Time Changes Everything — and Everyone!

In my house, when I was a boy growing up, we always had a “junk drawer,” that catchall where everything went that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. When my siblings or I would complain that we couldn’t find a particular item, the inevitable question would come back, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”

Today I still have the equivalent of a junk drawer for a portion of my LOAC filing. I don’t think of it as a junk drawer, of course — there are too many terrific items stored inside it that could never qualify as “junk!” But certain outsized articles, or thick bundles of clipped strips, or, yes, things that otherwise don’t quite fit anywhere else all end up in this one particular file cabinet drawer.

I recently had cause to open that drawer, looking for one specific article, and as typically happens I found myself looking through a batch of other artifacts before I found what I was seeking. One of those stray pieces that caught my attention was the tribute booklet King Features Syndicate assembled in honor of George McManus and Bringing Up Father on the strip’s twentieth anniversary. Thumbing through that jumbo-sized pamphlet, I took particular note of the spread that featured a look at how Jiggs’s physical appearance had changed throughout the history of the series:

jiggs

Giving equal attention to both main characters, King provided a similar look at how Maggie morphed from stocky dowager to trim fashionista. Maggie’s display went Jiggs’s one better, since it included the years from which the images were taken:

maggie

It occurred to me that it might be fun to see how the looks of other major comics characters had evolved over time. I started by going back to 1926 with Little Orphan Annie, snagging an image from mid-June of that year, culled from one of my favorite Harold Gray stories, guest-starring Pee Wee the Elephant. Almost twenty years later, on April 15, 1946, I selected a panel showing how Annie had grown and matured. Fifteen years after that, in July of 1961, it’s arguable whether or not America’s Spunkiest Kid looks younger than she did in 1946, but her hair has definitely got wilder and more unruly!

annie

Dick Tracy looks lean and lanky in this first panel, from June 27, 1932. In 1947, fifteen years later, he’s favoring a snap-brim fedora and his profile has become even more chiseled. Moving down the timeline another nineteen years, to 1966, Tracy arguable looks more weathered, with deeper lines around his eyes. His chapeau is more compact and close-fitting — but his necktie has remained incredibly resilient! (Note that Moon Maid is present in the background of the 1966 panel — you’ll be meeting her soon in our ongoing Dick Tracy series.)

tracy

Having taken snapshots in time of both Annie and Tracy, it was only natural to look at Terry Lee, the third star in the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate’s three “crown jewels.” As you can see below, in 1935 the star of Terry and the Pirates was a boyish adventurer very much in the Tom Swift/Tintin tradition. A decade later, with America and her Allies poised to emerge victorious from the conflicts of the Second World War, the Terry we see listening with surprise as he gets an earful from Johnny Jingo is a mature young man who has fulfilled creator Milton Caniff’s goal of growing up to displace Pat Ryan as the adult focus of the strip that bears his name. Fifteen years further down the timeline, in this panel from May 1, 1961, George Wunder’s Terry has aged gracefully — he’s filled out, with broader shoulders and a more rounded face. No matter his age, though, Terry Lee’s fate regularly seems to be entwined with that of exotic, mysterious women!

terry

Since King Features characters set me on this path, it seemed proper that I pick another KFS character to conclude my look at character evolution. I think you’ll enjoy examining the radical changes that occur in the look of Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, as we move from his natty Hammettesque 1935 rendering (the product of Alex Raymond’s talented pen) to his more rumpled, almost slope-shouldered, January 31, 1957 Mel Graff appearance to his suave 1971 look, courtesy of Al Williamson.

x-9

Given the disposable nature of daily newspapers and the inevitable audience turnover, one is left to wonder how many readers noted these visual changes over time. Certainly the stylistic differences of the artists who drew X-9/Corrigan would be hard to miss, but was it a relatively seamless transition for most readers from Caniff to George Wunder on Terry? And for strips produced by the same hand for decades — Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, Dick Tracy — how often did the changes in physical appearance get noticed and, when noticed, how often did they get accepted with a simple mental shrug? None of us were there, none of us can really know — but it’s certainly fun to ponder!

A Bit More Lust, A Tad More Bust

Caniffites may recall the tail-end of my introductory essay for Steve Canyon Volume 4, in which I discussed and excerpted a chain of 1953 letters between Milton Caniff and Hugh M. Hefner that I unearthed during one of our research trips to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University. The letters revolved around Hefner’s desire to produce a “Miss Lace” featurette in an early issue of (as Hefner put it) “a new men’s magazine beginning publication this fall.” That magazine was to be called — Stag Party.

There’s many a slip ‘twixt the initial plans for a magazine and its eventual launch, and in Hefner’s case Stag Party was renamed Playboy before it hit the stands. The nudes of the already-iconic Marilyn Monroe contained in that historic first issue helped make “Hef’s” venture a rousing success from the outset — but featuring a high-profile talent like Milton Caniff and a nostalgic — and buxom! — character like Miss Lace in the second issue didn’t exactly hurt the circulation numbers.

My friend and cultural scholar/historian Doug Thornsjo recently acquired a batch of very early Playboys and — *toinnn-n-n-ng!* — the discovery that his new arrivals included the second (January, 1954) issue meant we’d be able to share a sizable portion of the “Miss Lace” feature with you in this space. (We’ll block what the Monty Python crew once called “the naughty bits” in a couple places, just to keep things all-ages-appropriate.)

Here’s the first page of the three-page article:

1 - January 1954_Page_19_A

Page two features four “Lace” strips that appeared in camp newspapers worldwide during the War years. Here are two of my favorites:

1 - January 1954_Page_20_MC A

1 - January 1954_Page_20_MC B

The last page contains four special “Lace”s — Hefner’s lead-in text will explain what made them special:

1 - January 1954_Page_21_MC C

And here’s one more of the rejected “Male Call”s that seems especially appropriate for Playboy:

1 - January 1954_Page_21_MC D

As a little bonus — again, with just a bit of blockage used — here’s an image from later in the second issue of the magazine, featuring the always-exemplary penwork of James Montgomery Flagg:

1 - January 1954 34

Hugh Hefner was something of an artist himself; he was also a great admirer of cartoonists and illustrators, as his use of Caniff and Flagg attests. One of Playboy‘s legitimate contributions to the 20th Century arts scene was its liberal use of cartoons and the generous pay scale it offered to those artists who appeared in its pages during its heyday (fiction writers also benefited from the greater-than-market-average rates Playboy paid). Whatever one may think about Hefner and the culture that grew up around his magazine and him, The Digital Age has yet to generate (to the best of my knowledge) a financial angel for artists and writers who is the equal of “Hef.” (I’d be glad to hear from anyone who can prove me wrong, though!)

And of course, one of the fun things about my job is the ability to revisit past topics when opportunities arise to amplify and expand upon them with new knowledge or imagery. Thanks Doug (as if I didn’t owe you enough already!) for making that possible in this case. Those interested will find Doug and his sharply insightful film reviews, sociopolitical commentary, and line of unique Tarot-based products on the Web at The Duck Soup Homepage.

*****

09/11/16 UPDATE: From the letters pager in Playboy‘s fourth issue, here is the published reader reaction to the “Miss Lace” featurette, including kind words from Pappy himself!

pboy_3-march-1954-3

The Best & The Favorite

Long-time visitors to our site may remember this guy:

1DUDS

He’s Mike Dudley, one of my oldest and closest friends. Lifelong comics student and reader, alumnus of the Joe Kubert school from shortly after its opening, Mike was also best man at my wedding; his speech brought a tear even to those in my wife’s family who didn’t know my pals and me from Adam. We’ve known each other since we were teens, when Mike spotted my name and then-address in a Marvel Comics letters page and realized I lived only two towns away from him. In those pre-convention, pre-Internet, pre-comic-shop days it was mighty tough finding other comics readers, and there weren’t too many “Canwells” in the phone book, so Mike took a flyer, dialed me up — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like most of us, Mike has a sizable list of favorite comics artists, but for as long as I’ve known him one name stands apart on his list: Russ Heath, the consummate draftsman who built his reputation doing memorable work on the war books at DC Comics, like this double-page spread from Our Army at War # 197:

H7_OUR ARMY AT WAR # 197_HEATH

Mike recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and in preparation for the event his lovely and thoughtful lady, Mary, went to a lot of trouble to arrange a surprise party for him. She said presents were not necessary, but when you’ve known someone for as long as I’ve known Mike, there was no way I was showing up without a gift for him. But what, What, WHAT could I get for him that would properly mark such a momentous occasion?

The answer dropped in my lap when I discovered that Russ Heath, now age ninety years young, was accepting commissions. A personalized Heath original! Could there be a better gift? Of course there couldn’t …

I contacted Mr. Heath to inquire about his prices. He was prompt in calling me to follow up, and I agreed to purchase a full-size Sgt. Rock piece, which would be signed, “To Mike Dudley — Happy Birthday from Easy Co. & Russ Heath.” Time quickly ticked by; Mr. Heath again called me with plenty of time before the party’s scheduled date, telling me the piece was finished and would be coming my way via FedEx. He even deadpanned a joke, asking me, “Did you hear FedEx and UPS are going to merge?” He then chortled, “They’ll call the new company FedUp!”

The box arrived days before the party. I opened it, and — all my expectations were not just met, but were far, far surpassed. What an Absolutely Phenomenal job Mr. Heath had done! My wife knows nothing about comics, but she said, “That is amazing!” With enough days before Mike’s birthday party, I had the opportunity to show the work to a few other folks whom I knew could keep a secret.

“The Heath art is absolutely incredible,” Dean said. “I mean…REALLY! At ninety years old, it’s unbelievable. At THIRTY years old, it’d be unbelievable!” … Gene Colan biographer and mutual Mike Dudley friend Tom Field commented, “The Heath commish is gorgeous!” … DC and Marvel Comics artist Lee Weeks (also a mutual Dudley friend) called it “A great gift,” even as he said Mr. Heath is an inspiration to every artist in the business for doing such excellent work at age ninety. Judge for yourselves — here is just a portion of the finished piece Mr. Heath delivered:

H7_Heath_ROCK_

Of course, you know there is much more to the finished work than this excerpt!

The day of the party arrived, I showed up as part of a guest list numbering thirty. One of the persons I quoted above speculated that tears would be shed when Mike opened his gift. I’m proud to say we were manly men and there was no crying … but when Mike realized what he was holding his eyes did noticeably widen as he breathed a heartfelt, “WOW!”

We’re now a few weeks beyond the birthday bash. I’m pleased I bought an original piece from Mr. Heath and was able to make a connection between The Best Man with His Favorite Artist. Mike is already getting the artwork framed, to hang in his home. If this account has you interested in commissioning artwork from Russ Heath, you’ll find his advertisement, and his contact information, in this July article from Bleeding Cool News: Bleeding Cool Heath Article. If you’re interested in seeing more Heath published work — along with stories from the likes of Jack Kirby, John Severin, Joe Kubert, and The Genius himself, Alex Toth — you can hunt up a copy of IDW’s Best of DC War Artist’s Edition, the cover of which looks like this:

H7_BEST OF DC WAR

Thanks for indulging me in this personal account. Back soon with more LOAC-centric fun and games!

 

Calling All Space-Age Beauties!

Finally! The eight letters that forever changed America’s favorite police strip…

M…O…O…N……M…A…I…D!

It’s (literally!) out of this world action in the twenty-first volume of our COMPLETE DICK TRACY — on sale in December. Here’s a little tease we found while researching the basement archives of the Chicago Tribune-New York News.

Trib

Syndicate_ad_A

Krazy Kat preview!

We’re starting to add previews to our website so you can see sample strips. We just added one to LOAC Essentials #9: Krazy Kat 1934. You can click on the link on this page.

herriman

It All “Ad”s Up

We sometimes have more artwork and photos than we can squeeze into the text features of our books. We’re just putting a wrap on Steve Canyon Volume 7, for example, and we have such an abundance of 1959-60 riches related to Milton Caniff and his creation that we’ll likely do a feature in this space showcasing some of the artifacts that didn’t make the cut as the book gets closer to its on-sale date.

Sifting through the files I’ve amassed related to a couple other recent books, I saw some newspaper promotional ads that we didn’t use. Here’s a “Kigmy”-related ad supporting Li’l Abner, circa 1949:

2_Abner Kigmy Ad_1949

And from that same year, an ad that does double duty, both as a promotion for Abner and as a contest pushing Proctor & Gamble products:

1_Abner Shmoo Naming_1949

I’m also partial to this 1933 ad for Tim Tyler’s Luck that we found while preparing our jumbo-sized LOAC Essentials/King Features Essentials Volume 2 devoted to Alex Raymond’s brief-but-memorable stint on that series.

3_TIM TYLER'S LUCK Ad_1933

Seeing those items, and given my own soft spot for this type of material, I thought I’d sift through a batch of newspapers and see what other comic strip promotional ads I could find. The earliest one I located was from the year of the stock market crash, 1929, and is hyping Percy Crosby’s delightful and influential kids strip, Skippy:

4_SKIPPY Ad_1929

Fans of Gasoline Alley (myself included) may get a kick out of this 1930 advertisement, suggesting readers send in their summertime addresses and get the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette delivered while on vacation in order to stay current with events in the Wallet household:

5_GASOLINE ALLEY Ad_1930

And I was delighted to find this 1934 ad from the Asheville, North Carolina Citizen as the paper prepared to bring Little Orphan Annie into its lineup of daily comics. The ad symbolically reminds readers how “Daddy” Warbucks’s red-haired charge typically ends up in hot water :

6_LOA_1934

Not every ad was as elaborate as the Annie, of course. In 1940, when this ad promoting the Golden Age Superman was appearing in client newspapers across America, The Man of Tomorrow was scarcely two years old. How many readers in 1940 could have imagined the strange visitor from planet Krypton would still be entertaining millions, more than seventy-five years after this modest advertisement saw print?

7_SUPERMAN Ad_1940

The sophistication and graceful action shown in this 1952 ad for Rip Kirby strikes me as resonating very closely with what Alex Raymond was presenting on the comics page as he chronicled the adventures of the ’50’s first modern detective:

8_RIP KIRBY Ad_1952

One of the strips I always enjoyed as a youngster was Andy Capp. I liked the “Englishness” of his world, its rough-and-tumble nature, and I’m heartened that Andy has successfully continued his visits to the local more than a decade after his creator’s death (Reg Smythe passed away in 1998). The copy in this 1967 ad from the Pittsburgh Press certainly reflects the tenor of those “Swingin’ Sixties” times, doesn’t it?

9_ANDY CAPP Ad_1967

Finally, here’s a March, 1971 ad for Doonesbury, only five months into its existence. It serves as a reminder of how the art style, themes, and characters in this sprawling, sometimes controversial, sometimes powerful, always-worth-reading strip have changed!

10_DOONESBURY Ad_1971

Keep watching this space, because we’ll be back soon with, as the Monty Python troupe used to say, “something completely different” …

Sixty-Eight Years Ago …

If it’s been a little quiet around here over the past handful of days, it’s because we’ve been driving hard to get a whole string of books prepped and ready to go — he have our Tim Tyler’s Luck Essential and the first of our two Red Barry volumes at the printer, the finishing touches on the lucky-thirteenth Little Orphan Annie were wrapped up during the last few days of July, and I’m driving hard to finish a chock-full-o’-info text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 7, and then I shift my focus to Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4.

So we ain’t sitting on our hands when we don’t show up on a regular basis in this space! Aside from our parade of books, and the Red Sox’s latter July up-and-down fortunes, one of the other things that caught our attention is the recently-concluded Republican and Democratic National Conventions. This silliest of political seasons made us think of the Chicago Tribune‘s famous egg-on-their-face “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline that provided such a memorable capper to the 1948 Presidential campaign (Truman, of course, won re-election in November of that year).

That thought, in turn, made us decide to pull together a fantasy comics page from August 1, 1948. As is the case today, during the ’48 race between Republican Tom Dewey and Democratic President “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” Truman there were fewer than one hundred days for each candidate to make his case to the American people. With the two candidates campaigning coast-to-coast in earnest, our fantasy comics page features a Leslie Turner Wash Tubbs, popular ol’ reliables Nancy, Popeye, and Henry, a Fred Lasswell Barney Google/Snuffy Smith, grins with the Bumsteads in Blondie, Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer, hardball action in Ozark Ike, Alley Oop, and — as proof that single-panel features could contain continuity like their multi-panel brethren, Our Boarding House, featuring that lovable bloviating blowhard, Major Hoople (a perfect character to follow during an election year, for obvious reasons!).

Something about all these strips may catch your eye; join me on the other side and we’ll discuss it.

WASH TUBBS_080148

NANCY_080148

POPEYE_080148

HENRY_080148

BARNY GOOGLE_SNUFFY SMITH_080148

BLONDIE_080148

BUZ SAWYER_080148

OZARK IKE_080148

ALLEY OOP_080148

OUR BOARDING HOUSE_080148

Did you notice that each of these strips is dated 07/31/48? Yet they all appeared in newspapers on August 1st. How could this happen?

Well, August 1st, 1948 was a Sunday, and some small-town sheets did not publish on a seven days a week schedule and also did not have the budget to support a color Sunday comics section. As a result, they ran Saturday strips in their Sunday edition, as was the case with all the papers from which I culled the strips for this fantasy page.

We’ll offer the hope the gag strips you see above are the most outrageously humorous things you’ll see between now and our own 2016 election day — but somehow, we doubt it!

New books coming your way

newbooks

It’s always a fun day when a box of advance copies arrives from the printer. Today was especially joyful when we received FIVE books—three LOAC titles and two books from EuroComics, our sister imprint. Looks like there’s something for everyone: Disney fans, Marvel fans, Krazy Kat fans…plus unlike some of our UK friends, we embrace Europe —European comics specifically. Dieter Lumpen (with amazing art by Rubén Pellejero) is out now, and Hugo Pratt’s Corto will be on sale next month, along with the LOAC titles shown.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes