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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have enough ongoing news and information about The Library of American Comics to prevent us from using this space to recommend noteworthy items from other genres…but Dean’s letting me make an exception this time (mostly because he’s in sync with every word that follows). I’ll still bring it around at the end and connect it to LOAC, because, as a friend of mine likes to say, “It all comes back to comics.”
Beginning April 19th, The Ernie Kovacs Collection goes on sale nationwide. This is glad news for humor fans in general and Kovacsphiles in particular. I am not big on the “pre-order” concept, yet I’ve had my copy of this six-disc DVD set pre-ordered since the end of March, which is an indication of how excited I am at the prospect of renewing my acquaintance with some of my favorite comedic characters and seeing some new-to-me Ernie material.
Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962) was a pioneer of television comedy, a genial Hungarian who combined a classicist’s tastes with a street-level sense of humor. Ernie saw the fledgling television medium of the 1950s as a playground of infinite possibilities. To the best of my knowledge, Kovacs invented the music video – admittedly, he did it with classical music, setting an urban street scene to Bartok, an exaggerated poker game to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and creating other quirky combinations, but there is no doubt he was incorporating music with video imagery a quarter-century before the debut of MTV.
Ernie was a master of the blackout sketch (also often set against a musical backdrop, most famously a German rendition of Mack the Knife). His lineup of recurring characters? Can’t be beat. Wolfgang von Saurbraten, German disc chockey (“Brushen de getoofens mit Schnitzeldent”) – the “old country” Hungarian, Miklos Molnar – kiddie show hosts Auntie Gruesome and Uncle Buddy – French arteest Pierre Ragout – tipsy magician Matzoh Heppelwhite – and flamboyant poet Percy Dovetonsils, whose classic Ode to Stanley’s Pussycat includes such inspired lines as:
That pussy’s personality
Slowly began to change
He hissed and arched his back so much
He looked like a camel with mange
Even Ernie’s end-credits were interspersed with terrific gags. “Bless me, Tom Swift, is this your electric fiancé?” – “Sure, it’s easy for you, Bernice, because you’re a girl … but for Doberman pinchers, it’s a sometimes thing.”
Ernie’s desire to push the envelope and explore the boundaries of TV’s capabilities meant he had a hard time finding a permanent home: his programs started locally in Philadelphia, then bounced to NBC, CBS, the DuMont Network, and ABC. He starred in daytime series, nighttime series, late-night comedy, and even hosted the Take a Good Look quiz show.
Incredibly, he did some of his best work while his personal life was haunted by emptiness and uncertainty. In 1953 his first wife kidnapped their two daughters, Elizabeth and Kippie, successfully hiding them from their father for over two years. Ernie spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on private detectives and traced seemingly as many false leads. “To tell you the truth, I sit here crying for hours sometimes,” he confessed during one print interview from this period.
Photos of young Kippie and Elizabeth Kovacs, distributed to the wire services during the two years they were the kidnap victims of their mother.
In the book Kovacsland, Kippie discussed with biographer Diana Rico the 1955 day her father and grandfather tracked the girls and their wayward mother to a dingy house in central Florida:
I wanted to go with him, because I was living a life of misery, a total nightmare … [Finally] I got in the car with him and he turned and said, “I see you still suck your thumb.” So I said, “I see you still smoke cigars.” And right away, it was right.
If the poignancy of Ernie’s personal life and the hints of Ernie’s genius aren’t enough to sway you, here are four connections between Ernie and the world of comics, with three of them tied directly to The Library of American Comics:
1. Ernie made a handful of appearances in the early Mad magazine. Wally Wood illustrated the Kovacs take-off on Ripley’s Believe It or Not titled Strangely Believe It, which featured items such as: “The strangest SCIENTIFIC PHENOMENON of all time was recorded on May 18, 1956, when Elizabeth Donohue Forsney was born in a commercial airliner while traveling over Grand Canyon, Colorado … A telegram was immediately dispatched to Elizabeth’s mother, who had missed the plane in Denver.” Will Elder provided the artwork for Ernie’s madcap board game, “Gringo!” (later brought to both the TV screen and long-playing vinyl album as “Droongo!”).
2. Ernie’s second wife was Edie Adams, the blonde bombshell famous for bringing Daisy Mae Scragg to life on stage in the 1950s Broadway production of Al Capp’s popular Li’l Abner. Edie also appeared on several of Ernie’s TV broadcasts and is sure to be well represented in the new DVD set.
3. Another member of Ernie’s band of TV players was the ravishing Jolene Brand, who later played the role of Anna Maria in several episodes of the late-’50s TV adaptation of Zorro. The firstZorro comics based on the TV series were, of course, drawn by Alex Toth …
4. …And Alex, like Ernie, was of Hungarian extraction.
In fact, with both The Ernie Kovacs Collection and our own Genius, Isolated being released so closely together, it seems fitting to declare April as Magyar Month, featuring hours of Hungarian-created comics biography/artwork and TV hijinx!
See? It really does all come back to comics…
In case you missed Dean’s announcement in his interview at Previewsworld.com, Crawford is a one-shot due for release later in 2011, a book I’m especially thrilled to have in our lineup. If you’re asking, “What is it, a Crawford?”, a better question would be, “Whose brainchild is Crawford?” Because the answer to that is, “Chuck Jones,” and if you’re like me, that’s sure to make you smile.
Though in my twenties I grew to enjoy Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse and Carl Barks’sDonald Duck and Uncle $crooge, as a boy I pooh-poohed all things Disney – I was strictly aLooney Tunes kinda guy. Not for me The Wonderful World of Disney with its airings Herbie the Love Bug, Professor Ludwig von Drake, and Charlie, the Ding-a-ling Lynx. I was all about The Bugs Bunny Show and the Warner Brothers characters, led by the wascawwy wabbit himself. It was guaranteed laughs whenever Bugs appeared in shorts like “Long-Haired Hare,” “Duck! Rabbit! Duck!”, “Beanstalk Bunny,” or “Bully for Bugs.” As I grew older and began reading the material on hand in the 1970s about Warners animation, I learned all the cartoons named were directed by the same talented individual, one Charles M. “Chuck” Jones.
Jones’s earliest work as a director was considered “cute” and slow-moving by his peers at the studio; his pacing quickly improved, but in his artwork there was always a rounded, curvy cuteness to the line. Long before manga and anime entrenched itself on American shores, Chuck Jones was drawing big-eyed kid characters in everything from his aborted Road Runner TV pilot to Cindy Lou Who from 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The trademark Jones cuteness is on display in Crawford, as well – and that’s hardly a bad thing. Jones filters his stories through a kid’s perspective, which includes flights of both whimsy and fancy while running an emotional gamut that will resonate to everyone who grew up as the neighborhood maverick, running against the herd.
Dean’s co-editor on Crawford is Kurtis Findlay, who conceived the project and has been researching this “Unknown Chuck Jones” project for the past couple of years. We’re working with Marian Jones, Chuck’s widow, on the project, and all art is © the Chuck Jones Estate. We’ll have more on Crawford for you as its publication date draws near. In the meantime, why do I have a sudden urge to watch “The Rabbit of Seville” again … ?
I sat down with the folks at Previews recently to talk about newspaper strips, preservation, and LOAC’s philosophy about both…plus a few other sidelines that you might find interesting. Check it out at Previewsworld.com.
…At least, they are on February 14th. To mark Valentine’s Day, 2011, The Library of American Comics offers you this Whitman’s Sampler of classic comics from Sunday, February 14th, 1937:
Is it possible Sunday funnies are better than a box of chocolates? Just as sweet – with zero calories!