Talkin’ Toth: Part Four

Alex Toth was the master craftsman of comics. He was outspoken, gifted, studious, prolific, and uncompromising. He drew a lot and he said a lot—more than we can comfortably fit into our upcoming three books devoted to this great artist. But we can share some of that additional material with you in this space, so—here is our latest in a series of Talkin’ Toth:
ALEX ON SWORDFIGHTING ON THE ZORRO TV SHOW from a 1958 letter –
This week’s TV Guide—Guy Williams Catalano tells of his dad teaching him the art of foil and saber from Guy’s seventh summer. What hokey tripe…he’s a clumsy ox afoot…and admitted to our editor that he’d fenced not a stroke prior to Freddie Cavens’ first lesson at the Disney lot gym… [Fred Cavens was Errol Flynn’s old fencing master at Warner Brothers.]

Britt Lomond (Monastario) was always the better blade…

The above, Guy and Britt, costumed, will fence in person at Disneyland this weekend…restaging their TV duels for the hot dog crowd.

Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth will be on sale in early April.

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A page from “Zorro’s Secret Passage” (© 2011 Zorro Productions Inc.)

 

Polly is Everyone’s Pal

The rave reviews continue coming in for our first volume of Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals. It’s also the first book in our gigantic “champagne edition” size—a glorious 12″ x 16″ that allows the art to truly shine, and caused J. Caleb Mozzocco at newsarama to note that it’s “a perfect coffee table book—not one that you would put on your coffee table…but one big enough to be used as a coffee table.”

You also gotta like a review that begins, “This extraordinary volume…”, and that’s exactly how Johanna Draper Carlson’s review starts on Comics Worth Reading.

 

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Greg Barbrick at blogcritics calls it “the most gorgeous book I’ve ever seen.” Not to be outdone, Scott Katz at ustownhall.com writes, “Reading Polly and Her Pals gives one the same thrill that an archeologist must feel as he or she dusts off an antiquity: the thrill of discovery—the sense of origin—the knowledge that one is witnessing the birth of new artistic techniques rather than the tenth generation knockoffs of those techniques.”

One of the most rewarding reviews comes from Gordon Flagg at Booklist, who writes, “The early years of newspaper comics produced a handful of widely acknowledged masterworks, such asLittle Nemo and Krazy Kat; this impressive [Polly and Her Pals] collection makes a convincing case that Sterrett’s creation should be added to that honor roll.”

THIS is why we do what we do, why we spent 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week researching and restoring classic newspaper strips—so the unique visions of such incredible cartoonists as Cliff Sterrett and Jack Kent can be rescued from obscurity and preserved in long-lasting archival editions.

 

Sunday Funnies Are Like a Box of Chocolates…

…At least, they are on February 14th. To mark Valentine’s Day, 2011, The Library of American Comics offers you this Whitman’s Sampler of classic comics from Sunday, February 14th, 1937:

Val_Flash

 

Val_Terry

 

Val_LOA

Val_Tracy

Val_Abner

 

Is it possible Sunday funnies are better than a box of chocolates? Just as sweet – with zero calories!

Harrowing Heroines

I’ve put a lot of Alex Toth talk into this space recently—and there’ll be more of that chatter to come, you can be sure. Many have told us they’re eager to see Genius, Isolated, and I like to think their patience will be rewarded. Meanwhile, we have two other books featuring two very different female lead characters that will repay your time and attention.

The year got off to a fine start with the release of Little Orphan Annie Volume 6. One of our staunch supporters works as the Trade Book Coordinator for Maine’s Colby College Bookstore (Sopranos fans might remember the first season episode in which Tony and his daughter Meadow visited the Colby campus). In his blog, our friend described Annie as, “a sprawling Depression-era fable about a kid with nothing but spunk, grit, determination, and a great dog. These beautiful volumes belong on the shelves of anyone who takes ‘graphic novels’ (I still call ’em comics) seriously.” Who am I to argue with an assessment like that?

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Our sixth volume features the quasi-mystical Punjab and the story of Eli Eon and the miracle substance Eonite, a story treasured by Annie fans everywhere. My sentimental favorite in this book, however, is the “Annie in Hollywood” segment featuring the return of Pee Wee the Elephant. Some complain that Harold Gray didn’t draw convincing dogs, but he sure knew how to depict an elephant! I am utterly charmed and utterly convinced every time Pee Wee steps into a scene.

Little Orphan Annie is unique in the LOAC stable: we started with the rarely-seen original strips from the 1924 debut of the series, then moved in chronological order through the early 1930s strips that were collected by other publishers in decades past. Now we once again move into largely-unreprinted territory, so those Annieologists who have been feeling déjà vu should enjoy the fresh material at the end of Volume 6, and will want to join us again later this year for the debut of The Asp in Volume 7!

• • • • •

While Orphan Annie is arguable comics’ premier kid headliner, there’s no doubt the star of our coming springtime release is all grown up…

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We’re pleased to add Miss Fury to the Library of American Comics lineup—her provocative exploits were released by the Bell Syndicate and carried by newspapers nationwide for a dozen years during the 1940s and ’50s. Miss Fury‘s unique place in comics history was cemented by her creator, Tarpé Mills. There were other women cartoonists, but only Mills was interested in mixing it up with the boys in the realm of costumed adventure. Her work blended derring-do with a dash of fashion, and melodrama with a modicum of romance. Oh yes, there’s a certain kink factor as well—Miss Fury’s world comes complete with its share of whips, lingerie, bondage (of a sort), and spike heels.

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The book has turned out to be an all-woman project. It’s being assembled by the one and only Trina Robbins, who is of course a cartoonist, a comics historian, and an expert on the subject of Mills and her panther-suited star. The Sunday restoration and overall design is handled by LOAC’s own, two-time Emmy winner  Lorraine Turner. Similar to our 2009 Bringing Up Fatherrelease, Trina is selecting prime cuts from the Miss Fury archives for your reading pleasure.

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Meanwhile, over at comicsbeat.com, Heidi MacDonald gave Miss Fury a shout-out the other day, and printed four other Sundays you won’t want to miss.

As I read and compare/contrast Annie from the 1930s and Miss Fury from the 1940s, I’m reminded that, here in the 21st Century, these crackling good stories help keep us all young at heart.

 

Bloom County Goes Digital!

IDW_BloomCounty_Cover_iPad

In addition to keeping the entire set of the Bloom County Library on your bookshelves, you Berkeley Breathed fans can also take the strips with you when you’re traveling…if you have an iPad. IDW has signed an exclusive digital distribution deal with Apple for the Eisner Award-winning Bloom County, and Darwyn Cooke’s Eisner Award-winning The Hunter, as well as The Outfit, the second book in his series, and other titles.

We’ve been thinking a lot about how our classic comics can possibly translate to new digital formats. I’m all about readability. Jeff Webber is IDW’s e-publishing guru. I talked to him about how his design team took the book format and ran with it. “It really translates nicely to the iPad screen,” Jeff told me. “Our design team modified the digital format to present the strips on single screens while retaining the overall graphic integrity of the print series. We wanted to make sure this didn’t come off as shoveling a print book into a digital format.” The app features full screen strips covering the first year of Bloom County, from December 1980 through December 1981, along with an introduction by Berkley Breathed and comments about individual strips.

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“Apple was excited to see that we’ve brought this classic material to the iPad,” Jeff added. Bloom County Library Vol. 1 was selected by Apple for “New and Noteworthy” in the iPad App Store, and is in the top 10 books.

Bloom County: The Complete Library Volume One is now available from the App Store for $7.99.Click here to download.

 

It’s Always Lovelier the Second Time Around

Every day we receive emails from fans who want to know when we’re going to release new editions of our books that are currently out-of-print. We don’t blame anyone for not wanting to shell out $150-200 for a book on the secondary market. So, rest easy, friends. In March, all of our sold-out books will be available again.

They are: Terry and the Pirates 2-6 (Volume one has already been reprinted), Dick Tracy 8, Rip Kirby 1, Bloom County 2 and 3, Archie 1, and Bringing Up Father.

 

 

Second_print

 

In his introduction to the second volume of Terry and the Pirates, Pete Hamill—one of our favorite writers, author of North River; Downtown: My Manhattan; and the memoir, A Drinking Life—had this to say about the greatest of all adventure strips:

“Here, in this sequence of daily strips and Sunday pages from the first day of January 1937 to the last day of 1938, we see Milton Caniff emerging as one of the most gifted writers of narrative in the American 20th century. Week by week, his drawing takes on a growing power, at once bold and subtle, a display of draftsmanship that was seldom seen before in the comic strip form. But it was as a writer that Caniff excelled.

“We see more clearly now that he was engaged in writing and drawing a picaresque novel, as full of adventures as Don Quixote, Tom Jones or Huckleberry Finn. There is no single plot to be unraveled, no Maltese falcon to be revealed, no butler who confesses to a detective in a crowded drawing room that yes, he did it. In Terry and the Pirates, one sequence gathers momentum, the heroes are trapped, or imprisoned, or face overwhelming odds, and ends with a culminating eruption of action and release. When all is apparently resolved, they move on to another adventure. Day by day, the reader is often left tottering on the serial-writer’s cliff, anxious to learn what happens next.”

‘Nuff said.

Gutsy Broads, Unite

miss_fury

 

I have worked as a designer for most of my life. You learn a lot about people this way. Sometimes you work with high-maintenance clients with whom you roll your eyes and try to give them the logo or billboard or brochure that is in their little minds. I am the hands that create what they are envisioning.

It has its moments, though. I enjoy meeting interesting people and I have lots of great stories to tell my children and grandchildren. As I wake up each morning, I approach my computer with a sense of adventure…which comic will I be working on today? Will it bring a smile or will it cause me to interrupt Dean and say, “Oh, my gosh, get over here, you have to see this!”?

Today is one of those days. I’m now working on the restoration of Miss Fury and am becoming more acquainted with Tarpé Mills’s style. She loves to show a lot of skin, and the babes are always in furs and hats that look fresh off the runways of Paris. Her art is drawn very traditionally—no surprises, no ah-ha moments. But her storytelling is drawing me in more and more. What a gutsy storyteller: women pulled through car windows by their hair, Nazi swastikas branded to their foreheads…young children being told if they don’t stop whimpering they’ll get their heads bashed in.

No wonder she passed herself off as a male artist…in those days people would run if they knew these stories came from a woman. I wonder now if my mom ever read these strips or ones like them. Did she pump her fist and say, “YES,” as the female villain was knocked down a few pegs, or is this just wishful thinking on my part? I hope she did. I hope that, after the dishes were done and all eight of us kids were tucked in bed, she poured herself a cup a tea and sat with a newspaper and read about women in fancy duds attending fancy parties.

As I work each day bringing life back to this strip, I think of that generation and how this was a huge part of their entertainment. I hope by bringing this strip to the audience of today, they will appreciate what it must have been like to anxiously wait every day for the paper to arrive. This is my pleasure and this is the story I tell to my children: slow down and learn from the craftsmen—and women—of yesterday. Slowly turn the pages and when you come across something that makes you stop and take notice, share it with a friend.

* * * * *

This full-color collection featuring the best Miss Fury strips from the 1940s will be on sale in April, edited by and with a biographic introduction by the one-and-only Trina Robbins.

 

Silence Is Golden

 

Lorraine_Toth

As I have stated before, I am new to the comic industry—but am very well aquainted with visual communication. Throughout my journey, I have been by surrounded by some of the finest teachers—some from this century and some from long ago. Yesterday, as I was browsing through the aisles in my local Borders (yes there is still one in Key West), I came across a small section entitled Graphic Novels. I picked up a few books and was quite honestly disappointed. I kept looking at one after another and they all said the same thing to me…noise.

Although the expertise used in rendering the work may have been quite superb, the overall content was crashing as if an orchestra’s cymbal player had run amuk, instead of waiting for his cue. Louder is not better, and without the subtleties of a soft melody, the music is just a dull tone. Perhaps I am becoming spoiled working daily restoring strips by artists such as Cliff Sterrett, Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Alex Raymond, and Alex Toth. As I placed the graphic novels at Borders back upon their shelves, I was struck by the fact that their covers looked no different then their “inners.” It was as if that special piece of work that used to adorn the outer covering was now all-encompassing.

I walked along the rows of other books and kept wondering why I had found this so disturbing; I guess I was still processing what I had just uncovered. I think storytelling can be muddied by over-embellishment, leaving your eye no place to rest. Many contemporary comics artists are doing a fine job of giving the reader absolutely beautiful work, but are they all beginning to look alike? This is what they need to ask themselves. I wish they would get out of the studio and wander down the aisles of the bookshops and see the work as it lines up like uniformed soldiers along the shelves—all standing at attention wearing identical attire, saying pick me, pick me—I’m really different, just give me a look!

I do not give this thought as a collector or even a person who has been in the publishing industry. I give you my thoughts as one who enjoys a good story, who likes to blend my mind within the pages and let it carry me away. I may not be an expert in this world of graphic novels, but I do know one thing. Artists of today should take time to pause, pick up a collection of any of the masters listed above, and study it. And if they are quiet and really look with intent, perhaps they will discover the secret that was known to the artists who walked before them—to learn to say more with less. Learn the art of silence.

Talkin’ Toth: Part Three

Alex Toth was the master craftsman of comics. He was outspoken, gifted, studious, prolific, and uncompromising. He drew a lot and he said a lot – more than we can comfortably fit into our upcoming three books devoted to this great artist. But we can share some of that additional material with you in this space, so – here is our latest in a series of Talkin’ Toth:
ALEX ON ANIMATION, EXCERPTED FROM A 1981 LETTER –
I wonder why it is that the best of any artform is found at its very beginnings? Before the worst of organized commercialism throttles it of its originality, joy, freshness – Disney, the Fleischers, Harman-Ising, Chuck Jones/Friz Freling/Bob Clampett’s WB Studios, Tex Avery, etc.—all refined and expanded the animation form (Hanna+Barbera at MGM, too)—true! WW II crimped most of ’em—I guess TV did the rest—the ’50s left only Disney doing features, thriving to the ’60s –

Bakshi’s outrageous excursions, rotoscopy and all—banality, sheer shock, noise, insult and injury—still manage to pump fresh blood into the medium—where he goes from here is an unknown—but he’ll always provoke interest—and box office!

I’m admiring of Winsor McCay’s solo films (Lusitania/Flying House in particular—beautiful straight-ahead animation, self-taught, original, so well-drawn)—as I am of his Nemo Sunday page artistry—

And corny or not, I get a kick out of Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell live/cartoon combination films—as, too, Gulliver and Mr. Bugs/Hoppity Goes to Town—especially the rotoscope work! Still held charm and warmth—old-fashioned virtues, worthy…

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A Koko the Clown model sheet from the Fleischer Studios

Despite exiting animation and its care-killing TV schedules, I love its storytelling medium (as I do adventure strips)—its ability to give life to any story form (and/or personal statements)—surprisingly, during our current space-film craze, it was overlooked as an alternative to $30-$40 million dollar live-action epics – but its many forms were tapped as SP/FX inserts in those films—All I’ve heard is that Canada’s film board talents are at work on a Heavy Metal animation feature—a mix of fantasy/sci-fi, etc., and styles of art based on original strip art—Am curious to see the results…

* * * * *

Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth will be on sale in March.

A new interview about the book with editor Dean Mullaney is on the Westfield Comics blog.

 

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