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A Personal Note, If I May

I think I met Russell Steele three times. He worked in the film and TV industry, part of the horde of behind-the-cameras technical and business staff who support most productions. Russell plied his trade on motion pictures such as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Phantom, and The Sum of All Fears, as well as such TV productions as Agent Carter and the current version of Hawaii Five-O.

He was also the college roommate of one of my oldest friends (and Gene Colan’s biographer), Tom Field — which is why, when Tom sent me a message early Sunday morning that Russell had passed away at age 53, it gave me pause and has since prompted me to pen these few words.

Just a few months ago, in August, I traveled back to central Maine to share an afternoon with this motley crew (I’m the motley fool in the middle, wearing the black shirt):

The Duck Soupers (abridged). At right, back to front: Dave, Mike, and Tom. At left, back to front: Doug, me, Walter. Missing from Photo: Lee, and Howard, who left us in 2014.

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The Punjab Magic Whistle!

In the Little Orphan Annie strip of February 24 1935 (reprinted in Vol. 6 of our series) a mysterious giant wearing a turban appears and offers to help the little mophead chop wood. It’s the first time Annie meets Punjab. When she offhandedly comments how nice it was to receive his help Punjab gives her a magic whistle and tells her that any time she needs his help, all she has to do is blow it and he would immediately appear. She is frightened and apprehensive because she has no idea who he is, but takes the whistle nonetheless, and Punjab disappears. A few days later, on March 3rd, Annie wonders if the whistle would really bring Punjab to her aid and blows it. Poof! Punjab appears out of nowhere! Later that month at a key moment in the classic Eli Eon saga, she blows the whistle yet again. Same result.

Eighteen years later, in strips reprinted in LOA Vol. 16, Annie needs help saving the life of a friend. In the June 1, 1953 strip she unexpectedly finds the magic whistle in her pocket and blows it. Punjab appears again! When asked where he came from, Punjab simply stated, “When the little princess blows the magic whistle, I appear.”

During the height of LOA licensed merchandise in the 1930s one manufacturer produced Little Orphan Annie sweaters, including “Magic Punjab Whistles” as premium incentives for retailers ordering full boxes of sweaters. So far as is known the whistles were never offered as for-sale items. Further, because the whistles don’t bear any markings, today’s collectors are generally unaware of them. Only one sweater box complete with five whistles is known to exist, making the “Magic Punjab Whistle” an extremely rare collectible.

Thanks to our good friend Richard Olson for giving us the background and scanning his sweater box and whistles for all to see!

 

Leaves Are Falling, Wheels Are Spinning

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:

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Rare Sparky Watts Screwball Strips…or Who Put the Boody in Rogers, Steve?

SCREWBALL! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny will be in stores and on sale tomorrow! To whet your appetite, here’s another Guest Blog by the book’s author, Paul C. Tumey

Before he became a soldier, Gordon “Boody” Rogers fought the Third Reich with pen and ink. In his Sparky Watts daily strip, he put his unlikely hero to work fighting Hitler. In his singular bawdy screwball style, Boody Rogers has Sparky combat Hitler by going to bed with him!

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Echoing Caniff

Other media were ahead of comics when it came to putting rampant hormones in front of their audiences. In the movies, ribald blonde bombshell Mae West cast the handsome but essentially unknown Cary Grant in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong, a box-office smash and Oscar nominee. West and Grant teamed again (regrettably, for the last time) the very next year in I’m No Angel, while in publishing, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller was released in France and James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice in the States. The steamy sexuality in both books created sensations and scandals — Cancer was banned in the U.S., while Boston took the same action with regard to Postman.

The comics, by contrast, kept most of their romantic relationships at the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald level — that is, until Milton Caniff devoted a week of 1936 Terry and the Pirates dailies to pushing gallant he-man Pat Ryan and the alluring-but-frustrated Burma into each others arms.

The climax of Caniff’s famous TERRY sequence occurs in these two strips, from March 19 and 20, 1936

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Bonus Screwball! Gallery: From Preferred to Pipe Dreams

We’re less than two weeks before SCREWBALL! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny will be in stores and on sale! To whet your appetite, here’s a Guest Blog by the book’s author, Paul C. Tumey

In the course of writing and curating Screwball! I embarked on a thrilling journey in which I met many fascinating, funny cartoonists who lived and worked as far back as 140 years ago. I am delighted to be able to share their stories and art with a new audience.

The current unprecedented access to historical sources on the Internet has propelled us into a new era of historical scholarship in which it is possible to conduct in-depth research that has previously been very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. It turns out there is a surprising amount of comics history that is undocumented and mostly forgotten. My mission with Screwball! was to reclaim some of this material, both with “lost” cartoonists and new information and art related to well-known cartoonists.

There is an innocence to screwball comics I love. At first, I thought it was because the people of the time were rather naive and uncomplicated. And then I realized these were the generations that endured World Wars and the Great Depression. I came to realize the screwball style―silly, manic, absurd, non-ironic―was a deliberate choice our worldly, weary, and wise forebears made. They must have needed a laugh. Given that our current times are looking a bit grim, it seems a worthy effort to place some of this material back in circulation to offer a tonic and perhaps even an inspiration to celebrate the absurdities of life.

Although we packed Screwball! with over 600 comics and other pieces of art―the best of the best―I turned up much more. At one point, faced with so much good material, Dean asked me to sort the art for each chapter into five folders: Definite, Preferred, If Room, If More Room, and Pipe Dreams.

Here, then, are a few very special items we think LOAC readers will enjoy that are not in the book, taken from the Preferred to Pipe Dreams folders.

ABOVE: Otto and Blotto by Milt Gross, August 19, 1934. In the mid-1930s, the restlessly creative Gross slyly changed his Count Screwloose topper to Dave’s Delicatessen into a new strip, featuring two chummy best buddy penguins who, Laurel-and-Hardy-like, are dominated by their wives and often sneak off for some fun which, of course, turns into comic disaster. (See page 191 of Screwball! for more context, and page 200 for another Gross penguin-like character, The Guy From Mars.)

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Septembers LOAC Wheel of Fortune: Just For Laughs! Redux

I know, I know — I said I had something planned for September, so we’d do our second humor-based spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune later in the autumn. I weighed the options and decided the idea I had for September would work even better if I held it back until October. That certainly appealed to me, since now I had a clear path to doing our focus on our funniest “funnies” in back-to-back installments. Hoo-hah!

You’ll notice that just before and just after our fiftieth release, we offered two delightful single-volume books, Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and the Little King and that splendid rare find, Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was. (I visited the Chuck Jones Gallery during a June visit to San Diego — a highly-recommended destination, if you’re a Jones-booster like me!) I also like to count myself in the forefront of Cliff Sterrett fans, so it’s a grand pleasure that we have offered readers Polly and Her Pals in two beautiful oversized “Champagne Edition” offerings, plus a year’s worth of dailies from 1933 in one of our LOAC Essentials books. Like Blondie, the earliest installments of The Family Circus are something I’m proud we’ve collected and preserved for 21st Century audiences. The humor offerings in our second hundred titles is weighted toward Walt Disney offerings, and notice that as the year has progressed, as Silly Symphonies Volume 4 indicates, our march toward our 200th Library of American Comics book is getting mighty close to that goal. Here’s the list, in order of release:

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Wonder Woman Strips!

When we published a collection of the rare 1940s Wonder Woman daily newspaper series several years ago, we noted that the strips we reproduced were from the files of DC Comics and represented, to the best knowledge at the time, the complete series. When the series was originally winding down, in late 1945, it was thought that it most likely appeared in only one newspaper—the Chicago Herald-American. That newspaper never ran the daily strip for November 19, 1945. The Herald-American did not publish on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 22nd, so it published the November 20th strip on the 19th, and then scratched out the dates on the November 21st and 22nd dailies and published them on the 20th and 21st, respectively. It picked up again on Friday the 23rd and continued until the final strip on December 1st.

We promised at the time of our publication that if a November 19, 1945 daily surfaced in the future, we will make it available online and in subsequent editions.

Well, guess what?!

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The August LOAC Wheel of Fortune: Just for Laughs

We continue journeying toward our two hundredth Library of American Comics release with the August spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune – but before we give it a whirl, these few (semi-) serious paragraphs on a humorous subgenre –

I noted with interest that we’ve devoted almost twenty-five percent of the total LOAC output to some of the funniest of the funnies – and well over that percentage if you consider “story strips” like The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Baron Bean, Bungle Family, and Gasoline Alley to be comedy first and narrative continuity second. (I’ve chosen not to do that, to keep the list of titles under consideration to a manageable amount.) From dailies like 1933’s Polly and Her Pals and Herriman’s Krazy Kats that were published the next year (both collected in LOAC Essentials volumes) to more contemporary series such as Bobby London’s run on Popeye in Thimble Theater, The Library of American Comics has reprinted the crème de la rib-tickling crème. That commitment will continue, as you’ll see in the soon-to-be-released Screwball! book that will have you *plop!*ping with laughter into the nearest comfy chair (at least, we hope that’s where you land — *plop!*ping down onto a hardwood floor can hurt!).

Some of the LOAC parade of comedy also boasts historical significance – think of Dagwood Bumstead’s hunger strike and his eventual wedding to Miss Boopadoop in Blondie, Volume 1 – and some of it has sprung from our agreement with Disney (as you’ve surely noticed, the first word in Silly Symphonies is, well – Silly), but those are extra benefits added to comics designed to provoke smiles, chuckles, and out-and-out guffaws as they brighten up your day.

We have so many humor collections in our backlist, we’ll split it in twain and do two funny-funnies spins of the ol’ LOAC Wheel of Fortune, one this month and the other later in autumn (we have something planned for the September spin that is specifically tied to that month, so stay tuned for that!). Here is our August list of contenders …

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