Continuing our review of the first two hundred LOAC books, which began here, take a look at our fifty-first to one hundredth releases …
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 keeping with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 — and in celebration of Star Wars Volume 3 winning the 2019 Eisner Award in its category of “Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips” (grateful thanks are extended to all who voted for it) — the theme of our July spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune is space opera. Here are our sixteen books that belong in that subgenre, in the order they were released:
This week I received an advance copy of the twelfth LOAC Essentials volume, which also completes our reprinting of Baron Bean. As a stone George Herriman fan, that made my entire week special! Fronted by an incisive introduction by Jared Gardner, this volume collects the 1918 strips that wrap up The Baron’s misadventures, aided and abetted (as usual) by his man-Friday, Grimes.
But the arrival of The Baron’s swan song gave me pause — yes, this book is the latest in the Essentials line, but it’s also the third in Baron Bean‘s distinguished, perhaps-too-short run. Since I shelve all my Essentials volumes together, should I arrange them in order of publication, which would sprinkle the Bean books throughout as the first, sixth, and twelfth of the series … or should I make a “mini-series” out of Baron Bean, grouping those three book together, and leaving the other Essentials standing side-by-side in publication order?
Giving it perhaps too much thought, I came up with a third option, hastily shuffled my Essentials into this order, and snapped a picture of it to share with you:
As you can see, the solution I’ve settled upon is to simply shelve my Essentials in by-year chronology. This has the benefits of keeping the three Baron Beans together, since they’re by far the earliest strips reprinted in the series, then grouping the remaining books in such a way so that common styles of each period are also grouped together (and styles did change, as the young artform matured and attracted new talent).
Looking at this arrangement we see two ends of the comic strip spectrum in 1929, with the family serials, epitomized by The Gumps, in the ultraviolet and the a’borning adventure features (represented by the first-ever Tarzan newspaper comic strip) in the infrared.
And how about that 1933? Family comedies move in zany new, often-Deco directions, thanks to Cliff Sterrett’s terrific Polly and Her Pals, while Dan Dunn debuts as part of a wave of hard-bitten crimebusters in the then-still-fresh Dick Tracy mold, while Alex Raymond elevates Tim Tyler’s Luck to new artistic heights before he leaves Lyman Young’s employ, striking out on his own on series like Secret Agent X-9, Jungle Jim, and what was that other one …? Oh, yes — Flash Gordon!
The years represented by only one Essentials volume are nevertheless well represented indeed — a slice of the classic Bungle Family (“Such crust!”) in 1930; a 1934 dose of Coconino Craziness from Herriman’s dear Kat; Alley Oop totally changing its narrative structure in ’39; and an end-of-the-War dose of Americana as only Edwina Dunn could do it with our collection of “Cap” Stubbs & Tippie (hurray!) circa 1945.
Looking at the Essentials-to-date in this manner gave me a fresh appreciation for the series. These little books pack a mighty historic punch!
I’m hoping you’re enjoying each release in this series as much as I am — and that you’ll be on the lookout for Baron Bean Volume 3, as it goes on sale very soon. Of course, we’d love to see photos of your comic strip collection, either in its entirety or focused on the LOAC subset of the whole. Feel free to send them to us via social media or Facebook!
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:
We’ve discussed previously in this space that I try to get a representative example of artwork from some of my favorite LOAC books so they can be displayed in my home (On My Walls). I’ve added to my modest collection this year, and recently I visited my old pals Brian and Sally at Rainbow Art and Framing and asked them to put together a couple new pieces for me. They recently called and had things ready for me.
Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to snag an Alex Raymond Flash Gordon original, but my introduction to our fourth and final Flash/Jungle Jim volume touched upon the appearances of those characters in the post-Raymond years, and I was able to snag this cel from the late-1970s Filmation Flash cartoon. Here’s how it looks now that it’s hanging on one of my living room wall:
During a cold, snowy first week of 2017 here in New England, two things occurred to me:  we’re overdue for a Fantasy Comics Page in this space, and  2017 marks the 241st anniversary of the acknowledged founding of the United States of America. We’re fewer than ten years away from the USA’s 250th birthday, the Sestercentennial! (Or Semiquincentennial, if you’re cut from Johnny Littlejohn/Hank McCoy polysyllabic cloth — the jury’s out on what the celebration will officially be called.)
When that pair of thoughts collided, I went back into the strips, looking to build a Fantasy Page from the first day of our Bicentennial Year, January 1, 1976. What I put together tickled me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It features a mix of comedy and adventure strips, popular long-running comics and more obscure fare. We begin with two of my all-time favorite series: Al Capp brings Baby New Year back to Li’l Abner (no one knew it at the time, but the strip had less than two years’ of life remaining), while Tom Ryan ignores the new year entirely in his always-wonderful Tumbleweeds.
Gus Arriola’s work always gives me a smile, so including Gordo on this Fantasy Page is a distinct pleasure — and one might think Flash Gordon could use New Year’s Day as an excuse to take a break from tromping around dungeons and fighting monsters, but this lovely example of Flash’s strip by Dan Barry proves that’s not the case. And who among us has not faced the “good diet resolution” dilemma Tom Batiuk presents in Funky Winkerbean? (Though I hope most of us last longer than this before breaking our resolutions!)
Lolly was a new strip to me, and I enjoy such finds, as well as going back to learn a bit about them. In this case, Lolly was the brainchild of former Disney Studios animator Pete Hansen and ran from 1955 to 1983. Lolly herself is a nicely-designed character, and the balance between her home and work life (she was an office employee, supervised by “Mr. Quimby”) gives her the same sort of plot grist that would make the Mary Tyler Moore Show such a hit throughout most of the ’70s (though Lolly, while appealing, is no Mar’!)
Junior Tracy’s Bicentennial New Year begins earlier than he’d like — note who’s sleeping next to him! You can read the first appearances of the Moon Maid in our just-released Dick Tracy Volume 21. Irwin Hasen was one of the treasures of the comics world, even when newspaper editors mistakenly identified him as “Irwin Hansen;” here’s how his Dondi started off 1976. Snoopy and Woodstock were partying hard in Peanuts, and appropriately, our Fantasy Page ends with a strip created specifically with the Bicentennial in mind, Yankee Doodles. This was also an unknown strip to me when I stumbled across it, but thanks to historian extraordinaire Allan Holtz and his invaluable “Stripper’s Guide” website, I learned this was a feature that lasted only fifty months, and was the product of three creators: Ben Templeton (later of Motley’s Crew fame), Fred W. Martin, and Don Kracke — think of the hilarity that could have ensued if the credits had said, “by Kracke!”
Who knows what sort of comics will arise to take advantage of the Sestercentennial? (Or the Semiquincentennial, should we opt for the longer name …)
Anyway, here’s our look back at January 1, 1976 —
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!
Concluding a look at some of my favorite storylines from the LOAC line of books, as it exists as of May, 2016. Let’s forge boldly onward, and remember this entire list is provided in no particular order …
5. Iconic Crossed Swords. Like “awesome” and “friend,” “iconic” is a word sorely abused in our modern language, its true meaning being eroded and dulled by dullards. So I try to use it carefully, and I chose it with care in reference to the last panel of this Flash Gordon Sunday page from August 14, 1938. Throughout the Alex Raymond/Don Moore run there is a reluctance to bring Flash and Ming the Merciless into direct confrontation; in this sequence, with Gordon and his loosely-knit band of Freemen ambushing the Emperor on The Island of Royal Tombs, we get an image of Ming and Flash squaring off, mano-a-mano, that truly lives up to the word “iconic.” It’s not only a perfect encapsulation of the strip, in a larger sense it’s a stirring representation of Good versus Evil. It is perhaps my favorite moment in the entire run of Flash Gordon, and I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.
4. Before the Famous Sandwich, There Was … The Dagwood Hunger Strike. For years while growing up, this was one of those plotlines I heard about and read about but never got to see. Bringing it to fans in our first Blondie collection was therefore a real treat for me, and I found that absorbing Chic Young’s full original run on his strip (given a first boost toward its eventual uber-popularity by this very sequence) was a fun — and sometimes eye-opening — experience. This January 25 daily, from deep in the heart of the Hunger Strike, especially tickled me, foreshadowing as it does Dagwood’s famous appetite, though his penchant for combining unlikely ingredients was a future development that readers of this story circa 1933 could never have guessed was on the far horizon.
3. Punjab to the Rescue! One of the things I’m most proud of where LOAC is concerned is that we have preserved large spans of several deserving strips. On occasion I still pinch myself when I realize we have succeeded in putting thirty years of Dick Tracy continuity back into print, and we’re approaching doing the same for twenty-five years of that most American of The Library of American Comics, Little Orphan Annie. Harold Gray treated us to many memorable sequences starring the kid with a heart of goal and a quick left hook, but one of my favorites is “Assault on the Hacienda.” Captured by the nefarious Axel, Annie is whisked to a remote South American retreat and put under the care of the exotic Dona Dolores. “Daddy” Warbucks mounts a rescue, but eventually is captured and imprisoned deep underground with the two gals. “Daddy’s” men are still on the job and Punjab, their leader, gets good play in this July 16, 1939 Sunday page — he displays his wits, his strength, and even shows off his sensahumor!
2. A (Sailor) Man of the World. I recently did a long piece in this space extolling the virtues of Bobby London’s Popeye, and of the many wild and wonderful stories London spins, my favorite (by about the width of one of Poopdeck Pappy’s whiskers!) is “Heavy Metal Toar.” What’s not to love in a yarn that features classic rock music superstars, a lost land, a fountain of youth, and the wonkiest biker scenes this side of Easy Rider. In fact, the August, 1989 daily below trips off a plot point that has the squinky-eyed sailor and Olive’s shapely cousin, Sutra Oyl, on a rest stop at a refreshing pond after riding a chopper south across the border. Sutra Oyl decides to do some skinny-dipping and gets a surprise after suggesting Popeye is too intimidated by her state of undress to join her — he wades in, picks her up, tosses her over his shoulder, and, well, see for yourself …
1. Canyon Gets the Point. It’s easy to list any number of fantastic Terry and the Pirates stories that qualify as must-reads, but let’s not forget that Steve Canyon has its share of delights, too. This 1952 melodrama sees Steve among a small band who survive the crashing of their light plane in the remote woodlands south of Alaska. There they run into a most unscrupulous-seeming French-Canadian nicknamed Bonbon and hear a random radio news broadcast that indicates one of their number is hiding a stolen diamond necklace. It’s a classic melodrama of the genus “band of strangers forced together in stressful circumstances, with one of their number More Than He (or She) Seems,” and it’s expertly told with all the Caniffian touches we Milton-fans enjoy. This tale also introduced audiences to the snappy Miss Mizzou, she of the Marilyn Monroe physique and the naked-except-for-her-trenchcoat wardrobe. Mizzou became a favorite of readers, popping up semi-regularly when Steve might least expect it, and she was grist for the Caniff Steve Canyon Publicity Mill. J.B. Winter’s fine book, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics, offers details of Mizzou’s effect on popular culture and the stir she created in the town of Columbia, Missouri. I recommend it as heartily as I recommend this Steve Canyon adventure.
That’s my list of ten favorite LOAC stories. If you have your own list of ten (or even five) fave-raves, why not share it with us? Zap it to us at email@example.com and who knows? We may do a follow-up in this space that will feature your list …