Archive | The Gumps

Still ESSENTIALly The Baron — and His Friends

This week I received an advance copy of the twelfth LOAC Essentials volume, which also completes our reprinting of Baron Bean. As a stone George Herriman fan, that made my entire week special! Fronted by an incisive introduction by Jared Gardner, this volume collects the 1918 strips that wrap up The Baron’s misadventures, aided and abetted (as usual) by his man-Friday, Grimes.

But the arrival of The Baron’s swan song gave me pause — yes, this book is the latest in the Essentials line, but it’s also the third in Baron Bean‘s distinguished, perhaps-too-short run. Since I shelve all my Essentials volumes together, should I arrange them in order of publication, which would sprinkle the Bean books throughout as the first, sixth, and twelfth of the series … or should I make a “mini-series” out of Baron Bean, grouping those three book together, and leaving the other Essentials standing side-by-side in publication order?

Giving it perhaps too much thought, I came up with a third option, hastily shuffled my Essentials into this order, and snapped a picture of it to share with you:

As you can see, the solution I’ve settled upon is to simply shelve my Essentials in by-year chronology. This has the benefits of keeping the three Baron Beans together, since they’re by far the earliest strips reprinted in the series, then grouping the remaining books in such a way so that common styles of each period are also grouped together (and styles did change, as the young artform matured and attracted new talent).

Looking at this arrangement we see two ends of the comic strip spectrum in 1929, with the family serials, epitomized by The Gumps, in the ultraviolet and the a’borning adventure features (represented by the first-ever Tarzan newspaper comic strip) in the infrared.

And how about that 1933? Family comedies move in zany new, often-Deco directions, thanks to Cliff Sterrett’s terrific Polly and Her Pals, while Dan Dunn debuts as part of a wave of hard-bitten crimebusters in the then-still-fresh Dick Tracy mold, while Alex Raymond elevates Tim Tyler’s Luck to new artistic heights before he leaves Lyman Young’s employ, striking out on his own on series like Secret Agent X-9, Jungle Jim, and what was that other one …? Oh, yes — Flash Gordon!

The years represented by only one Essentials volume are nevertheless well represented indeed — a slice of the classic Bungle Family (“Such crust!”) in 1930; a 1934 dose of Coconino Craziness from Herriman’s dear KatAlley Oop totally changing its narrative structure in ’39; and an end-of-the-War dose of Americana as only Edwina Dunn could do it with our collection of “Cap” Stubbs & Tippie (hurray!) circa 1945.

Looking at the Essentials-to-date in this manner gave me a fresh appreciation for the series. These little books pack a mighty historic punch!

I’m hoping you’re enjoying each release in this series as much as I am — and that you’ll be on the lookout for Baron Bean Volume 3, as it goes on sale very soon. Of course, we’d love to see photos of your comic strip collection, either in its entirety or focused on the LOAC subset of the whole. Feel free to send them to us via social media or Facebook!

Back to the Shelves

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:

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A Fantasy Comics Page for The Holiday That Gets No Respect

Comics creators sometimes gave nods to the calendar in their ongoing newspaper strips. Year-in and year-out, many comics did special installments of their features to commemorate Christmas and, a week later, the farewell to the old year and the welcoming of its successor. Comics with a strong streak of patriotism saluted holidays like Independence Day, Armed Forces Day, and for a time, V-E and V-J Days.

But Groundhog Day? Fuhgedaboudit. The comics trade showed no love to that special early February day when millions of hearty northerners, fatigued by battling weeks of the subzero cold, ice, and snow that Ole Man Winter loves to dish out, looked to the humble groundhog for a sign that spring might soon be on its way. An event that has its roots in the 19th Century and is worthy of being marked on each year’s new calendars never seemed to excite the cartoonists who offered readers their daily dose of excitement and humor.

What did comic strips offer their audiences on that day when the woodchuck was acclaimed for something other than chucking wood? We thought you’d never ask — so, just for you, we prepared this fantasy comics page from February 2, 1935 …

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Skipping and Bungling with the Gumps

When working on a book, it’s very easy to get singleminded in our focus. After all, we’re concentrating on getting the best quality source material for up to 800 individual strips, researching every aspect of the series and its creator, and so on. You kinda get blinders on at times.

We’re currently verifying some of the 1929 dates for Skippy. It turns out that different newspapers ran the strip on different dates, and some even ran certain strips backwards-panel 3, then panel 2, and then panel 1! It’s not as easy as we thought, but we forge ahead until eventually the task is completed, the strips are digitally assembled, and off to the printer it goes.

In researching the correct order for March strips, I was going through the files of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, which seemed to publish Skippy chronologically. Running my eyes down the page, I spied the Gumps daily from the same date — the exact strip that I worked on last month for the “Saga of Mary Gold” story in LOAC Essentials 2.

And it made me stop and sit up. Gumps? That was last month. Skippy? That’s this month. What do they have to do with one another. Well, everything, of course—each was at the height of its fame in 1929, and in the case of the Charleston paper, ran on the same page day after day.

It’s always instructive to take that step back and view our favorite comics as they were originally seen by our forefathers and foremothers. Here’s a delightful full page of comics from March 23, 1929. Click on the page for a larger view, and then click again for an even larger one.

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New neighbors for the new year

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In the second decade of the 20th Century Sidney Smith created a formula of melodrama, adventure, mystery, and comedy that made The Gumps one of the country’s most popular comics and himself perhaps its richest cartoonist. So devoted were his readers that they regularly wrote in to offer advice for his characters’ love lives and business decisions and generally treated the characters as friends and family members. When he launched what would be his most famous story—”The Saga of Mary Gold”—in 1928-29, Smith’s relationship with his readers would be tested as never before. Its heartbreaking conclusion would change comics forever. For the first time since the story made headlines across America in the spring of 1929 we reprint the saga thatHogan’s Alley magazine called “One of the Ten Biggest Events in Comics History”—a tale that has lost none of its power to captivate readers in the 21st Century. These two dailies introduce the Gumps’s new neighbors and kick off LOAC Essentials Volume 2, on sale around March 1st. (Click on the strips for larger versions.)

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One Day at a Time

While we’re always excited about launching a new series, here’s one that has us revved up even more than usual. We’ve been planning it for quite some time and and it’s actually a bunch of series within a series. The first volume has just been put on the schedule for September.

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LOAC ESSENTIALS will reprint early daily newspaper strips that are essential to the history of comics presented in a novel format: 11″ wide by 4.25″ high, each page containing a single daily strip. It’s different from our other books which generally contain two or three years of strips printed three to a page. By reproducing the strips one per page in an oblong format, it allows us to have an experience similar to what newspaper buyers had fifty to a hundred years ago—reading the comics one day at a time. Each page will also showcase the title given to that daily by the cartoonist, plus the weekday and date.

Every volume in the series contains a year’s worth of dailies bound in hardcover, retailing for $19.99.

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In addition to wanting to recreate the feeling of reading sequential comics one at a time, the idea sprang in part from seeing Harold Gray’s set of bound Little Orphan Annie proofbooks. Syndicate proofs come in differing varieties, but dailies are often bound annually, in a thick one-strip-per-page book. When Bruce Canwell was reading a year’s worth at Boston University, he turned to me and commented that “the proofbook format creates an irresistible urge to flip the page and see what happens in the next day’s strip.”

Couldn’t say it better myself!

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Another inspiration was the Hyperion line of classic strips edited by Bill Blackbeard in the 1970s. These books were an eye-opening education to many of us thirty-five years ago. They’re long out-of-print and command ridiculous prices on the collector’s market. With LOAC ESSENTIALS, we take the baton from Bill so we can preserve many more classic daily strips that are essential to the history of comics.

The first three titles give you a taste of what’s to come:

Volume 1
Baron Bean by George Herriman. The first of a three-book sub-set by the creator of Krazy Katthat will reprint for the first time the complete series from 1916-1919 starring the character Gilbert Seldes called “half Micawber, half Charlie Chapin.” Edited by Dean Mullaney with an introduction by Jared Gardner. September 2012.

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Volume 2
Polly and Her Pals by Cliff Sterrett. A complete year (1933) of surrealistic hilarity featuring Polly, Maw and Paw Perkins, cousin Ashur, Neewah, and the rest of the outrageous Perkins household. Edited by Dean Mullaney with an introduction by Bruce Canwell. January 2013.

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Volume 3
The Gumps: The Saga of Mary Gold by Sidney Smith. In the early 1920s Sidney Smith augmented his gag-a-day style in The Gumps with suspense and soap opera continuity, creating what was arguably the most popular strip of its time. With “The Saga of Mary Gold” in 1928 and 1929 he cemented his reputation by creating a storyline that changed the comics forever, a saga that was called “one of the ten biggest events in comics history” by Hogan’s Alley magazine. Edited and with an introduction by Jared Gardner. March 2013.

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And there’s lots more to come!

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