Mile Markers on the LOAC Road to 200

With a brand-new year and LOAC Essentials Volume 14: Barney Google available on sale, we’ve now successfully traveled The Library of American Comics Road to 200. Each month during 2019 in this space we paused to feature one of our books via the trusty ol’ LOAC Wheel of Fortune, but now seems like an opportune time to show everyone our full list of publications, from Number One to Number Two Hundred.

Of course, a list this big is best absorbed in bite-sized pieces, so we’ll offer it to you in four separate postings, with a few of my personal recollections and observations along the way.

Here is our list of LOAC titles, # 1 – 50 …

… And here’s what comes to mind as I look at this list. Others may want to chime in and correct me on one statement or another, but this is the way I remember it :

It’s amazing to look back to 2007-2008 and remember how new this was. Certainly newspaper strips had been assembled into books before — heck, my first exposure to many of the great American strips came during the 1980s’ first wave of reprints, thanks to companies such as Kitchen Sink Press, NBM, Fantagraphics and yes, Eclipse Comics — but the 21st Century wave of reprints, the first to feature hardcover editions designed to sell deeply through mainstream bookselling outlets as well as in comics shops, was led by Fantagraphics’s Complete Peanuts and Dennis the Menace, with the pre-LOAC IDW Publishing entering the game with their early Dick Tracy releases, Drawn & Quarterly publishing the first Walt & Skeezix books, and Classic Comics Press offering its softcover Mary Perkins, On Stage offerings, with Dondi in the works. Those were all important books, from artistic, historical, and business/economic perspectives, but the modern-day marketplace had not yet seen large-size collections that featured Sunday pages reproduced in full color until Terry and the Pirates Volume 1 went on sale.

It was Dean and I and the IDW support staff back then, and we were all sort of feeling our way forward in the early going. Dean and I collaborated on everything! E-mails flew back and forth multiple times each day. At the time Dean had a warm-weather residence in Massachusetts, so we met face-to-face on a couple occasions and attended a late-September Red Sox game in 2008, seeing the retirement ceremony of Johnny Pesky’s Number 6. For Terry Volume 1 and beyond, Dean would send a selection of strips and ask, “What’s your vote to use for endpapers?” And I’d send him my analysis of the relative strengths or weaknesses of each before pushing a particular choice. Those days were hectic but heady, and tremendous fun.

These days, with a bevy of richly-deserved awards to their name, it’s easy to forget that IDW’s first-ever industry win was Terry Volume 1’s 2008 Eisner Award in the category of Best Archival Collection/Project – Comic Strips.

Beyond Terry, it’s still a real thrill to look at all the important one-shots and short-run series we produced in these first fifty books. King Aroo is a strip for which Dean and I both have an abiding love, and bringing portions of that strip back into print, trading e-mails and information with Jack Kent’s relatives, remains an accomplishment that fills me with enormous pride, and of course it was great to develop Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea, which put to rest previously-conflicting reports about George McManus’s birth date and shined a spotlight on Zeke Zekley’s life and major contributions to the strip. Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles remains the single most ambitious book we’ve produced to date, in my opinion; research for that project prompted our inaugural trip to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, which is staffed by top-flight professionals and is always like stepping into Ali Baba’s treasure cave — the beautiful “Champagne Edition” collection of Polly and Her Pals Sundays preceded our wonderful Caniff artbook. Bringing back “Dagwood’s Hunger Strike” as part of our reprinting of the earliest Blondie strips was immensely satisfying. And by our fifth year we were lucky enough to have Kurtis Findlay approach us with the project that turned into Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was. For a guy who counts Bugs Bunny as one of his heroes, savoring new-to-me Chuck Jones material was an unexpected joy.

Still and all, it was the establishment of our ongoing series in conjunction with Terry that solidified LOAC as a line of books and a leader in comic strip preservation. As a reader and lover of comics, one of my Top Ten all-time thrills has to be inhabiting the Mugar Library at Boston University and holding the original boards for the earliest Little Orphan Annie strips in my pulpy li’l paws, as we worked on our first collections devoted to America’s Spunkiest Kid. Being able to look through Harold Gray’s diaries — which were really workbooks that allowed him to work out storylines and develop character sketches — was almost as thrilling. And on one visit I shared the Annie material with another pair of researchers — Jeet Heer and Chester Brown!

During these years we assumed production of Dick Tracy from IDW, effective with the series’s seventh volume, launched a reprinting of twenty years of Li’l Abner (still an absolute Must-Read for anyone who cares about comics, in my opinion), packed Alex Raymond’s entire Rip Kirby run into four hefty volumes, and brought back all of Bloom County (with Outland and Opus soon to follow). By now Dean and I pretty much had our act down — and it’s a good thing we did, since it took almost four-and-a-half years to create our first fifty releases, but the second fifty would be produced in roughly half that time!

Please come back to this space in a few days for a look at LOAC Volumes # 51 – 100!

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