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Coming soon…

 

Soon

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer are just about over. As we stumbled into the Library this fine September morning, the cappuccino machine is making like a steam plant. This has been a good week for acquisitions. The early morning light has created delightful highlights on the stack of strips waiting to be scanned. I had hoped that Darby O’Gill would have taken charge of the Little People last night and done the scanning, but alas…they, too slept away the wee hours. So I guess it’s up to us to start scanning these treasures so they can be assembled into books and brought to you in early 2012. As they say, it’s all coming soon…

 

Keeping Your Head Above Water

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While the media focussed its Hurricane Irene coverage on the coastal areas of the Northeast, Vermont—land of covered bridges, the country’s most independent Senator (Bernie Sanders), the home of our greatest journalist of the 20th Century (George Seldes), and White River’s Center for Cartoon Studies and Schulz Library—got whacked with severe rain and flooding.

CCS’s books were saved thanks to the heroic efforts of staff, cartoonists, and alumni, but the building that housed the library itself was severly damaged, leaving the Schulz Library in need of a new home. CCS’s Jen Vaughn gives the details at The Beat. We urge our friends and fans to help support this important comics institution.

Looking at the photos of the book rescue and clean-up reminds me of a time—twenty-seven years ago—when the small town of Guerneville, California, where I—and Eclipse Comics—lived and worked, succumbed to a devastating flood that ravaged the entire town and destroyed everyone’s homes and personal belongings. We also lost the company’s entire inventory of books and film negatives. Comics folk stick together, though, and just like the volunteers working through the night in Vermont last week, we gladly welcomed members of the northern California comics community who showed up in work clothes and waders. Here’s twenty-seven-year-later shout out of thanks to Tom Yeates, Lela Dowling, Ken Macklin, and everyone else—especially Mark Evanier, who kept the deadlines from being missed—who helped save Eclipse that fateful February in 1984.

Back to the future, let’s all rally around the fine folks at the Center for Cartoon Studies!

 

The High Renaissance of Classic Comics Reprinting

Back in the 1980s and early ’90s, those of us who were involved in reprinting classic newspaper strips thought we had entered the “Golden Age” of such collections. After all, that wave of reprint collections brought many classics such as Krazy Kat, Terry and the Pirates, and Pogo back into print for the very first time. All of us—me at Eclipse, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink, and NBM—took advantage of the healthy Direct Market comics stores pipeline to produce a plethora of titles. But cycles play their course and times change. That “Golden Age” came to an end with the subsequent comic book bust.

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So here we are at the beginnings of the 21st Century. What’s happening now makes that previous “Golden Age” seem like a false start. There’s no doubt that we are truly in the best period of classic comics preservation ever. As Tom DeHaven notes in an article in the current online edition of The Comics Journal, we’re in a true Renaissance in that endeavor. “It’s as if a hive decision was arrived at among publishers,” he writes, “to produce, once and for all, a comprehensive national comics library in print.” DeHaven offers a fantastic overview of the field, concentrating on something we spend a tremendous amount of time researching: the introductory essays that place the comics in their proper context. It’s a don’t miss read.

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Meanwhile, Genius, Isolated—the first book in our three-volume biography of Alex Toth—is featured in the Arts & Leisure section of today’s New York Times. The online version is availablehere. Dana Jennings writes, “what’s most shocking is that the book’s cover shrieks Matisse—not vintage comics artist.” I’m not sure what Alex would think of his image from “Taps” being compared to Matisse, but I’d like to think he’d be pleased. Bravo for Alex, I say!

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Over at Scoop, this week’s reviews include our latest five-pounder: Caniff: A Visual Biography. They write that we have “produced yet another spectacular, essential book for the shelves or coffee tables of enthusiasts of comics at their best.”

So it’s been a good week overall…a nice pause before the next deadline looms.

Auld Lang Syne

As Van Morrison has been known to say: “Take me back. Take me way, way, way back…”
I took a few days off from Library of American Comics business in order to return to the state of my birth, a hectic agenda in front of me as I drove up the highway. Some of my planned activities were very good indeed, such as spending an evening at my brother’s home and the next day gathering with most of my oldest, closest friends…but I definitely set myself a brisk pace.

One planned stop was in my boyhood town of residence. I drove past the noted liberal arts college that resides in my former hometown, then parked and made a point of walking through the small mall on the town’s main street, a mall populated by local, independent businesses rather than impersonal chain stores. It was like stepping back decades in time: the flower shop—the candy store—the bakery—and especially the repertory cinema were all still there, looking almost exactly as they did while I lived in town. I sat on the wooden bench outside the cinema, recalling the many foreign films (The Tree of Wooden Clogs and Kurosawa’s Ran, among others), cult favorites (everything from The Producers to The Stunt Man), and classic movies (almost all the major Hitchcocks, Maltese Falcon, Korda’s Thief of Bagdad…) I saw on the big screen thanks to this doughty little motion picture house.

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Suffused in the golden glow of nostalgia, I stepped back onto the main street, walked around the corner…and promptly had the slats knocked out from beneath me.

I had planned to visit the local newsstand, which in many ways was the center of my universe while growing up. The awning still proclaimed DAY’S NEWS, and as I walked up to the entrance I contemplated spending a few minutes browsing, maybe even buying a magazine or two for old time’s sake.

Instead it was dark inside and the front door bore a simple piece of paper thanking the loyal clientele as it also that the doors had closed for the final time on July 1, 2011.

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I dumbly stared through the windows, looking at the loose fixturing lumped into piles on the floor. I stepped back, looking up at the familiar awning, then back through the windows at a very different reality, struggling to process what I was seeing.

A woman came walking up the sidewalk and I did something I almost never do—I pestered a stranger, asking if the newsstand was really, truly closed. “Yes, and it’s very sad,” she said, “but when the big bookstores are having trouble selling books, how can anyone make a living selling newspapers and magazines?” It turned out she was a librarian at the town’s college, and we had a pleasant-if-wistful conversation. I gave her one of my cards and told her I likely wouldn’t be doing the work I do today if it weren’t for Day’s News.

There was more than hyperbole behind that statement. In the pre-comic-store days of my youth there were four outlets in my hometown where one bought comics: a LaVerdiere’s Super Drug (the place, as Steve Englehart wrote in Captain America #156, “that never takes its old comics off sale”), a mom-&-pop grocery store, a local branch of a statewide bookstore chain, and Day’s News, which sported two—count ‘em, two—comics spinners and kept the Warren and Marvel magazines shelved immediately inside the door. Over time I bought literally thousands of comics there, and I thumbed through a lot of others I didn’t buy.

More, the newsstand helped me become a better-rounded reader. Eventually I was buying The Sporting News there every week, Billboard or Cashbox when a story caught my eye, and eventually the daily Boston Globe. I plucked my first Conan and Doc Savage books from the paperback shelves that lined the back wall; I procured my first digest-sized science fiction magazines there (I now have over three decades of Analog and F&SF issues in my home).

I was befriended by the original owner of Day’s News, Pete Ouelette. Pete sold the newsstand to other persons after I had graduated high school and was living in a different town; he passed away before 1990. Nowadays I recognize the ways his business dominated his life—he had one part-time employee to pick up the last three hours of operation Monday through Friday as well as the Sunday shift, though other than that he was in the store, working the till, rotating the stock, dealing with the distributors, sweeping the floors and washing the windows. No easy row to hoe. Yet for a number of years starting at age seven—yes, in the days before helicopter parenting, kids like me were allowed to walk or ride their bikes around town by ourselves—I pushed my quarters and nickels and pennies up onto the counter in order to claim my weekly comics, and I thought Pete Ouelette had an absolutely splendid job.

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I’ve gone on at greater length than I intended when I started writing this piece—and I understand the wired, hustling, bustling 21st Century world is long removed from the period when I was growing up. But we should remember our debts to the persons and places that shaped our lives, because those debts are never fully paid.

So while Pete Ouelette and Day’s News may have given up their place on main street, they’ll always have their place in my heart.

Welcome to Our World!

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Please join us in welcoming Bella Elinor Heer, the latest citizen of Canada and the world. She joined us on Wednesday, April 20th at 1:22 pm, weighing six pounds, three ounces.

The proud parents are our friends, comics historian and writer Jeet Heer and Robin Ganev. In this photo, the lovely dress Bella’s wearing is a gift from Françoise Mouly and art spiegelman.

The Hall of Fame

Included in the new Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide are pages honoring each of the 2011 inductees in The Overstreet Hall of Fame presented by Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. I’m truly humbled to be among this year’s inductees, along with Jack Davis, Martin Goodman, Marie Severin, Water Simonson, and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.

The official press release states, “The Overstreet Hall of Fame was conceived to single out individuals who have made great contributions to the comic book arts. This includes writers, artists, editors, publishers and others who have plied their craft in insightful and meaningful ways.”

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The Distinctive Taste of Champagne

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Our Champagne Edition releases are bubbling up all sorts of interesting results.

The first of these oversized releases—Polly and Her Pals, Volume 1—is clearly the biggest, brightest reprint showcase ever to contain the antics of the Perkins clan. Jeet Heer and the crack Library of American Comics research team dug deeper than anyone has previously dug and the result was Jeet’s lengthy biographical essay, presenting the most comprehensive look ever atPolly and the strip’s creator, cartoonist Cliff Sterrett. Jeet’s text presents readers with more information about Sterrett—his boyhood, interests, family, friendships, and background—than has ever been available before. The book’s introduction, by artistic luminary P. Craig Russell, is the cherry atop the sundae.

The combination of Sterrett’s brilliant Sunday pages, Jeet’s prose, and Craig’s insightful intro helped Polly and Her Pals earn two Eisner Award nominations this year…and our next Champagne Edition release looks to be equally special.

We’re deep into the preparation of our inaugural Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim release, runningJim as the “topper” to Flash, just as King Features designed them to appear when the syndicate launched both in January 1934. The two strips have never been reprinted together in this manner for the span of their Raymond-era run, and they also benefit from the 12″ x 16″ Champagne size and the detailed color restoration work LOAC production personnel are currently doing.

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In addition, we have once again succeeded in uncovering new, heretofore unreported information about the men behind the imagery. I’ve written seven thousand words for Flash/Jim Vol. 1, including the first-ever detailed biography of Don Moore, who provided the text that accompanied Alex Raymond’s often-breathtaking visuals.

My features don’t answer all the questions, as you’ll see when you read them. We have, however, reached out to the pulp-fan community and been fortunate to receive invaluable research assistance from historian John Locke. Together, John and I pieced together a portrait that includes a U.S. Marshall in Iowa; a boyhood trip to London; the Sells-Floto Circus; a rebellion in the quaint little town of Cooperstown, New York; the befriending of Navy SEALS; and unfortunately, a tragic suicide. If a mix like that doesn’t whet your appetite, you might want to check your pulse…

The first in our four-volume Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim series will be on sale this fall. Like Polly and Her Pals, it offers that distinctive taste of Champagne to LOAC readers.

San Diego Comicon

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It’s that time of year again so we’re off to San Diego and four days of non-stop action. Whoo-boy, hold on to your hats.

I’ll be at the IDW booth (2643) most of the time, so stop by and say hello. We’ll have advance copies of our latest artbook: CANIFF. I also have a busy schedule of panels. Join Chester Brown and me on the Little Orphan Annie panel, 5:30-6:30pm, room 8. I’ll also be on the IDW Special Projects and Imprints panel (11:00am-noon, room 24 ABC) talking about some of our upcoming books (Flash Gordon, Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was, and more!).

I’m also privileged to participate in two panels very dear and important to me.

On Friday, I will help pay tribute to the beloved Gene Colan (noon-1:00pm, room 24ABC), joining Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Glen David Gold, Andrew Farago, and Mark Evanier. Gene and I first worked together way back in 1979 when he pencilled (and Tom Palmer inked) Steve Gerber’sStewart the Rat graphic novel.

On Saturday I have the pleasure to get together with Jenny Robb, Gary Groth, Trina Robbins, and Andrew Farago to commemorate our great friend, Bill Blackbeard (11:30am-12:30pm, room 24ABC).

I’ll also be at the Eisner Awards among friends, including the ever lovely Diana Schutz, and Ted Adams and the IDW gang. LOAC’s s nominated for three awards: Polly and Her Pals and Archieare pitted against each other in the Best Archival Comic Strip category, and Lorraine Turner and yours truly are nominated for Best Publication Design for Polly.

See you there, folks!

 

Utilitarian? Maybe. Hooded? No Longer!” (part three of three)

The Hooded Utilitarian website is gathering votes to name the top ten favorite comics of all time. I’ve narrowed the focus of their request for ten-best lists to this concept:

Which works would I select as the top representatives of the artform, works that resonate with seasoned readers within the medium yet can also serve “hook” a comics neophyte?

Feel free to use our archives to see the first seven selections on my list, which I’m rolling out alphabetically by creator—or, if you’re the devil-may-care type, simply dive in to see my final three choices…

8) Hadashi no Gen, by Keiji Nakazawa

Better known here in America as Barefoot Gen, this “cartoon story of Hiroshima” portrays Japanese life before, during, and after the atomic bombing of that city, which helped end the Second World War. Nakazawa lived through that event as a seven-year-old boy, and his anti-war message still rings true today, while Japan’s contemporary nuclear trouble in the wake of earthquake and tsunami destruction, remind us that though circumstances differ, history’s mistakes Are endlessly repeated by those who fail to learn from them.HU8_Nakajima

9) Maus, by Art Spiegelman

What can I say about Spiegelman’s masterwork that has not been better said before? Like Gen,Maus is an account of the harrowing nature of war (this time, the Nazi pogroms of WW II); it is also the story of the often-strained relationship between a father and his son. It’s a powerful work, one that has subsequently been taught in high school and university curricula and won numerous awards, most prestigious among them the Pulitzer Prize.

It seems impossible to fathom a “Best Comics” list of any sort that does not include Maus on it.

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10) Calvin & Hobbes, 1985 – 1995, by Bill Watterston  

Newspapers had shrunk the comic strips to postage-stamp size, and the common complaint was that there was no room left for sufficient lettering to tell a nuanced story, or to provide artwork that was much more advanced than stick figures.

Then Bill Watterson gave us Calvin and Hobbes and showed us all that the daily comic strip was still breathing, though it took an uncommon talent like his to sustain it.

The storytelling in Calvin is so deftly assured, the characters so believable and endearing, the situations so inspired, it is impossible for me to conceive of the person who does not love Calvin and Hobbes. What I’m now hoping is that enough voters will remember this outstanding strip when they make their selections …

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If you haven’t already visited The Hooded Utilitarian, you’ll find full details about their Top Ten project here.

It’ll be interesting to see the contents of the final list, won’t it? As the old saying goes: time will tell…

 

 

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