We’d like to acknowledge Banned Books Week with a daring stance against censorship by Harold Gray in a 1949 “Little Orphan Annie” sequence, which is collected in Volume 14 on sale later this month.
— You get a piece like this one, in which we answer the often-asked question, “What’s ahead for LOAC in the months to come?”
Firstuvall, we got your space opera right here! As 2017 unfolds you’ll see us wrap up our UK Star Trek comics and release the middle volumes in both our Star Wars and Star Hawks trilogies. To whet your appetite for the exploits of Rex, Sniffer, Alice K., and Chavez, here’s an April 1979 beauty, done in Gil Kane’s inimitable style:
ZAM!, indeed …
Old friends will continue to make fresh appearances — Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, and also our fourth Skippy book! This endearing kids-strip is always a delight, and Jared Gardner’s insights into the increasingly-troubled life of cartoonist Percy Crosby is compelling reading, an important addition to our understanding of comics history.
One of our old friends will offer something extra-special to readers — our upcoming Li’l Abner Volume 9 will provide a handful of strips that have never before been reprinted in continuity! What the dickens does THAT mean, you ask? Well, sharp-eyed readers of the Kitchen Sink Press Abner reprints from the 1980s/90s may remember there was a gap in the continuous run of strips between KSP Volumes 17 and 18 — the 1951 strips reprinted in Vol 17 ended on December 29th, with Fearless Fosdick still at the mercy of the “Atom Bum”. Vol 18 opened in Dogpatch with the January 21, 1952 daily, focusing on Abner and his brand-new chemistry set. What happened to the dailies in between? What was the fate of the Atom Bum? Here’s a snippet from one of the missing strips that makes it look bad for America’s ideel …
We asked Denis Kitchen about the missing strips and he reported that a layout problem in Volume 18 caused the dailies in question to be unintentionally dropped (and KSP had reprinted the full story of the Atom Bum in the first of their two Fearless Fosdick collections, published in 1990). Denis is always an invaluable part of our Li’l Abner team and he’s as happy as we are to see these strips being reprinted in continuity for the very first time. And oh, by the way, the other strips in our Abner Volume 9 are also literally History-Making — the mystery of Nancy O wraps up in 1951, and a major event in 1952 made the prestigious cover of Life magazine!
We have more than old friends to offer — as we recently discussed, we’ll also be welcoming Lynn Johnston’s exceptional For Better of For Worse to the LOAC line of books.
We’ll have more Disney comics for you to enjoy (don’t quack up — more Donald Duck Sundays are coming soon!), and Superman will be wrapping up the 1950s in a colorful collection of Sunday pages. Meanwhile, our next LOAC Essentials will showcase a strip we’ve used in a past “fantasy day comics page” or two (so you can use our “Search” feature to do a little research and start guessing …). This feature is one of my very favorites, but I won’t be writing the Introduction to the book, because we’ve lined up someone who may love this work even more than I do!
Of course, I will be writing the essay for Steve Canyon Volume 8 as we take Stevenson B.’s adventures deeper into the years of the Kennedy Administration. Here’s a sneak-peek at Milton Caniff’s Christmas thought for his audience, circa 1962:
Bottom line: what’s coming from The Library of American Comics in the months ahead? Loads of adventure and comedy — stories ranging from the Dogpatch hills to the depths of the Barnum Star System — and work by award-winning talents spanning the 1940s through 1970s. If you agree that’s a nice lineup, please join us for those books you’re sure to enjoy!
While there is much to recommend in this science fictional modern age, the Good Old Days had at least some advantages. One of them was the ability to walk into an honest-to-Pete bookstore and pick out the exact copy of a new release that you wanted to buy and take home. I was especially lucky, because I spent years making regular pilgrimages to Harvard Square, the home of WordsWorth, a sizable, well-stocked establishment that sold every book at a discounted price. And if that wasn’t enough of a description of Heaven, WordsWorth was located just down the street from that grand ole comics shop, Million Year Picnic.
Million Year Picnic is still in business, but WordsWorth closed its doors in the autumn of 2004. Declining readership and expanded book buying options squeezed it — and many, many other independent bookstores — out of the marketplace.
One of those expanded options was, of course, Amazon.com. It began in 1994 specifically as an on-line bookseller; its growth into a retail giant big enough to blot out the sun has been chronicled elsewhere, better and more knowledgeably than I could do here. Amazon’s deep discounts make it attractive to many consumers, but some persons have been experiencing regular, persistent difficulties getting undamaged copies of LOAC books delivered from Amazon to their doorsteps.
One reader, a self-described “long-time, long-suffering customer” of Amazon’s, contacted us at the end of January to describe issues experienced when ordering LOAC books from Amazon. This person wrote: “I purchase from Amazon four LOAC titles: Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie, and Steve Canyon. I have collected other titles as well, including Terry and the Pirates and Russ Manning’s Tarzan. I can safely say that I have rarely accepted the first copy of any of these books shipped to me by Amazon.” Our correspondent went on to describe eight different “hurt” conditions that ranged from holes in the dust jackets and book covers to “marks, stains, and sticky residue” on the books and their jackets. As an example of one specific condition — torn just jackets — the writer included these pictures of Steve Canyon Volume 7, about which the person in question said: “I needed to place five orders [with Amazon] before receiving a relatively undamaged copy [from them].” (Emphasis the original author’s.)
After using Amazon’s Leave Packaging Feedback feature “more times than I can remember. The results have been nonexistent”, and making calls to Amazon Customer Service representatives, the reader turned to us to ask if we could help. “I have repeatedly tried to make them [Amazon] aware that the books [from LOAC] are collectibles that need extra care,” said our correspondent. “Amazon makes no allowances for this.”
Here at LOAC, we will do what we can to raise this situation to Amazon’s attention, and we have been in communication with the appropriate sales team within IDW Publishing, sharing our reader’s letter with them and getting their commitment to address the matter with the proper Amazon parties. Obviously, how Amazon chooses to conduct its business is up to them. Our regular distribution channels deliver large quantities of undamaged books to Amazon, so if LOAC books are reaching readers in hurt conditions, the logical conclusion is that Amazon’s procedures are creating opportunities for the damage to occur during the packing and shipping periods.
Meanwhile, if like our correspondent you receive damaged LOAC books from Amazon.com, what can you do to help the situation?
- 1. Do not accept damaged books.
- 2. Returned the damaged books to Amazon and ask for a replacement.
- 3. When returning damaged books, specifically note that the problem lies with Amazon’s shipping.
One thing that does not help is going to the book’s Amazon page and leaving an unfavorable review of the book to protest receiving a hurt copy. Amazon doesn’t screen reviews for comments about its pack-&-ship procedures, so a “down-graded” review only delivers collateral damage to LOAC and leaves Amazon unaffected.
If I may conclude by speaking personally: I am a long-time Amazon customer and find them an invaluable supplier in many ways. Like the person who wrote to us, I have in the past received books in damaged condition, but have followed the three steps above and received an acceptable replacement copy in short order. I may be fortunate in that respect; clearly, our correspondent consistently has had less successful experiences than my own. My hope is that, through whatever avenue one chooses, every LOAC reader receives our books in clean, undamaged condition. That’s what readers deserve in return for paying out their hard-earned cash.
But you’ll pardon me if at this moment I find myself just a bit nostalgic for those Good Old Days of Harvard Square and WordsWorth …
Hollywood has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks.
It started while assembling the week’s worth of puzzles that ran in this space a short time ago; each installment contained one Hollywood connection, and it was great fun sifting through images of wonderful old stars such as Eve Arden and Spencer Tracy.
Over the past couple days days there has been some discussion amongst my oldest friends regarding the new Doctor Strange motion picture from Marvel Studios. When you grew up reading Marvel Comics as we did, and when you dealt with the sneering of the adult population (I remember one bookstore clerk racking up the sale for a fresh stack of comics I was buying and snidely asking, “Are you going to read them all tonight?”), regardless what you think of the finished movie product it’s more than slightly amazing that John & Jane Q. Public now know who Stephen Strange is (and Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, and Peter Parker, and …). Even more amazing to realize how many members of that public-at-large are shelling out hard-earned coin to see their big-screen adventures.
In the course of that discussion, it hit me that that while audiences watching theatrical versions of Marvel Comics characters is a relatively new phenomenon, the practice of audiences filling movie palaces to see cartoon characters move and talk and generally come to life is anything but new — and yes, it was the comic strips that got there first. That led me to put together this two-part look back at Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, focusing this time on the “crown jewels” of the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate.
Milton Caniff’s 1934-1946 run on Terry and the Pirates remains as feisty and entertaining today as it was when it was appearing in daily newspapers across the country. The Columbia Pictures serial version of Terry is less successful than its source material, but back in 1940 comics were considered cheap, throwaway entertainment and chapterplays were simply warm-ups for the featured film, so there were less-discerning filters being applied in those days. Certainly many of the kids attending the Saturday matinee were probably content to see Terry, Pat, Normandie, Connie, and Big Stoop walking, talking, and come to life before their eyes.
As discussed in Volume 5 of our Little Orphan Annie series, 1932 brought RKO’s version of America’s Spunkiest Kid into the cinemas. It fared little better with critics than would Terry, despite featuring one of the premier child stars of the day, Mitzi Green.
Arguably the best and certainly the the longest-lived of the celluloid versions of the CTNYN “Big Three” is Dick Tracy. America’s Top Manhunter first hit the movie screen in 1937 as a fifteen-chapter Republic Pictures serial, the first in a series of five from that studio.
RKO followed Republic in 1945 with a series of four Dick Tracy full-length films. Morgan Conway played Tracy in the first two before Ralph Byrd resumed the part for Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. In this still with June Clayworth from the latter production (1947), it’s clear Byrd still looks great as Tess Trueheart’s one-and-only.
CTNYN wasn’t the only major comic strip syndicator to have its characters entertain movie-goers. We’ll be back soon with a look at a trio of strips from the King Features stable that lived parallel lives in the flicker-pictures.
In my house, when I was a boy growing up, we always had a “junk drawer,” that catchall where everything went that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. When my siblings or I would complain that we couldn’t find a particular item, the inevitable question would come back, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”
Today I still have the equivalent of a junk drawer for a portion of my LOAC filing. I don’t think of it as a junk drawer, of course — there are too many terrific items stored inside it that could never qualify as “junk!” But certain outsized articles, or thick bundles of clipped strips, or, yes, things that otherwise don’t quite fit anywhere else all end up in this one particular file cabinet drawer.
I recently had cause to open that drawer, searching for one specific article, and as typically happens I found myself looking through a batch of other artifacts before I found what I was seeking. One of those stray pieces that caught my attention was the tribute booklet King Features Syndicate assembled in honor of George McManus and Bringing Up Father on the advent of the strip’s twentieth anniversary. Thumbing through that jumbo-sized pamphlet, I took particular note of the spread that featured a look at how Jiggs’s physical appearance had changed throughout the history of the series:
Giving equal attention to both main characters, King provided a similar look at how Maggie morphed from stocky dowager to trim fashionista. Maggie’s display went Jiggs’s one better, since it included the years from which the images were taken:
It occurred to me that it might be fun to see how the looks of other major comics characters had evolved over time. I started by going back to 1926 with Little Orphan Annie, snagging an image from mid-June of that year, culled from one of my favorite Harold Gray stories, guest-starring Pee Wee the Elephant. Almost twenty years later, on April 15, 1946, I selected a panel showing how Annie had grown and matured. Fifteen years after that, in July of 1961, it’s arguable whether or not America’s Spunkiest Kid looks younger than she did in 1946, but her hair has definitely got wilder and more unruly!
Dick Tracy looks lean and lanky in this first panel, from June 27, 1932. In 1947, fifteen years later, he’s favoring a snap-brim fedora and his profile has become even more chiseled. Moving down the timeline another nineteen years, to 1966, Tracy arguable looks more weathered, with deeper lines around his eyes. His chapeau is more compact and close-fitting — but his necktie has remained incredibly resilient! (Note that Moon Maid is present in the background of the 1966 panel — you’ll be meeting her soon in our ongoing Dick Tracy series.)
Having taken snapshots in time of both Annie and Tracy, it was only natural to look at Terry Lee, the third star in the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate’s three “crown jewels.” As you can see below, in 1935 the star of Terry and the Pirates was a boyish adventurer very much in the Tom Swift/Tintin tradition. A decade later, with America and her Allies poised to emerge victorious from the conflicts of the Second World War, the Terry we see listening with surprise as he gets an earful from Johnny Jingo is a mature young man who has fulfilled creator Milton Caniff’s goal of growing up to displace Pat Ryan as the adult focus of the strip that bears his name. Fifteen years further down the timeline, in this panel from May 1, 1961, George Wunder’s Terry has aged gracefully — he’s filled out, with broader shoulders and a more rounded face. No matter his age, though, Terry Lee’s fate regularly seems to be entwined with that of exotic, mysterious women!
Since King Features characters set me on this path, it seemed proper that I pick another KFS star to conclude my look at character evolution. I think you’ll enjoy examining the radical changes that occur in the look of Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, as we move from his natty Hammettesque 1935 rendering (the product of Alex Raymond’s talented pen) to his more rumpled, almost slope-shouldered, January 31, 1957 Mel Graff appearance to his suave 1971 look, courtesy of Al Williamson.
Given the disposable nature of daily newspapers and the inevitable audience turnover, one is left to wonder how many readers noted these visual changes over time. Certainly the stylistic differences of the artists who drew X-9/Corrigan would be hard to miss, but was it a relatively seamless transition for most readers from Caniff to George Wunder on Terry? And for strips produced by the same hand for decades — Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, Dick Tracy — how often did the changes in physical appearance get noticed and, when noticed, how often did they get accepted with a simple mental shrug? None of us were there, none of us can really know — but it’s certainly fun to ponder!
We sometimes have more artwork and photos than we can squeeze into the text features of our books. We’re just putting a wrap on Steve Canyon Volume 7, for example, and we have such an abundance of 1959-60 riches related to Milton Caniff and his creation that we’ll likely do a feature in this space showcasing some of the artifacts that didn’t make the cut as the book gets closer to its on-sale date.
Sifting through the files I’ve amassed related to a couple other recent books, I saw some newspaper promotional ads that we didn’t use. Here’s a “Kigmy”-related ad supporting Li’l Abner, circa 1949:
And from that same year, an ad that does double duty, both as a promotion for Abner and as a contest pushing Proctor & Gamble products:
I’m also partial to this 1933 ad for Tim Tyler’s Luck that we found while preparing our jumbo-sized LOAC Essentials/King Features Essentials Volume 2 devoted to Alex Raymond’s brief-but-memorable stint on that series.
Seeing those items, and given my own soft spot for this type of material, I thought I’d sift through a batch of newspapers and see what other comic strip promotional ads I could find. The earliest one I located was from the year of the stock market crash, 1929, and is hyping Percy Crosby’s delightful and influential kids strip, Skippy:
Fans of Gasoline Alley (myself included) may get a kick out of this 1930 advertisement, suggesting readers send in their summertime addresses and get the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette delivered while on vacation in order to stay current with events in the Wallet household:
And I was delighted to find this 1934 ad from the Asheville, North Carolina Citizen as the paper prepared to bring Little Orphan Annie into its lineup of daily comics. The ad symbolically reminds readers how “Daddy” Warbucks’s red-haired charge typically ends up in hot water :
Not every ad was as elaborate as the Annie, of course. In 1940, when this ad promoting the Golden Age Superman was appearing in client newspapers across America, The Man of Tomorrow was scarcely two years old. How many readers in 1940 could have imagined the strange visitor from planet Krypton would still be entertaining millions, more than seventy-five years after this modest advertisement saw print?
The sophistication and graceful action shown in this 1952 ad for Rip Kirby strikes me as resonating very closely with what Alex Raymond was presenting on the comics page as he chronicled the adventures of the ’50’s first modern detective:
One of the strips I always enjoyed as a youngster was Andy Capp. I liked the “Englishness” of his world, its rough-and-tumble nature, and I’m heartened that Andy has successfully continued his visits to the local more than a decade after his creator’s death (Reg Smythe passed away in 1998). The copy in this 1967 ad from the Pittsburgh Press certainly reflects the tenor of those “Swingin’ Sixties” times, doesn’t it?
Finally, here’s a March, 1971 ad for Doonesbury, only five months into its existence. It serves as a reminder of how the art style, themes, and characters in this sprawling, sometimes controversial, sometimes powerful, always-worth-reading strip have changed!
Keep watching this space, because we’ll be back soon with, as the Monty Python troupe used to say, “something completely different” …
Concluding a look at some of my favorite storylines from the LOAC line of books, as it exists as of May, 2016. Let’s forge boldly onward, and remember this entire list is provided in no particular order …
5. Iconic Crossed Swords. Like “awesome” and “friend,” “iconic” is a word sorely abused in our modern language, its true meaning being eroded and dulled by dullards. So I try to use it carefully, and I chose it with care in reference to the last panel of this Flash Gordon Sunday page from August 14, 1938. Throughout the Alex Raymond/Don Moore run there is a reluctance to bring Flash and Ming the Merciless into direct confrontation; in this sequence, with Gordon and his loosely-knit band of Freemen ambushing the Emperor on The Island of Royal Tombs, we get an image of Ming and Flash squaring off, mano-a-mano, that truly lives up to the word “iconic.” It’s not only a perfect encapsulation of the strip, in a larger sense it’s a stirring representation of Good versus Evil. It is perhaps my favorite moment in the entire run of Flash Gordon, and I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.
4. Before the Famous Sandwich, There Was … The Dagwood Hunger Strike. For years while growing up, this was one of those plotlines I heard about and read about but never got to see. Bringing it to fans in our first Blondie collection was therefore a real treat for me, and I found that absorbing Chic Young’s full original run on his strip (given a first boost toward its eventual uber-popularity by this very sequence) was a fun — and sometimes eye-opening — experience. This January 25 daily, from deep in the heart of the Hunger Strike, especially tickled me, foreshadowing as it does Dagwood’s famous appetite, though his penchant for combining unlikely ingredients was a future development that readers of this story circa 1933 could never have guessed was on the far horizon.
3. Punjab to the Rescue! One of the things I’m most proud of where LOAC is concerned is that we have preserved large spans of several deserving strips. On occasion I still pinch myself when I realize we have succeeded in putting thirty years of Dick Tracy continuity back into print, and we’re approaching doing the same for twenty-five years of that most American of The Library of American Comics, Little Orphan Annie. Harold Gray treated us to many memorable sequences starring the kid with a heart of goal and a quick left hook, but one of my favorites is “Assault on the Hacienda.” Captured by the nefarious Axel, Annie is whisked to a remote South American retreat and put under the care of the exotic Dona Dolores. “Daddy” Warbucks mounts a rescue, but eventually is captured and imprisoned deep underground with the two gals. “Daddy’s” men are still on the job and Punjab, their leader, gets good play in this July 16, 1939 Sunday page — he displays his wits, his strength, and even shows off his sensahumor!
2. A (Sailor) Man of the World. I recently did a long piece in this space extolling the virtues of Bobby London’s Popeye, and of the many wild and wonderful stories London spins, my favorite (by about the width of one of Poopdeck Pappy’s whiskers!) is “Heavy Metal Toar.” What’s not to love in a yarn that features classic rock music superstars, a lost land, a fountain of youth, and the wonkiest biker scenes this side of Easy Rider. In fact, the August, 1989 daily below trips off a plot point that has the squinky-eyed sailor and Olive’s shapely cousin, Sutra Oyl, on a rest stop at a refreshing pond after riding a chopper south across the border. Sutra Oyl decides to do some skinny-dipping and gets a surprise after suggesting Popeye is too intimidated by her state of undress to join her — he wades in, picks her up, tosses her over his shoulder, and, well, see for yourself …
1. Canyon Gets the Point. It’s easy to list any number of fantastic Terry and the Pirates stories that qualify as must-reads, but let’s not forget that Steve Canyon has its share of delights, too. This 1952 melodrama sees Steve among a small band who survive the crashing of their light plane in the remote woodlands south of Alaska. There they run into a most unscrupulous-seeming French-Canadian nicknamed Bonbon and hear a random radio news broadcast that indicates one of their number is hiding a stolen diamond necklace. It’s a classic melodrama of the genus “band of strangers forced together in stressful circumstances, with one of their number More Than He (or She) Seems,” and it’s expertly told with all the Caniffian touches we Milton-fans enjoy. This tale also introduced audiences to the snappy Miss Mizzou, she of the Marilyn Monroe physique and the naked-except-for-her-trenchcoat wardrobe. Mizzou became a favorite of readers, popping up semi-regularly when Steve might least expect it, and she was grist for the Caniff Steve Canyon Publicity Mill. J.B. Winter’s fine book, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics, offers details of Mizzou’s effect on popular culture and the stir she created in the town of Columbia, Missouri. I recommend it as heartily as I recommend this Steve Canyon adventure.
That’s my list of ten favorite LOAC stories. If you have your own list of ten (or even five) fave-raves, why not share it with us? Zap it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and who knows? We may do a follow-up in this space that will feature your list …
Little Orphan Annie (last name still unknown) turned 90 years old this week. She first appeared on August 5, 1924 in a single newspaper — the bulldog edition of the New York Daily News. The rest, as they say, is history. Here’s Annie and her “real” papa—Harold Gray—and her adoptive one—Oliver Warbucks, in their first meeting. Happy birthday to the mop-haired redhead!
Little Orphan Annie debuted in her own radio program on the NBC’s Blue Network on April 6, 1931. The program, sponspored by Ovaltine, was hugely successful and the income received from it by the Chicago Tribune- New York News Syndicate and Harold Gray rivaled that from sales of the strip itself to newspapers. Today, the show is probably best known from A Christmas Story, the 1983 fim written by Jean Sheppard in which young Ralphie is obsessed with getting an Annie decoder ring.
By the early ’40s, Quaker Oats was the sponsor and the program added a new character, the pilot Captain Sparks.The show ended its run in 1942 after the United States entered WW II, but was in the meantime responsible for additional Annie collectibles, including the giveaway comics produced by David McKay and Co.