The Return of the King of the Tunes

My first job was in radio broadcasting. I started as a copywriter at the top-rated album-rock station in my home state, 100,000-watt WIGY-FM. Today – last I heard, anyway – WIGY is an all-religious station, but back in the day we played (and sometimes helped make) Top 40 hits, mixed with album cuts and plenty of standards. Jack O’Brien, our program director, would sing along in the studio every time he played Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and never stumbled over a syllable, even when he was doing Phil Rizutto’s staccato play-by-play part. Believe it or not, our midday man was named Steve Rogers. Our morning drive jock, Bob Anderson, was a thorough-going professional and one of the funniest persons it has ever been my pleasure to know.

We did some fantastic promotions at WIGY. I caught for the station softball team and coached the basketball team (it was a great chance to do my Tommy Heinsohn impersonation, tossing my clipboard and jawing at the refs). We staged a “fantasy day parade” in the studio that sounded so realistic, police officials in the towns we had announced on our route were calling the station to ask if they should put officers at key intersections to handle traffic control. The jocks took over the station on July 4th, declaring their independence and playing whatever music they wanted to play. For years, I never watched the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati – I was living WKRP in Cincinnati.

Like everything else, radio has changed a lot since those days. I’ll get a small taste of how it’s changed starting at 3PM Friday, October 29, 2010, when I’m Scott Katz’s guest on his Internet radio show at www.ustownhall.com.

WIGY’s evening jock, wild-man Willie Mitchell, won’t be on hand to do two-man shtick with me, but Scott and I will be talking classic comics in general and The Library of American Comics in particular. The odds are mighty good we’ll discuss “coming soon” attractions such as Polly and Her Pals, popular favorites like Bloom County, eagerly-anticipated upcoming projects (including our Alex Toth biography, Genius Isolated), plus a sneak-peek at what to look for from LOAC as 2011 unfolds.

If you haven’t been to www.ustownhall.com, why not zip over and take a look? Extensive coverage of the New York Comic Con is available on-site, including a photo gallery containing a snapshot of Dean Mullaney and me manning the LOAC section of the IDW booth. And our resident expert on all things Dick Tracy, Max Allan Collins, has already appeared on Scott’s radio program; you’ll find a link to their interview, so be sure to listen to that informative and entertaining segment.

In my WIGY days, a lot of us talked about being, “The king of the tunes, the duke of the doo-wahs, the man with the stacks of hot wax.” Though I still have my FCC license, I won’t be playing any Warren Zevon or Rolling Stones, but I’m definitely looking forward to my return to radio!

I’m dialing in to talk with Scott Katz of www.ustownhall.com at 3PM on Friday, October 29th. Check the site to hear the show …

I Just Flew in From New York, and Boy…

…You know the rest. Rather than regale you with warmed-over Henny Youngman shtick (go ahead — Google him), here are my rapid-fire recollections of the whirlwind that was the New York Comic Con:

• Greatly enjoyed my first face-to-face meeting with fellow LOAC scribe Brian Walker and his father, the legendary Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey fame. Brian’s brand-new book on Doonesbury(done for another worthy publisher) looks mahvelous.

• Here’s the graphic IDW prepared so passing fans would recognize Dean: STANDEE1

Note his extra-curly hair and pupil-less eyes. I warned him not to eat that bagel leftover from Friday morning, but would he listen to me? Noooo-o-o-o …

• Guess which ultra-talented, ultra-cool, ultra-popular artist walked into the IDW booth on Sunday carrying a green satchel bearing the shamrocked logo of the winningest team in NBA history? Though we’d never previously met, that satchel prompted me to immediately approach him, introduce myself, and say, “Celtics, bay-bee!” To which he affirmed: “Celtics rule!”

• Memo to Lorraine Turner: no special apple juice in evidence all weekend long. Boo! Hiss! Boo!

• Very gratifying that Jim Steranko remembered we had once talked about the possibility of my working for him on his media magazine, Prevue. Some team-ups are meant to be: we combined efforts on 2008’s Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles. Made my day when Jim grinned and said, “We finally gave Scorchy the treatment it deserves!”

• Biggest surprise: getting the opportunity to meet Nicky Brown, granddaughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (see our Monday, October 4th entry, “Two Birds, One Blog”). Nicky is, as the old saying goes, a real pistol, and I had such fun getting to know her. You can read more about her famous grandfather at: http://majormalcolmwheelernicholson.com/wordpress/.

• Biggest disappointment: I failed to meet up with pals-via-keyboard Jeff Vaughn and Joey Cavalieri. Sorry to have missed you, gents!

• Because so many industry giants are helping us with Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, the project grows bigger and grander every day. Once again, Jim Steranko has provided invaluable assistance; I also got to spend time with Irwin Hasen — who was among the first persons I interviewed for the project — and Joe Kubert, who spoke with me about Alex scarcely a week before the convention. With contributions from titans like this (and Ruben Procopio, and James Robinson, and so many others), Genius, Isolated is on track to be the most ambitious project ever published under The Library of American Comics banner.

• Cracked up to learn IDW Chief Executive Officer Ted Adams thinks my caricature on this site makes me look like Captain Marvel’s arch-enemy, Dr. Sivana. How can you say that, Ted (you big red cheese!) …

• What a deee-light to catch up with Dauntless Don McGregor on Saturday! They broke the mold when they made Don, and I was pleased to be able to tell him I’d recently finished re-reading his groundbreaking Black Panther issues, collected by editor Cory Sedlmeier in a lovely Marvel Masterworks edition. As a boy I read those stories when they were first published; if memory serves, both Dean and my by-lines appeared in the Jungle Action letters column during that run.

• Finally, I was happy to meet for the first time: Melissa Singer of Tor Books – Glenn Whitmore – Tim Ogline – Ryder Windham – Larry Shell – Ken Steacy (after a steady diet of Annie’s mutt Sandy, Dean was glad to hear about different puppies, Ken!) – Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco – and …

…And you! If you stopped by the Library of American Comics area and talked to us about our line of books in particular or the great comic strips of the past in general, it was a pleasure to speak with you. My voice is still raspy as a result, but it was well worth it!

Here’s hoping your NYCC was as good as mine —

 

It’s a Gorgeous Weekend

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The weather couldn’t be better in New York City for this year’s Comicon—comfortable temperatures in the mid-70s outside, and all 70,000+ of us are having a grand time inside the Javits Center. Here’s the Library’s “Mutt and Jeff” (a.k.a. Dean and Bruce) at the IDW booth (#2115). We spent most of Friday talking classic strips and Alex Toth with fans, bloggers, reporters, librarians, retailers, and fellow professionals. “Talking Toth” is one of the big topics — we had a blast chatting with superscribe James Robinson and super-everything Jim Steranko about the upcoming GENIUS, ISOLATED: The Life and Art of Alex Toth tome we’re preparing. And, naturally, we’re looking forward to another two full days of the same. So don’t forget to come see us if you’re in the neighborhood.

NYCC is Upon Us!

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Here’s but one example of the literally hundreds of pieces of Alex Toth original art that you’ll find in the upcoming GENIUS, ISOLATED: The Life and Art of Alex Toth. The bonanza ranges from complete stories to unpublished works to his justly-famous doodles. If you’re at NYCC this weekend, stop by the IDW Booth #2115 and talk to Bruce Canwell and me about the amazing treasures we’ve uncovered for what will be the ultimate Alex Toth collection.

Two Birds, One Blog

During the recent LOAC mini-summit in Boston’s Back Bay, Lorraine Turner suggested that a good topic for this space would be a discussion of the questions readers might ask about my job.

I admit, I’m still mulling over how to address that topic – writing is a solitary pursuit, after all. In addition, years ago a close friend said, “People don’t want to read about writers.” I recalled my high school freshman English class rebelling halfway through John Steinbeck’s autobiographicalTravels with Charley: hmmm-m-m – maybe my friend was on to something. I don’t entirely agree with him, but I’ve come to believe it takes a writer as dynamic and entertaining as, say, Harlan Ellison to successfully fracture my friend’s rule of thumb. I have enough ego to think I do a pretty decent job of putting words into print, but let’s be honest: an Ellison I ain’t.

Recently, however, I finished reading a slender volume worth recommending to you that will also allow me to reflect a bit about how I approach my text features for LOAC titles. Submitted for your approval: Our Hero – Superman on Earth, by Tom DeHaven.

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Our Hero examines Superman’s history, his growth and evolution as a cultural icon, and his major appearances in media outside the comics (the movie serials and feature films, the live-action and animated TV series, the Broadway musical). It offers an insightful look at many of the key creators behind the Big Red S’s comics adventures – with emphasis, of course, on the amazing saga of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

I’m a long-time DeHaven reader – his novel Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies is an outstanding recreation of the Golden Age of Comic Strips and is also well worth reading – but my efforts for LOAC would put me on the side of Our Hero even if I had never previously read anything by this fine writer. The sheer volume of information DeHaven researched, read, distilled, and organized into a cohesive whole is staggering. I have a first-hand appreciation for this sort of thing, of course, and my reaction as I made my way through the book was consistently the same: “Wow!” DeHaven provides significant new information about pulp-era impresario Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, provided by the Major’s granddaughter, Nicky Brown – fascinating, not-to-be-missed stuff. And there are photos and illustrations sprinkled throughout the essay’s 206 pages.

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The book is hardly all facts ‘n’ figures. Rather, it’s a fast-paced, engaging, thoughtful assessment of the Man of Tomorrow, sprinkled with personal reflections that are insightful or humorous, sometimes both at the same time. Here is DeHaven on the gestation of the Broadway play, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman:

The songwriting team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, who’d been successful with Bye Bye Birdie in 1960 and the musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy in 1964, were looking for a next project when they asked magazine writers David Newman and Robert Benton … did they have any good ideas? It was Newman’s wife, Leslie, who suggested Superman after picking up a bunch of Action Comics from their kid’s bedroom floor. Newman and Benton thought it an inspired recommendation – this was, after all, the Pop Art era of Warhol lithographs and Lichtenstein paintings – and so did Strouse and Adams. Although usually it had taken the composers at least two years to write a score, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman was finished in just thirteen months.

After listening half a dozen times to the original cast recording, available again on CD, I think maybe they should’ve taken those extra eleven months …

• • • • •

Another reason Our Hero resonates with me? DeHaven does something I continually strive to do in my LOAC work: he has found the story that makes the information compelling, and he does his usual excellent job of telling that story. No matter how impressive the research and how revelatory the new information brought to light, when an essay is written in the manner of an eighth grade social studies paper, my interest quickly wanes and I start asking myself why I’m spending my all-too-precious reading time on a snoozefest when I could be reading one of the John D. MacDonald paperback originals beckoning me from my To Be Read shelves.

Fortunately, LOAC books don’t put me in that frame of mind: our writing staff consistently delivers the goods. Jeet Heer knows how to entertain readers while he makes us all smarter about Harold Gray, Orphan Annie, and the worlds in which they both inhabit; you’ll soon enjoy the distinctive Heer touch in our first Polly and Her Pals volume, as well. Meanwhile, over in Rip Kirby, a lifetime spent inside the comics industry allows Brian Walker to write about Alex Raymond and Der Ripper with great confidence, while his work in Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Seahelped that book earn its Eisner nomination.

And me? I do my thing, striving to make readers want to keep turning the pages. I don’t want a future high school freshman English class to rebel against one of my essays the way my English class rebelled against Travels with Charley…

Read more about Our Hero here. And about Derby Dugan here.

 

Al Williamson, Master Artist

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Alex Deuben has written a loving tribute to Al Williamson at Comic Book Resources. Definitely worth checking out. Our first volume of Al’s amazing collaboration with Archie Goodwin on X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan is now on sale. This not-be-be-missed collection is the first comprehensive edition of the series, reproduced from Al’s personal syndicate proofs. Above is the cover for the second volume, which will be published next February.

Dean Mullaney Interviewed

Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library is one of the most articulate and well-read interviewers around. On his latest podcast, he turns his attention to The Library of American Comics. Check it out, as we discuss the whys and wherefores of our books, our general philosophy about archival work, and what new projects are on the horizon!

New York or Bust!

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The Library of American Comics is leavin’ Dogpatch and headin’ for Noo Yawk Comic Con, October 8-10 at the Javits Center. Come to IDW’s Booth 2115 and meet Creative Director Dean Mullaney, Associate Editor (and author of the forthcoming Alex Toth biography!) Bruce Canwell, plus assorted friends and sundry acquaintances. We look forward to talking to you about our favorite classic comic strips, and to show off our new releases. Get the exclusive first looks at Li’l Abner 2, Blondie, and the amazing Polly and Her Pals.

See you there!

Podcasts R Us

Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library is one of the most articulate and well-read interviewers around. This week on his podcast, he turns his attention to The Library of American Comics. Check it out, as we discuss the whys and wherefores of our books, our general philosophy about archival work, and what new projects are on the horizon!

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