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!”
We received an advance copy of the Artist’s Edition of Alex Toth’s Bravo for Adventure, filled with lots of previously unpublished goodies. Those who placed advance orders should be receiving their copies next month!
During a cold, snowy first week of 2017 here in New England, two things occurred to me:  we’re overdue for a Fantasy Comics Page in this space, and  2017 marks the 241st anniversary of the acknowledged founding of the United States of America. We’re fewer than ten years away from the USA’s 250th birthday, the Sestercentennial! (Or Semiquincentennial, if you’re cut from Johnny Littlejohn/Hank McCoy polysyllabic cloth — the jury’s out on what the celebration will officially be called.)
When that pair of thoughts collided, I went back into the strips, looking to build a Fantasy Page from the first day of our Bicentennial Year, January 1, 1976. What I put together tickled me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It features a mix of comedy and adventure strips, popular long-running comics and more obscure fare. We begin with two of my all-time favorite series: Al Capp brings Baby New Year back to Li’l Abner (no one knew it at the time, but the strip had less than two years’ of life remaining), while Tom Ryan ignores the new year entirely in his always-wonderful Tumbleweeds.
Gus Arriola’s work always gives me a smile, so including Gordo on this Fantasy Page is a distinct pleasure — and one might think Flash Gordon could use New Year’s Day as an excuse to take a break from tromping around dungeons and fighting monsters, but this lovely example of Flash’s strip by Dan Barry proves that’s not the case. And who among us has not faced the “good diet resolution” dilemma Tom Batiuk presents in Funky Winkerbean? (Though I hope most of us last longer than this before breaking our resolutions!)
Lolly was a new strip to me, and I enjoy such finds, as well as going back to learn a bit about them. In this case, Lolly was the brainchild of former Disney Studios animator Pete Hansen and ran from 1955 to 1983. Lolly herself is a nicely-designed character, and the balance between her home and work life (she was an office employee, supervised by “Mr. Quimby”) gives her the same sort of plot grist that would make the Mary Tyler Moore Show such a hit throughout most of the ’70s (though Lolly, while appealing, is no Mar’!)
Junior Tracy’s Bicentennial New Year begins earlier than he’d like — note who’s sleeping next to him! You can read the first appearances of the Moon Maid in our just-released Dick Tracy Volume 21. Irwin Hasen was one of the treasures of the comics world, even when newspaper editors mistakenly identified him as “Irwin Hansen;” here’s how his Dondi started off 1976. Snoopy and Woodstock were partying hard in Peanuts, and appropriately, our Fantasy Page ends with a strip created specifically with the Bicentennial in mind, Yankee Doodles. This was also an unknown strip to me when I stumbled across it, but thanks to historian extraordinaire Allan Holtz and his invaluable “Stripper’s Guide” website, I learned this was a feature that lasted only fifty months, and was the product of three creators: Ben Templeton (later of Motley’s Crew fame), Fred W. Martin, and Don Kracke — think of the hilarity that could have ensued if the credits had said, “by Kracke!”
Who knows what sort of comics will arise to take advantage of the Sestercentennial? (Or the Semiquincentennial, should we opt for the longer name …)
Anyway, here’s our look back at January 1, 1976 —
It’s pretty amazing that nearly thirty years after Carlos Giménez first published PARACUELLOS in Spain (in 1977), the first English-language edition—which we published under our EuroComics sister imprint—has made two Best Comics of 2016 lists. It’s a testament to the timeless nature of Giménez’s important work.
In the Beat’s “Best of 2016” list, Alex Deuben writes:
“This book by Carlos Gimenez is something of a legend in his native Spain and elsewhere but this year this book was finally published in the US. The story of a child growing up in a state run home in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, it begins as the story of one child – Gimenez himself – but becomes something bigger. The story of a generation growing up in a fascist state, run by adults that don’t care whether the children live. This look at childhood in fascist Spain is more than just a great memoir, but an important historical document and one of the powerful and haunting graphic novels I have ever read.”
At Comic Book Resources, Michael Lorah says:
“Gimenez tells the stories of his time in the “Social Aid Homes” for war orphans after Franco won the Spanish Civil War. Every page is designed to break your heart. Masterful cartooning, a little childhood whimsy and a whole lot of human tragedy make for an unforgettable reading experience.”
Before the pre-New-Year holidays we took a look at what I’d been able to find out about the two models, Loree Thomas and Gen Melia, who posed as Alice Santa Fe and Whitey Barker for Milton Caniff’s “Pipa Island/Red Cross” Steve Canyon storyline, which we just reprinted in Volume 7 of that LOAC series. If you missed it, you can catch up by clicking here.
Milton and models went together like baseball and hot dogs (or spaghetti and meatballs, for those of you with more refined palates), so I went back a bit further to look at a trio of other “Caniffite” models and what we could learn about them following their assignments in support of the Canyon strip …
You may recall these two young ladies from our 6th Steve Canyon volume:
Terri Keane, in uniform, and Lynn Thompson, in checkered shirt, posed as Scooter McGruder and Poteet Canyon for a photo session in support of a 1957 plotline that revolved around the Civil Air Patrol. Many photos from this assignment were used in publicity materials that appeared in various periodicals; here’s a shot of Caniff and Lynn, from a syndicated newspaper feature that I found in the Des Moines Register:
It may surprise you to learn Lynn and Terri were both teenagers when they did their Canyon work. This newspaper article, running nationwide in May, 1958, provides a lot of background on both girls, including personal details that would be frowned upon in the 21st Century, though it was a different society, with different mores, sixty years ago:
Terri also landed a gig on series television in the late ’50s. Here’s an article describing her work:
If you’d like a brief flash of Terri helping to intro the Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, you can see her at this link.
Arguably the most famous of the Canyon models Caniff used was Bek Steiner, who as Miss Mizzou made quite a splash when she appeared at halftime in the University of Missouri football stadium and doffed her character’s trademark trenchcoat (see our Steve Canyon Volume 3 for the detailed story). Here’s a a brief bit from the November 18, 1952 Macon, Missouri Chronicle-Herald with other information about Bek’s time at the school:
Newspaper gossip columnists kept track of Bek even after her time as Mizzou ended. In early April, 1953 Dorothy Kilgallen told readers that Bek and musician Marty Mills were “closer than the baseball season,” but just before Memorial Day of that year another gossip feature said, “Don’t know about the chance of Johnny Ray reconciling with Marilyn Morrison. Anything is possible. But he has been paying lots of attention to Bek Steiner, a stunner at the Copacabana in New York.” By the wintertime of ’53, with cold temperatures and snow on the ground in the East and North, Bek had migrated westward, but city editors knew a photo of a beautiful woman in a bikini would warm readers’ hearts and featured a beaming Bek — left leg bent, head tilted to the right, back slightly arched and arms upraised and extended to either side — in a dark bikini. The copies of the story I’ve found are too blurred and dark for reproducing here, but her image was presented all in the name of culture! The caption informs readers, “All that’s changed in 2000 years is the means of capturing feminine beauty for posterity. Bek Steiner, 22-year-old dancer at Las Vegas, N. M., models a Bikini bathing suit, almost exactly like those which appear in mosaics recently excavated in Piazza Amerina, Sicily. Today, the camera captures beauty once preserved in bits of ceramic.”
The next two years were big ones in Bek’s personal life. She wed singer Chuck Nelson in 1954, and in his column It Happened Last Night, gossip monger Earl Wilson covered the nuptials with this tongue-in-cheek snippet:
By the autumn of 1955 a child was on the way, as Dorothy Kilgallen reported at the bottom of the left column of this column (with a vivacious picture of Bek dominating the right-hand column):
This is also a fine place to mention J.B. Winter’s fine, fun 2014 look at the character who was perhaps Milton Caniff’s biggest blonde bombshell, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics. You can see it at Amazon and the page on that site is well worth visiting, since one of Bek’s friends and her daughter remark on the book in the “Comments” section. They indicate that, as of 2014, Bek Steiner was alive and brightening the lives of family and friends. That is good news indeed for fans like us, because Bek’s fictional counterpart, Miss Mizzou, will be re-teaming with Caniff’s rock-jawed colonel in Steve Canyon Volume 8!
Dean and Lorraine and my wife and I are traveling (not together!) for the next several days. While we take a bit of a breather please accept our hopes that, whichever winter-solstice holiday you choose to celebrate, you have a mighty happy one!
I’ll be back before New Year’s Day with the second part of our look at Milton Caniff’s models, following their Steve Canyon assignments —
As they say, just in time for the holidays…
“This series is just another example of the ability of The Library Of American Comics to discover lost and forgotten comics many of us never knew existed, restore them, and collect them into a high-quality hardcover. This is a great book that captures a bit of that Disney magic we all know and love.” — The Christian Science Monitor
With Steve Canyon Volume 7 now on sale, Dean and I were reflecting on what a chock-full package this book proved to be. Previously-unreprinted Canyon strips! A detailed examination of the TV show based on the strip, thanks in large part to John Ellis, the impresario responsible for making the series available on DVD! A nifty “progression” feature showing one of Steve’s action poses evolving from pencil rough to finished inks! A photo of Caniff with then-Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon! Coverage — with pictures and a first-hand account — of Milt and Bunny’s 1960 trip to the Far East! And an extensive look at the development of the “Pipa Island/Red Cross” story, including a page of photos showcasing Caniff with two models, Loree Thomas and Gen Melia.
Milt’s use of models was a tried-and-true practice by the time of the Red Cross adventure, of course. Extending all the way back to his Terry and the Pirates days, with Nedra Harrison as the original model for the Dragon Lady and Kay Stearns serving as the flesh-and-blood April Kane, Caniff knew working with models helped inject verisimilitude into his artwork, while photos of those sessions helped promote his comic strips when included as part of magazine and newspaper publicity articles.
Over three hundred eight-by-ten glossies were shot during Caniff’s session with models Melia and Thomas. We looked at many, many pictures featuring the two ladies in order to select five for publication, and seeing that quintet of of photos again made me wonder when I sat down this week with my copy of Canyon Volume 7: “What else could we learn about Gen and Loree?”
As it turns out, a fair amount …
Roughly a year after portraying Xenia “Whitey” Barker for Caniff, blonde Gen Melia found romance that connected her to Old Hollywood. “The Voice of Broadway,” syndicated gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, printed news of a pending wedding in her May 12, 1961 column:
Warner LeRoy’s father, Mervyn, directed 1931’s Little Caesar and, after landing at MGM as a producer, green-lighted The Wizard of Oz for that studio; mother Doris was the offspring of Harry Warner, the founder of Warner Bros. Mervyn and Doris had been divorced for almost twenty years by the time Warner and Gen announced their engagement. Mervyn remarried actress Katherine “Kitty” Spiegel in 1946, while shortly after her divorce from Mervyn became final, Doris quickly married director Charles Vidor, perhaps best known for helming A Farewell to Arms in 1957. Doris has a run of bad luck that included an incident at that wedding reception, as reported in this wire service tidbit:
For his part, Warner had early success in the theater and a director and producer. His controversial play Between Two Thieves caused some easily-offended members of the audience to walk out of the show in protest; at one showing a pair from the audience interrupted the performance to try to argue with the actors! Yet it was as a businessman and restaurateur where Warner found his greatest successes: he owned three prime New York locations: The Russian Tea Room, Maxwell’s Plum, and most famous of them all, Tavern on the Green.
Two years after walking down the aisle, Gen and Warner had their only child, Bridget, but even a young daughter could not cement a union buffeted by the stresses and strains of Manhattan’s high society. The couple eventually divorced and each remarried. As Gen Walton, Milton Caniff’s one-time model fell out of the spotlight for the rest of her life, but after years circulating among the “beautiful people,” a lower-profile lifestyle may have been a pleasantly comfortable fit.
Steve Canyon aficionados have now met Loree Thomas when she played the part of Alice Santa Fe, one of the long line of ladies who had a crush on America’s favorite bird-colonel, only to have him be oblivious to their feelings. By 1965 Loree was living in Long Beach, New York. She palled about with one Ginger Crossman, with the two gals visiting Ginger’s parents at their summer home in upscale Kennebunk, Maine. While researching this article, I found these two national ads for the same slimming program:
When we compare the Loree in these 1968-69 ads to the Loree in Caniff’s Red Cross photos, it seems highly unlikely they are the same person, given [A] their physical differences (which seem significant, even given the changes the passage of a decade can bring) and [B] the fact that “our” Loree would have already been married with two children by the time of her shoot with Milton. Still, what are the odds two women would have a name as unusual as “Loree Thomas?” Certainly it could be a coincidence, but here’s a conjecture to mull: what if the slimming-ad Loree is the mother of the “Alice Santa Fe” Loree? TV-personality Loree would have been in an excellent position to assist her daughter’s ambitions — she might even have been acquainted with Caniff and used that connection to line up the Red Cross gig for teen-aged Loree.
This is all speculation, it’s true. Still — as we’ll see after the Christmas holiday, when Part Two of this series appears — Milton Caniff was definitely willing to use teenaged models …