Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

What I Wuz Readin’ —

Happy New Year to LOAC readers and all visitors to this space!

To mark the beginning of the end of the second decade of the 21st Century (yes, it’s true — while the 2020s are starting this year, the century’s second decade ends this year — since the very first year is Year 1, the first decade spans Years 1-10, which means our calendar decades end in “0”. It’s the same reason the 21st Century didn’t officially begin until the year 2001), I wanted to take a trip in time, going back forty years to see exactly which comic strips I was reading in my local newspaper on Thursday, January 1, 1970.

I grew up in a small-sized college town, and we were lucky to have a Monday-through-Friday newspaper, a luxury several similarly-sized towns in my home state did not enjoy. The editorial page of that newspaper was a real treasure trove, carrying syndicated columnists whose work I prize to this day (Bob Greene, long before his career became embroiled in controversy; hell-raising Mike Royko, who made everything he covered seem larger than life; and The New York Times‘s “Observer,” Russell Baker, the most erudite and subtly humorous of the lot), and while the comics section was not the equal of the roster of columnists, it was a very respectable mix of strips, one to which I turned every day without fail.

That newspaper is still being published today, and while it changed hands in 2018 I’m told it remains an independent publication, not a small branch of a very large corporate tree, to which I say, “Bravo!” It has been many years since I read a copy of it from front to back, but it was a major thread in the tapestry of my boyhood, a tie to the larger outside world for a kid who wondered how he might ever reach there from where he was standing.

When we flipped the calendar to begin the 1970s America was still deeply embroiled in the Vietnam conflict, Watergate and the M*A*S*H TV series were both more than two years in the future, Apollo 13 was four months away from flirting with disaster, Bobby Orr would lead the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup victory in 29 years one month later, and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium would open six weeks after that. It was, like all years, one with its tragedies and triumphs, its positives and its problems.

And when we flipped that calendar to January 1, 1970, the reconstruction below shows the strips that ran in my local newspaper’s comics section, in the order in which I remember them appearing on the page, now four decades ago:

A Betty White Christmas (with Flip Corkin as Rudolph!)

As we pause for a bit here at The Library of American Comics — to celebrate the holidays, see out the old year, and prepare to mark our 200th release — we wanted to take something of a trip back to The Way It All Began (kudos to you if you pinpointed the source of that reference without resorting to Google or Bing) …

One of our axioms is, “The more we know, the more there is to know,” and we do indeed accumulate additional knowledge as we research ongoing topics like Milton Caniff, the impresario behind Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirates. At the appropriate place in our Terry series we devoted space to Phil Cochran, Caniff’s friend who served as the template for fictional Colonel “Flip” Corkin, seen below with nurse Taffy Tucker and Flip’s star pupil, young Terry Lee himself:

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The Grand Finale of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune!

Just a few weeks ahead of almost everyone else, my copies of LOAC Essentials Volume 14: Barney Google arrived on Saturday. Much as I enjoy seeing Billy DeBeck’s work, unpacking these copies also jazzed me up for another reason: we are now knocking on the door of our 200th LOAC release. That means our journey down the LOAC Road to 200, begun in January, is reaching its last stop, and this will be our final spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune.

Since Barney Google is the latest in our Essentials sub-imprint, I decided it was time to put all fourteen of ’em into the Wheel and see which would come up as the featured book, as determined by the fickle finger of fate. In case you haven’t kept track (shame, shame on you, if so! ūüôā ), here’s our list of Essential releases:

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Gobble Up This Fantasy Comics Page from 1946!

It’s tough to get an American Thanksgiving holiday to appear much later on the calendar than it does this year, on November 28th. It does happen every so often, though, and in fact it happened exactly seventy-three years ago, in 1946. Since it’s been a while since we did one of our “fantasy comics pages” in this space, we thought it might be good to show you a cross-section of what readers were seeing in their post-War newspapers.

We’ve done a fifty-fifty split between strips that mention the holiday and those that don’t. In the latter category, Bringing Up Father¬†is no-so-subtly plugging the motion picture version of the strip that had debuted just three days previously, starring Joe Yule as the every-put-upon Jiggs and Renie Riano as rolling-pin-wielding Maggie. Blondie¬†features the Bumstead kids, with Dagwood getting the final word, while Ernie Bushmiller puts Nancy and Aunt Fritzie through their familiar paces, and what else can one say about the day’s installment of Terry and the Pirates but, “Oh, that Burma …!”

For strips that chose to acknowledge “Turkey Day,” Buck Rogers yearns for some good old fashioned bird and fixin’s. Orphan Annie proves she’s “Daddy’s” girl, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil shows us pugs down on their luck (how invisible was Scarlet? She was nowhere to be seen on Thanksgiving Day!), and my absolute favorite entry on this fantasy page is Mutt & Jeff, with Bud Fisher spreading holiday cheer and dropping Mae West’s name in the bargain. Miss West’s career was pretty quiet by 1946 (her brilliant My Little Chickadee, co-starring W.C. Fields, was already six years old at this point), but she was lovely, she was intelligent, and her mention here shows she was still very much a household name. Many of her films still hold up remarkably well, and in her heyday she dominates the screen whenever she’s in front of the camera — I highly recommend finding, viewing, and enjoying the work of Mae West.

My Leonard Maltin impression completed, I offer you this fantasy comics page from Thanksgiving Day, 1946, plus happy holiday wishes for all our American readers, from everyone at The Library of American Comics!

The Penultimate LOAC Wheel of Fortune

Throughout 2019 we’ve been following the LOAC road to our two hundredth release by running a monthly LOAC Wheel of Fortune, choosing a theme and the books from our decade-plus backlist that fits into it, then loading those results into the Wheel, giving it a spin, and shining the spotlight on the randomly-chosen result. Since November is the eleventh month, and since eleven is represented by two “1”s, we decided to start with our 11th book and include every subsequent “ends-in-1” release to see what we’d get. The results are pretty interesting:

This month’s LOAC Wheel of Fortune list. What’s with the colorful “06” next to Superman Atomic Age Sundays Volume 1? Blame it on Red Kryptonite, folks!

We certainly don’t plan any patterns with thoughts of, “Wouldn’t it be great if Book X corresponded to release number Y?”, but a big scoop of randomness placed our first two Li’l Abner releases ten books apart, and the pattern repeated between the Caniff artbook and Steve Canyon Volume 1, and between¬†Star Wars Volumes 2 and 3. It’s the luck of the draw.

And speaking of luck, we shuffled the list into random order¬†and here’s how it looked:

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A Personal Note, If I May

I think I met Russell Steele three times. He worked in the film and TV industry, part of the horde of behind-the-cameras technical and business staff who support most productions. Russell plied his trade on motion pictures such as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Phantom, and The Sum of All Fears, as well as such TV productions as Agent Carter and the current version of Hawaii Five-O.

He was also the college roommate of one of my oldest friends (and Gene Colan’s biographer), Tom Field — which is why, when Tom sent me a message early Sunday morning that Russell had passed away at age 53, it gave me pause and has since prompted me to pen these few words.

Just a few months ago, in August, I traveled back to central Maine to share an afternoon with this motley crew (I’m the motley fool in the middle, wearing the black shirt):

The Duck Soupers (abridged). At right, back to front: Dave, Mike, and Tom. At left, back to front: Doug, me, Walter. Missing from Photo: Lee, and Howard, who left us in 2014.

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Leaves Are Falling, Wheels Are Spinning

Our recently-released Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny is a major milestone on the LOAC Road to 200, and as we have done each month during our drive toward that 200th release, we’ve created a theme that allows us to load a cross-section of our books into the LOAC Wheel of Fortune, give ‘er a spin, and spotlight one randomly-chosen past book from the line.

October is a time of endings and beginnings. Major league baseball wraps up with its yearly postseason blast even as the harvest season concludes in many parts of the country, closing farm stands and making local fresh produce a memory throughout the long cold-weather months. Still, Hallowe’en’s spooks and spirits usher in the late-year holiday season and both the NBA and NHL start their own regular seasons, so October signals renewal, at least in some respects.

With that thought in mind we looked at our list of cartoonists to find those who were born in the month of October, as well as those who passed away in this month. It was an eclectic list: Lyman Young, of Tim Tyler’s Luck fame, was an October baby, as were Alex (Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim, Rip Kirby) Raymond and Bil Keane, original ringleader of the Family Circus. October was the month when we lost Jack (King Aroo) Kent, Noel Sickles, Gumps creator Sid Smith, and¬† Jiggs and Maggie’s referee, George McManus. When we extracted their titles from the complete LOAC roster, we had this list, in the order of their release:

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Echoing Caniff

Other media were ahead of comics when it came to putting rampant hormones in front of their audiences. In the movies, ribald blonde bombshell Mae West cast the handsome but essentially unknown Cary Grant in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong, a box-office smash and Oscar nominee. West and Grant teamed again (regrettably, for the last time) the very next year in I’m No Angel, while in publishing,¬†Tropic of Cancer¬†by Henry Miller was released in France and James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice in the States. The steamy sexuality in both books created sensations and scandals — Cancer was banned in the U.S., while Boston took the same action with regard to Postman.

The comics, by contrast, kept most of their romantic relationships at the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald level — that is, until Milton Caniff devoted a week of 1936¬†Terry and the Pirates dailies to pushing gallant he-man Pat Ryan and the alluring-but-frustrated Burma into each others arms.

The climax of Caniff’s famous TERRY sequence occurs in these two strips, from March 19 and 20, 1936

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Septembers LOAC Wheel of Fortune: Just For Laughs! Redux

I know, I know — I said I had something planned for September, so we’d do our second humor-based spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune later in the autumn. I weighed the options and decided the idea I had for September would work even better if I held it back until October. That certainly appealed to me, since now I had a clear path to doing our focus on our funniest “funnies” in back-to-back installments. Hoo-hah!

You’ll notice that just before and just after our fiftieth release, we offered two delightful single-volume books,¬†Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and the Little King and that splendid rare find, Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was. (I visited the Chuck Jones Gallery during a June visit to San Diego — a highly-recommended destination, if you’re a Jones-booster like me!)¬†I also like to count myself in the forefront of Cliff Sterrett fans, so it’s a grand pleasure that we have offered readers Polly and Her Pals in two beautiful oversized “Champagne Edition” offerings, plus a year’s worth of dailies from 1933 in one of our LOAC Essentials books. Like Blondie, the earliest installments of The Family Circus¬†are something I’m proud we’ve collected and preserved for 21st Century audiences. The humor offerings in our second hundred titles is weighted toward Walt Disney offerings, and notice that as the year has progressed, as Silly Symphonies Volume 4 indicates, our march toward our 200th Library of American Comics book is getting mighty close to that goal. Here’s the list, in order of release:

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