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April is Magyar Month

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.

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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.”

 

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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.

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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…

Ehhh—Crawford’s Up, Doc!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 … ?

Sunday Funnies Are Like a Box of Chocolates…

…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:

Val_Flash

 

Val_Terry

 

Val_LOA

Val_Tracy

Val_Abner

 

Is it possible Sunday funnies are better than a box of chocolates? Just as sweet – with zero calories!

It’s Always Lovelier the Second Time Around

Every day we receive emails from fans who want to know when we’re going to release new editions of our books that are currently out-of-print. We don’t blame anyone for not wanting to shell out $150-200 for a book on the secondary market. So, rest easy, friends. In March, all of our sold-out books will be available again.

They are: Terry and the Pirates 2-6 (Volume one has already been reprinted), Dick Tracy 8, Rip Kirby 1, Bloom County 2 and 3, Archie 1, and Bringing Up Father.

 

 

Second_print

 

In his introduction to the second volume of Terry and the Pirates, Pete Hamill—one of our favorite writers, author of North River; Downtown: My Manhattan; and the memoir, A Drinking Life—had this to say about the greatest of all adventure strips:

“Here, in this sequence of daily strips and Sunday pages from the first day of January 1937 to the last day of 1938, we see Milton Caniff emerging as one of the most gifted writers of narrative in the American 20th century. Week by week, his drawing takes on a growing power, at once bold and subtle, a display of draftsmanship that was seldom seen before in the comic strip form. But it was as a writer that Caniff excelled.

“We see more clearly now that he was engaged in writing and drawing a picaresque novel, as full of adventures as Don Quixote, Tom Jones or Huckleberry Finn. There is no single plot to be unraveled, no Maltese falcon to be revealed, no butler who confesses to a detective in a crowded drawing room that yes, he did it. In Terry and the Pirates, one sequence gathers momentum, the heroes are trapped, or imprisoned, or face overwhelming odds, and ends with a culminating eruption of action and release. When all is apparently resolved, they move on to another adventure. Day by day, the reader is often left tottering on the serial-writer’s cliff, anxious to learn what happens next.”

‘Nuff said.

Silence Is Golden

 

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As I have stated before, I am new to the comic industry—but am very well aquainted with visual communication. Throughout my journey, I have been by surrounded by some of the finest teachers—some from this century and some from long ago. Yesterday, as I was browsing through the aisles in my local Borders (yes there is still one in Key West), I came across a small section entitled Graphic Novels. I picked up a few books and was quite honestly disappointed. I kept looking at one after another and they all said the same thing to me…noise.

Although the expertise used in rendering the work may have been quite superb, the overall content was crashing as if an orchestra’s cymbal player had run amuk, instead of waiting for his cue. Louder is not better, and without the subtleties of a soft melody, the music is just a dull tone. Perhaps I am becoming spoiled working daily restoring strips by artists such as Cliff Sterrett, Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Alex Raymond, and Alex Toth. As I placed the graphic novels at Borders back upon their shelves, I was struck by the fact that their covers looked no different then their “inners.” It was as if that special piece of work that used to adorn the outer covering was now all-encompassing.

I walked along the rows of other books and kept wondering why I had found this so disturbing; I guess I was still processing what I had just uncovered. I think storytelling can be muddied by over-embellishment, leaving your eye no place to rest. Many contemporary comics artists are doing a fine job of giving the reader absolutely beautiful work, but are they all beginning to look alike? This is what they need to ask themselves. I wish they would get out of the studio and wander down the aisles of the bookshops and see the work as it lines up like uniformed soldiers along the shelves—all standing at attention wearing identical attire, saying pick me, pick me—I’m really different, just give me a look!

I do not give this thought as a collector or even a person who has been in the publishing industry. I give you my thoughts as one who enjoys a good story, who likes to blend my mind within the pages and let it carry me away. I may not be an expert in this world of graphic novels, but I do know one thing. Artists of today should take time to pause, pick up a collection of any of the masters listed above, and study it. And if they are quiet and really look with intent, perhaps they will discover the secret that was known to the artists who walked before them—to learn to say more with less. Learn the art of silence.

Talkin’ Toth: Part Two

Alex Toth was the master craftsman of comics. He was outspoken, gifted, studious, prolific, and uncompromising. He drew a lot and he said a lot—more than we can comfortably fit into our upcoming three books devoted to this great artist. But we can share some of that additional material with you in this space, so—here is our latest in a series of Talkin’ Toth:

 

Hohlwein4A Ludwig Hohlwein advertising poster from the 1920s for Leibniz-Keks biscuits.

FROM A 1981 LETTER – TOTH ON PAINTS AND FINISHES:

I’ve had my ups/downs, love/hate bits with acrylics—and, at present, am keen on the wonders of opaque tempera—forgiving as it is of brushes, very workable, paint-over capacity, nice texture when working, paints don’t dry out/up in cakes (always semi-moist), etc.—I find school-grade brands as acceptable as the higher-priced “Liquitex.”

Am collecting old books on the subject and re-reading my old tomes on its use by my hero illustrators/painters back in the old days of the ’40s, etc.… I’m just doing an occasional small rough, no big deal finished paintings, as it’s all I can do to meet b&w deadlines, the stuff that pays the rent! But I’m daydreaming painting, all the while—my question about tempera is, how and with what does one fix a painting – as the stuff does chip, dust, rub off, etc.—crack, too, I suppose… Do regular spray fixes, varnishes, etc. do the job? Acrylic clear varnish brushed on? I’ve got a C.C. Beck Captain Tootsie poster paint piece that I’m spooked to touch with a fix until I know I won’t screw it up using the wrong stuff!

* * * * *

Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth will be on sale in March.

Thanks to our (and Alex’s) good pal Bill Peckmann for letting us scan some pages, including the above, from his rare 1920s collection of Ludvig Hohlwein’s art. Hohlwein was THE great German poster artist in the modern school and had a huge influence on Alex’s use of negative space and composition in general.

Meanwhile, over at SCOOP, Jeff Vaughn expressed his anticipation for the first book:

“With Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles, IDW Publishing’s Library of American Comics imprint redefined the standards for art retrospective books. Now it looks like they’re out to do it again with Genius, Isolated: The Life And Art Of Alex Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell.”

Aw, shucks. We just love talkin’ Toth.

2010: The LOAC Year in Review (part two)

Welcome back to our curtain call for 2010. While the weather outside is frightful (a blizzard is pounding New England as I type), in this feature it’s so delightful, with summer in full swing as we look at…

JULY

LOAC was in attendance at the San Diego Comic-Con and was humbled (but mightily pleased) to receive the Eisner Award for “Best Archival Project—Newspaper Strips” for Bloom County, Volume One.  Bloom prevailed over another LOAC project, Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea, which I edited—but a win for one is a win for all, so I was cheering Bloom wildly through my tears.

 

Breathed

LOAC Assembled celebrates the 2010 Eisner win: Dean Mullaney, Lorraine Turner, Berkeley Breathed, and Bloom County editor Scott Dunbier, displaying the award. Alas, I was back East, on monitor duty.

Hardly willing to rest on our laurels, as the month waned, our collection of Bob Montana’s Archie dailies hit the shelves.

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AUGUST

We caught our collective breath in August, even as the rest of the world caught up to us, just a bit. It was highly gratifying to have noted reviewer Charles de Lint praise our inaugural volume ofKing Aroo in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; scroll to the bottom of his “Books to Look For” column and there they are. The San Diego Tribune also gave LOAC front page coverage as an outgrowth of Comic-Con.

SEPTEMBER

Things were popping on several front in LOAC-land during this month. Here’s the rundown:

Beau Smith joined the LOAC family circus as our very own Director of Marketing. One of Beau’s missions is to increase LOAC’s visibility in school libraries and university bookstores.

Bill Griffith dropped a mention of King Aroo into the September 10th installment of his own strip, the immortal Zippy. Thanks, Bill!

Dean appeared as Chris Marshall’s guest on a Collected Comics Library podcast. Through the magic of the Internet, you can listen to the entire program.

X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan Volume 1 went on sale.

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Then, if that wasn’t enough, things really got busy in…

OCTOBER

How to follow up the release of our first collection of Blondie, running from Blondie Boopadoop’s very first strip to the wedding (and subsequent disinheritance) of Dagwood Bumstead?

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Dean and I swooped in on the New York Comic Con (NYCC) for three days, from October 8 – 10.

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Move over, Laurel & Hardy! The LOAC editorial braintrust were on hand to hawk their wares and steer hopeful artists to the IDW portfolio reviews at NYCC.

Our feet grew heavy, standing on a thinly-carpeted concrete floor for nine hours each day, but our spirits were light as we talked to hundreds of fans about comics in general and classic comic strips in particular.

And when the fans weren’t visiting with us, we were chatting with the pros. Melissa Singer of Tor Books shared her childhood memories of the great comic strips. James Robinson, Ken Steacy, Glenn Whitmore, Andrew Farago of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, David Armstrong, Ryder Windham, and the one-and-only Don McGregor were some of our other visitors. Dean and I both took time to break away long enough to exchange pleasantries with the ever-amazing Jim Steranko. I was also lucky enough to catch Joe Kubert for a chat, and to meet irrepressible Nicky Brown (you can read her words of wisdom at her blog. My most devilish fun: stepping in amidst some of the IDW staff early Sunday morning to introduce myself to Darwyn Cooke after he arrived carrying a distinctive green briefcase bearing the shamrock logo of the NBA’s most storied franchise. “Celtics, bay-bee!” was all I had to say to earn a grin from Darwyn.

Dean and I showed off several of the wonders we’ve accumulated as we prepare our Alex Toth biography, but few knew that we were also grabbing moments throughout the weekend to have serious discussions about the growth of the project, and the ultimate shape it might take…

Bloom County was one of the most popular items at NYCC—more than one fan was disappointed to learn Berkeley Breathed would not be at the show—but in the wake of the convention, BloomVolume 3 went on sale.

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Across the Atlantic, Bdartist(e) was releasing its French edition of Terry and the Pirates, Volume 1

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Finally, not to be outdone by Dean’s September podcast, near the end of the month I was delighted to appear as a guest on Scott Katz’s Internet radio program at US Townhall. Yes, Virginia, you can still listen to the interview.

 

NOVEMBER

Berkeley Breathed joined the interview Parade with a Q&A conducted by Mike Russell at Ain’t It Cool.

Meanwhile, we took a second trip to Dogpatch to learn the origin of Sadie Hawkins Day in Li’l Abner Volume 2:

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For days, Dean and I tossed e-mails back and forth using the language of the Mukoy! Yeh, ti desuma su

Around Thanksgiving, Dean and Lorraine embarked on a junket that included visits with Beau and Beth Smith, as well as the hard-working caretakers of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University and Randy Scott at Michigan State University, plus Dana Palmer (Alex Toth’s eldest daughter) and Eric Toth (Alex’s eldest son).pointing

Beau Smith displays his Svengali-like charm over women, to Dean’s bemusement.

 

DECEMBER

The Great LOAC Road Trip paved the way for a pair of major announcements on our website. The visit to OSU was in preparation of 2011’s Caniff, a visual biography of the creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon.

 

Caniff_cvr

With the endorsement of the Toth family, we also gave readers bad news and good news. The bad news: our original late-2010 solicitation for Genius, Isolated: The Life & Art of Alex Toth was pushed back to the first quarter of 2011. The good news: because we have gathered so much excellent material, the Toth project has expanded to fill three books! Genius, Isolated will be part one of our retrospective on Toth, to be concluded in the follow-up volume, Genius, Illustrated. A third book (plus slipcase for the entire set) will follow, with Genius, Animated focusing on Toth’s brilliant career in TV cartoons.

Toth_slipcase

Not only did we release information about some of our 2011 plans—yes, only some. We need to save a few tidbits for the new year, after all!—we stuffed readers’ Christmas stockings with a fine pair of new releases: the third, penultimate volume in our reprinting of Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby…Rip3_large-2

…And the wonderful, must-be-seen-to-be-believed oversize Polly and Her Pals, Volume 1. My heart skips a beat every time I take down a copy of this beautiful collection and start turning the pages. Author Paul Di Filippo calls it: “A monumental object of comic strip bookmaking glory. Phenomenal!” Over at Newsarama, J. Caleb Mozzocco cracked us up in his review of Polly when he dubbed it, “…a perfect coffee table book—not one that you would put on your coffee table…but one big enough to be used as a coffee table.”

Polly_lg-1

And that’s the way it was—fourteen books, a Free Comic Book Day special, appearances at major conventions on both coasts, a passel of interviews, a truckload of work—and several truckloads of fun.

If you enjoyed this website and the LOAC line of books in 2010, keep watching. We think you’ll like what lies ahead in 2011!

 

2010: The LOAC Year in Review

While hardly an original idea, the thought of doing a “Year in Review” feature for this space struck me as time and effort well spent. After all, during the past twelve months Dean, Lorraine, Beau, and I have been busier than Santa’s elves, ably abetted by Jeet Heer, Joseph Ketels, Brian Walker, and a long list of graphic artists, collectors, and writers who make such important contributions to our line of books.

As we greet the New Year, here’s a look back over our collective shoulder at 2010, LOAC style:

JANUARY

The year began with a project near and dear to all our hearts: King Aroo, Volume 1.

 

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It was a great pleasure to bring this gentle, long-overlooked classic back into print, and to help shine the spotlight on the King’s talented creator, Jack Kent. We look forward to offering more Myopean Misadventures in 2011!

 

FEBRUARY & MARCH

Dean’s joke is that we were “Closed for Repairs” during these two months, when in reality we were girding our loins for all sorts of activity in …

 

APRIL

We opened this month with a pair of aces and a pair of deuces. As the baseball season began anew (who dreamed it would result in a championship for the San Francisco Giants?), we emphasized the diversity of our line by releasing our second volumes of both Rip Kirby andBloom County (the latter debuted at number four on the New York Times Best Seller list).

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Not only did we serve up thick slices of Berkeley Breathed’s increasingly-topical absurdist comedy and Alex Raymond’s 1950s New York detective chic, we also launched this very website; Dean’s “Welcome to the Digital Library!” posting is dated April 9th. Before the month ended, we were able to announce in this space Eisner nominations for both Bloom Volume One and Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea, as well as listing our initial plans for Genius, Isolated: The Life & Art of Alex Toth.

Last, though hardly least, we launched another series in April: our reprinting of Al Capp’s satirical masterpiece, Li’l Abner. For the first time, full-color Sundays were included along with the dailies.

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There was a ripple of controversy surrounding our Abner reprint program as a segment of the readership expressed the wish for a series containing only Sunday pages, since they own the dailies in the earlier Kitchen Sink Press series. I’m sympathetic to that perspective – I have all twenty-seven KSP volumes on my bookshelves – and there was internal discussion about how to best reprint Abner. I campaigned long and loudly that we needed to re-publish the dailies with the Sundays; Capp’s work is too important and too dang good not to be preserved for 21st Century audiences in comprehensive LOAC editions. We hope our inaugural Li’l Abner releases have changed the minds of any dissenters, but if not … I still feel we made the right decision.

 

MAY

The first of May was Free Comic Book Day, and LOAC participated with a flipbook featuring our current and upcoming projects.

 

FCBD_0-1

 

Our website worked in tandem with the FCBD sampler in announcing our plans for the Williamson/Goodwin Secret Agent Corrigan, as well as Polly & Her Pals in our oversize “champagne edition” format. In bookstores and on-line, we brought Little Orphan Annie into the mid-1930s with Volume Five of her series, featuring a variety of nasties including Charles C. Chizzler, Phil O. Bluster, and the Ghost Gang.

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JUNE

We arrived at the halfway point of 2010 with one of our most popular series reaching its tenth edition, as Dick Tracy squared off against the likes of Itchy, Gargles, and Influence.

 

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The Influence saga remains one of my favorite Tracy storylines, as Gould does a fabulous job emphasizing the sadistic creepiness of the villain’s mind-control powers.

On a lighter note, Bil Keane brought another ring to the Family Circus as a new baby was added to the mix.Layout 1

 

All that and we’re only halfway through the year! Watch this space for the concluding installment of this 2010 LOAC Year in Review…

 

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