Earlier this year, in August, we introduced the title of L.O.A.F.—Library Owes A Favor—for those select individuals who not only support our efforts, but also dip into their storehouses of memories, artwork, correspondence, or memorabilia, sharing those with us in order to make our books as good as they can be. We bestowed our first LOAF citation on the inimitable Bill Peckmann, who still occasionally refers to himself as “LOAFer # 1.”
Today we open up with a pair of Bills, because it’s a pleasure to reveal our second L.O.A.F. recipient: Bill Chadbourne, hereafter referred to as “Chad” (by his own preference, mind!). You’ve briefly been introduced to Chad at the end of the essay in Steve Canyon Volume 1, and you’ll not only encounter him again in future Canyons, he plays a key role in Genius, Illustrated, our concluding chapter examining the life and art of Alex Toth. You’ll have to read the book to learn the hows and whys of Chad’s dealings with Alex, but Tothfans will hardly be surprised to learn Alex’s artistic hero, Noel Sickles, is involved. Meanwhile, here is Chad talking about Chad, in a little autobiography I surreptitiously wormed out of him while we were communicating on other matters:
“Even in the so-called Golden Age of costumed comic book heroes of the 1940s, I was more interested in reading about men in jodhpurs than men in tights,” Chad said about his boyhood comics preferences. “I wanted the booted heroes of Crack Comics, Blackhawks, and Airboy, not the guys wearing masks and capes. I guess that’s why Pat Ryan became my favorite from the first time I discovered him in a comic book reprint of Terry and the Pirates, sometime in the World War II years. There were several comic books repackaging newspaper strips then, with titles likeSparkler, Tip Top, and at least one other. Terry appeared in one of our local newspapers, but my family subscribed to a rival rag. I also had a few Big Little Books of Terry.”
The artists of his boyhood were as much of an inspiration as the heroes they drew, and Chad developed his own fledgling talents, to the delight of his fellow classmates.
“In grammar school, copying the funnies for my pals was a breeze for me if I stuck to characters like Snuffy Smith. By high school I began stealing from Terry in earnest. I lifted an early sequence of villain [Tony] Sandhurst, tied to a post and being threatened by an Asian pirate with a machete. In my version, it was a daydream of a student torturing a teacher. It didn’t work.”
Chad’s artistic skills served him well in the military – well, eventually, that is. “I enlisted in the Air Force in 1952. After twenty months on Cape Cod, chasing vacationing Boston girls, I was on a troopship headed to the Korean Conflict. With the peace talks about to be resolved, I was diverted to Tokyo and eventually found a job on the base newspaper. My cartoon gag panels won a few awards and I thought I was simply wonderful.” Chad was serving in the same city as Alex Toth during the latter’s enlisted days. Both worked on their outfits’ respective newspapers, but neither encountered the other. As he tells it, Chad left the country, only to eventually return:
“Married to my Japanese sweetheart by then, with one son and another on the way, I returned briefly to civilian life, to work for an award-winning independent newspaper in the Los Angeles area. Being squeezed by major dailies, it became a ‘shopper paper’ and I was out. My future as a reporter seemed bleak, and with our second child born I re-enlisted, returned to Japan and another base newspaper. Immediately I begged to do a weekly comic strip. ‘OK,’ the commander said, ‘but it will be a travelogue,’ with Captain Comet—USAF officer, not a superhero—and his Japanese guide, Goto-san, showing the troops what they were missing by squandering their yen on bar girls instead of exploring a perfectly beautiful country. Yeah, like they were going to listen to the brass lecturing them on morals!”
This two-shot, featuring Steve Canyon meeting Chad’s Captain Comet, resulted from a Far East meeting between Chad and Milt. Another meeting between the pair, more than a decade later, was a factor in Chad meeting Alex Toth.
Chad eventually mustered out for the final time and—after a memorable Far East encounter with the Rembrandt of the Comic Strips—returned Stateside, this time going to work for the Department of Defense in a civilian capacity, working on a variety of military publications. Not content to work strictly for Uncle Sugar, Chad connected with Woody Gelman and became part of Woody’s Nostalgia Press. The Nostalgia books notably included newspaper strip collections, introducing Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Lee Falk and Phil Davis’sMandrake the Magician, and others to a new generation of fans. Dean has told Chad and others how influential Nostalgia Press was among he and his friends, so it’s hardly a stretch to say that without Woody and Chad’s Nostalgia offerings, the Library of American Comics as we know it might not exist today. Perhaps this taste of Chad’s wry candor gives you a hint at why we believeGenius, Illustrated would be a lesser work without the insights and artwork he is contributing to that book.
After providing his biographical notes, Chad came back to me with a Caniff-related addendum that may make you smile.
“I nearly forgot the big influence provided by the hardbound 1945 volume, Cartoon Cavalcade, edited by Thomas Craven. Pages 422-423 ran an enlarged Terry from 1943 (Terry’s first flying lesson)—it made me want to see lots more. By the time I was in high school, Harvey Publications began reprinting Terry and the Pirates dailies in full color. Later, they began doing Steve Canyon. I still have those issues, but they are in bad shape. So glad you folks are giving the world handsome, hardbound albums!
“The Cavalcade book was published as a premium, either for an encyclopedia or some major magazine that my uncle subscribed to. While I was always allowed to view it, I was never allowed to borrow it. Decades later, I found a copy, complete with its apology about the cheap paper used to print it. After all, there was a war on!”
There was no conflict when it came time to name our second L.O.A.F. recipient. Take a bow, Bill Chadbourne!