Author Archive | Bruce Canwell

Golden Years: A decade of LOA

MeetsDaddy

Some said we couldn’t do it…some said we shouldn’t do it…but we did it and now everyone seems glad we did!

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes gossip: when we were planning the Library of American Comics’s release of Little Orphan Annie, we spent a lot of time discussing whether we should go in chronological order, beginning with the 1924 strips that marked Annie’s debut, or whether we should begin in the 1930s, considered by many to be the “golden period” for America’s spunkiest kid. Some Big Names argued for the “golden” approach, while other knowledgeable Annieologists warned it could be difficult to locate all Harold Gray’s earliest strips. We gnawed at the question the way that loveable mutt Sandy gnaws worries an offending thug’s shin-bone.

If you’re reading these words, odds are you know those hours of contemplation and debate led us to begin at the beginning. It took several visits to Boston University’s Mugar Library (and the unstinting assistance of Mugar Archivist J.C. Johnson and Associate Director Sean Noel) plus a little timely assistance from select Annieologists, but our first volume not only reprinted all the original dailies, it also contained a “lost” 1924 strip that had never appeared in any newspaper. During those first few visits to B.U., it was a great delight to be seeing and actually holding Harold Gray’s original artwork. It was great fun, during a later visit, to meet both Jeet Heer and Chester (Yummy Fur) Brown, who were in town pursuing their own lines of Harold Gray-related research.

Now, fortified by having seen strip’s first decade of storylines and character development, we’re positioned to fully appreciate Little Orphan Annie’s “golden period” as fifth volume in the series offers sixteen months of continuity spanning 1933-1935. When Annie gets a taste of show biz during her alliance with Uncle Dan, we’re ready to accept it because we’ve seen her 1926 days performing with the circus. When the Bleeks appear, claiming to be Annie’s parents, we fully appreciate how plausible this could seem to “Daddy” Warbucks, because we watched him live through the 1928 fire that destroyed Miss Asthma’s orphanage, along with all evidence of Annie’s lineage. After Phil O. Bluster and his cronies have wiped out the Warbucks fortune and put Our Heroes on the bum, we have confidence in “Daddy” and Annie’s ability to prevail, because we’ve cheered them on as they’ve survived the machinations of Count DeTour in the 1920s and Tom Bullion’s 1931 financial squeeze play that left them rooming with Maw Green.

The stories in Little Orphan Annie Volume 5, together with Jeet Heer’s latest historical/biographical essay, are a showcase that remind us why Annie remains an enduring American icon.

A+A = X-9

I’ve returned from deep cover. My trenchcoat is back on its hangar; my Sig Sauer P239 concealed carry package has been safely returned to its lock-box; my forged credentials have been burned, the ashes sifted and tossed into three separate dumpsters.

Still, all my derring-do pales before the high-octane espionage and action you’ll find this summer in our first volume of X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan. And when you see the delicious artwork and stories of tradecraft created by that comics team par excellence, Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin, you’ll likely find yourself wishing for a gadget-laden attaché case of your own.

Separately or working together as a team, Al and Archie created a high level of quality that sustained their decades-long reputation as two of the finest craftsmen in the business. Al was born in the United States, the son of a Colombian father and American mother, though at age two he moved to Colombia with his parents; he says he learned to read both Spanish and English through comics, primarily through the Mexican title, Paquin.

As a teenager, again living back in the States, Al studied under Burne Hogarth and befriended Roy Krenkel; he hit EC Comics at age twenty-one years old. He later spent three years as John Prentice’s assistant on Rip Kirby, also pulling uncredited stints on Big Ben Bolt and Dan Flagg, where he teamed with Archie. By 1967, the Williamson/Goodwin team was selected to replace Bob Lewis (the pen-name of Bob Lubbers) on Secret Agent Corrigan, an assignment which benefited from their distinctive creative stamp for the next thirteen years.
Together, Al and Archie pitted Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, against a seemingly-inexhaustible supply of threats to the free world. Archie’s imaginative plotting and rock-solid characterizations mesh perfectly with Al’s exceptional draftsmanship, detailed rendering, and sense of drama.

If, like me, you love ‘60s spies such as Kelly and Scotty of I Spy, Napoleon Solo, Nick Fury, and the British Johns (Steed and Drake), you’ll likely be glad to add Phil Corrigan to their ranks. So keep a keen eye out for X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan Volume 1!

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Time Changes Everything

I noticed that DC Comics’s “trinity” titles will soon be celebrating major milestones: Supermanand Batman are both reaching their 700th issues, with Wonder Woman arriving at #600. Certainly, an enduring legacy has been shaped by those characters and the many fine creators who have worked on them.

Still, these anniversaries remind me how immense it seemed to me as a kid in 1970, when The Fantastic Four reached their centennial. A hundred issues—wow! Now I think about the length of time I’ve been involved with comics – as a reader, a fan, and a writer – and I say “Wow!” for different reasons.

Let’s take that 1970 FF anniversary as a starting point: forty years have passed between that issue and today. Start at 1970 and go forty years back from there—welcome to 1930. Think about what’s going on (and what is yet to go on!) in comics at that time:

Milton Caniff is still two years from moving to New York; Dickie Dare is three years away, Terry and The Pirates four.

It’s been only a year since Popeye walked on stage at Thimble Theatre to utter the immortal words, “Ja think I’m a cowboy?”

The Shadow’s pulp adventures don’t begin until 1931; Doc Savage and King Kong both bow in 1933.

Kolor Krazy Kat Sundays are five years in the future.

Likewise, it will be five years before George McManus meets and hires Zeke Zekley to assist him on Bringing Up Father.

And oh, by the way, those comic book characters with milestones in 2010? None of them exist yet—there’s an eight-year gap between where we’re standing in 1930 and the release of Action Comics # 1.

What’s the point of this little exercise? It may make you feel old…or it may make you feel good. No matter if you came to comics in time to buy FF # 100 off the spinner racks—or to seeDoonesbury to take on the Nixon White House—or for Frank Miller’s Daredevil—or for the launch of Calvin & Hobbes—you have participated in a lot of comics history. And together, we’re fortunate to be here in 2010, a time when the breadth and depth of that history is being expanded even as it is being captured and preserved for future generations by The Library of American Comics and our friendly competitors, as well as the good persons behind DC and Dark Horse’s many Archive series and Marvel’s Masterworks.

Yes, we’re growing older – but there are still reasons to say, “Wow!”

Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth

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We’ve been keeping this project under wraps for the past year, but it’s time to release this little note from the “Coming Attractions” Department: this fall sees the release of a big stand-alone project that will bookend 2008’s Scorchy Smith & The Art of Noel Sickles. It’s a little number we call Genius, Isolated: The Life & Art of Alex Toth.

Odds are you recognize Alex as one of the true icons of 20th Century comics art, and know the broad strokes that comprise his career: a working professional artist by his late teens; set the industry on its ear working for DC and Standard Comics between 1947 and 1954; did incredible work at Dell, particularly his classic and definitive Zorro; migrated into animation, and is perhaps best known for his designs for Hanna-Barbera Studios’s Space Ghost, The Herculoids, and Super Friends; and marked a return to comics in the 1970s and 1980s, doing new work for DC and also publishing his much-beloved, creator-owned Bravo for Adventure. He ended his career feeling largely disillusioned with the comics of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, though he continued to comment on the industry through forums such as Comic Book Artist.

There is, of course, much more to Alex’s story, and we’ll bring it to you in Genius, Isolated. This book is being produced with the cooperation of Alex’s family. We’re also hearing from well-known “Friends of Alex,” as well as folks close to him who have never before spoken publicly. We’ll examine several of his artistic influences, names both familiar and less-well-known. Captured between two covers for the first time ever will be the complete run of Jon Fury in Japan, created while Alex was in the Army in the mid-50s. We’ll also present other complete Toth stories—from the original artwork!—that will show newcomers or serve to remind longtime fans why Alex Toth’s legacy will long endure. And then there will be page after page of rare and previously unseen art.

We’ll release some teasers from the book in this blog over the next couple of months…just to make sure you’re paying attention!

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