A TERRY Top Ten

 

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And now for something completely different…

I thought it would be fun to compile a Top 10 of my favorite Terry and the Pirates characters. No small task, that, given the large cast Milton Caniff assembled and the many memorable moments he crafted during the first dozen years of the strip’s existence. I’m exempting Terry, Pat Ryan, and Connie from consideration. Our three heroes, who were on stage from that very first pair of October, 1934 dailies, get an automatic pass into the Hall of Fame. Beyond that, any character is fair game. I calls ’em as I sees ’em, and here’s how I sees ’em:

10) Pop Scott: He brought an early dash of color to the narrative, and was the strip’s first sacrificial lamb, proof that Caniff was willing to use death to amp up the drama.

9) Nasthalia “Nasty” Smythe-Heatherstone: Her dad is a mensch; she’s proof that even the most upright tree can bear rotten fruit. I enjoy the way Caniff made her a thorn in Terry’s side both as a child and, later, as a conniving young woman.

8) Singh-Singh: A great visual: hulking form, bald head, enormous jet-black moustache. A great bit of comedic relief, too.

7) Captain Blaze: The Sundays first come alive when he battles the Dragon Lady, with Terry, Pat, and Connie caught in the middle. A true “pirate,” in every sense of the word.

6) Dude Hennick: Bless Bess, he’s a more devil-may-care leading man than stolid Pat, making him the perfect character to play male lead in Caniff’s his most dramatic storyline. Based on Frank Higgs, Dude is the first character to be based on one of Caniff’s true-life pals – but he’s far from the last.

5) April Kane: From spunky Southern belle to cold-blooded opportunist, no character in Caniff’s vast tapestry undergoes more radical change than darlin’ li’l ol’ April.

4) Captain Judas: His heinous act of 10/05/41 makes him one of comics’ all-time grand villains. I hope Burma put a slug straight through his inky-black heart.

3) The Dragon Lady: Beautiful, complex, calculating. Look at all the myriad ways Caniff used Lai Choi San throughout his Terry tenure and it’s clear what a spectacular creation she is.

2) Big Stoop: I’m a sucker for misunderstood brutes. I’m a sucker for tough guys with unsullied hearts of gold. I’m a sucker for the skillful use of pantomime. Stooper successfully turned the Terrific Three into a Fabulous Foursome.

Annnnnn-n-n-nd, my Number One favorite Terry and the Pirates character…

1) Burma: She hits the strip like a sassy blonde meteor, heating up the comics page as it had never been heated before in the sequence from 03/17/36 – 03/21/36. And ask yourselves this: Who was the star of the prototype Male Call series? And when Caniff spun his final Terry storyline, whose note and newspaper clipping sets up the final week of strips? Burma, both times. For those reasons and more, she’s tops in my book.

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I’m certainly not arrogant enough to claim my list is the be-all and end-all: your mileage may (and almost certainly will) vary. If you’d care to submit your own Terry Top 10 to info@loacomics.com, we’ll run responses in future installments.

Favored Son

LilAbner1_medOne of the catalysts that helped create Li’l Abner was the hitchhiking trip undertaken by teenaged Al Capp and his friend, Gus Lee. Determination and a youthful zest for adventure overcame the obstacles created by Capp’s wooden leg as the duo traveled from New England to Memphis, Tennessee via Virginia and Kentucky, meeting a variety of “hill folk” along the way.

Later milestones in Abner’s genesis occurred in New York City: Capp hired on as Ham Fisher’s assistant on Joe Palooka, where he created that strip’s “Big Leviticus” Sunday sequence – during a night out at a theatre in Columbus Circle, a comedic “mountain music” performance made a huge impression on Capp and his wife, Catherine – counseled by artist Paul Fung, Capp worked up his samples and hit the Syndicate trail, ultimately selling Li’l Abner to United Features in 1934.

Yet neither New York nor the Ozarks figured into Capp’s life while his brainchild was in full flower – instead, Capp and his family (Catherine, two daughters, and an adopted son) spent much of each year occupying a sizeable farmhouse in Catherine’s hometown of Amesbury, on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Today, more than three decades after Capp’s passing, Amesbury is remembering its adopted son.

As reported in the Saturday, May 18, 2010 Boston Globe, this quiet town has renamed its amphitheater in the artist’s honor and is looking to develop a Capp Museum. As part of its annual “Amesbury First” festival, four 4′ x 8′ paintings recreating scenes from Capp’s June 24, 1946 Life autobiography-in-comics-form were unveiled (the entire feature appeared on pages 21 to 24 of our first Li’l Abner volume). The jumbo-sized reproductions were created by local artist Jon Mooers under the watchful eye of Capp’s heirs, including his surviving daughter, Julie.

Capp was not the town’s only famed citizen – 19th Century poet John Greenleaf Whittier also resided in Amesbury. The Globe article hints that modern-day Whittier fans may look down their noses at Capp and his rambunctious comic strip; one paragraph in reporter James Sullivan’s piece reads:

“My son or anybody younger wouldn’t really know about [Capp],” says Diane Cole, 56, who is a member of the John Greenleaf Whittier Home Association. “A lot of people don’t make the connection at all.”

The Amesbury Improvement Committee is more bullish on Capp and the tourism potential associated with his name, and artist Mooers expressed this wish for the newly-rechristened amphitheater: “I’d love to find somebody who could donate a bronze statue of Al. I’m a dreamer.”
Only time will tell if dreams can come true. Mooers’s cause may be aided later this year, when PBS devotes a segment of its American Masters series to Al Capp.

And who knows? Perhaps a segment of our readership might find ways to help Amesbury remember one of its favorite sons.

“Ha, fooled them again!”

“Ha, fooled them again!” is what Berkeley Breathed exclaimed when told that Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume Two debuted in the number four spot on the New York Times Best Seller list. “Seriously, I’m happy people still enjoy this stuff. Surprised, but happy.”

In Volume Two, Breathed ramps up the volume, offering even more funny and insightful commentary than in the first volume, while context pages help fans recapture the glory of the 1980s.

Beginning with September 27, 1982, Volume Two collects every daily and Sunday through July 1, 1984, most reproduced from Breathed’s personal archives of original art. Kicking off this second installment is an introduction by journalist and former Nightline host Ted Koppel, who takes readers on a brief journey back to the Reagan years and reflects on the strips he shared with Opus.

“What’s really astounding to me is the freshness of this material after so many years” editor Scott Dunbier told me this afternoon when the New York Times list was announced. “The events in these pages are right out of today’s headlines—the economy, politics, even Michael Jackson! But, most importantly, we see them all through Breathed’s own unique perspective, which is the true joy of Bloom County.”

Volume Two also features the introduction of Binkley’s anxiety closet and boy genius Oliver Wendell Jones, as well as the fondly remembered death of the Bill the Cat storyline.

 

 

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“If You Knew Polly Like I Knew Polly”

In my teens, I’d have said you were nuts had you told me I would fall in love with a comic strip that was named after a flaxen-haired flapper but starred her diminutive, balding, mustachioed father and the family cat.

Of course, you wouldn’t have been nuts, because Polly and Her Pals is indeed one of my fave-raves, and I unleash a real big grin whenever I think about the upcoming Polly Volume 1 in our new, oversized “champagne edition” format.

I got my first taste of Cliff Sterrett’s unique comics vision in 1983, when Fantagraphics treated readers to a five-page black-and-white Polly sampler in Nemo # 1. This oh-so-tantalizing taste revealed a cartoonist with a bouncy, light-hearted comedic style and a dab hand with pantomime. I wanted more of this guy Sterrett … it just took me seven years to get it, in 1990’s two-volume Remco set of full-color Sundays. This was bravura stuff, demonstrating a playful sense of design, delightfully wonky stories and gags, and a consistent surrealistic touch.

I sang Polly‘s praises, and one day in 1991, an In acquaintance mailed me a copy of Merlin Haas’s 1986 “Flying Flounder Review” compendium of Polly dailies, produced for the enjoyment of members of that venerable APA, CAPA-Alpha. Haas’s pamphlet presented “The Mystery of Greystone,” encompassing a run from 06/18/29 to 09/27/29, and the dailies thoroughly charmed me. What a pleasure (though hardly a surprise) to discover Sterrett was as clever at concocting day-to-day continuity as he was at producing stand-alone Sunday work.

A decade later, on vacation in Arizona and shopping in a deeply-stocked comics shop, what to my wondering eyes did appear but a copy of Arcadia Publishing’s 1990 Comic Strip Showcasefeaturing – yes, you guessed it – Polly and Her Pals. Fourteen delicious months of Sterrett dailies from 1930-’31. Heaven!

I never get enough of sweet Polly Perkins, her Maw and Paw, her cousin Ashur Earl, their servant Neewah, and Kitty, who surely deserves a place in Cartoon Cat Valhalla next to Krazy and Felix.

Now I’m doing my bit helping to bring Polly back into print for 21st Century audiences, and how cool is that? If you’re a Pollyologist, you know how cool that is. If you’ve yet to sample the joys of Sterrett’s unique vision, this summer you can discover the coolness for yourself by checking out The Library of American Comics’s Polly and Her Pals Volume 1, served up in a 12″ x 16″ format that showcases this series the way it’s never been showcased before.

The Sunday above—from December 6, 1925—has never been reprinted before.

Our goal is a simple one: we plan on introducing Polly to a whole new batch of pals!

 

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Yesterdays and Tomorrows

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In a sign of changing times and technologies, it was announced today that Little Orphan Annie will end it run in newspapers next month. We all know that newspapers are going through tough times and are losing print readership; and that daily and Sunday comics have long since been reduced and shrunken and diminished so that they are but shells of their former glorious selves. So, this announcement is not unexpected, and I’m sure we’ll see similar ones about other long-running strips in the future. But the fact remains that it’s always sad to witness the end of an era.

We raise our glasses with a toast to the current creative team of Jay Maeder and Ted Slampyak, and to Leonard Starr and the other writers and artists who contributed to the strip’s history in the past forty years.

And in salute to Harold Gray—who created and directed Annie’s adventures for forty-four years—there’s no better way for us to celebrate his achievement than by bringing his work back into print for all to read…on paper.

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.

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