Archive | Scorchy Smith

A Few of My Favorite Things (Part I of II)

After several years and well over a hundred releases, I sometimes get asked about my favorite stories from the LOAC family of books. Sometimes the question is just that straightforward — “Which ones do you like best?” — and sometimes I provide that answer within the context of a larger inquiry, something along the lines of, “What stories would you recommend to get a new reader hooked on classic comic strips?”

Of course, there are certain stories that belong in the Comic Strip Hall Of Fame — “The Death of Raven Sherman” from Terry and the Pirates, for example, or Dick Tracy’s encounters with The Brow or Flattop. And certainly our friendly competitors have released their share of Must-Read sequences in several of their fine series. But I have other, perhaps less obvious favorites, and this seemed like a good time to share ten of them with you. In no particular order, here are the first five that have burned a warm place in my comics-fannish heart:

10. Scorchy Smith in Northern Africa. Our big Noel Sickles retrospective/Scorchy Smith reprint remains one of my very favorite books. I like to think we brought well-deserved new attention to the major and important talent that was “Bud” Sickles, and the wealth of artwork we were privileged to see and publish (more of the former than the latter!) was a rare treat. Thanks to this book, Sickles’s virtuoso efforts on Scorchy are now also preserved for future generations to savor, and while there are several delightful moments throughout the run, I’m especially partial to the 1936 sequence that sees “Scorcher,” his sidekick Heinie Himmelstoss, and their charge/employer Mickey LaFarge touring Northern Africa and the Middle East. In this lovely strip from March 25, 1936, set in Algiers, Mickey’s foreboding is well-founded, since she and her aviator pals will soon run afoul of the evil Ali Hamman in the Syrian desert …

SCORCHY

9. The King Aroo Seal of Approval. Something else within the LOAC oeuvre I’m especially proud of is our two-volume set of King Aroo. I’ve loved Jack Kent’s winsome style and smart, snappy writing since my first encounter with the King and his Myopean subjects in the Nemo magazines of the 1980s; it was both a delight and an honor to offer over ten thousand words of biography devoted to the man, and to help get hundreds of his King Aroo comics back into print (I’ve also been fortunate enough to acquire an Aroo original from 1960, which proudly hangs on a wall in my home!). There are many, many King Aroo sequences I’d eagerly point to as a favorite, a big grin on my face as I do so, but I have special fondness for the October-to-December, 1951 storyline in which Professor Yorgle drinks Wanda Witch’s magic potions by mistake and turns into a seal. Great sight gags ensue, series regulars serve up all variety of amusing reactions to the change in their friend, and new characters are introduced such as “Rube,” the flea who is now a theatrical agent. Rube has all the contacts Professor Yorgle needs once he decides to embark on a new career — as a trained circus seal! King Aroo is a singular accomplishment within the comics firmament, and I can’t give this storyline, and the strip in its entirety, enough praise.

KA511115

8. The Rocky Road to Motherhood. Within the past year mainstream and comics media have reported on Marvel Comics’s decision to feature first a pregnant Spider-Woman, then that character as a new mother. Taking nothing away from this turn of events (how many mothers get whisked off Earth by the Skrulls, after all?), yet let’s not forget that Marla Drake, AKA Miss Fury, was a superhero who became a parent about seven decades before Marvel’s Jessica Drew gave birth. Yes, Marla went the adoption route, but that still put her ahead of heroes like Bruce Wayne, who was content simply to serve as guardian to his youthful ward, Dick Grayson. This Sunday page from February, 1945 is an excerpt from the story that puts Marla on the path to adopting a young son. The diabolical Doctor Diman has perfected an acid as clear as water, but capable of destroying every trace of the organic matter it touches. At least, he thinks it is — it’s passed all the preliminaries and is now ready to be tested on a human subject — in this case, a curly-headed toddler in the doctor’s care. Miss Fury intervenes and saves the boy from an horrific fate. Shortly afterward, she adopts the lad as her son, Darron Drake, never suspecting the boy’s mother is one of her greatest enemies, and his father is the man she once almost married! Cartoonist Tarpe Mills’s unique mix of intrigue, soap opera emotion, high fashion, and derring-do make this Miss Fury escapade a fun and frothy reading experience!

MISS FURY

7. Li’l Abner‘s Attacks on Ham Fisher. This is a selection from Li’l Abner Volume 8, on sale soon and a book I personally feel no serious comic-strip collector can do without. In it we take a long look at the Al (Abner) Capp/Ham (Joe Palooka) Fisher Feud and the Sunday continuities in its pages feature a pair of stories, spanning three consecutive months, in which Capp went for his nemesis’s jugular. The longer of the two plots involves Sam the centaur, a horse race, and an old plug named “Ham’s Nose Bob” — which was Capp’s way of letting the world know that the vain Fisher had recently had plastic surgery on the ol’ schnozzola. After Sam returns to Olympus, Abner runs afoul of “Happy Vermin, the World’s Smartest Cartoonist,” in a savage satire that set off waves of controversy through whole segments of the newspaper industry, receiving coverage in Walter Winchell’s popular syndicated column and elsewhere. Li’l Abner is one of comics’s bonafide masterpieces, and these anti-Fisher Sunday pages — plus the information on the Feud upon which we focus, information spotlighted nowhere else that we have seen in our research — plus the other fun and fanciful tales from 1949 and 1950 make Li’l Abner Volume 8 a book I most heartily recommend. These anti-Fisher screeds are some of the most arresting, significant, and (on a few levels, at least) fun comics I’ve read in a handful of years.

Abner500528

6. Call Him Dexter, Though His Name is Corrigan. Mix one of my all-time favorite writers (Dashiell Hammett) with one of my all-time favorite artists (Alex Raymond) and the result is, for a number of reasons, less than the sum of the talents involved. Still, the original Secret Agent X-9 is anything but dogmeat. Their long inaugural tale is filled with bits of business that would have been right at home in Black Mask and the Street & Smith hero pulp magazines. The young Raymond, still deep in his Matt Clark Period, displays bravura flashes, especially in his eye-catching single-panel panoramas. “The Martyn Case” gives X-9 hints of an origin that other creators would borrow, flesh out, and make good use of throughout the ensuing years as they created adventure heroes of their own, everyone from The Avenger to The Punisher. Still, I’m perpetually fascinated by “The Torch Car Case,” from 1935. This represents Hammett’s last work on Secret Agent X-9, and while some scholars have claimed he never contributed to the story at all, I submit this March 13, 1935 strip gives X-9 the sort of sarcastic, wryly-humorous quip that was a Hammett hallmark — and reflects a skill with dialogue that few of King Features’s writers of the day demonstrated (and that Alex Raymond, who would do uncredited scripting on the series until The Saint‘s Leslie Charteris was brought in, was likely not yet capable of). “The Torch Car Case” is a creditable swan song for the superstar Hammett/Raymond team.

X9_350313

Having reached the halfway point in this unscientific, purely subjective countdown, I’ll wrap up here for now. Please watch this space in coming days for Part II, and five more of my favorite LOAC stories!

Newly discovered Noel Sickles art!

Comics historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo has uncovered a great stash of previously unreprinted Noel Sickles art from the early 1930s. As noted in our Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles, the cartoonist found work at Writer’s Digest as he waited for his big break — a call to New York to join Milton Caniff at the Associated Press. Dr. V has posted a more than generous helping of Sickles art on his blog.

Scorchy_lg

Noel Sickles: His Own Words & Pictures

One of the great things about Library of American Comics books is that each is a shout-out into the big, big world—and sometimes, really interesting halloos come back.

That has certainly been the case with our 2008 release, Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles. It remains one of our very favorites, a project that taught us a lot on many levels. For me it was and is an honor to be Bud Sickles’s primary biographer, to call attention to his place in comics history, and to help present so much of his splendid artwork to a 21st Century audience.

ScorchySmith_cover

A few years ago our Scorchy came to the notice of Ohio’s Kristy Swope, from the firm of Swope and Swope, Attorneys at Law. Now, that sentence might make some of you gulp with trepidation, but I can assure you this was contact for the most amicable of reasons. Ms. Swope represented the nephew of Noel Sickles, Wesley, who during his teen years produced artwork of his own for his school publications. Ms. Swope originally contacted The Library of American Comics regarding any other surviving Sickles family members about whom she might have been unaware. We exchanged a few pleasant e-mails, with me primarily confirming that Noel and his wife Louise had no children of their own, the names and last known towns of residence for his siblings, and the scant information we had about nieces and nephews. Kristy thanked us for our time and information, and then we went our separate ways and heard nothing from her…

…Until recently, that is.

I hear you gulping in trepidation again—but it’s not necessary. Kristy reported that, sadly, Wesley had passed away in February, and while processing his papers she found a handful of documents from Noel she believed would be of interest to us. And was she ever correct!

The earliest of those documents is from late May, 1935, and is titled “Tribute to William A. (Billy) Ireland.” Ireland, of course, was the long-time cartooning guiding light of the Columbus Dispatch; his jam-packed Passing Show feature for that newspaper was beloved by thousands of readers and drew a number of aspiring Buckeye State cartoonists to the Dispatch, Sickles and Milton (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon) Caniff foremost among them.

ireland250614

Sickles’s tribute, written following Ireland’s death on May 29, 1935, begins, “Bill Ireland meant so much more to me than I could ever convey with words that I feel it a little useless even to attempt to speak,” then goes on to characterize Ireland as, “A deeply serious man, his approach to his work was unusually light-hearted and gay. There were laugh wrinkles in his face, and that is what I will remember most about him.”

 

Ireland

Flash-forward slightly more than eight years, to September 5, 1943. Sickles wrote a letter to the second of his four siblings, Royal, sister-in-law Hazel, and nephew Wesley (yes, the same Wesley whom Kristy Swope represented). This missive was penned while Bud was working for Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. and it offers intriguing additional facts about this period of Sickles’s life, saying, “The Navy had been pursuing me—asking me to work for them—for over a year. As I couldn’t do the job I wanted to do for the Army, primarily due to Army red tape, I transferred into the same sort of work for the Navy. I was offered two different commissions by the Navy, but preferred to remain a civilian, as I believe I can do the job better that way.” Leave it to Sickles to turn down military commissions—and the higher pay that likely went with them!—in order to maintain his primary alliance to his craft and the end results.

The letter also discusses the Sickles’ living situation in D.C., where they took up residence in a Swedish boarding house (“It is unusually clean and has an individual restaurant—good for us all around”). Bud reports that his wife, Louise, was seeking work as a department store fashion artist, which is a terrific bit of first-hand proof that part of the ties that bound the couple together was their shared talents in the field of illustration.

Noel further writes that, “Our one disappointment is that we left Butch—our cat—in care of some people in West Nyack [the Sickles’s former town of residence], and now we can’t bring him down.”

Sickles was in a letter-writing mood on September 5th of ’43, because he followed his letter to his brother with one to his father, James Sickles. The deep affection of a son for his father is clear in two passages. In the first Noel asks, “Are you drawing any pictures? I have those you gave me in Chillicothe and when the war is over and we can have a home of our own we want to frame them for our walls. You probably don’t remember them, but one of them is an iron works in Scots County, another an Ohio River steamboat, and so on. If you have any more, we would appreciate having them.” Later, as he closes, he says, “We yearn for the day when we can live in the country again and have you with us for a long visit. We’re sure you would like it. Things have been so unsettled for us for the past two years that we couldn’t ask you to come, for fear that we would have to tear up stakes and move the following week.”

Whether or not James Sickles ever got that long visit with his son and daughter-in-law is unknown. The knowledge may be lost forever to posterity, yet I hope otherwise. Whether it’s me or some other, as-yet-unknown (perhaps as-yet-unnamed!) writer, future investigations may bring to light still more facts. After all, as Dean and I regularly say, “The more we know, the more there is to know!”

For now, however, we extend our most sincere thanks to Kristy Swope as we leave you with some amazing images of Sickles art (some of which weren’t in Scorchy Smith: The Art of Noel Sickles):

d_3416, Wed Apr 09, 2008,  4:30:14 PM,  8C, 8814x13128,  (1467+1917), 150%, Repro 1.8 v2,  1/60 s, R87.0, G74.6, B83.2

Sickles3

 


standard

RFK_Lithopinion6

 

Noel Sickles, 1925!

Sometimes we receive more artwork than we can comfortably fit into our books and are forced to offer only a representative sampling from a given period in an artist’s career. That was the case with Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles – though readers and reviewers told us we provided enough treasures so they didn’t exactly feel short-changed!

Still, while sifting through one of my file cabinets earlier this month, I happened to find a batch of spot drawings Sickles did as part of his first regular paying gig as a cartoonist. In 1925, while in his mid-teens, Sickles created artwork for the Mead Co-operation, the house organ for the Mead Corporation’s paper plant in his native Chillicothe, Ohio. In Scorchy we ran examples of “Bud’s” regular features for the newsletter – “Bud’s Meaco Comics” and “What’s Wrong?”. Here are a half-dozen non-series, standalone drawings Sickles produced for the Co-operation. First up, from February of 1925 – the first known Sickles illustration for Mead, a comedic rendering of one of the company’s employees who was a radio buff in his off-hours:

 

Meaco_0225

In April, Sickles produced the “Bet Your Money on Mead” cartoon to illustrate an article chronicling the safety competition being staged between Mead and another area manufacturer. He also did a small illo to accompany an article about an employee’s victory in the local pool hall, and the comedic consequences of his win.

Humorous anecdotes about Mead employees were a standing feature in the Co-operation – it was easier for people to laugh at themselves in the ’20s than it is today. May saw Sickles generating chuckles about a first-class auto aficionado.

Meaco_0525Workplace safety was a key theme in Bud’s cartoons for Mead. This “split screen” piece conveys that message as it illustrates two possible meanings of the same phrase. One wonders if Sickles realized both the Mead worker and the barber need to exercise caution on their respective jobs?Meaco_1225BThe end of the year brought both the holidays and rabbit hunting season to Ohio. The Sickles “panoramic bird’s-eye view” cartoon below pokes fun at Chillicothe’s seemingly-plentiful supply of Elmer Fudds . . .Meaco_1225

Looking at these very early Sickles pieces, one sees little sign of the skilled artist who would revolutionize comics storytelling in Scorchy Smith, create such spectacular illustrations as “The Old Man’s Bride” or the “Crete Invasion” series, and finish his career by producing a series of wonderful Western paintings. Still, they remind us of three truths:

[1] Everyone has to start somewhere.

[2] We learn by doing.

[3] Stay true to your dreams and mastery and success are likely to come your way…

 

Noel Sickles 1935!

Sickles35

It’s not often that we get to see previously unknown art from seventy-five years ago by one of the greatest cartoonists of all time. The above specialty drawing by Noel Sickles came to us from Everett Slaughter, via our pal Leif Peng. It is only the second color Scorchy Smith piece by Sickles that I’ve ever seen (the other we reproduced in Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles). Everett writes, “My late wife, Virginia, was a neighbor to Noel Sickles in Chillicothe, Ohio.  Attached is a cartoon Noel did for her in July, 1935 when she was 10 years of age.”

Sickles had an obvious fondness for his young neighbor. The cartoonist was living in New York in 1935, sharing studio space with Milton Caniff, but made regular trips back to Chillicothe to visit with his family. The watercolor is of Scorchy and his pal, the German pilot Himmelstoss, and references a Western storyline from the strip.

Thanks so much to Everett for sharing this treasure with us.

The Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles is available at your favorite comics shop, online bookseller, or IDW’s webstore.

And in case you aren’t familiar with Leif Peng’s fantastic blog about 20th Century illustrators, take a look. It’s on my “must-read” list every week.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes