Essentials volumes on steroids! It’s a fitting showcase for Gil Kane’s always-delicious artwork, and Goulart’s stories remain as frothy today as they were in the late ’70s, when they were first published.

Yes, I’m pardonably prejudiced, but I heartily recommend Star Hawks Volume 1!

StarHawks_cover

Be on the lookout for this cover at your favorite local or on-line comics shop or bookseller!

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HIIII-YAA-A-A! Anyone currently purchasing Marvel Comics’s complete reprinting of 1970s/80s sensation Master of Kung Fu — which is back in the marketplace in the form of four thick hardcover Omnibus editions (the first three of which are already on sale, with the fourth slated to complete the series later this year) — will also get a taste of LOAC a’borning, though at the time neither Dean nor I had an inkling of what the future held in store.

That inkling comes because Crafty Cory Sedlmeier, editor for this Omnibus project, is including not just the story content for each reprinted issue, but the letters page(s) as well — and both Dean and I cut our milk teeth writing letters of comment that appeared in many Marvel mags of that era, including MOKF. I’ve read the first two Omnibus volumes and for the most part enjoyed getting reacquainted with Shang-Chi, Sir Denis Nayland Smith and his coterie of once-and-former MI-6 agents, and the broad range of nefarious criminal masterminds they opposed; the series is at its pinnacle when writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy are shaping the material. Volume three is sitting on my “To Be Read” shelf, slated for a summertime perusal, and I find myself looking forward to re-reading the issues in which Moench and Mike Zeck combined to produce solid monthly extensions of the foundation built by Moench/Gulacy.

Dean’s first letter to MOKF shows up relatively early in the run; my first contribution to “Missives to the Master” appears in Omnibus Volume 3. So if you’re looking for some of the earliest-planted seeds of LOAC, or you’d like to experience some of the best comics storytelling of the ’70s and early ’80s, you’ll find both in the Master of Kung Fu Omnibuses.

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THWIP! We have The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 at the printer, getting ready for its post-Memorial-Day on-sale date. Fred Kida and Floro Dery spearhead the artistic efforts on display in these comics from 1983 and 1984, as that friendly neighborhood web-spinner teams up with the Sub-Mariner, battles The Eliminator, learns how deadly the female of the species can be, and faces shock after shock when an impostor makes the scene!

Former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter generously allowed me to interview him for my text feature for this volume. In an extensive and wide-ranging discussion, Mr. Shooter talked candidly about his work assisting Stan Lee on plotting the early Spider-Man strips; what he has to say will add a new dimension to your appreciation and understanding of this series.

As is often the case with the best interviews, Mr. Shooter gave me more interesting material than I could fit into the space available. Let me share with you one very pleasant anecdote, dealing with Mr. Shooter’s encounter with Marvel impresario Stan Lee years after their Spider-Man collaboration.

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Former Marvel Comics E-I-C and self-proclaimed “large mammal,” Jim Shooter.

Shooter said, “I was in Denver for a convention and Stan was also there. He’s in this area, like a curtained fort. He’s got like a hundred helpers and he gets his picture taken all day, and he signs autographs all day.

“I’m walking to my table and I’m walking past this line of a thousand people waiting to have their picture taken with Stan. I told myself, ‘I can’t bother this guy, he’s in a full court press, just leave him alone.’ But Stan heard I was at the show, and he sent folks over to me and they said, ‘Look, if you stick around a little bit after the end of the show, once all the pictures are taken, Stan would really like you to come over and see him.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So I stuck around after the show. His person came and brought me over and took me inside the curtained fort. I could just see through a little space in the curtain, and there’s Stan with the last twenty or thirty people, getting their pictures taken. He sat in his chair and there were all his people, and they would say, ‘You! Here! Look! Go!’ ‘You! Here! Look! Go!’

“Finally the last bunch of them are done and I was taken into the photo room of the curtained fort. I walked in and he was so happy to see me. I’m telling you, sharp as a tack. We picked it up as if we’d just left, but I haven’t seen him for I don’t know, fifteen years, but it was like yesterday. We just started talking and we couldn’t talk fast enough.

“The thing with Stan is, every night at a certain time he calls his wife, Joan. So he has to get back to the hotel room to make the phone call. We’re gabbing away and his folks are screaming at us: ‘Stan! Gotta go! Right now! Come on, Stan! Right now!’ But we’re jabbering away like crazy and then he says, ‘Wait! We have to have a picture!’ So he stood up, put his arm around me, and we took a picture. He said, ‘Print two of ‘em and give one to him right now!’ (Usually they print the pictures overnight.) Then they literally dragged him away.

“The next day his person came over to my table and said, ‘Do you have that picture you took with Stan?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘He wants to sign it.’ I said, ‘OK, sure.’ One of my friends went with Stan’s guy and they interrupted Stan and said, ‘Stan, you know, here’s a picture, for Jim.’ They said he sort of stared at it for a while, then he signed it and sent it back with my friend. She said he was having this nostalgic moment, you know?

“Well, I can relate, Stan, because I had one, too.”

For more from Mr. Shooter, you know where to turn — our upcoming Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 4!

A Frankly Fabulous Follow-Up

Regular visitors to this space may recall that in mid-December I posted the first of two pieces about models Milton Caniff employed as characters for his then-upcoming Steve Canyon storylines. The models posed for photo sessions that filled the dual purposes of offering visual reference to assist the drawing of the sequences while also providing client newspapers an eye-catching way to promote the Canyon strip. You can find that piece archived here: “Model Citizens, Part 1”. It provides some post-Caniff “what happened to …” information concerning model Gen Melia, who married playwright and restaurateur Warner LeRoy and later re-married as “Gen Walton.” Given a lack of information about her under that name, I concluded she was living “a lower-profile lifestyle.”

It was a delight, on March 2nd, to receive an e-mail from Bridget LeRoy that says, in part: “As the one and only child of Warner and Gen LeRoy, I greatly enjoyed your blog … just to let you know, [my mother] has written over a dozen children’s books, co-authored three best-selling cookbooks (“Loaves & Fishes”) along with several plays and TV films, and married Tony Walton, one of the greatest set and costume designers of all time. Yearly trips to the Tony Awards and occasionally to the Oscars are a thing. So ‘a lower profile lifestyle’ — not so much. I can’t thank you enough for this piece of my family history. It means the world to me.”

Bridget is not overstating her step-father’s achievements — Mr. Walton is indeed a master at his craft, with Tony Awards for his work on Pippin, House of Blue Leaves, and the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, as well as a “Best Art Direction” Oscar for Bob Fosse’s ambitious, semi-autobiographical 1980 film, All That Jazz (he was earlier nominated by the Academy for work on his initial motion picture project, Disney’s classic Mary Poppins). From 1959 to 1967 Walton was married to his childhood sweetheart, Dame Julie Andrews.

The initial information about her mother Bridget provided sent me digging deeper, and not only did I find links to the Loaves and Fishes cookbooks Gen co-authored with the late Anna Pump (Loaves and Fishes), I found several of her children’s’ books available at on-line used booksellers and ordered three of them. Earliest of the three is Emma’s Dilemma, from 1975, about a teenage girl who may be forced to give away her beloved sheepdog, Pearl. The cover illustration is also credited to Gen LeRoy:

EMMAS

Lucky Stiff! was a breezy 1981 hardcover picture book about pre-teen Anabel and her adjustment to having a new baby brother named Vaughan (“Sounded like yawn. Everyone would laugh at his name”).  Accompanying Gen’s text are lively illustrations like this one, by J. Winslow Higginbottom:

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Taxi Cat and Huey is an ambitious 1992 book for young readers, written from the first-person perspective of basset hound Huey (‘short for Hubert”), who lives with his owners, Fred and Maureen Walton, and Taxi, the kitten the Waltons introduce into their household. The illustrations are by Karen Ritz:

TAXI & HUEY

When these books arrived at my home I left them on the table in the living room, planning to take them upstairs to my office the next day and scan the artwork you’ve just seen. My wife picked up Taxi Cat and Huey and read it in a single sitting. About the author, my wife said, “She’s good. That’s a really cute story!” So take it from my wife (someone whose interests do not include comics, Caniff, or Canyon) — Gen has real writing chops.

And if that recommendation doesn’t convince you, consider this excerpt from a long October 27, 1995 article by Hap Erstein, theater writer for the Palm Beach Post, concerning Gen’s first theatrical play, titled Not Waving…:

“Most first-time playwrights have to struggle to create interest in their work. Not Gen LeRoy. Her dramatic comedy Not Waving … does not have its world premiere until 8 tonight at the Pope Theater Company, but it has already generated more high-powered attention than most scripts by veteran writers. Such actresses as Julie Harris and this year’s Tony Award winner Cherry Jones have participated in developmental readings of LeRoy’s play. Prestigious though cash-strapped New York theaters like Circle in the Square and Circle Rep once vied to produce it … And even before the debut of Not Waving …, it has been bought by Robert DiNiro’s Tribeca Films for a future movie.”

Erstein goes on to provide information about Gen’s background for his readers: “Her Pope Theater program biography includes an eclectic list of previous professions. ‘Before beginning a career in writing,’ it states, ‘Ms. LeRoy did work as an IBM programmer, dry goods salesperson, waitress, accounts payable clerk, TV commercials model, Norman Rockwell’s New York model for several of his Saturday Evening Post covers, photographer’s assistant, mother of two children, wife, [and] illustrator …'”

That bio touches upon one topic Bridget LeRoy and I had discussed in our e-mail exchanges. “There was one additional piece that [Gen] was a little upset I forgot to mention,” Bridget informed me. “She went on to be Norman Rockwell’s model in three or four or maybe even five of his Saturday Evening Post covers. You can certainly find that online, including a video where she discusses it.”

Indeed I could, and indeed I did. The video is brief but wonderful, an excellent account by Gen of her experiences modeling for Rockwell. It includes several photographs of Gen taken to support two of those Post covers. You can see the video here: Gen Walton on Rockwell, and Post covers for which Gen modeled are shown below:

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“Family Tree” — Gen’s likeness is that of the woman beneath the little boy who tops the tree

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“Easter Morning”

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“University Club” — The older members of this 5th Avenue gentleman’s club gained a reputation for clustering around the windows to criticize “daring” new women’s fashions that included hemlines above the knee or, in this case, a sleeveless blouse. Note Rockwell painted himself into the scene at bottom-left, looking over his shoulder at the earnest conversation between the sailor and the young lady.

There are two ways I can bring this discussion around full circle. The first is obvious to any Caniffite: Norman Rockwell’s nephew, Dick Rockwell, was Milton’s long-time assistant on Steve Canyon. But this second way is one only a very few persons have likely seen — until now. Thanks to Bridget LeRoy, we are pleased to share with you this pencil portrait of Gen Melia (as Caniff knew her). Compare it to the photographs of Gen as Whitey Barker in our Steve Canyon Volume 7, or the shots of Gen posing for Rockwell in the YouTube video, and I think you’ll agree Milt did an outstanding job of capturing the essence of one truly accomplished woman:

Caniff_Gen Portrait

Our thanks to Bridget LeRoy for reaching out to us and providing us with so much additional information (Bridget has an impressive resume of her own, as a Google search shows). And yes, I’ll cop to it — while Gen LeRoy Walton’s name certainly did fall out of nationally-syndicated gossip columns of the type I cited in my original piece, the evidence presented here makes it plain that my December conclusion about her living a “lower-profile lifestyle” was thoroughly unjustified! But this is one of those occasions where I’m perfectly happy to have (like Huey, perhaps?) barked up a wrong tree …

“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

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