Skippy, at long last

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Last year when I was preparing to head up to Ohio State to research the Milton Caniff artbook with Lorraine Turner and Matt Tauber, and Lorraine and I were continuing on to Michigan State to research Otto Soglow’s career, Jeet Heer suggested I get in touch with Jared Gardner, a full-fledged perfessor at OSU who had written some phenomenal essays on comics history, including one on Soglow’s pre-Little King strip, the Ambassador.

Little did I know when we met Jared that he would end up writing the biographical essay forCartoon Monarch, our Soglow book, and that less than a year later he would introduce me to Joan Crosby Tibbetts, Percy Crosby’s daughter and the keeper of the Skippy flame. Turns out she and Jared were engaged in a continuing discussion about Jared writing a biography of Joan’s famous father.

Well, one thing led to another and as you can tell from the above cover, we at LOAC are extremely proud to start work on the complete reprinting of Percy Crosby’s Skippy. Jared and I are co-editing, Lorraine is designing (judging from the cover, we’ve got a lot to look forward to!), and Joan is providing advice, suggestions, and full access to her father’s files and artwork.

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Percy Crosby sketching Skippy as his wife and children look on.

Long-time comics fans know of Skippy and his creator mainly from Jerry Robinson’s 1978 book. In that book, Jules Feiffer gave us the memorable quote: “Percy Crosby caught lightning in a bottle and learned how to draw with it.” Milton Caniff once marveled, “Boy, there’s nothing faster than watching Skippy run the way Crosby drew him.” Crosby was also heralded as “the greatest apostle of motion in the field of art” by Edward Alden Jewell, art critic of the New York Times. His artwork has hung in the Louvre in Paris, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, and the Tate Gallery in London, among other venues, but it’s his work as a cartoonist, as the creator of Skippy—the philosopher man-child— for which he’s best known.

Created in 1923 in Life magazine, Skippy moved to the comics pages in 1925 and soon became a sensation, published in 28 countries and 14 languages. In 1931 it became the first comic strip to see its film version win an Academy Award. Crosby continued writing and drawing the feature until 1945.

The strip, sadly, is not well known today, but we see in Skippy the spiritual ancestor to Peanutsand Calvin and Hobbes, among many other kid strips. Percy Crosby influenced cartoonists from Charles Schulz to Walt Kelly to Garry Trudeau, and perhaps more than any other cartoonist before him brought philosophy and politics to the American newspaper comic strip. In the end, it would be his outspoken political and philosophical beliefs that would place him increasingly outside the mainstream of 1940s American culture, ultimately leading to his exile from comics and his forced incarceration in a mental institution for the last sixteen years of his life. As a result of his tragic end, Crosby’s remarkable contributions to American culture have been largely eclipsed, until now.

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We’ll release the first book—all dailies from 1925-1927—next July. Dailies and Sundays will be in separate books. To whet your appetite, we’ll run some Skippy strips every week until the book is published. Check out the dailies above. I think you’ll find something familiar in Skippy pining for the “girl in the pink’n’red dress” (shades of Charlie Brown’s little red-haired girl), and in Skippy’s go-cart flying over the hill (what—no Calvin, no Hobbes?!)

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