Archive | General News

Master of the Motherload in Michigan

randy

I’ve known Randy Scott and been familiar with Michigan State University’s Comic Art Collection since the late 1970s. I recently found a carbon copy (remember those?) of the letter I sent him in 1978 that accompanied a copy of Sabre by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy, the inaugural book from my publishing company, Eclipse Comics. Sabre was the first graphic novel ever published for the comics specialty market, and at a time when graphic novels and comics were considered trash by most universities, I thought it pretty impressive that at least one Big Time College Library would collect what I published!

sabre

MSU then became the home for the complete files of Eclipse Comics, from beginning to end. It’s turned out to be a useful resource. For example, when Blake Bell was writing his excellent bookon Steve Ditko, I was able to offer him nearly 100 pages of original research we did at Eclipse in the 1980s, including notes from an interview with Ditko’s brother.

Randy and I were also early members of APA-I. What’s that, you ask? Basically, a bunch of comics nuts producing indexes to different series, writers, and artists. Three other early APA-I members went on to form the Grand Comics Database.

New_arrivals

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So here we are, thirty years later — Randy is STILL the comics maven at Michigan State University, while I’m preserving and restoring classic comics as founder of The Library of American Comics. Many of our releases boast indexes by…you guessed it, Randy Scott.

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Randy shows Lorraine Turner and me some of the hard-to-find European comics he’s brought home from a recent buying trip..

stacksStacks of fun!

bandroomRandy and fellow librarians on campus use his office for their weekly jazz improvs.

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Some uncatalogued tearsheets from the King Features collection.

On our recent research trip to East Lansing, the home of MSU’s Special Collections Library, Lorraine Turner and I barely scratched the surface of the several hundred thousand (yes, several hundred thousand!) comics, graphic novels, and books about comics in the stacks. We were concentrating our research on—among other subjects—Alex Raymond’s syndicate proofs forFlash Gordon and Jungle Jim; the cartoonists Otto Soglow, creator of The Little King; Frank Robbins, creator of Johnny Hazard; and Jimmy Hatlo, of They’ll Do It Every Time and Little Iodinefame…

…and to look through my old Eclipse files relating to Alex Toth. Our forthcoming book—Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth—will be richer because the Eclipse files containing correspondence and stats of original artwork have been preserved and catalogued at Michigan State University.

Gift_of_Murder_Notes

Here’s Alex’s note to me expressing uncertainly over who drew this page originally published by Standard Comics. In the 1980s at Eclipse, I reprinted six issues worth of Standard stories in a series entitled Seduction of the Innocent. Alex’s comment that “you won’t have to pay any of us old crocks” refers to my policy of paying reprint rates to artists or their heirs, regardless of the fact that the comics were in the public domain. It’s a policy I maintain today: Alex’s family is sharing in royalties on our Genius books. It’s a policy we encourage other publishers to adopt.

* * * * *

So here’s a “Hear, Hear” for my old pal Randy Scott, Comic Art Bibliographer, Indexing Guru, and (with his wife Lynn) the best host north of Columbus, Ohio, and south of Cadillac, Michigan.

Hunting(ton) Season

Beau_rocker

 

The fact that hunting season opened in the Middle West had nothing to do with why we were in Huntington, West Virginia last week. What could have drawn us nearly 1,200 miles away from the delightlfuly warm temperatures of Key West? Nothing less than a Library of American Comics confab with our marketing and sales guru, Beau Smith. Those who know Beau are aware of the fact that he rarely leaves his home town (the electronic shackles on his ankles may have something to do with it—only kidding!). Oh, he’ll travel up to Mid-Ohio Con each year, but that’s about as far afield as he likes to go.

Luckily for us, Huntington was a convenient first stop on our trip. Beau’s been doing a great job expanding our sales to libraries and universities. Here, he and Associate Art Director (and marketing whiz herself) Lorraine Turner exchange ideas about spreading the word in the halls of academia.

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For as many books as Beau and I have worked together on in the past twenty-five years, we still get a thrill opening that first box from the printer to see the latest release.

Beau_book

Beau also gave us a fun tour of the town, which included the stadium of the Marshall football team (his alma mater, and the subject of the movie, “We Are Marshall”). Before we hit the road, Beau’s better half, Beth, joined us for a cracklin’ good breakfast. And then we were off to our next stop: Columbus, Ohio. More about that in our next entry.

 

Beau_Beth

Overlapping strips

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In working on the layout for The Complete Dick Tracy volume 11, I searched for a specific daily—July 10, 1948—to place in the page design. The search results came up with the requested Tracydaily, but also a Rip Kirby daily and an Archie daily from the same date.

I guess it should have dawned on me earlier because with more than thirty books published as part of the Library of American Comics, we’re starting to see overlapping dates from strip to strip. We tend to look at each series as a distinct collection, but great cartoonists such as Chester Gould, Bob Montana, and Alex Raymond didn’t work in a vacuum—their strips often appeared alongside one other’s.

Archie480710

 

So in the interest of imaging what it would have been like to read a daily comics page at the time, here are three dailies from July 10, 1948.

 

RK480710

And for more fun, imagine the thrill of reading Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, and Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie all on the same day?! Here are those strips from May 21, 1937.

Enjoy!

Terry370521

Abner370521

LOA370521

Overlapping strips

DT480710-1

In working on the layout for The Complete Dick Tracy volume 11, I searched for a specific daily—July 10, 1948—to place in the page design. The search results came up with the requested Tracydaily, but also a Rip Kirby daily and an Archie daily from the same date.

I guess it should have dawned on me earlier because with more than thirty books published as part of the Library of American Comics, we’re starting to see overlapping dates from strip to strip. We tend to look at each series as a distinct collection, but great cartoonists such as Chester Gould, Bob Montana, and Alex Raymond didn’t work in a vacuum—their strips often appeared alongside one other’s.

Archie480710-1

So in the interest of imaging what it would have been like to read a daily comics page at the time, here are three dailies from July 10, 1948.

RK480710-1

And for more fun, imagine the thrill of reading Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, and Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie all on the same day?! Here are those strips from May 21, 1937. Enjoy!

Terry370521-1

Abner370521-1

LOA370521-1

 

 

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part Three

Mike Esposito, the comic book artist and inker whose career spanned a half-century, has passed away at age eighty-three. In his memory, The Library of American Comics concludes our printing of the excerpted transcript of my interview with Mr. Esposito, who spoke with me in 2009 for our forthcoming Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth.

We begin this final installment with a discussion of work Alex did in the early 1950s for Esposito and his artistic partner and lifelong friend, Ross Andru, while they were publishing comics under the company name, “Mikeross Publications”:

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LOAC: OK, I’ve seen Joe Yank, but let me ask you about one of your books that I haven’t seen, a book called 3D Love.

ME: Oh yeah, we published that.

LOAC: And I heard that Alex did …

ME: Yeah, yeah. He did two great covers!

LOAC: All of Toth’s romance stuff is so fantastic. I spoke with John Romita about Toth – and you know how much romance work he did – and Romita said, “I learned how to do all the romance stuff just by looking at how Toth did it.”

ME: Yeah, John was up at DC, Johnny was starting up there, he was very young. In fact, Ross and I wanted Johnny to come to us when we were doing romance, and when we were doingWonder Woman. We wanted him to do the heads for us, and the figure of Wonder Woman only. But he didn’t want to do it, he didn’t want to get involved with the character, he wanted to do stuff where he’d draw the whole thing himself. And that worked for him – he’s done very well!

LOAC: Oh, yeah! And he’s such a nice guy, too …

ME: Oh, sure! We’re very close, still, he and I. We speak once or twice a week. He lives not too far from me.

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LOAC: You know, I think we’ve covered all the topics I had on my list. Thanks very much for your time. I still have a batch of people to talk to, but if somebody else tells me something and I want to run it past you, would it be all right to give you a quick call … ?

ME: Oh, of course! Now, what is this going into?

LOAC: Well, here’s a name you may remember – Dean Mullaney, who used to publish Eclipse Comics back in the ’80s and ’90s …

ME: Yeah, yeah, Eclipse, I remember.

LOAC: These days Dean and I are producing hardcover collections of strip reprints. We’ve got all of Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates back into print, and we’re doing Dick Tracy. Last year we did a collection of Noel Sickles’s Scorchy Smith

ME: Oh, great!

LOAC: That’s up for an Eisner Award this year …

ME: Really?

LOAC: So we decided this Toth biography would be a great follow-up to the Sickles.

ME: Well, I wish you guys lots of luck. I think I’m gonna go now – my phone is still running, but my voice is leaving!

LOAC: I understand how that goes! Thanks very much for your time – I appreciate it.

ME: All right, pal. ‘Bye now.

 

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Rest in peace, Mr. Esposito.

 

 

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part Two

We continue to honor the late Mike Esposito, who passed away at the end of October, by publishing the second excerpt from my 2009 interview with him. Mr. Esposito and I spoke in support of our upcoming release, Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, and we return to the interview at the beginning of a wide-ranging conversation about Alex:

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ME: As far as Toth goes, he was good right to the end. I get the Alter Ego magazine – he did a lot of articles for Jim Amash.

LOAC: Yeah, he really kept his interest in the field down through the years … and he definitely wasn’t shy with his opinions!

ME: Yeah, but he had the right to ’em, he was a real veteran …

LOAC: Sure.

ME: But you’re right about that. And all his articles and notes, every little thing, he would letter it himself – he wouldn’t write it, he would print it. And he had a way of lettering … he would have been a great full-time letterer, he had that knack. When you see my lettering it’s so sloppy, when I write a note to somebody or something. But he had control right to the end of his life. I used to see those little articles of his in Alter Ego – amazing! I couldn’t help but admire him for it. But I didn’t know he died so young. I never knew he was that sick.

LOAC: Well, the medical problems began, and they mounted up. And maybe he wasn’t as quick to get help as he should have been. But years before that, his wife passed away before him and that affected him, as well.

ME: Sure. Did he have any children?

LOAC: Yes, he had four children, two girls, two boys.

ME: I didn’t know that.

LOAC: Actually, we’re working with the kids, we’re doing the book with their approval, and we’re working with them …

ME: What about talent-wise? Are they art-interested?

LOAC: None of them have followed in his footsteps, obviously, but some of them work in design and photography, and there are grandchildren …

ME: That’s what I meant. Sometimes it steers toward music, sometimes it steers toward acting, but it all comes from the creative spark that gets passed along.

 

Espo_07

 

LOAC: Let me ask you a quick question in another area. I saw some of the stuff that you and [lifelong artistic partner, penciler] Ross [Andru] had done at Standard, some pages from Joe Yank

ME: Oh, yeah . . .

LOAC: It seemed to me that in some of that work, the two of you were going for a Toth-like look.

ME: Oh, definitely! Ross realized that he would overwork too much, and he tried to get a more visually-readable look to his stuff. Like the way Toth would do it, with the faces, the layouts, the backgrounds, and the figures in the foregrounds.

LOAC: One of the guys who inked a lot of Toth’s work, especially at Standard, was Mike Peppe. And Peppe was the art director there, too, right?

ME: Sure, sure. You know, he wanted to ink Ross. Ross had an argument with him. He said to Ross, “I want to do your inking,” and Ross said to Peppe, “No, Mike’s my partner for life.” We were kids, Ross and I, we grew up together, all the way through high school, the Music and Art High School. He said, “Partners for life.” Ross was young, and an up-and-comer, but he said, “No.” Peppe was actually shocked.

LOAC: Sure. In most businesses, there’s not a lot of that kind of loyalty.

ME: You’re right. But sometimes loyalty is because of your own insecurity.

LOAC: That’s true.

ME: Ross might have been more comfortable with me because he knew me from when we were kids – he trusted me.

LOAC: When you get a good working relationship together … if it’s not broke, why fix it?

ME: Especially if you’re paranoid. And we were! [National/DC editor Bob] Kanigher called us, “The Paranoid Twins!”

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The conclusion of my interview with Mike Esposito will appear tomorrow.

Mike Esposito: In His Own Words – Part One

We at The Library of American Comics were saddened by the news of Mike Esposito’s passing on October 24th of this year, at the age of eighty-three. Mike was a mainstay of the comic book industry from the 1950s to the 1990s. During his career Mike produced material for companies including Fiction House, EC, National/DC (Metal Men, Wonder Woman, and a plethora of war stories), Standard (Joe Yank), Skywald, and Marvel (touching most of that company’s Silver Age characters under a handful of pseudonyms, with notable runs on several Spider-Man titles), retiring at the end of the 20th Century following several years of steady work for Archie Comics.

Of course, Mike was best known for inking the work of his lifelong friend, Ross Andru. In addition to producing thousands of pages of comic book art, the “Mikeross” team packaged comics and dabbled in publishing during both the 1950s and early 1970s.

I conducted a telephone interview with Mr. Esposito in 2009 as part of our research work for the upcoming Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth. I found him personable and opinionated, very open and knowledgeable; it was my distinct pleasure to have spoken with him. I’ve extracted the quotes I need from the interview for my Genius, Isolated text, but that leaves a significant amount of our discussion “on the cutting room floor.”

To pay our respects, The Library of American Comics will run the remainder of my interview with Mike Esposito in this space over three installments. We’ll run the text in Q&A format (unusual for us) to allow you to “hear” Mike in his own words.

We hope you’ll find what he has to say as entertaining and interesting as we did.

Espo_01

LOAC: Mr. Esposito? My name is Bruce Canwell, and mutual friends tell me you might be interested in talking a little bit about Alex with me.

ME: Well, I don’t have too much time I spent with Alex. I can only tell you what a great artist he was. Ross [Andru], my partner at the time, when we were young – Ross Andru loved Toth’s stuff, because Toth developed that decorative look, that two-dimensional look, which Ross didn’t understand when he was starting out.

Ross would overwork – when he saw the stuff up at Standard Comics, he realized the approach would be almost like props on a stage, the flat, decorative look. Two-dimensional – but it wasn’ttwo-dimensional, it was – the design was two-dimensional, but the way Toth did it, he brought depth to it.

When he did stuff for Dell Comics, it was unbelievable. Stuff like Zorro … I couldn’t believe his stuff. And I remember him when I was a young feller, up at DC. I was a young inker with Ross, working for Bob Kanigher, and Toth’s stuff was really unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

LOAC: Right, Alex did work with Kanigher.

ME: Oh, yeah. And he worked for Julius Schwartz …

LOAC: And before him, Shelley Mayer.

ME: And I think [Murray] Boltinoff, he did some work for. He was good. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much to do with one another, but artistically, what he did … as an artist myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate what he did. He was really, really way ahead of any of the other guys.

LOAC: Right. He was a major reason DC moderated their very quiet, Dan Barry “look” from that period …

Espo_04

ME: At DC, Toth did some great stuff. The Westerns – I loved the way he handled horses, and he was almost Caniff-like in his design. That’s before he got decorative. That’s when he was doing complete drawings.

LOAC: Sure – he was a big fan of both Caniff and Noel Sickles.

ME: Right, right! That’s where everybody stemmed from, that period. That’s why guys like Frank Miller became so famous, later, in that psychedelic look up at Marvel. Ross, myself, Johnny Romita – we came from the schools of Sickles and Caniff when they drew differently. Now let’s face it, Frank Miller is great, but it doesn’t have the warmth … it’s not warm. It doesn’t have the warmth of the ’40s and ’50s. But you can’t knock the guy – big movie director . . .

LOAC: Exactly right. He’s done pretty well for himself.

ME: I would say so. It’s just that, you develop a taste from over the years, back when you were young, and you can’t accept some of that psychedelic approach. Today, when I look at a comic book – I get ’em in the mail, I get ’em from Marvel and from DC, and when I see ’em, I say, “Gee, we didn’t think this way!” It’s so psychedelic — I use the word “psychedelic,” because … I don’t know if you know what I mean by “psychedelic” …

LOAC: Yeah, I think so – there’s such a sense of design in every page …

ME: Right, right, right! It’s hard to read! It’s got noise. I should use the word “noise” over “psychedelic” – it’s  screaming, it’s not quiet. When you look at John Buscema when he did the ant and the giant-girl – I did a couple stories with him on that, The Avengers. It’s so beautifully delineated on the page. Now, it’s very graphically different. But hey – the whole world takes a different look!

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More of my interview with Mike Esposito tomorrow.

 

 

 

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