Mile Markers on the Road to 200: Reaching the Sesquicentennial

Continuing our review of the first two hundred LOAC books, which began here and continued right here, what follows is a look at our one hundred first to one hundred fiftieth releases …

… And here are my strongest recollections about these twenty-six months of LOAC history. As with previous installments of this series, other LOACers may recall some of these events differently, or have retained details that have slipped past me through the years, but this is the way I remember it.

The big new additions to the line during this period were the Spider-Man newspaper strip and many of the Disney strips (though Spidey’s home, Marvel Entertainment, is now part of Disney, at the time Web-Head’s comic strip launched Marvel was still an independent company, so from my perspective these were two additions, not just one giant “Disney deal”). Fully twenty percent of our releases in this period were either collections from the Disney vaults or tales of the oft-woebegone wall-crawler.

Having come to greatly admire Al Taliaferro and Bob Karp’s Donald Duck strip through the Gladstone era of Disney comic book reprints, I was mighty pleased to be adding “the Duck” to the stable of characters whose newspaper escapades LOAC was bringing to modern-day audiences. Taliaferro’s lively line was just perfect for rendering Donald and his world, and reading each one of these books brought me back to those Gladstone days of yore, as I rediscovered what I liked about the Donald Duck strip, even as I absorbed a bigger dose of it than I ever had before.

As to Spidey, well — I read issues # 53 and 54 of Amazing Spider-Man as a boy in my hometown barber shop, and started reading the series regularly with issues # 63, so editing and writing text for our Spidey newspaper series was a treat in and of itself. The cherry on that sundae, however, was having the opportunity to seek to add depth to our series by once again interviewing John Romita Sr. (always gracious, always forthright in his recollections, always engaging and entertaining — I can never say enough good things about JR Sr., as he came to be known). My attempts to reach Stan Lee in time for our first volume were in vain — the e-mail address I had been given yielded no results, despite multiple requests — so I had to find another route to “The Man,” which took longer than I expected, though I eventually spoke with him for almost thirty minutes and was able to quote from our discussion in our third Spider-Man release. In between I spoke with Stan’s brother, Larry Lieber, about his first stint on the strip following Romita’s departure. Larry and I talked for about ninety minutes, and it was a thoroughly wonderful discussion. He was honest about his own career and history in the business, he was very open about his own goals and aspirations, not just in the past, but for the future, too. It was terrific, spending time conversing with him, just as it was informative to speak with Jim Shooter in support of Spidey Volume 4. LOAC’s Amazing Spider-Man: The Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection allowed me to reach back to some of the oldest of my fannish roots, to connect with some of the talents who were responsible for them, to learn about their work and their creative processes, and even to thank them for the many hours of entertainment they gave me, and thousands of others.

Of course, I found more than Disney and human arachnids to be excited about amongst these fifty books! Our collection of Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9 gave me the opportunity to write about not just Raymond, but one of my very favorite authors, Dashiell Hammett. And eighteen years after adding to the Dark Knight’s history (and the original Boy Wonder’s, too!) by collaborating with artist Lee Weeks on Batman: The Gauntlet, I got to dip a toe back in DC waters by writing the text feature for our Wonder Woman newspaper strip one-shot. Having read some of the comic book WW stories that were “refried” for the strip, it was interesting to compare and contrast how the same story unfolded when told in two different formats.

I was proud of two scholarly releases from this period, one I had very little to do with, the other with which I was deeply involved. Michael Kahn and Richard West brought Puck: What Fools These Mortals Be to us as a largely-complete package (and what a package it is!), whereas Dean and a “Murderer’s Row” of scholars including Ron Goulart, Brian Walker, Paul Tumey, and Jared Gardner collaborated with me to create a celebration of King Features Syndicate’s one-hundred-year anniversary in the lavish King of the Comics, which was briefly featured as part of the CBS Sunday Morning story on the KFS centennial. Very, very cool!

We produced four more LOAC Essentials (our second Baron Bean, Hal Foster’s original Tarzan, a year of Krazy Kat dailies, and Tim Tyler’s Luck during the period when Alex Raymond was ghosting for Lyman Young). We wrapped up Batman and did a beautiful second “Champagne Edition” Polly and Her Pals, while bringing Alex Toth’s Bravo for Adventure out in hardcover. We even followed our well-received Star Trek newspaper comics mini-series with the first two (of three) books presenting the Trek UK comics. Yes, we had some internal discussion about publishing British comics under the Library of American Comics banner, but we ultimately decided that Star Trek is such a uniquely American concept and property that it allowed us to extend our reach across the Atlantic to present this rare material to our audience.

And amidst it all, our ongoing series kept chugging along — during this period, we put out five Dick Tracys, three Little Orphan Annies and three Steve Canyons, two Li’l Abners, and two Rip Kirbys. Times change with the passing of the years, but the classics remain classic!

There’s one more lap to run on this trip through our first two hundred releases. Watch this space soon for this series’s fourth and final installment!

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