Continuing our review of the first two hundred LOAC books, which began here, take a look at our fifty-first to one hundredth releases …
With a brand-new year and LOAC Essentials Volume 14: Barney Google available on sale, we’ve now successfully traveled The Library of American Comics Road to 200. Each month during 2019 in this space we paused to feature one of our books via the trusty ol’ LOAC Wheel of Fortune, but now seems like an opportune time to show everyone our full list of publications, from Number One to Number Two Hundred.
Of course, a list this big is best absorbed in bite-sized pieces, so we’ll offer it to you in four separate postings, with a few of my personal recollections and observations along the way.
Here is our list of LOAC titles, # 1 – 50 …
It’s tough to get an American Thanksgiving holiday to appear much later on the calendar than it does this year, on November 28th. It does happen every so often, though, and in fact it happened exactly seventy-three years ago, in 1946. Since it’s been a while since we did one of our “fantasy comics pages” in this space, we thought it might be good to show you a cross-section of what readers were seeing in their post-War newspapers.
We’ve done a fifty-fifty split between strips that mention the holiday and those that don’t. In the latter category, Bringing Up Father is no-so-subtly plugging the motion picture version of the strip that had debuted just three days previously, starring Joe Yule as the every-put-upon Jiggs and Renie Riano as rolling-pin-wielding Maggie. Blondie features the Bumstead kids, with Dagwood getting the final word, while Ernie Bushmiller puts Nancy and Aunt Fritzie through their familiar paces, and what else can one say about the day’s installment of Terry and the Pirates but, “Oh, that Burma …!”
For strips that chose to acknowledge “Turkey Day,” Buck Rogers yearns for some good old fashioned bird and fixin’s. Orphan Annie proves she’s “Daddy’s” girl, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil shows us pugs down on their luck (how invisible was Scarlet? She was nowhere to be seen on Thanksgiving Day!), and my absolute favorite entry on this fantasy page is Mutt & Jeff, with Bud Fisher spreading holiday cheer and dropping Mae West’s name in the bargain. Miss West’s career was pretty quiet by 1946 (her brilliant My Little Chickadee, co-starring W.C. Fields, was already six years old at this point), but she was lovely, she was intelligent, and her mention here shows she was still very much a household name. Many of her films still hold up remarkably well, and in her heyday she dominates the screen whenever she’s in front of the camera — I highly recommend finding, viewing, and enjoying the work of Mae West.
My Leonard Maltin impression completed, I offer you this fantasy comics page from Thanksgiving Day, 1946, plus happy holiday wishes for all our American readers, from everyone at The Library of American Comics!
Our recently-released Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny is a major milestone on the LOAC Road to 200, and as we have done each month during our drive toward that 200th release, we’ve created a theme that allows us to load a cross-section of our books into the LOAC Wheel of Fortune, give ‘er a spin, and spotlight one randomly-chosen past book from the line.
October is a time of endings and beginnings. Major league baseball wraps up with its yearly postseason blast even as the harvest season concludes in many parts of the country, closing farm stands and making local fresh produce a memory throughout the long cold-weather months. Still, Hallowe’en’s spooks and spirits usher in the late-year holiday season and both the NBA and NHL start their own regular seasons, so October signals renewal, at least in some respects.
With that thought in mind we looked at our list of cartoonists to find those who were born in the month of October, as well as those who passed away in this month. It was an eclectic list: Lyman Young, of Tim Tyler’s Luck fame, was an October baby, as were Alex (Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim, Rip Kirby) Raymond and Bil Keane, original ringleader of the Family Circus. October was the month when we lost Jack (King Aroo) Kent, Noel Sickles, Gumps creator Sid Smith, and Jiggs and Maggie’s referee, George McManus. When we extracted their titles from the complete LOAC roster, we had this list, in the order of their release:
In various LOAC books we’ve shown (and discussed) examples of the intersection between comics and the world of advertising, yet it’s not a topic we’ve lingered over in this space. I decided to change that just a bit recently, when going through the contents of a bunch of Life Magazines. (One of the perks of this job is being able to sift through old magazines and newspapers, to get a look at — or in some cases, remember — The Way It Used to Be.) These Lifes had a variety of comics-based advertisements, so I snagged a batch of them to share with you.
The earliest Life ad I found with a comics connection was in the magazine’s April 15, 1940 issue. I knew Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff were popular, but until I saw this I had no idea they were experts on digestive difficulties …
Several years ago we took some time in this space to show you what my LOAC bookshelf looked like. I shelve my books in alphabetical order by author, or by publisher where that makes more sense — for instance, while my William Saroyans are under “S”, my Fantastic Fours are under “M”, with the rest of my Marvel Comics collections. My Library of American Comics titles are therefore under “L,” and then shelved alphabetically in a logical way (well, logical to me, anyway), as you can see:
I’m hoping that U.S. readers of this space have recovered from the twin effects of turkey-based tryptophan and early-morning Black Friday shopping — and that every American reading these words had a fine and fun Thanksgiving holiday. I still have family visiting for a few days, but while they’re otherwise occupied I wanted to finish our look at some of the classic comic strips that made their way onto the silver screen decades before the wave of comic-books-turned-film-franchises that currently dominate international box offices. Last time we checked out the movie adaptations of “The Big Three” from the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate — Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, and Little Orphan Annie — but the other behemoth in strip syndication, King Features, was also always ready to shift its most popular properties to a Hollywood footing. We’ll start this brief overview of King’s cinematic side with arguably their most influential comic strip of all …
Two years after it debuted in newspapers during the start of 1934, Flash Gordon came to movie palaces nationwide in an ambitious thirteen-chapter serial from Universal. As discussed in Volume Two of our Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim books, this cliffhanger proved so popular it spawned two sequels, was re-edited for release as a theatrical film and, later, as a feature for the syndicated TV market; generations of children grew to adulthood with this serial’s images of the Emperor’s palace, Mongo spaceships, and an always-breathless Dale Arden cemented into their memories. Much the same way the Flash Gordon strip helped bring science fiction to the newspaper masses, the Flash serial introduced SF to thousands of moviegoers.
A year later, Universal Pictures brought Flash‘s topper strip, Jungle Jim, to movie audiences as a serial in twelve parts, with Grant Withers playing the part of Jim. More enduring was the late-1948 full-length movie version of the character Columbia distributed, which was a low-budget success, spawning more than a dozen sequels that appeared during a period from the end of the 1940s to the mid-1950s. The actor playing Jim Bradley for Columbia was arguably the most famous Tarzan of them all — multi-Olympic -gold-medalist, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller.
Since King’s roster of comics included so many humorous features, it’s only natural the biggest gag-strips morphed into cinematic incarnations. Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake’s twenty-eight Blondie films came out from 1938 through the mid-’40s and remained immensely popular as syndicated TV fare well into the 1960s. Less successful in execution to the Blondies, but very good looking in terms of the actors and costuming, are Monogram’s five Jiggs and Maggie pictures, starting with 1946’s Bringing Up Father. This series starred Joe Yule as the hodcarrier-turned-millionaire Jiggs and Renie Riano as his social-climber wife, Maggie.
This look at comic strips come to life is hardly exhaustive, but it was fun to look back at select offerings with a Library of American Comics flavor. And for my friends who were remarking how extraordinary it is to see comic book properties being featured in 21st Century big-budget blockbusters, this little miniseries of articles might serve as a reminder that comics-to-film is nothing new under the sun … and that, as usual, the comic strips got there before the comic books did!
Last time in this space I discussed growing up with a “junk drawer” in our home, a catch-all for things that didn’t easily fit in anywhere else in the house. I mentioned having a similar catch-all in my filing cabinets today. It definitely doesn’t qualify as a junk drawer, given the many wonderful outsized or unusual items that reside within it, but it serves a similar purpose to my father and mother’s original Fibber McGee-style drawer from my boyhood days.
A recent dive into that Far-From-Junk drawer brought me to the KFS booklet commemorating Bringing Up Father‘s 20th anniversary, and that sparked thoughts that resulted in the “character evolution” piece that ran here at the end of September. It occurred to me that perhaps you might like to see a smattering of the other items I keep in my Far-From-Junk Drawer, so this week I dived back in.
Since we began by considering Bringing Up Father, and since I’m a huge fan of all things George McManus, let’s start off this look with two of almost a year’s worth of 1934 BUF newspaper strips I own, clipped from the pages of the Kansas City Star. McManus always has a great way with animals, and here you’ll see Jiggs and Maggie have received a most unusual pet, given as a gift from nobility with whom they had recently rubbed elbows:
A few years ago, Al Capp/Li’l Abner fan extraordinaire Mike Fontanelli sent me a C.A.R.E. package of all things Abnerian — some clipped daily and Sunday strips, a smattering of magazine articles, and other odds and ends, including a nice sampling of Cream of Wheat ads featuring the denizens of Dogpatch. Here’s a sample, which seemed especially appropriate since 2016, like 1944, is a leap year :
I also have some Ben Casey material, like this newspaper ad promoting the series, by the irrepressible Neal Adams, who continues to produce great-looking art today, *mumble-mumble* decades later:
Not all the items in my catch-all drawer pertain to comic strips. I make no secret of my love for baseball, and here’s a fine copy of a photo of the young Jackie Robinson that I received as a benefit from being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame:
Back in the comic book world, Jim Steranko moved away from doing work for Marvel Comics to publish magazines (Mediascene, Prevue) under his own company. He produced other products as well, like his bellwether History of Comics and stiff cardboard comic book “holders.” Here are the two facing sides of those holders, rendered as only Steranko can do it:
Finally, during the 1980s and into the early ’90s, I was devouring Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales while it was initially being published by Kitchen Sink Press. How big an XT booster was I? So big that on a trip to Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I bought one of the boxes of “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” candy bars they were selling. The candy is long gone, of course, but here is the top of the box, plus one of its side panels, featuring series stars Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee amidst some heavy dinosaurian action:
Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed this peek inside my Far-From-Junk Drawer — and that you agree with my classification of its contents as definitely being anything but junk!
In my house, when I was a boy growing up, we always had a “junk drawer,” that catchall where everything went that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. When my siblings or I would complain that we couldn’t find a particular item, the inevitable question would come back, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”
Today I still have the equivalent of a junk drawer for a portion of my LOAC filing. I don’t think of it as a junk drawer, of course — there are too many terrific items stored inside it that could never qualify as “junk!” But certain outsized articles, or thick bundles of clipped strips, or, yes, things that otherwise don’t quite fit anywhere else all end up in this one particular file cabinet drawer.
I recently had cause to open that drawer, searching for one specific article, and as typically happens I found myself looking through a batch of other artifacts before I found what I was seeking. One of those stray pieces that caught my attention was the tribute booklet King Features Syndicate assembled in honor of George McManus and Bringing Up Father on the advent of the strip’s twentieth anniversary. Thumbing through that jumbo-sized pamphlet, I took particular note of the spread that featured a look at how Jiggs’s physical appearance had changed throughout the history of the series:
Giving equal attention to both main characters, King provided a similar look at how Maggie morphed from stocky dowager to trim fashionista. Maggie’s display went Jiggs’s one better, since it included the years from which the images were taken:
It occurred to me that it might be fun to see how the looks of other major comics characters had evolved over time. I started by going back to 1926 with Little Orphan Annie, snagging an image from mid-June of that year, culled from one of my favorite Harold Gray stories, guest-starring Pee Wee the Elephant. Almost twenty years later, on April 15, 1946, I selected a panel showing how Annie had grown and matured. Fifteen years after that, in July of 1961, it’s arguable whether or not America’s Spunkiest Kid looks younger than she did in 1946, but her hair has definitely got wilder and more unruly!
Dick Tracy looks lean and lanky in this first panel, from June 27, 1932. In 1947, fifteen years later, he’s favoring a snap-brim fedora and his profile has become even more chiseled. Moving down the timeline another nineteen years, to 1966, Tracy arguable looks more weathered, with deeper lines around his eyes. His chapeau is more compact and close-fitting — but his necktie has remained incredibly resilient! (Note that Moon Maid is present in the background of the 1966 panel — you’ll be meeting her soon in our ongoing Dick Tracy series.)
Having taken snapshots in time of both Annie and Tracy, it was only natural to look at Terry Lee, the third star in the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate’s three “crown jewels.” As you can see below, in 1935 the star of Terry and the Pirates was a boyish adventurer very much in the Tom Swift/Tintin tradition. A decade later, with America and her Allies poised to emerge victorious from the conflicts of the Second World War, the Terry we see listening with surprise as he gets an earful from Johnny Jingo is a mature young man who has fulfilled creator Milton Caniff’s goal of growing up to displace Pat Ryan as the adult focus of the strip that bears his name. Fifteen years further down the timeline, in this panel from May 1, 1961, George Wunder’s Terry has aged gracefully — he’s filled out, with broader shoulders and a more rounded face. No matter his age, though, Terry Lee’s fate regularly seems to be entwined with that of exotic, mysterious women!
Since King Features characters set me on this path, it seemed proper that I pick another KFS star to conclude my look at character evolution. I think you’ll enjoy examining the radical changes that occur in the look of Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, as we move from his natty Hammettesque 1935 rendering (the product of Alex Raymond’s talented pen) to his more rumpled, almost slope-shouldered, January 31, 1957 Mel Graff appearance to his suave 1971 look, courtesy of Al Williamson.
Given the disposable nature of daily newspapers and the inevitable audience turnover, one is left to wonder how many readers noted these visual changes over time. Certainly the stylistic differences of the artists who drew X-9/Corrigan would be hard to miss, but was it a relatively seamless transition for most readers from Caniff to George Wunder on Terry? And for strips produced by the same hand for decades — Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, Dick Tracy — how often did the changes in physical appearance get noticed and, when noticed, how often did they get accepted with a simple mental shrug? None of us were there, none of us can really know — but it’s certainly fun to ponder!