Golden Years: A decade of LOA

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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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Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin’s SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN!

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In case anyone out there thought the 1930s and 1940s had exclusive domain over the best adventure strips of all time, we offer for your consideration one of the greatest of them all…from the 1960s to 1980s!

In 1967, famed EC artist Al Williamson teamed with Archie Goodwin, the greatly admired writer and Editor-in-Chief at Warren magazines, to take over the long-running and somewhat tired X-9 series. It was a team that was made in sequential art heaven: Archie and Al had a magnificent 13-year run on the strip, and they teamed again later for wonderful work on Star Wars.

In July, we’ll begin reprinting their entire X-9 run in five volumes under the title X9: Secret Agent Corrigan. It’s the first comprehensive collection of the strip and will be printed from Al Williamson’s personal proofs in an oversized format that matches our Rip Kirby series by Alex Raymond.

“Al Williamson’s delicate line-work, coupled with a style that’s both realistic and atmospheric, enhances the no-nonsense story of Phil Corrigan,” says IDW’s Scott Dunbier, who’s editing the series. And I would add that Archie Goodwin’s unerring sense of pacing, which he developed in comic books, is even more noticeable in the daily strip format. Man, the guy could write!

Secret Agent Corrigan updates the character created in 1934 by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond. X-9 was originally an agent known only by his code name, who worked for an unknown government agency. Over the years, the series benefited from the individual styles of many writers and artists—including Leslie Charteris (author of The Saint novels), Charles Flanders, Mel Graff, Bob Lubbers, and George Evans—but it is the Goodwin/Williamson tenure that is best-loved by today’s comics fans. It was during their run that X-9 received the name of Phil Corrigan.

The first volume also features an introduction by Mark Schultz, and a essay on X-9’s long history by Bruce Canwell.

Two Twos on sale today!

If it were a Rip Kirby mystery, we might call it “The Case of the Tandem Twos,” but it’s even better news than that: two different Volume Twos go officially on sale today. We invite you to consider Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby vol. 2 and Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County vol. 2, and then check out the online IDW store, your local comics shop, favorite brick-and-morter bookstore, or an omnipresent online bookseller. Between Alex Raymond and Berkeley Breathed, there’s some enjoyable comic strip reading for everyone.

TRACY Hits Double Digits

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No, that title doesn’t refer to the denouement of a newly-discovered continuity (though wouldn’t it be great to unearth a lost Chester Gould work featuring a heretofore unknown grotesque antagonist?). Instead it marks a minor milestone, as with our upcoming July release Dick Tracy becomes the first Library Of American Comics series to require a tenth volume. In many ways this next Tracy installment, reprinting eighteen months of continuity from September 1945 to March ’47, is my favorite of the run. While no criminal in Volume 10 is as wily as Flattop, as sadistic as The Brow, as shocking in appearance as Pruneface, time and again this group strikes close to home in ways that are tense and sometimes disturbing.

Which Tracy rogue is as amoral and tenacious as Itchy? He pursues the late Shaky’s ill-gotten gains, threatens both Junior and Tess, then teams up with a distaff member of the criminal element to ensnare Tracy in a fiendish trap. During this sequence, a great panel showcases Tracy’s indomitable will: when all seems hopeless, Tracy nevertheless manages to snarl, “Itchy – – – I promise you one thing – – – when we leave this house – – – I’ll WALK out, but they’ll be carrying you!” Look for it in the December 12, 1945 daily.

This volume also features the rotten apples hanging from a few family trees. The innocent boy-scientist Brilliant is done wrong by his relatives. Nilon Hoze and her cousin Rod connive to get their hooks into their rich aunt’s moolah, while what happens to spunky little Themesong is a reminder that in Chester Gould’s world, no one is truly safe (relevant today, when people are quick to surrender civil liberties for vague promises of “security”).

The book’s final sequence is its most spine-chilling, as Vitamin Flintheart—that overwrought thespian and “capsule receiver” (as Themesong christens him)—returns in time to cross paths with the eerie Influence, who has the power to bend others’ wills to his own. Mental take-over stories always creep me out—as a kid, I didn’t even find it funny when Dr. Boris Balinkoff used his robot rings to take control of Gilligan and the other stranded castaways! So my flesh crawled as Influence systematically seized mind after mind, cementing his unscrupulous plans, toying with people like a cat at a mouse convention. Brr-r-r-r!

I’ll admit there’s one more reason I’m a Tracy booster besides Chet Gould’s crackling good stories and the exceptional behind-the-scenes insights offered by Jeff Kersten and Max Allan Collins: I’m the guy who writes each volume’s “Previously in the Case Files of Dick Tracy” feature. It’s a challenge to compress over two hundred pages of continuity from the previous book into two pages of text and images, but what great fun to write first-person commentary in Tracy’s voice!

It’s a pleasure to salute The Master Sleuth on the advent of his tenth LOAC volume, and it’s delightful to know there are plenty more to come…

“If it’s Free, it’s for me.”

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It’s the first Saturday in May and that means “Free Comic Book Day” is here! Don’t forget to head down to your local comics shop and pick up the exclusive Library of American Comics #1.

This free comic book is a little different from the usual fare. You won’t find holographic variant covers or even superheroes in the 32 pages. Instead, we feature 30-year-old penguins and octogenarian flappers, 60-year-old “teenagers” and 40-something secret agents. What they all have in common is that, regardless of age, they are timeless and classic.

It’s 32 pages of previews for some of our upcoming books, so check it out. If it’s free, it’s for me…and you!

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!”

The Errata Bug Bites LOAC

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Due to printing errors, two daily strips in Dick Tracy Volume Nine were duplicated, and two are missing; in King Aroo Volume One, one strip was similarly duplicated, while one is missing. We apologize for the mix-up. In order to keep both series truly “complete,” the missing strips will be printed in the succeeding volumes. For those who can’t wait, we reproduce them here.

The top strip is the Dick Tracy from June 24, 1944 (page 67); the middle strip is from May 24, 1945 (page 211). Below them is the correct April 4, 1952 strip from King Aroo (page 173).

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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