We received the sad news that my good friend Dale Crain has died. We were the same age and had known each other since the ‘80s, when I ran Eclipse and he worked at Fantagraphics. Dale was a great comics historian and hands-down the best archival comics restorer I know. In LOAC’s early days, when I needed help restoring the earliest Little Orphan Annie strips, it was Dale I turned to. He had been living in Asia for a long time, at times running a restoration studio, then being “semi-retired” as he moved from Hong Kong to Thailand, and eventually Vietnam, where he’s been for the past few months. Shortly after he arrived, he sent me a little video showing his neighborhood, right on the beach. He absolutely loved living in Asia. We emailed each other regularly, — sometimes five times a week! — talking comics, the ins and outs of restoration, and life in general. He also liked keeping his hand in comics, so did restoration of LOAC Essentials strips, such as Baron Bean, Barney Google, and Charlie Chan, among others. What a blast we had, two grown-up kids who could still get excited about a well-drawn comics panel! Like everyone else who ever knew him, I will really miss his friendship. His family has a GoFundMe campaign to bring Dale’s body back from Vietnam. You can donate here. Thanks to Rich at Bleeding Cool for the photo.
Author Archive | Dean Mullaney
Don’t miss Art Spiegelman’s insightful 5000-word review of Screwball! by Paul Tumey in the New York Review of Books!
“The future of comics is in the past, and Paul Tumey does a heroic job of casting a fresh light on the hidden corners of that past in Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny. It’s a lavish picture book with over six hundred comics, drawings, and photos, many of which haven’t been seen since their twenty-four hour life-spans in newspapers around a century ago.” — Art Spiegelman, The New York Review of Books
In the Little Orphan Annie strip of February 24 1935 (reprinted in Vol. 6 of our series) a mysterious giant wearing a turban appears and offers to help the little mophead chop wood. It’s the first time Annie meets Punjab. When she offhandedly comments how nice it was to receive his help Punjab gives her a magic whistle and tells her that any time she needs his help, all she has to do is blow it and he would immediately appear. She is frightened and apprehensive because she has no idea who he is, but takes the whistle nonetheless, and Punjab disappears. A few days later, on March 3rd, Annie wonders if the whistle would really bring Punjab to her aid and blows it. Poof! Punjab appears out of nowhere! Later that month at a key moment in the classic Eli Eon saga, she blows the whistle yet again. Same result.
Eighteen years later, in strips reprinted in LOA Vol. 16, Annie needs help saving the life of a friend. In the June 1, 1953 strip she unexpectedly finds the magic whistle in her pocket and blows it. Punjab appears again! When asked where he came from, Punjab simply stated, “When the little princess blows the magic whistle, I appear.”
During the height of LOA licensed merchandise in the 1930s one manufacturer produced Little Orphan Annie sweaters, including “Magic Punjab Whistles” as premium incentives for retailers ordering full boxes of sweaters. So far as is known the whistles were never offered as for-sale items. Further, because the whistles don’t bear any markings, today’s collectors are generally unaware of them. Only one sweater box complete with five whistles is known to exist, making the “Magic Punjab Whistle” an extremely rare collectible.
Thanks to our good friend Richard Olson for giving us the background and scanning his sweater box and whistles for all to see!
SCREWBALL! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny will be in stores and on sale tomorrow! To whet your appetite, here’s another Guest Blog by the book’s author, Paul C. Tumey…
Before he became a soldier, Gordon “Boody” Rogers fought the Third Reich with pen and ink. In his Sparky Watts daily strip, he put his unlikely hero to work fighting Hitler. In his singular bawdy screwball style, Boody Rogers has Sparky combat Hitler by going to bed with him!
We’re less than two weeks before SCREWBALL! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny will be in stores and on sale! To whet your appetite, here’s a Guest Blog by the book’s author, Paul C. Tumey…
In the course of writing and curating Screwball! I embarked on a thrilling journey in which I met many fascinating, funny cartoonists who lived and worked as far back as 140 years ago. I am delighted to be able to share their stories and art with a new audience.
The current unprecedented access to historical sources on the Internet has propelled us into a new era of historical scholarship in which it is possible to conduct in-depth research that has previously been very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. It turns out there is a surprising amount of comics history that is undocumented and mostly forgotten. My mission with Screwball! was to reclaim some of this material, both with “lost” cartoonists and new information and art related to well-known cartoonists.
There is an innocence to screwball comics I love. At first, I thought it was because the people of the time were rather naive and uncomplicated. And then I realized these were the generations that endured World Wars and the Great Depression. I came to realize the screwball style―silly, manic, absurd, non-ironic―was a deliberate choice our worldly, weary, and wise forebears made. They must have needed a laugh. Given that our current times are looking a bit grim, it seems a worthy effort to place some of this material back in circulation to offer a tonic and perhaps even an inspiration to celebrate the absurdities of life.
Although we packed Screwball! with over 600 comics and other pieces of art―the best of the best―I turned up much more. At one point, faced with so much good material, Dean asked me to sort the art for each chapter into five folders: Definite, Preferred, If Room, If More Room, and Pipe Dreams.
Here, then, are a few very special items we think LOAC readers will enjoy that are not in the book, taken from the Preferred to Pipe Dreams folders.
ABOVE: Otto and Blotto by Milt Gross, August 19, 1934. In the mid-1930s, the restlessly creative Gross slyly changed his Count Screwloose topper to Dave’s Delicatessen into a new strip, featuring two chummy best buddy penguins who, Laurel-and-Hardy-like, are dominated by their wives and often sneak off for some fun which, of course, turns into comic disaster. (See page 191 of Screwball! for more context, and page 200 for another Gross penguin-like character, The Guy From Mars.)
When we published a collection of the rare 1940s Wonder Woman daily newspaper series several years ago, we noted that the strips we reproduced were from the files of DC Comics and represented, to the best knowledge at the time, the complete series. When the series was originally winding down, in late 1945, it was thought that it most likely appeared in only one newspaper—the Chicago Herald-American. That newspaper never ran the daily strip for November 19, 1945. The Herald-American did not publish on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 22nd, so it published the November 20th strip on the 19th, and then scratched out the dates on the November 21st and 22nd dailies and published them on the 20th and 21st, respectively. It picked up again on Friday the 23rd and continued until the final strip on December 1st.
We promised at the time of our publication that if a November 19, 1945 daily surfaced in the future, we will make it available online and in subsequent editions.
Well, guess what?!
Treasures Retold: The Lost Art of Alex Toth is just hitting stores and the raves have already begun:
The Library of American Comics has “put together an exciting and insightful new companion volume to their Eisner Award-winning Alex Toth: Genius trilogy…a superb mix of material.” —Scoop
“An eye feast of words and pictures…Over 290 pages of eye popping, adventure, art, and creativity by Alex Toth. AMAZING stuff. This is an addition that every creative person must have in their personal library.” —Beau Smith
Superman expert Karl Mattson pointed out an error in Superman Golden Age Dailies 1944-47: the November 22, 1944 daily was a duplicate of the November 23rd strip. As strip researchers know, some newspapers printed strips on days other than the “official” in-panel date; in these cases, the newspaper would often unilaterally re-date the strip. Our source for November 22nd (the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection) was obviously from one of those newspapers. Our apologies for not catching this before publication. We’ll fix it if we go into a second printing, and in the meantime, the correct strip is above.
As part of our Summer 2018 Italian Tour, we spent some time in Florence with comics historian Alberto Becattini and his wife Luciana. Like all Italians, Alberto was eager to show off the highlights and sidelights of his home town.
Alberto and I have read each other’s work for decades and have exchanged innumerable emails, but this was the first time we met in person. And what better place to meet than in Florence!