Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

Sayles of the Century

While Dean, Lorraine and I spend a fair share of our time reading, examining, and working with great comics from our past, we don’t focus exclusively on comics. Like you, for pleasure we watch movies and television offerings, we read magazines and books, and every so often in this space we pause to tell you about Really Impressive Work You May Wish to Explore (use the “search” feature on our “Blog” page to look up our ballyhooing of pioneering television comedian Ernie Kovacs, for example).

Today I’m touting a mammoth novel I just finished reading, one that is not just the best novel I’ve read in the past year, it just may be the best novel I’ve read in the past decade … and it was written by one of my very favorite motion picture directors, to boot.

The author is John Sayles. The novel, clocking in at an impressive nine hundred fifty-five pages (yes, 955!), is titled A Moment in the Sun. You can see the author and his cover below (the elaborate typography on that cover was the thing I liked least about the book).

1_Sayles & Moment

I have followed Sayles’s directorial career from its outset. He got his start as a writer on low-budget quickies like Piranha and Alligator (I missed those), but then went on to direct his first feature, Return of the Secaucus 7, released in 1980. Having read its good notices in reviews by Pauline Kael and others, I attended a screening when it came to my local repertory theater that year and came away sufficiently impressed to follow his work for the seventeen films that followed, from Lianna and Baby, It’s You in 1983 to his latest, Go For Sisters, released thirty years later.

Sayles quickly moved into the forefront of the “independent film” movement: he writes, directs, and edits his films. “I always say the screenplay is like the first draft, the shooting is like the second draft, and the editing is like the third draft,” he told Ben Crair in a 2011 article published on The Daily Beast. “That’s why I edit my own movies now: I don’t bring somebody in to write the third draft of my book.” Along the way he has worked with talents as diverse as David Straithaim, James Earl Jones, John Cusack, Alfre Woodward, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Pena, Alan King, Mary Steenburgen, Kris Kristofferson, and Daryl Hannah. While much of his work is done outside the Hollywood-big-studio norm, he does inhabit space within that world, serving as script doctor on several major-studio releases (Apollo 13, Jurassic Park IV, and he also wrote an early draft of the story that become E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial). Bruce Springsteen also tapped Sayles to direct the “Glory Days” video from his monster Born in the USA album.

2_Pena & Cooper in LONE STAR

My favorite Sayles film is 1996’s Lone Star (that’s Elizabeth Pena and Chris Cooper above, in a shot from the film). Murder in a small town and its investigation by local law enforcement officials start to reveal a spiderweb of events that branch and grow, touching the lives of many compelling characters, offering surprise twists and revelations that make the motion picture compelling viewing for those interested, not in special effects and lots of explosions, but in “real” characters inhabiting “real” situations and struggling with “real” problems.

It was a pleasant surprise, sometime during the 1990s, when I discovered Sayles turned his hand to prose fiction in addition to film (in fact, he was a published author before Secaucus 7 was ever filmed). I found and eagerly whipped through all of his work in print at that time — the story collection Anarchists’ Convention, the novels Pride of the Bimbos, Union Dues, and 1991’s wonderful Los Gusanos. Another book of short stories, Dillinger in Hollywood, followed in 2004. I bought A Moment in the Sun when it came out in 2012, but it sat on my “To Be Read” shelf for five years, my eagerness to explore N*E*W S*A*Y*L*E*S tempered by the sheer size of the book. I knew I needed to wait until I was certain I could devote sufficient attention to absorbing a project of this magnitude. The moment seemed right in mid-June of this year. I held my breath, dove in, and took the plunge for the better part of a month. After my immersion into the world of A Moment in the Sun, I am here to give this novel my highest recommendation.

Sayles creates a turn-of-the-century saga, beginning with the Alaskan gold rush of 1898; then turning an unflinching eye to that year’s race riots and insurrectionism in Wilmington, North Carolina (the only time in United States history that a duly-elected government has been overthrown) before offering a look at the Spanish-American War as fought by African-American soldiers in Cuba and, later, in the Philippines; and dealing with the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. The cast includes scores of characters, yet centers around would-be gold miner Hod Brackenridge, Philippine revolutionary Diosdado Concepcion, the Manigault family (wastrel son Niles, his crippled brother Harry, and their stern Southern father, the Judge), as well as the African-American Luncefords: the Doctor, his wife, their son Junior, and their young daughter Jessie.

As the tapestry of their narratives unfurls it touches upon the state of journalism during this period, provides a look at the nascent days of what would become the motion picture industry, and concerns itself with the plight of lower-class laborers in an America rushing from an agrarian to an industrial economy: farmers, miners, taxi-drivers and haulers in the days before horse-and-cart gave way to the automobile. Sayles is no florid stylist, but he knows how to turn a phrase, impart information, and summon an emotion, as in this passage from page 217:

4_Pg 217

I spend a fair amount of time studying the records, writing, and artwork of past years, and my jaw scrapes the floor when I consider the extensive research that has gone into A Moment in the Sun.  Not just the events, but the technology, the differing public opinions, the variety of slang and jargon employed in different geographical regions of a land not yet connected by movies or radio, let alone television — the sheer breadth of historical exploration would be impressive enough, but the depth, combined with the width, makes this a truly monumental achievement. On display in these pages is the type of detail they never teach in high school U.S. History class. (More’s the pity, because such detail might make history come alive for more members of the studentry.) As the cherry upon this scholarly sundae, McSweeney’s, publisher of the book, has made available online a wide range of material Sayles collected during his researches: check out A Look at the World Behind A Moment in the Sun.

Consider this an unabashed rave for A Moment in the Sun, still on sale at finer booksellers and major on-line outlets. Even if you choose not to invest the time and energy to absorb this sprawling epic of a novel, you’re also encouraged to dip into the various video providers and watch a Sayles film or two — The Secret of Roan Innish may be his most lyrical, City of Hope his hardest to find (I located it only on VHS), Casa de los Babys his most interesting character study, and Matewan (a shot below, featuring James Earl Jones) his toughest, angriest work.

5_JEJ in MATEWAN

But for those with more than a couple hours to invest, A Moment in the Sun will reward you in any number of ways. And — just to prove there is a link to what we do here at LOAC — Sayles is well aware of the spell the still-young comics medium was casting upon the populace. The novel features a newsboy known only as The Yellow Kid — Hearst and Pulitzer are referenced as the story progresses — and I’ll tease you to read the book and puzzle out the real-life identity of the character referred to only as “The Cartoonist.” A Moment in the Sun even describes a handful of political cartoons, much like this one depicting House Speaker Thomas “Czar” Reed and President McKinley seeking to keep the pressure from blowing the top off the Capitol dome as legislators beat the drums for military action against Spain.

3_McKinley Political Cartoon

I’ll be back soon with a look at a different book. Though very different from A Moment in the Sun in terms of length and subject matter, I think it, too, will be of interest to LOAC readers everywhere.

“Happy 241st Birthday, America!” From 1946 —

— And The Library of American Comics. We’ve put together this patriotic little sampler of July 4th, 1946 strips that includes a couple that have already appeared in our books (Little Orphan Annie Volume 12 and Dick Tracy Volume 10), plus a holiday offering from our new favorite heartthrob, Jane Arden, as well as a couple fun strips that both use one-word titles, but could not be more different in terms of execution. In our lead-off position, a stirring bit of patriotism from Ham Fisher–

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Hoping you and yours have a fine Independence Day holiday!

Remembering the Fallen (Into Obscurity)

Idly ruminating as springtime winds down and summer gets ready to pounce — “No more pencils!/No more books!/No more teachers’/Dirty looks!” — it occurred to me that while LOAC and its friendly competitors have brought scores of classic newspaper comics back into print for the enjoyment of modern-day audiences, there are still many, many series from the early-to-mid-20th-Century that today are on the radar screens of only the most dedicated strip fans. I did a bit of research to share a trio of them with you today.

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In the days when female newspaper reporters were commonly referred to as “sob sisters” because they were typically assigned to answering letters to the lovelorn or covering society events, Register & Tribune Syndicate hired writer Monte Barrett and artist Frank Ellis to give readers a woman news-hawk who was as scrappy and crusading as any of her male coumnterparts. Jane Arden debuted in 1928, well before Brenda Starr. Several artists followed Ellis on the feature, and by 1937 a Jane radio show was on the air. The next year the intrepid Miss Arden headlined a motion picture that failed to catch the public’s imagination, but her newspaper adventures continued for more than three decades afterward.

Several significant papers carried Jane Arden: here’s a 1932 ad for the strip that ran in the Des Moines Register:

JANE ARDEN_1_Ad

Barrett, according to a syndicate biography, “was a newspaper correspondent during two Mexican revolutions and was twice wounded. It was while he was recuperating from his second wound that he met the girl who would later become his wife. Mrs. Barrett, herself a girl reporter, is the author’s inspiration and critic and she lends realism to the character of Jane Arden.” Three years later the Minneapolis Star ran this ad, one of many touting their contest to find a real-life Jane Arden:

JANE ARDEN_1A_Ad

You may be asking (doing that Bugs Bunny impersonation for which you’re so noted), “What’s all the hubbub, bub?” Here’s a bit of a taste of Jane Arden with a pair of strips, the first from November 23, 1935, the second from August 11, 1936 (note Russell Ross was drawing the strip at this time):

JANE ARDEN 2_1935

JANE ARDEN 3_1936

And here are a pair of back-to-back strips from June, 1940. Clearly, this rapscallion, Bissell, doesn’t know he’s picked the wrong gal to try scamming!

JANE ARDEN 4A_1940

JANE ARDEN 4B_1940

Two years after Bissell tried to rope Jane Arden into a shady operation, the comics pages saw the newspaper game being worked from a different angle thanks to the husband-and-wife team of Herb and Dale Ulrey. Hugh Striver was a teenaged newsboy who got mixed up in melodramas of small and large scope. Here’s an ad for the series, as it appeared in the Sunday, October 4, 1942 Minneapolis Star:

HUGH STRIVER_1_Ad

And here’s another that ran a month later, in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

HUGH STRIVER_1A_Ad

Dale Ulrey was perhaps better known as Dale Conner, who had worked on Apple Mary and endured a rocky creative relationship with that feature’s eventual writer, Allen Saunders, who morphed Apple Mary into Mary Worth.  After marrying Herb Ulrey, Dale teamed with her husband to create Hugh Striver. Here are three examples of their work, the first from November 2, 1942, the second dated November 11, 1944, and the last from January 29, 1945:

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HUGH STRIVER_3

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The chiaroscuro effects in the 1944 strip are especially eye-catching, aren’t they? Despite the talents of the Ulreys, the strip had less than a month to live following the January, 1945 strip above.

During the final months of 1942, as some papers were adding Hugh Striver and touting it to their readership, the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was pushing a new launch of its own, one that would flame out even more quickly than did Striver. This new strip was the product of two fascinating women. Neysa McMein was a suffragette in her 20s, was involved with the major talents who gathered around the Algonquin Round Table, and was originally named “Marjorie” before she took on “Neysa” upon the recommendations of her numerologist. She built a stellar career in magazine illustration, including a fifteen year run as cover artist for McCall’s. In 1942 she partnered with Alicia Patterson, none other than (as Jay Maeder characterized her in a 1995 article) the “pampered socialite daughter” of Captain Joseph Medill Patterson, founder and ramrod of the New York Daily News. The two ladies produced a comic strip about an Egyptian princess who escaped her enemies by drinking an immortality serum that allowed her to remain in suspended animation even after being wrapped in a mummy’s shroud and locked away for thousands of years. In 1940, after Professor Hoot unearths her sarcophagus, she returns to life and finds action and exotic adventure in the then-modern world.

The name of the strip was Deathless Deer

DDEER_1_Ad from Binghamton NY PRESS ND SUN-BULLETIN_19421107

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The three strips above, taken from the Los Angeles Times and spanning November 16, 1942 to February 12, 1943, give no sign of the problems that would plague this series. Her career in illustration left McMein unprepared for the rigors of pictorial storytelling and the grueling demands of the daily newspaper schedule. For her part, Patterson had no long-term plan for Deer and her supporting cast, and her attention was compromised by Newsday, the New York paper she and husband Harry Guggenheim had launched in 1940. Alicia’s father brought in some of his reliable talent to try to save the strip, which he had launched to great ballyhoo. Zack (Smilin’ Jack) Mosley was the chief firefighter, but he was incapable of preventing Deathless Deer from crashing and burning.  Time magazine once dubbed the series the worst comic strip in history; it lasted for less than one year.

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Tastes differ, of course, and one thing we’ve learned is that every comic has a following of some size and enthusiasm. So who knows? One day you may see one of these strips — or one of their cousins that have similarly faded away with the passage of years — in an LOAC edition …

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:

STAR HAWKS_19790410

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.

FBoFW1

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:

CANYON_19621225

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!

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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:

LUCKY 1

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:

NR_Family Tree

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

NR_Easter Morning

“Easter Morning”

NR_University Club

“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.

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