It may not be May the Fourth yet, but we’ve received our advance copy of STAR WARS: The Classic Newsapaper Strips Volume One, featuring amazing artwork by Russ Manning, Rick Hoberg, Mike Royer, Dave Stevens, and Alfredo Alcala. (Plus a cover by Al Wiliamson!) Look for it in stores on May 10th!
As Bruce Canwell writes in the introduction: This volume represents something of a departure for the LOAC Essentials series, and for The Library of American Comics as a whole.
Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48 debuted as a Monday-through-Saturday daily in September, 1933. By early 1934 a Sunday page had been added and Dunn’s creator, Norman Marsh, integrated the Sunday with the daily strips to form a continuous narrative that ran seven days a week.
Not every American, however, read both the daily and Sunday editions. Millions of readers never took the daily newspaper, but spent hours each week poring over the thick, feature-filled Sunday edition. Millions of others, by contrast, purchased only the weekday paper, its information and entertainment brightening their commute to or from work.
Like many of his peers Marsh advanced his stories only slightly in the Sundays, typically providing a recap in Monday’s strip to insure his readers were up-to-date on Dan’s crime-busting activities. In some weeks, however, the leap from Saturday to Monday was a little steeper than normal.
In containing only the dailies from the first year-plus of Dunn’s existence, this LOAC Essentials collection allows readers to share the experience of those countless households that did not take a Sunday paper.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 …
Gil Kane! Ron Goulart! Star Hawks! We were really excited to open the package from the printer with this advance copy of Star Hawks Vol. 1. The strips are printed LARGE, one to a page, showing the full beauty of Gil Kane’s drawing, and includes a new intro by Ron Goulart. Look for it in stores late April.
The new Superman Golden Age Dailies 1942-1944 will be in stores March 22nd!
One of the delights of editing and assembling the entire DC Newspaper Strip Library is working with Pete Poplaski, who provides all the covers. Pete could be called Mr. MxyzMimicMan because of his diligence in getting every detail right as he apes the style of Wayne Boring or Curt Swan, et al. It’s always a pleasure to receive Pete’s original art (yes, he’s one of the fewer and fewer artists who draws with pen and ink on paper, instead of directly to digital).
It’s also a heck of a lot of fun talking to him. Pete and I go way back — to the 1980 New York Comic Art Con, as he reminded me when we sat down in January at the 2017 Angoulême Festival in France. It was our mutual friend Mark Gruenwald who introduced us those thirty-seven years ago. Pete was pals with Mark back in Wisconsin; Mark and I had been roommates after he moved to New York. Some fans also know Pete as the world’s Number One Zorro Fan—he has been known on more than one occasion to dress up as Johnston McCulley’s famous character.
At any rate, here’s a tip of the hat to Pete Poplaski. He may have moved from Green Bay a couple of decades ago, but he continues to follow the Packers and was more than a little disappointed when they came up short in the NFC Championship game against the Falcons. Can’t win ’em all.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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. Do not accept damaged books.
- 2. Returned the damaged books to Amazon and ask for a replacement.
- 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 …
As a partial payback to Italy for providing the world with arguably the best of all cuisines, we can report that Italian readers can now enjoy the best of the best in American comics: Milton Caniff is being translated by our friends at Editoriale Cosmo in Reggio Emilia. Francesco Meo and company have begun reprinting both Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon (as well as Russ Manning’s Tarzan). I met with Francesco at the Angoulême festival last week, where he was also considering reprinting the old Eclipse Airboy comics by Tim Truman, Chuck Dixon, and friends.
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 …
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:
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:
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:
 Italicize the name of a newspaper, not its town or city. That means we prefer St. Louis Post-Dispatch to St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
 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:
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:
 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!”