Tag Archives | Jack Kent

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 …

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Skoodely-Doo for King Aroo (The Kent-Kelly Letters, Part 3 of 3)

Concluding our look at recently-obtained correspondence between Jack (King Aroo) Kent and Walt (Pogo) Kelly that sheds new light on the genesis of Aroo while also showing off some full-color Aroo Sundays I obtained in early March of this year…

There appears to be at least one exchange of letters following the April 21, 1950 missive we examined in our last installment that is not contained in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum files. In the period between April 21st and May 25th, Kent seems to have shared his sample comic strips with Kelly, and Kelly wrote back with praise. This is almost certain because the next available letter in the sequence, dated May 25th, begins, “Oh, COME now!!!!—You’re a damned liar…but oh, how I love that kind of lying—Altho [sic] I don’t believe a word of the flattery you lavished upon me, I’m extremely grateful for the encouragement.”

More important than simply critiquing Kent’s sample strips, Kelly appears to have shared them with his syndicator, Robert M. Hall of the Post-Hall Syndicate. “Mr. Hall told me how you went to bat for me—I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you,” Kent writes in this letter. What’s even more intriguing is that Kelly’s introduction of Kent to Robert Hall seems to have resulted in an invitation for a face-to-face meeting at the syndicate. Kent says to Kelly, “I told Mr. Hall I could be in NY in the early part of next month, if that fits in with his plans and yours—Maybe I’ll have better success in my efforts to thank you in person than I’m having expressing my gratitude on paper.” Ever the fan, he also can’t help adding the aside, “(And maybe I’ll be able to wrest that original drawing from you that I’ve pleaded for in vain.)”

 

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Kent’s last letter to Kelly in this sequence is dated October 19, 1950. In the four-plus months between May 25th and October 19th, Jack Kent’s life was transformed. His trip to New York brought him to Post-Hall and also to the McClure Syndicate, where he left his samples for a strip about the ruler of Myopia, a strip he titled Gizmo XXX. Kent begins his October 19th letter with an apology, but an apology for good and exciting reasons:

“I should have written long before this to express my thanks for everything you did for me and to tell you how much I enjoyed meeting you and talking to you—I was holding off, however, until I knew something definite on my comic strip…It looks like I’ll have to go to work —The [McClure] syndicate informed me today that they’re picking up the option -.”

Kent tells Kelly that his comic has sold to the New York Mirror, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Bulletin, and Kansas City Star. “The mail promotion is about to start and the sales trip continues,” he says, adding, “The title was changed to ‘King Aroo’.” He tells Kelly his Sunday debut is only a month away, on November 19th of the year, with the dailies scheduled to begin six days earlier, on the 13th. If you check your copy of our King Aroo release, you’ll see the series debuted on schedule.

 

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“Needless to say, I’m in something of a dither,” Kent reports before going on to say, “I want you to know I’m very, very grateful—I’m also inexpressably [sic] grateful to you for the opportunity you gave me to work in with Post-Hall—It’s my own fault that I didn’t make the most of those opportunities you engineered for me—I’ll never forget your kindness in bringing them my way—You’re a helluva swell guy —I sure am glad I got to meet you—I’m in hopes that we’ll see each other again from time to time.”

In his final paragraph, Kent extols the virtues of his arrangement with McClure. “I’m fast learning how to drag in even deep subtlety in such a way as to prevent anyone getting ‘hurt’—I’ve got exactly the sort of set-up I dreamed about -”

This exchange spans the period of time when Jack Kent went from cartoonist-wannabee to creator of the newly-minted King Aroo. Nowhere does it confirm the long-held, long-repeated belief that Kent was offered the opportunity to work as an assistant on Pogo – of course, it does not definitively refute that belief, either. Such an offer could have been made and rejected any time during the spring and summer of 1950,

Walt Kelly gets the final word in this correspondence, as contained in the Billy Ireland Library. His handwritten note to Kent dated December 29, 1950 says, “I saw the first Sun[day] page and enjoyed it immensely,” going on to advise, “You better start counting your money.”

 

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King Aroo was never the cash cow Walt Kelly predicted, but it had a reasonably long and unfairly-neglected run. LOAC is doing its part to restore the King to his rightful place in the comic strip pantheon, and—with thanks to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum staff…and permission from Jack Kent Jr.—we hope you’re as fascinated as we are by this illuminating series of letters between two unique comics creators.

 

The Bridge Between the Okefenokee and Myopia (The Kent-Kelly Letters, Part 2 of 3)

Continuing our look at recently-obtained correspondence between Jack (King Aroo) Kent and Walt (Pogo) Kelly that sheds new light on the genesis of Aroo while also showing off some full-color Aroo Sundays I obtained in early March of this year…

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The second Kent-to-Kelly letter is dated April 21, 1950 and is the longest of the set, running two pages. It includes a paragraph showing Kent read far more than just comic strips: “My favorite wits have always been Billy Shakespeare, Edmund Rostand (Cyrano and Chantecleer [sic]), W.S. Gilbert (Bab Ballads and the comic operas), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows), and A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh).” It contains three paragraphs of Kelly/Pogo flattery (sincere flattery, but flattery nonetheless), concluding this section by asking, “What’s the secret? What manner of genius is he who can foal a comical that EVERY age and intelligence level votes tops? A Pogo is a Pogo is a Pogo is a Kelly and none other.” It contains a follow-up to the request made in Kent’s first letter to Kelly: “I must also ask your forgiveness for my audacity in reiterating, as I am about to, my request for an original drawing by you.”

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The fascinating new angle in this letter is Kent describing his efforts to follow in the footsteps of Herriman and Kelly with a syndicated strip of his own. He tells Kelly, “I submitted samples to Mr. Harry Gilburt of United Features about a year ago – Wonderful person that he is, he took time to comply with my request for criticism… ‘too subtle.'”

He goes on to discuss his local free-lancing and how he “toured the mag-gag mart” as he produced new samples and considered submitting them to Pogo‘s syndicate, Post-Hall (“for POGO is certainly subtle and P-H bought it,” he reasoned), but instead opted to try United Features once again. He discusses the reaction to that second submission:

“In Mr. Gilburt’s letter he expressed the fear that I was still over the heads of too many people,” Kent tells Kelly. “He suggested I aim at a seven-year-old mentality – Both my contributions had been fantasies, so to illustrate his point he enclosed clippings of a fantasy that ‘achieves a larger common denominator’—THE ENCLOSED CLIPPINGS WERE OF POGO! – You could have knocked me over with a rejection slip!—POGO aimed at seven-year-olds????” Kent also says this package from Gilburt was received on Monday, April 17th, so he wasted little time before relating this story to Walt Kelly.

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This story appears to have hooked Kelly, as we’ll see when we look at the final three letters in this small-but-fascinating treasure trove of letters.

 

New Light on an Old Favorite (The Kent-Kelly Letters, Part 1 of 3)

It’s no secret we’re big King Aroo fans here at LOAC—we reprinted the first two years of the strip in a 2010 collection that was translated into German by our friends at Bocola Verlag. While we wait to get the next brace of strips to do a follow-up volume, I was fortunate enough to acquire a handful of Sunday newspaper pages featuring the King in full color. We’ll present a handful of them in this mini-series of articles so you can see the land of Myopia in its full, Technicrayon glory as you read on.

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As chronicled in this space, late last year we were doing research at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, sifting through their astounding range of holdings in support of a variety of projects. We hit upon a folder that contained letters involving the creator of King Aroo, Jack Kent, and Walt (Pogo) Kelly and we requested a closer look at that material. Susan Liberator and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum staff came through for us as they always do, and the contents of these letters shed some fascinating new light on the genesis of King Aroo.

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The earliest of these letters from Kent to Kelly is undated, but based on the date of the next letter in the sequence it was likely penned very late in 1949 or early in ’50, when Jack would have been twenty-nine years old. It was a fan letter of the type Kent had been writing to newspaper cartoonists since he was a teenager—if comics had had a First Fandom similar to science fiction’s Jack Kent would certainly have been a member of that community, given how actively he sought out comic strip creators and amassed a collection of original art via request and trades with fellow fans. Jack skillfully works his bona-fides into this particular letter, mentioning that he has secured “the friendship of George Herriman,” the guiding light behind Krazy Kat, and that this relationship with “Garge” makes it impossible for Kent to decide whether Krazy or Pogo is the superior strip. Surely Kent felt that making such a comparison would flatter the maestro of the Okefenokee.

Jack went on to extol the virtues of Pogo, citing “The delightful whimsy, the consistently high level of the humor, the marvelous characterizations, and the outstanding art work.”

Jack also makes a passing reference to his artistic ambitions in his own unmistakable prose style: “I’m a limn lubber with the unrealized ambition to syndicate a comic strip,” he confides to Kelly at one point.

The longest paragraph in this letter serves up the familiar request Kent likely made to every cartoonist with whom he sought correspondence: “I wish I had an original drawing by you.” He begs forgiveness for making the request and says he knows Kelly is inundated with such requests. “I apologize … I’m ashamed … I can’t help myself…,” he writes, then says, “I repeat the request – A discarded strip, a hasty doodle or a sketch retrieved from the trash would be treasured more than I can tell you.”

Based on this short series of letters, it appears Jack Kent never did get the original from Walt Kelly…but as you’ll see in future installments, Kelly provided something much more valuable …

 

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