Continuing our review of the first two hundred LOAC books, which began here, take a look at our fifty-first to one hundredth releases …
We continue journeying toward our two hundredth Library of American Comics release with the August spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune – but before we give it a whirl, these few (semi-) serious paragraphs on a humorous subgenre –
I noted with interest that we’ve devoted almost twenty-five percent of the total LOAC output to some of the funniest of the funnies – and well over that percentage if you consider “story strips” like The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Baron Bean, Bungle Family, and Gasoline Alley to be comedy first and narrative continuity second. (I’ve chosen not to do that, to keep the list of titles under consideration to a manageable amount.) From dailies like 1933’s Polly and Her Pals and Herriman’s Krazy Kats that were published the next year (both collected in LOAC Essentials volumes) to more contemporary series such as Bobby London’s run on Popeye in Thimble Theater, The Library of American Comics has reprinted the crème de la rib-tickling crème. That commitment will continue, as you’ll see in the soon-to-be-released Screwball! book that will have you *plop!*ping with laughter into the nearest comfy chair (at least, we hope that’s where you land — *plop!*ping down onto a hardwood floor can hurt!).
Some of the LOAC parade of comedy also boasts historical significance – think of Dagwood Bumstead’s hunger strike and his eventual wedding to Miss Boopadoop in Blondie, Volume 1 – and some of it has sprung from our agreement with Disney (as you’ve surely noticed, the first word in Silly Symphonies is, well – Silly), but those are extra benefits added to comics designed to provoke smiles, chuckles, and out-and-out guffaws as they brighten up your day.
We have so many humor collections in our backlist, we’ll split it in twain and do two funny-funnies spins of the ol’ LOAC Wheel of Fortune, one this month and the other later in autumn (we have something planned for the September spin that is specifically tied to that month, so stay tuned for that!). Here is our August list of contenders …
It’s that time again — as we move toward our two hundredth entry in The Library of American Comics, we’re spinning that LOAC Wheel of Fortune to see which of our past releases gets spotlighted for the month of March.
We wanted to focus on the year 2014, which was the busiest in our almost-twelve-year history. A whopping twenty-three — yup, that’s 23! — Library books were released that year:
Several years ago we took some time in this space to show you what my LOAC bookshelf looked like. I shelve my books in alphabetical order by author, or by publisher where that makes more sense — for instance, while my William Saroyans are under “S”, my Fantastic Fours are under “M”, with the rest of my Marvel Comics collections. My Library of American Comics titles are therefore under “L,” and then shelved alphabetically in a logical way (well, logical to me, anyway), as you can see:
If it’s been a little quiet around here over the past handful of days, it’s because we’ve been driving hard to get a whole string of books prepped and ready to go — he have our Tim Tyler’s Luck Essential and the first of our two Red Barry volumes at the printer, the finishing touches on the lucky-thirteenth Little Orphan Annie were wrapped up during the last few days of July, and I’m driving hard to finish a chock-full-o’-info text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 7, and then I shift my focus to Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4.
So we ain’t sitting on our hands when we don’t show up on a regular basis in this space! Aside from our parade of books, and the Red Sox’s latter July up-and-down fortunes, one of the other things that caught our attention is the recently-concluded Republican and Democratic National Conventions. This silliest of political seasons made us think of the Chicago Tribune‘s famous egg-on-their-face “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline that provided such a memorable capper to the 1948 Presidential campaign (Truman, of course, won re-election in November of that year).
That thought, in turn, made us decide to pull together a fantasy comics page from August 1, 1948. As is the case today, during the ’48 race between Republican Tom Dewey and Democratic President “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” Truman there were fewer than one hundred days for each candidate to make his case to the American people. With the two candidates campaigning coast-to-coast in earnest, our fantasy comics page features a Leslie Turner Wash Tubbs, popular ol’ reliables Nancy, Popeye, and Henry, a Fred Lasswell Barney Google/Snuffy Smith, grins with the Bumsteads in Blondie, Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer, hardball action in Ozark Ike, Alley Oop, and — as proof that single-panel features could contain continuity like their multi-panel brethren, Our Boarding House, featuring that lovable bloviating blowhard, Major Hoople (a perfect character to follow during an election year, for obvious reasons!).
Something about all these strips may catch your eye; join me on the other side and we’ll discuss it.
Did you notice that each of these strips is dated 07/31/48? Yet they all appeared in newspapers on August 1st. How could this happen?
Well, August 1st, 1948 was a Sunday, and some small-town sheets did not publish on a seven days a week schedule and also did not have the budget to support a color Sunday comics section. As a result, they ran Saturday strips in their Sunday edition, as was the case with all the papers from which I culled the strips for this fantasy page.
We’ll offer the hope the gag strips you see above are the most outrageously humorous things you’ll see between now and our own 2016 election day — but somehow, we doubt it!
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 email@example.com and who knows? We may do a follow-up in this space that will feature your list …
Aside from what I tackle for work, I try to read a little each day, just for fun. I admit I don’t always succeed in stealing the time needed to digest at least a few pages, but I never forget the kid I used to be, the one without an abundance of socializing skills; reading was his first friend, and at times his only friend. That’s why I try hard not to abandon that old compadre now, even if, worst case, our get-togethers are limited to only a half-hour or so. (And yes, I feel bad on those days when demands on my time deny me even that small pleasure.)
Sometimes I’m reading a prose novel or a collection from an author I enjoy (I most recently finished a novel by Robert Silverberg, a story collection by John Varley, and a paperback original from the late ’50s by John D. MacDonald), other times it’s non-fiction, or perhaps a new release in the Marvel Masterworks or Warren Archives lines, or a strip compilation from one of our Friendly Competitors … and sometimes, for the pure heck of it, I go back and re-read one or two of our own releases. The subject of this piece falls into that latter category.
You see, I recently completed another look at our two-volume set of Bobby London’s Popeye and my-oh-my, I can’t recommend those books highly enough. I flat-out love this material!
I’m an avowed Popeye fan, of course, and have made no secret of that fact. I first met the spinach-eating sailor through the Fleischer Studios cartoons — as a boy they often ran on our local TV stations in the early mornings. It never bothered me that they were in black-and-white, because until I was eight or nine every TV signal came into our home and appeared in b&w (my Dad bought his first color TV in 1968).
In the 1980s, when Segar’s Thimble Theatre strips first appeared in hardcover, I tossed cash down on the barrelhead every time Fantagraphics produced one of their original eleven volumes (decades later I re-bought their more recent reprinting to see the Sundays in full color). Reading those original Segar stories was a revelation, and I came out the other side admiring Popeye even more than I had before. Along with The Fantastic Four, Conan, and Doc Savage, the one-two punch of Segar and the Flesichers cemented the squinky-eyed old salt’s place on the short list of characters I absolutely yearn to write.
I’ve long wanted to do a big, Segar-style comedy-adventure starring Popeye and his cast of regulars, including ancillary characters such as Roughhouse and Geezil. I’ve also toyed with the idea of a globe-spanning saga set in the mid-1920s, before Popeye meets the Oyl family, in which we’d learn why Popeye and the Sea Hag are such old emenies (Popeye fans know that’s not a typo!). In either instance, I would want to hit all the beats that made Popeye such an enduring figure in American pop culture – at one time he, Superman, and Mickey Mouse were the three most widely-recognized characters on the planet – and all the qualities that make him not just a hero, but a noble hero.
As with Doc, Conan, and the FF, I fear my opportunity to write my dream Popeye continuity may never arise (though I always hold out hope the stars will one day align …). Still, I feel better facing the likelihood my chance will not come by knowing that Bobby London did an absolutely crackerjack job on Popeye back when the 1980s were turning into the ’90s. The unique talent behind Dirty Duck wed the depths of Thimble Theatre history with an intuitive grasp of its cast of characters, filtered everything through his own sensibilities, and produced a strip that constantly reflects knowledge of and respect for Popeye’s mythos, then accomplishes the tricky task of being true to that mythos without being trapped by it. All in a two-panel-a-day format – quite a considerable achievement.
London begins by doing gag-a-day material. He seems to find equal delight in bringing back the old (Olive’s diminutive brother Castor Oyl, for instance) and adding fresh new dimension to the series (one example of such is Olive’s buxom cousin, Sutra Oyl).
When the storytelling shifts to longer, novelistic continuity, the fun really starts! The Sea Hag yuppiefies Popeye’s home town — Olive Oyl’s coffee becomes “Agent Olive,” a weapon of mass destruction with far-reaching consequences — then the hulking throwback, Toar, develops a taste for biker gangs and heavy metal that sends Popeye south of the border for encounters with musical guest stars Bob Dylan, Pete Townsend, and Mick Jagger — all the while with Poopdeck Pappy decked out like Willie Nelson!
It gets wilder and wackier from there: Popeye and his crew sail into the Fourth Dimension aboard The Beatles’s Yellow Submarine before returning home to encounter a legion of Brutuses, the return of Bluto, and a rekindling of the Sea Hag/Wimpy romance (if you can call it that).
Popeye was a true American original: a pugilist before Joe Palooka, a master of malapropism while Norm Crosby was still in diapers. And where Segar dipped his toe in topicality (as when Popeye runs the kingdom of Spinachova, declaring, “I yam a great diktipater”), Bobby London made it part of the strip’s bread-and-butter. Was it jarring to see Swee’Pea morph into a disaffected punker going by the name of “Spaz”? Popeye reaching the pinnacle of the Fourth Dimension and wryly commenting, “I wishk Timothy Leary was here”? Americans protesting attempts to rescue Olive and her family from the clutches of desert despot Saddarn Shahame with signs saying, “No Blood for Oyl” (a take-off on then then-popular rallying cry of those calling for military restraint in the Middle East)? Not at all – because London neatly integrated contemporary aspects into the material while always preserving the essence of the main characters. As a result, the sizzle may have had a slightly different sound, but the steak had a familiar taste.
Popeye is an easy character to understand and, as many have proven, an easy character to get wrong. He’s as rough-looking as he is rough-spoken, yet beneath his flinty exterior lies a heart like a red velvet pillow. It’s the balance between those two contrasting opposites that makes the character so lovable — and achieving the right balance seems to elude many who have tried to chronicle his life. Emphasize too many of his physical qualities and he can come off as a bully and a freak; emphasize too much of his innate humanity and he seems wishy-washy and ineffectual.
When the mixture is right, the Popeye I admire shines through. Segar tells us how he earns fortunes by dint of his wits and his fists, then without a second thought gives them away to help “widdies and orphinks;” the final Fleischer color two-reeler casts him as a suddenly-wealthy Aladdin, riding into town on a pure white charger, singing, “What Can I Do Fer You?” as he tosses gold coins into the throngs lining both sides of the street. Popeye is confident in his abilities, confident in his moral code and his outlook on life, and he is always for the “little guy” because despite his countless great deeds he views himself as a little guy. London never loses sight of these essential traits and displays them in proper proportion.
London’s handle on the entire core cast is comparable to his depiction of their leading man. Castor Oyl remains a pugnacious little sharpster, his sister Olive is quick with a quip, quick with a smack, and always more than a little jealous (even being turned into a baby after being dunked in the Pool of Youth doesn’t prevent her from lashing out when Sutra Oyl makes a move on Popeye!). Most wonderful of all is the way that reprobate moocher, J. Wellington Wimpy, comes to life in all his unctuous glory under London’s hand … and the vicissitudes of life in a fast-food culture provide ample grist for the Wimpy Gag Mill.
The comics landscape is currently populated by literally scores of long-running characters. There are 1930s pulp heroes again trying to gain successful footing within the medium and popular heroes “rebooted” as their old universes wither and new universes rise up in their place. Recognizing that every series is its own thing, and that there is no lone path to success, no single formula that keeps characters looking familiar to long-time fans while still seeming relevant to a younger audience comfortable with the concept of “streaming content,” I nevertheless maintain that modern-day standard-bearers for many of those pulp/comics mainstays might do well to look at the Bobby London Popeye, analyze what makes his work such a success, then apply those lessons judiciously and to good effect in their own work.
Bobby London penned the Foreword to 1987’s first collection of Segar Popeye dailies. He concluded that piece by writing: “Happily, the original Popeye is still with us, more or less … His ugly mug still adorns an unending supply of merchandise, reminding all of us that trends in humor may come and go, but a great comic character can live forever provided he becomes a growth industry.” I would argue that a great comic character can live forever provided his creators treat him with the respect and genuine fondness that shines through in these two LOAC releases. Throughout his tenure as impresario of Thimble Theatre, Mr. London insured that Popeye “Yam what he yam” — and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Now that the first volume of our complete collection of Bobby London’s six years of Popeye strips is in stores, it’s a good a time as any to spring our big surprise—when we say “complete,” we mean COMPLETE!
What IS known: Bobby London’s take on the Sailor Man has often been overshadowed by his being fired from the strip in 1992, ostensibly for presenting a storyline that was an allegory about abortion. In that ultimate tale, Olive had become addicted to the Home Shopping Network and ordered a Baby Brutus mechanical doll. When Popeye insists that she get rid of the “baby,” two priests mistakenly believe that the baby is real and that Olive is going exercise her pro-choice rights. King Features Syndicate pulled the final three weeks of strips and daily newspapers began running reprints, except for one paper that brazenly published the strips.That was that. Story over in mid-stream.
Now, twenty-two years later, thanks to the kind cooperation of the good folks at King Features, those three weeks will be included in the second volume of our series. But wait…that’s not all! Turns out that in order to fulfill his contract, Bobby produced an ADDITIONAL SIX WEEKS of strips beyond the three that were pulled from syndiction! These six weeks were sent to King and prompted returned. Bobby’s been sitting on them all these years and has sent us copies. (Thanks, Bobby!)
Bottom line? Our second volume, to be published in October, will contain—for the first time anywhere—ALL NINE weeks of “censored” Bobby London’s Popeye strips. Trust us, it’s worth the wait! Here’s one daily to whet your appetite (click on image for a larger version). In the meantime, don’t miss the first volume, which is on sale now.