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Remembering Lew Sayre Schwartz

Lew

There are tears in my eyes as I begin this, a notice I would wish never to write.

Lew Sayre Schwartz has passed away at age eighty-four.

I read the headline; it took me several moments to realize the loud, sorrowful cry filling the room was my own. As I type this sentence, I am three hours away from a week-long trip abroad, and I had a long list of things to do before driving to the airport. A key item on my list was to call Lew and arrange a time when we could next get together.

We had spoken in May and I was rushing against a deadline, and Lew said he needed one of ourRip Kirby volumes, so I told him I would get that for him, then come out for a visit as soon as I got the book and delivered the piece I was writing.

I have the book and I met the deadline, but it hurts me so, so much to know I’m too late for the visit.

* * * * *

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Lew found us through the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State. He had acquired our first Terry and the Pirates releases and contacted Jenny Robb at the Cartoon Library, asking her if she had contact information for us. Jenny passed his message along to Dean and after a few exchanges of e-mails and phone calls, in the process learning that Lew resided in a town slightly more than an hour’s drive from where I live, Dean and I got together to make our first trip to Lew’s.

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He and his wife Barbara were welcoming and gracious, the perfect hosts in every way. Lew showed us the adaptation of Moby Dick he had created with Dick Giordano, and was generous in praising our efforts on Terry, and delighted to hear about our then-upcoming Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles. He shared with us his own collection of Sickles material, accumulated through the years, and he loaned us a copy of his 1981 film tribute to Milton Caniff, Reflections of an Armchair Marco Polo, which is must-viewing for any Caniff devotee. It had Dean and me babbling excitedly to one another after we had each had the opportunity to view it. More than a year later, while writing the final essay for Terry Volume 6, the closing narration from Reflections, which Lew had written for Walter Cronkite to deliver, seemed the perfect coda. After he saw the book in early 2009, Lew never failed to tell me how much enjoyment he took in having the final word, as it were, in our series. It was my great pleasure to give it to him.

After that initial visit, I phoned Lew often and visited his and Barbara’s home close to a half-dozen times, breaking bread with them on two occasions. Whenever I walked through their door I was treated with kindness and I learned a great deal, as Lew told stories from his days at King Features and his later work in film. He passed along anecdotes from his face-to-face encounters with the Caniffs, Raymonds, and Sickleses of the comic strip firmament; he showed me the works he had collected by the likes of Roy Crane. I would bring him our latest releases, and he was always unfailing in his praise of our work. During another visit, either in fall of 2009 or springtime of 2010, Lew surprised me with a gift of his own—a copy of DC’s hardcover Batman Annualsreprints, which included stories he had drawn in his days as the first of Bob Kane’s ghost artists. A connection to Batman is another thread Lew and I shared, since I wrote a handful of Bat-stories in the late 1990s. He was always proud of the fact no less a talent than Eddie Campbell publicly praised his Batman work, and it is fitting that Eddie produced the industry’s tribute to Lew, which can be found here.

Lew Sayre Schwartz was a fine artist and writer, an award-winning filmmaker, and an enthusiastic ambassador for the comics. But first and foremost, I think of Lew Sayre Schwartz as the warm and funny and thoroughly delightful man I have been proud to call my friend.

And now I feel the tears coming again, so before my view of the screen becomes a total blur, I’ll say, “Safe passage, Lew—I know Bud and Pappy and Roy are mighty glad to see you again.”

 

Can Never Get Enough

Canifff: A Visual Biography will be on sale in about a month. To hold you over, here are a few more goodies we uncovered. The Dragon Lady color piece is an online extra that didn’t make it in the printed book. This is one of the specialty drawings that Caniff had printed one hundred or so at a time. He would then watercolor them for fans who requested drawings.

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Here’s a party we all wish we could time-travel to: a 1948 comic strip costume ball.

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Here’s a Sunday page that’s not only a classic, but shows how Caniff created the half-page format. He drew the Sundays in tabloid format, then had the panels photostatted and pasted on a horizontal board. Then, either he or one of his assistants would fill in the art to the left and right. The paste-up lines on this original artwork have darkened over the years, giving us a clearer view of the process.Terry_wide

Utilitarian? Maybe. Hooded? No Longer! (part two 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 plunge headlong into the middle four choices on my “alphabetical-by-creator list…”

 

4) The Dreamer, by Will Eisner

If Eisner gets his deserved spot on the H.U. list, it will likely be for his most popular creation, The Spirit, or his ground-breaking first graphic novel, A Contract with God. I yield to no one in my admiration for both, and I admit The Dreamer is a dark horse (as opposed to a Dark Horse) candidate for inclusion. Still, I view it as an underappreciated part of Eisner’s body of work, one deserving of more attention. Fiction tinged with autobiography, The Dreamer is, as Eisner said in his foreword, “an examination of hope and ambition. The events take place during a time when cartoonists found themselves on fallow ground, the dawn of the modern comic book industry during the mid-1930s.” By extension, this story is our story, and who better to tell it than Eisner?

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5) Tintin in Tibet, by Hergé

Of all the various comics-based movies, the one that genuinely interests me is the upcomingTintin motion picture. Though more popular in Europe than Stateside, Hergé and his intrepid boy reporter have a broad-based appeal that puts them on my Top list.

Of the many delightful Tintin exploits, I selected In Tibet because it features Tintin propelling himself, Snowy, and Captain Haddock to the most remote place on earth on the most noble of quests: to aid a friend in trouble. Along the way there are hardships imposed by the environment, a touch of Eastern mysticism, and even a Yeti. Like Barks, Hergé’s work has kept its appeal across the generations; may the movie point a new audience to his work!

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6) The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley

Superheroes got me reading comics (The Fantastic Four still hold a special place in my heart), Dean and I used to letterhack in the pages of the same 1970s Marvel Comics, and I’ve even written some superhero comics; some of ’em, like The Gauntlet, (with artist Lee Weeks) were even published.

The Dark Knight Returns is hardly a perfect superhero comic, but it is perhaps Frank Miller’s most fully-realized work. The extensive coverage it received during its initial publication is pointed to as a key milestone in changing the media’s portrayal of the art form from “biff-pow-bam” to “comics have grown up.” Its sensibilities have touched every major Batman project to follow, in every medium—comics, animation, film.

All of that is well and good, but I’ll offer up Dark Knight Returns for another reason, one I’ve yet to see bandied about in all the discussion it has generated – endings are the toughest thing to get right, and Miller has misfired in the denouement of more than one of his stories. Yet in Dark Knight Returns, Miller gets the ending Exactly Right, both within the confines of his story and under the umbrella of the overarching, decades-spanning Batman mythos. It’s practically impossible to envision a better ending for Bruce Wayne than Miller provides here. No small achievement, that.

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7) From Hell, by Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell

Everyone has a favorite Alan Moore-penned tale, and it would have been easy to select Swamp Thing or Watchmen or V for Vendetta or any of another half-dozen works for my contributions to the H.U. balloting. I selected From Hell in part because it asks its audience to be smart in their reading, in part because it’s been so assiduously researched and developed, in part because Eddie Campbell’s work is one of comics’ special treasures. Once one has read From Hell, does one need to read any other tale of Jack the Ripper?

 

 

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

Next installment: my final three picks.

 

Utilitarian? Maybe. Hooded? No Longer!

Rob Martin refers to The Hooded Utilitarian as, “…a website devoted to cultural criticism with an emphasis on comics.” Right now, H.U. is in the process of gathering lists which will turn into votes which will turn into an early-August countdown of the top vote-getters in H.U.’s effort to name the top ten favorite comics of all time. The invitation to vote puts it this way (emphasis mine):

The specific question of the poll is this: What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant? …Your list may include any newspaper strips, comic-book series, graphic novels, manga features, web comics, editorial cartoons, and single-panel magazine cartoons. These works can be from any country of origin. Please do not include an entry that has yet to be published.

Now, those are a pretty wide-open set of criteria; that is perhaps a good thing for this type of effort, which wants to be as inclusive as possible. In compiling my list, I narrowed the focus a bit, arriving at 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?

I’ll take the rest of this message and my next two to show you my list and the thinking behind each selection. Since Rob isn’t asking for the list to be ranked, I’m rolling out my selections alphabetically by creator. May I have the envelopes, please…?

1) The single-panel magazine cartoons of Charles Addams (The New Yorker)

He’s creepy, he’s spooky, he’s positively ooky—but Chas. Addams gave us far more than The Addams Family, though of course they are, of themselves, quite a deliciously wicked creative accomplishment. His spot cartoons were sometimes bittersweet (two unicorns, stranded on a rock, the ocean waves lapping ever higher as Noah’s Ark sails away), sometimes wistful (the lonely lighthouse keeper who finds a valentine washed up on shore), yet consistently entertaining. Here’s a typically nefarious Addams cartoon…

 

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2) “Back to the Klondike,” featuring Uncle $crooge, by Carl Barks (from Four Color # 456)

Will the Thelma & Louise effect strike again? Barks told so many fine stories, it will be interesting to see if his votes become so diluted across his oeuvre that he ends up omitted from the final H.U. list. I hope that turns out to be not the case, because certainly The Duck Man has charmed generations of readers with his well-wrought, thoroughly-researched tales.

I selected “Back to the Klondike” because its Alaska gold rush setting shows Barks’s attention to historical detail and also offers real character growth, plus an ill-fated love gone wrong, hinting that $crooge is a deeper, more complex personality than we’re used to seeing within Disney stable.

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3) Terry and the Pirates, 1934 – 1946, by Milton Caniff (distributed by the Chicago Tribune New York Daily News Syndicate)

Accuse me of tooting the LOAC horn if you must, but who can dispute that Caniff’s sprawling saga meets the criteria I used to compile my list? Many a seasoned comics reader agrees thatTerry represents the pinnacle of daily adventure strips; Dean and I both know persons with no ties to the medium who’ve started reading the exploits of Terry Lee and his many cohorts, look up long enough to remark, “Saa-a-ay…his is pretty good!”, then eagerly dive back in for more. Terryis a glorious achievement, and it will be a grave disappointment—not necessarily a surprise, but a disappointment—if it fails to make the H.U. list.

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

Next installment: my next four picks.

 

Out of the Box

After thirty-four years in the publishing business, there’s still no greater thrill than opening that first box from the printer containing advance copies of new books. Here’s what our friendly FedEx delivery guy brought us today: Miss Fury and Li’l Abner 3. Both will be in stores by the end of the month.

Excuse me for now—I’ve got some fun reading to do!Fury_Abner_box

It’s the Golden Age…

I’d like to think that we’re playing a large part in making this the Golden Age of Comic Strip Reprints, but we’re certainly not alone. I recently thrilled to the first volume of John Cullen Murphy’s Big Ben Bolt published by our pal Charles Pelto at Classic Comics Press. If you’re not familiar with the strip, I urge you to take a look. In the next few months, Charles has plans to begin José Luis Salinas’s Cisco Kid, which rivals Alex’s Raymond’s Rip Kirby as the best drawn strip of the ’50s. My mouth’s watering already!

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Another book that’s available now is an absolutely stunning Robert Fawcett art book from another old pal of ours—Manuel Auad. It’s not comics, but if you like art—especially mid-Century illustration work—Fawcett is THE MAN. This book—along with LOAC’s own Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles—belongs on the shelves of all serious art fans.

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We Just Got Back from Bahstawn!

That was the cry when my friends and I were still wet behind the ears and returning to our homes in rural New England after making the three-hour drive home following a weekend in Boston. We typically found driving into the city was no big problem – but for whatever reason, driving out of town often confounded us. Somehow, we didn’t mind making a few wrong turns before getting untracked, because invariably we’d had such a good time we weren’t eager for our adventures to end.

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Many of my friends have remained in the state of our births, but fifteen years ago I moved into the greater Boston area. Though I’ve never had cause to regret that change of venue, at times I do wish that many of my closest friends lived closer than a hundred miles away.

When three of those friends announced they were coming to The Hub of the Universe on April 30th and May 1st for the Boston Comiccon, there was no doubt I’d be there, too. For the first time since October at NYCC, I found myself on a convention floor.

The Boston show wasn’t as big or as loud or as crowded as New York, but there was still plenty of activity. Dealers aplenty were hawking Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age comics, plus all sorts of paperback and hardcover collections(I saw Terrys and Annies and Bloom Countys displayed on several tables). There was no shortage of costumed fans (kudos to the guy in a barbarian-style loincloth and the gal who wore a Power Girl outfit – it’s no small achievement to be able to sell costumes like that!). And the lineup of professional guests was first rate – there were more Big Names on hand than I had time to visit (I tried to look up Mark Chiarello twice; alas, he was away from his table each time.)

Still, it was a thrill to at last meet Gahan Wilson. I’ve followed Mr. Wilson’s career since his days with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and I’ve read all his prose fiction, as well. He was more than generous with his time, telling me how a boyhood visit to Chester Gould’s home helped him decide he wanted a career as a cartoonist. And what a delight to meet Stephanie Buscema! The granddaughter of the late, great John Buscema, she is carving her own niche in the comics business. I encountered John at a 1999 show in White Plains and was in the DC Comics offices the same day as John’s brother, Sal, a few years before that. Meeting Stephanie allowed me to score a trifecta when it comes to speaking with The Drawing Buscemas.

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It was a delight to spend a few minutes with Joe Kubert. Since he gave us a terrific interview about Alex Toth in support of our Genius series, I was pleased to be able to tell him Genius, Isolated is now on sale. I also had a wonderful visit with Howard Chaykin and I admit it—I fanboyed out, asking for an autograph in my copy of his sassy and spritied 1986 graphic album,Time2: The Epiphany. And Darwyn Cooke is not just a tremendous talent, he’s one helluva nice guy who roots for exactly the right NBA team (we’re both big Boston Celtics fans). I had great fun talking both comics and Celtics Pride with him.

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I’m not just idly dropping names – those three talented gentlemen all agreed to let me interview them in the weeks ahead to support upcoming text pieces I’ll be writing. Keep watching future LOAC volumes and when you see their quotes appear, you’ll know the way it all began.

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Best of all for me, the fun did not end each day as the convention wound down. That meant it was time for my friends and I to leave the Hynes Convention Center, and head off for a tasty meal, and enjoy plenty of good conversation. Coming home from the city is now commonplace for me, but as I said goodbye to my friends, I wondered if they’d get home ready to say, “I just got back fromBahstawn…”

 

 

Sometimes Size DOES Matter

Polly and Her Pals, our first release in the massive 12″ x 16″ Champagne Edition size, has—as we noted—garnered two Eisner nominations this year.

Our second series in that oversized format will premiere in September. Although Flash Gordonhas been previously reprinted, this—finally—is the first meticulously restored edition that prints the strip in a large size, and in Alex Raymond’s original format that includes the Jungle Jimtopper! Look for the complete Alex Raymond Flash/Jim in four deluxe volumes.

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The books are designed by LOAC’s own Lorraine Turner, two-time Emmy winner (and now Eisner nominee—for Polly and Her Pals), with historical essays by Bruce Canwell—LOAC’s Man About Town, and edits by Yours Truly.

We’ll have more details about the series in coming months.

Bill Blackbeard—our friend and mentor

When I created the Library of American Comics in 2007, our first release carried the following heartfelt words:

Dedicated to Bill Blackbeard,
who almost singlehandedly rescued
the American newspaper comic
strip from oblivion

Bill Blackbeard, who died recently at age 84, did all that and mentored at least two generations of comics historians and archivists. It’s safe to say that without him, today’s readers would not be able to enjoy the complete Terry and the Pirates, Krazy Kat, Flash Gordon, Bringing Up Father, and dozens upon dozens of other series that make today the Golden Age of Comic Strip Reprints.

We owe it all to Bill.

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photo by R.C. Harvey

Bill’s and Martin Sheridan’s Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics and Bill’s line of Hyperion strip reprints introduced many of us to the classics for the first time. I met him 25 years ago when he gave me my start in reprinting newspaper strips, first with Jiggs is Back by George McManus, and then beginning the complete Krazy & Ignatz. Spending hours upon hours with Bill over the years was better than 100 years of “media studies” at any university. He just about knew it all, and what he didn’t know was located somewhere on the over-burdened shelves at his house, which doubled as The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art.

He was a gentle friend and a generous mentor. And while we’ll all miss him, he lives on in each and every one of us who knew him, and in the books you read that we produce.

 

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