The Next Generation?

And now for something completely different:

If you’ll allow me this brief diversion, I’d like to introduce you to my new nephew, Henry. He’s the first for my younger sister and her husband, born in April at nine pounds and twenty-one inches long. In the weeks since, he’s been thriving, having developed a ready smile and as sunny a disposition as an infant can display.baby

I’d like to say I played some role in making him that happy, but his mom and dad deserve all the credit.

One of the things I do hope I can give the not-so-little guy in the years ahead is an introduction to the classic comic strips we all know and love. Certainly there are Library of American Comics volumes to capture his interest as he grows up. The funny animals of King Aroo might make him laugh in his early school years—in his “tween” years, he may get swept away by the exotic adventure of Terry and the Pirates and our upcoming Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim—and by the time he’s a teenager, the sophisticated sleuthing of Rip Kirby or outrageous comedy of Bloom Countycould catch his fancy.

Of course, his interests may develop along entirely different lines…and that’s OK. We all get to pick our own path, which is how it’s supposed to be. I won’t push anything on him—but if he expresses interest in any of the LOAC books on his parents’ shelves, he’ll know who to talk to in order to learn more about them!

 

If My Dad Could See Me Now

f you can imagine yourself slipping into the ink pot and flowing out the end of a cartoonist’s pen, this is how I felt when I worked restoring the raw talent in Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her PalsSunday pages.  We just approved the color proofs and the book, all 12″ x 16″ of it, is now in the printer’s hands.

My profession of graphic design has taught me more about people than the artwork itself; I’ve worked on tight deadlines and sometimes felt like I was running up the courts along with the NBA players I helped market. You get to know the subject well and you either love it or survive the stress.

Polly and her Pals put me in touch with this amazing creator, Samuel Clifford Sterrett. I closely studied each swoosh and brush stroke as his linework danced and dipped. His characters felt like members of my own family. I stumbled along every unfolding gag with Sterrett’s bizarre unpredictable checkered pathways leading me to Paw with twinkling eyes, and the purring Kitty. Kitty—heart of a lion and the strength of a Dane. Her attitude came alive as she added her two cents in every upturned-nosed-strut. I love Sterrett’s extra little touches—the curl at the end of Paw’s beard and the crink of Kitty’s tail as it mocked the direction of the staircase. His use of patterns and inexplicable objects that appear like unexpected hail kept my interest peaked and the laughter flowing. This was not a job-this was playing with one of the kids that created sheer FUN for my parents’ generation. How awesome to be able to bring this to future generations. Sterrett was an artist some thought daffy, but in reality, of course, he was a visionary pioneer.

I am thrilled to have been a part of presenting this work. I feel as if I have met Sterrett, wish I had…perhaps in my next lifetime. Gazing through Paw’s iron-sashed windows with smiling crescent moons, I will happily dream on.

 

Noel Sickles, 1925!

Sometimes we receive more artwork than we can comfortably fit into our books and are forced to offer only a representative sampling from a given period in an artist’s career. That was the case with Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles – though readers and reviewers told us we provided enough treasures so they didn’t exactly feel short-changed!

Still, while sifting through one of my file cabinets earlier this month, I happened to find a batch of spot drawings Sickles did as part of his first regular paying gig as a cartoonist. In 1925, while in his mid-teens, Sickles created artwork for the Mead Co-operation, the house organ for the Mead Corporation’s paper plant in his native Chillicothe, Ohio. In Scorchy we ran examples of “Bud’s” regular features for the newsletter – “Bud’s Meaco Comics” and “What’s Wrong?”. Here are a half-dozen non-series, standalone drawings Sickles produced for the Co-operation. First up, from February of 1925 – the first known Sickles illustration for Mead, a comedic rendering of one of the company’s employees who was a radio buff in his off-hours:

 

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In April, Sickles produced the “Bet Your Money on Mead” cartoon to illustrate an article chronicling the safety competition being staged between Mead and another area manufacturer. He also did a small illo to accompany an article about an employee’s victory in the local pool hall, and the comedic consequences of his win.

Humorous anecdotes about Mead employees were a standing feature in the Co-operation – it was easier for people to laugh at themselves in the ’20s than it is today. May saw Sickles generating chuckles about a first-class auto aficionado.

Meaco_0525Workplace safety was a key theme in Bud’s cartoons for Mead. This “split screen” piece conveys that message as it illustrates two possible meanings of the same phrase. One wonders if Sickles realized both the Mead worker and the barber need to exercise caution on their respective jobs?Meaco_1225BThe end of the year brought both the holidays and rabbit hunting season to Ohio. The Sickles “panoramic bird’s-eye view” cartoon below pokes fun at Chillicothe’s seemingly-plentiful supply of Elmer Fudds . . .Meaco_1225

Looking at these very early Sickles pieces, one sees little sign of the skilled artist who would revolutionize comics storytelling in Scorchy Smith, create such spectacular illustrations as “The Old Man’s Bride” or the “Crete Invasion” series, and finish his career by producing a series of wonderful Western paintings. Still, they remind us of three truths:

[1] Everyone has to start somewhere.

[2] We learn by doing.

[3] Stay true to your dreams and mastery and success are likely to come your way…

 

Dateline: Myopia

We were mighty pleased to discover that King Aroo Volume 1 got a positive review from noted fantasist and critic Charles de Lint. Mr. de Lint writes a regular review column in the mightyMagazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and he closes the May/June 2010 installment of his “Books to Look For” by telling his readers that Jack Kent’s King Aroo is “just so darn good.” And who are we to disagree?

You can read the review at: http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2010/cdl1005.htm. If you’re looking for some prose reading, the full column contains looks at recent releases by Stephen King, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Cory Doctorow, and Peter Straub. Or if you’re the impatient type, scroll to the bottom of the page to read Mr. de Lint’s delightful words about Aroo.

In Sergio Aragones’s introduction to the first Aroo book, he wrote about his love for the strip. Here’s Sergio and me catching up for a chat at the San Diego Comicon this year. (He’s the handsome one on the right)Dean_Sergio

We’re currently putting together the finishing touches on King Aroo volume 2, which collects November 1952 through November 1954. Jack Kent Jr. has again provided all the original art in his family’s collection, and Bubbly Bruce Canwell has written another incredible biographical essay. Here’s one of my all-time favorite Aroo dailies (from December 25, 1952) that fully captures Kent’s amazing talent for wordplay.

 

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A Rollicking Roster of Riotous Ramblings

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer? The perfect time to pull a few items out of the Library Of American Comics “Odds & Ends” file:

From the “As Others See Us” Dept: A few weeks ago, a reporter from my local New England arts and entertainment weekly contacted me to do an interview about LOAC and other things comics-related. Liltin’ Lisa Parsons admitted she knew very little about comics, and in addition to discussing about our line of books, here are some of the questions she tossed my way:

Any comments on the “Sunday Funnies” stamps the U.S. Postal Service plans to release in July?(I had forgotten all about them – but I wasn’t telling Lisa that!)

What strip(s) should I plunk down in front of my ten-year-old to hook him on the wonderful world of comics? (“It depends on what he likes,” I began, before recommending Terry and the Pirates,Popeye, and Dick Tracy if he’s the action-adventure sort, Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes to tickle his funny bone.)

Is it just me, or has there been a surge in the reprinting of old comic strips lately? (I couldn’t resist – I said, “It’s just you!” Of course, then I gave her a more serious answer …)

Since so many of the interviews we do here at LOAC run “inside” the comics community, it was both entertaining and educational to do one for the “mainstream” media. Thanks for thinking of us, Lisa – I’ll give you a shout when Archie Volume 1 goes on sale!

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From the “Boopadoop” Dept:  You’ve likely seen us refer to our upcoming Blondie Volume 1 with the catchphrase “Blondie like you’ve never seen her before!” That’s not an idle boast – by going back to the very beginning of the strip, you’ll be seeing Blondie as a flighty single girl, modeled after real-life “boop-boop-a-doop” girl Helen Kane. You’ll also see Dagwood as the pampered scion of wealth, meet Blondie’s mother and both of Dagwood’s parents, and discover there were plenty of rivals for the affections of our two star-crossed lovers.

If that doesn’t sufficiently whet your reading appetite, I’m pleased to report that Chic Young’s granddaughter has shared with us the family’s collection of Blondie memorabilia from this period, including several items you’ll have to see to believe. Is the term “unprecedented access” an overstatement? I think not! Boisterous Brian Walker is writing a fact-filled text feature to glue the whole package together. Keep your eyes open for Blondie Volume 1 – it just might turn into the sleeper hit of 2010 . . .

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From the “Miami Beach Audiences Are the Greatest Audiences in the World!” Dept: Little Orphan Annie Volume 5 and Dick Tracy Volume 10 are both on sale. Even though we’ve now reprinted the first decade of Annie and the first seventeen years of Tracy, each series continues to remain popular. Given the sales pattern in the pamphlet-based segment of comics often begin a sharp drop after issue # 1 hits the stands, the loyalty of our audience is something we greatly value and never take for granted.

Everyone here at LOAC salutes you rambunctious readers, whether you’re supporting the entire LOAC line, following one of the extended series like Annie or Tracy or our launched-in-2010 Li’l Abner, buying one of our short series (Rip Rirby, Bloom County), or eagerly awaiting coming attractions like Polly and Her Pals and X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan. May you enjoy perusing our offerings as much as we enjoy putting ’em together!

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Sir MixaLot

Many of us remember when the idea of alternate universes was strictly the province of science fiction and comics enthusiasts. SF writers like Robert Silverberg, using their personal interest in history, have dabbled with the concept in short stories and novels for decades (most recently inRoma Eterna). “Mirror, Mirror,” one of Star Trek‘s most popular episodes, dropped Captain Kirk and three of his officers into an “evil twin” reality. And DC Comics has maintained a decades-long love affair with alternates, beginning with the Gardiner Fox/Carmine Infantino “Flash of Two Worlds” story from 1961’s Flash # 123.

Today we live in a science fictional world, and the phrase “alternate universe” is part of the common cultural coin, to the point where even crusty Republicans like Newt Gingrich are making money off the idea.

Recently I found myself pondering possible alternate universe comic strips. If there truly are an infinite number of Earths in the multiverse, these four comics must exist out there somewhere:

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Little Orphan Terry: Taken in as a seven-year-old by Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, Terry Lee grows up finding adventure in the four corners of the globe. Terry proves he’ll not be separated from his adoptive guardian when he stows away the first time “Daddy” sails to deal with business interests in the Far East: even today, the “Wun Wey Battles Captain Blaze” storyline remains a classic. Many are especially fond of later stories, after Terry has grown into young manhood and helps “Daddy” get girls.

Scorch Kirby: Alex Raymond’s ex-aviator private eye has a straight nose and never wears glasses or plays the piano; Honey Dorian finds him crude but irresistible, especially after he feeds Pagan Lee to the law for her involvement with The Mangler. Scorch’s butlers never seem to last long. Short-timers like Tex and Gus have their supporters, though the majority of fans divide equally between the droll reserve of Desmond and the thick German accent of Himmelstoss.

Bringing Up Family: The George McManus/Zeke Zekley “diagrammatic” Sundays remain must-see material, as Maggie and her brood criss-cross the city in search of Jiggs and his carousing buddies.

Li’l Annie: The red-headed waif is the smartest (and best spoken) person in Dogpatch; her bemused comments about the zany antics going on around her built a daily readership that numbered in the tens of millions. She was beloved for her annual consultations with Old Man Mose in order to help deserving bachelorettes land a “dream-boat” on Sadie Hawkins Day. After Annie and the Dogpatch kids brought Gat Garson to justice, a pop culture catch phrase was born in 1939 with Garson’s last words on his way to the electric chair: ” … And I’d have gotten away with it, too – if it hadn’t been for those KIDS!”

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Got an alternate universe comic strip you’d like to see in this space? Send your ideas toinfo@loacomics.com ; we’ll run a follow-up in a future installment!

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (or Brunettes)

Forget the decades-old question, “Ginger or Mary Ann?” – our reprinting of Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby has spurred a new matter submitted for consideration. To put it simply:

“Pagan or Honey?”

This deeply philosophical discussion was energized by a reader named Jim Davis, who resides in Maryland Heights, Missouri. He posted was a review of Rip Volume 2 at Amazon.com in which he said, “Pagan Lee has it all over girl next door Honey Dorian, who continues to be a weak point of the strip, in my opinion.”  Jim went on to say he sees Honey as primarily filling the role of deus ex machina, on hand simply to help launch new cases for Rip Kirby to solve.

Jim’s review was thoughtful, balanced, honest, and direct, all qualities I admire. Yet when it comes to the “Honey or Pagan?” question, he and I are on opposite sides of the fence.

Yes, I’ll admit it: I’m a Honey Dorian fan. That said, I’ll confess I wish Raymond and Rip‘s co-writer, Ward Greene, had continued to characterize Honey as she was depicted in the first two storylines (which we reprinted in Volume One under the titles “The Chip Faraday Murder” and “The Hicks Formula”). In those stories Honey is especially spritely and sassy, bringing a unique sparkly to Rip’s somewhat straight-arrow lifestyle. But even as the strip matures and Honey becomes more serious and far less fun-loving, I find myself siding with her over Pagan. Maybe that’s because I’m really big on loyalty and no matter the occasional spats and separations, there’s never really a doubt that Honey is devoted to Rip.

Pagan, by contrast, has already changed allegiances once, throwing over The Mangler for a chance at life on the straight and narrow. Though redemption after sin is nothing to be sneezed at, the vibe I get from Pagan says, “It’s only a matter of time before I cross the line once again and end up either in jail or on the run . . . ”

How fortunate that Raymond and Greene gave us both characters, since they so nicely counter-point one another and they present Rip with the possibility of a conflict of the heart. Conflict is hell on our heroes, but fun for us readers!

“Pagan or Honey?” It’s a matter of preference, of course, with no right or wrong answer. So I send a friendly wave to Jim Davis and all the other Pagan Lee fans out there — I’ll be easy to spot when you return the wave, because I’m in the forefront of the Honey Dorian camp.

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Noel Sickles 1935!

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It’s not often that we get to see previously unknown art from seventy-five years ago by one of the greatest cartoonists of all time. The above specialty drawing by Noel Sickles came to us from Everett Slaughter, via our pal Leif Peng. It is only the second color Scorchy Smith piece by Sickles that I’ve ever seen (the other we reproduced in Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles). Everett writes, “My late wife, Virginia, was a neighbor to Noel Sickles in Chillicothe, Ohio.  Attached is a cartoon Noel did for her in July, 1935 when she was 10 years of age.”

Sickles had an obvious fondness for his young neighbor. The cartoonist was living in New York in 1935, sharing studio space with Milton Caniff, but made regular trips back to Chillicothe to visit with his family. The watercolor is of Scorchy and his pal, the German pilot Himmelstoss, and references a Western storyline from the strip.

Thanks so much to Everett for sharing this treasure with us.

The Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles is available at your favorite comics shop, online bookseller, or IDW’s webstore.

And in case you aren’t familiar with Leif Peng’s fantastic blog about 20th Century illustrators, take a look. It’s on my “must-read” list every week.

“No publisher is more dedicated…

…to archival collections than IDW,” writes Peter Rowe in the San Diego Tribune. “The Library runs the gamut from familiar titles to obscure works that haven’t been seen in decades: “Polly and Her Pals” debuted in 1912; detective “Rip Kirby” was on the case in the 1940s and ’50s; and fanciful “King Aroo” is another ’50s revival.”

 

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Here’s yours truly in the IDW booth at the San Diego Comicon. Check out the complete link. It’s great to see such positive mainstream coverage for the Library of American Comics and classic newspaper strips in general.

The Library and IDW were triple winners at the Eisners this year. In addition to Bloom Countytaking home the Archival Newspaper Strip award, The Rocketeer won as Best Archival Project—Comic Books, and Darwyn Cooke’s amazing adapation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Huntedwas feted for Best Adaptation from Another Work. A big round of applause for all, especially Scott Dunbier, who edited all three winners!

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