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A Coming Attraction of a Different Sort

The holiday hustle and bustle is affecting a lot of us (and a lot of you, too, I bet!), but though 2018 still has nineteen days left as I pen these words, it’s not too early to be looking forward to 2019. The year ahead will offer the next chapters in such long-running series as For Better of For Worse, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, and Superman (among others), plus some surprising new releases. It will all be building up to an extra-special milestone that, in this day of social media and minimalist message content, might be designated “D4200.”

More on exactly what that means coming in January, when we inaugurate a new monthly feature in this space: The LOAC Wheel of Fortune!

Sure, it may not look like much now, but when we load it with content and give it a whirl next month and in the months thereafter, we think you’ll enjoy the results. What we can tell you right now is that this LOAC Wheel of Fortune has nothing to do with the TV Wheel of Fortune, on which my wife was a contestant earlier this year (discussed as the lead item in this May posting).

For now, however, here’s wishing all visitors to this space a happy last few weeks of 2018!

November Nibbles Before Turkey-Day Gobbles

It’s an honor, but never a joyous task, to pen a remembrance for a luminary in this artform who has left us, as I recently did for Stan Lee. Thinking about Stan’s passing in the days that followed, it led me to wonder, “What upbeat comics milestones are attached to the month of November?” The 90th anniversary of the creation of Mickey Mouse is getting wide-spread — and justly deserved — recognition, but I found another handful of items that put a smile on my lips …

For instance, Sesame Street‘s inimitable Cookie Monster marks November 2nd as his birthday. Here he is, doing what he does best, in this 1973 installment of the Sesame Street newspaper strip:

Writer Alan Moore was born November 18, 1953. While his credits are many, varied, and often exceptionally fine, I have a sentimental fondness for his work with Steve Bissette and John Totleben (and sometimes Rick Veitch) on DC’s Swamp Thing.

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Face Front, One Last Time

Though not unexpected, it is certainly sad to mark the passing of Stanley Martin Lieber, known the world over as Stan Lee, at age ninety-five.

“Silver Age Stan,” circa the mid-1970s

Much has already been written about Stan’s career while he was with us, and his obituary is appearing everywhere, including The New York TimesThe Hollywood ReporterThe Comics ReporterBBC News, and elsewhere.

I met Stan once, at a Boston convention, along with my good friend Mike Dudley. Stan was gracious to all, and personalized a bit of Fantastic Four memorabilia for Mike that had been previously autographed by both “King” Kirby and Joe Sinnott.

Stan in his later years, when the public-at-large knew him primarily through his movie cameo appearances.

And of course, in recent years I interviewed Stan in association with our own Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip collections. Stan was forthright and upbeat, and as we wrapped up our twenty-minute session he told me, “You’re a good interviewer, and I wish you a lot of a lot of luck with those books.” A cynic might say he was only being polite, but it was a pleasant moment for me, to have a man whose work brought me years of enjoyment give his brief connection with me a thumbs-up.

It’s natural to want to speak of one’s own brushes with a passing Great, but it also seems right to me to use this occasion to let The Man speak for himself. Here is Stan, on the Soapbox that was familiar to so many of us in our formative years, delivering a message at least as relevant today as it was when it was first published, almost a half-century ago:

Speaking for everyone at The Library of American Comics, our most sincere sympathies are extended to Stan’s surviving brother, Larry Lieber (himself just recently retired from drawing the Spider-Man newspaper comic), and Stan’s daughter, Joan (J.C.) Lee.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lee.

Still ESSENTIALly The Baron — and His Friends

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 KatAlley 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!

Larry Lieber, May Your Webs Never Wiggle!

Back after too long an absence: deadlines are implacable (just finished proofing galleys for Steve Canyon Volume 9, which is chock-full of terrific material) and some family commitments placed their demands upon me (including a wedding in my wife’s family, which took me out-of-state earlier this month) … but the crunch is over, so at last I have a chance to offer a hearty “Salute!” to Larry Lieber, who stepped down in September from penciling The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip after an incredible run that spans more than three decades. I’ve selected ten examples of Larry’s work on the wall-crawler’s newspaper adventures, grouped loosely by theme. Peter Parker’s far-famed bad luck is on display in these three strips from January of 1981 and July and October of 2001:

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Fantasy Comics Page & One of Their Own

Fifty-four years ago, on September 15, 1964, the New York World’s Fair marked “Steve Canyon Day” and honored the picaresque hero’s creator, Milton Caniff.

And why not? Caniff had spent most of that summer weaving a tale set at the Fair involving both Canyons, Steve and his collegiate cousin, Poteet. The World’s Fair, being staged in New York, was heavily covered by all major forms of media, and a Canyon storyline set at the huge exhibition was a promotional boon to several subscriber newspapers, as this ad from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicates:

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