Strip Teasers: Chic Young’s Blondie: The Courtship and Wedding — Complete Daily Comics 1930-33

2010, IDW Publishing, edited by Dean Mullaney
Hardcover, 278 pages, 11.5″ x 9.25″, $49.99
ISBN 978-1600107405

This is one of those reprint books that has been overdue for, oh, about fifty years or so. Chic Young’s Blondie, which became staggeringly popular after a rough patch at the start, has long been one of the world’s favorite newspaper strips. And the mythology of those early years, years in which the strip ran in very few papers, has long been whispered about not only among serious comics fans but by casual readers as well. We’ve all heard that Dagwood came from an ultra-rich family, of his infamous hunger strike to win Blondie, and of him turning his back on the Bumstead millions in favor of an air-headed flapper named Blondie Boopadoop.

Yet never during all these years have we seen more than just a fleeting taste of those years, a week’s worth of strips reprinted here or there. Rumor had it that the Young estate bore some ill-will to the publication of these early strips, though it seems hard to imagine why. Or perhaps they were holding out for a lucrative publishing deal. Not being on the inside, I don’t know what kept these strips out of sight all those years.

But finally Dean Mullaney and IDW have issued the complete story (well, sans Sundays, which oddly follow a different continuity and are therefore sort of beside the point). After facing all the stumbling blocks to the publication, including simply finding all these ridiculously rare strips, the obvious question is whether it was all worth it.  In my opinion, a very mildly qualified ‘yes’! On the down side, these early years of Blondie are rather repetitive — Dagwood is blocked over and over from marrying Blondie in plot lines that can become monotonous in their similarity. Evidently Young, knowing how few papers were running the feature, and that he was being picked up and canceled with regularity, had a tendency to dog it a little in the originality of his stories. However, the same can be said of many humor strips, and if you put this book aside occasionally and come back to it fresh a week or two later, the repetitiveness is far less noticeable.

On the plus side, the stories really are pretty darn funny. There’s a lot of slapstick, a lot of airhead flapper humor, and no shortage of punch lines that can still elicit a smile or a guffaw nearly four score years later. And of course there’s the allure of Blondie herself, deliciously illustrated by Young as a supremely delectable dish. Blondie still has the ‘hot mom’ thing goin’ on today, but in 1930 she was more like Frank Godwin’s Connie, a waif-like vision dressed in translucent chiffons and figure-hugging satins. And speaking of the artwork, we mustn’t forget that the great Alex Raymond was honing his cartooning chops assisting during this period. Though undetectable most of the time, it’s great fun to discover Raymond’s sensibilities popping up occasionally. Nowhere is he more evident than in a sequence with uber-hunk Gil, a car mechanic who threatens to steal Blondie’s heart forever in one of the odder stories (Dagwood disappears for several months, signaling that perhaps Young had cold feet over the durability of his Dagwood character). 

As is usual with Mullaney-edited reprint volumes, the reproduction is excellent, the strips printed reasonably large (reduced only about 15% from their original printed 6-column size) and the restoration sensitive and thorough. Add to that an interesting Brian Walker intro illustrated with some rare ephemera of the strip, and you have quite an attractive package. Hopefully a second volume will appear so that we can see just how the scatterbrained, head-over heels in love pair adapt to married life and the loss of the Bumstead fortune.

Strip Teasers: Jet Scott Vol. 1

Jet Scott Volume 1 and 2

by Sheldon Stark and Jerry Robinson
Dark Horse Books, 2010
12 x 9.5 hardcover, 224 pages, $34.95
ISBN 978-1-59582-287-1, 978-1-59582-519-3

When I covered Jet Scott, a high-tech adventure strip of the 50s, as an Obscurity of the Day  I called Sheldon Stark’s scripts for the feature “well-written though disappointingly conventional”. On reading the first story in this two volume reprinting of the strip I thought I was going to have to eat my words. “The Banthrax Incident” ranks as one of the most asinine and badly written stories I’ve ever struggled through in comics or otherwise. I won’t go into details, but the thought that this is the story that sold the syndicate on the series just blows my mind. Fear not, though, because Stark’s writing improved greatly in subsequent stories.

Jet Scott is a troubleshooter for the Office of Scientifact who solves technology and science-based mysteries. The idea is a good one, though some of Stark’s idea’s about technology, especially computers, are real-knee-slappers. One of the cuter ones comes in that first story — in order to find a professor who’s gone missing Scott feeds his ‘personality profile’, his likes, dislikes, favorite foods and so on, into a computer. It promptly spits out the result that the misplaced prof is undoubtedly searching for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. Well of course! Even though that wasn’t even fed in as an interest of his.We know it wasn’t because Jet spends the next few strips trying to figure out what the heck Cibola is. Apparently he has a computer but not an encyclopedia.

Anyway, this sort of cockamamie stuff is pure fun, with the advantage of hindsight we can snicker at such things. It really only added to my enjoyment. Less appreciated by today’s audience might be that Jet Scott romances a new girl in every story, often making some pretty big promises about the future, and then each babe is promptly forgotten when the next story begins. It’s pure fantasy stuff though — do we object to James Bond doing the same thing?

Jerry Robinson’s slick art on the feature is shown to great advantage in the book. The dailies are all reproduced VERY large, bigger than they ever ran in papers. Sundays are decent-sized, too. The reproduction is generally excellent. The occasional daily obviously came from microfilm, but most seem to be either from proofs or good quality tearsheets. Restoration of the dailies is okay though my pet peeve about not fixing type lice and dropouts had me grumbling a bit — not something you’d probably even notice if you don’t do restoration work yourself. The Sundays are really impressive — just enough restoration to bring them back to life, not so much as to make them garish. Very nice work.

If you’re interested in the Jet Scott two-volume series, be aware that the publisher apparently ran out of stock almost immediately. A mere few months after the books were published I went to purchase my copies and found that I had no choice but to buy a damaged copy on the used market. What’s up with that? Checking Amazon now, though, I see they are available once again, but who knows for how long — order yours quickly would be my advice. 

Strip Teasers: It’s Only a Game

It’s Only a Game

by Charles M. Schulz and Jim Sasseville
About Comics, 2004
Paperback, 6.5″ x 5.5″, 240 pages, $14.95
ISBN 0-9716338-9-4

Considering the never-ending reprinting of Schulz’s Peanuts strip, it’s surprising that it took over 40 years for someone to run with the idea of reprinting Sparky’s other syndicated feature, the Sunday panel feature It’s Only a Game.Granted, the feature was a flop in newspapers, and Schulz farmed out a lot of the work on it to collaborator Jim Sasseville, but still, we’re still talking Schulz here.

I’ve seen a partial run of these Sunday cartoons before, and I confess I wasn’t all that crazy about them. The first and strongest reaction is that it seems weird for Schulz to be drawing adults. I mean Really Weird. Many of his adult characters look like grown-up, paunchy, worse-for-wear versions of Linus and Charlie Brown. It’s a melancholy reminder of our own lost youth, even if our youth was as angst-ridden as Schulz’s characters.

The cartoons, as the title implies, are about games — everything from football and baseball to cards, chess and horseshoes. Each Sunday featured one cartoon about bridge (a Schulz obsession) and two additional cartoons on other subjects. Schulz puts his own personal spin on these well-mined subjects resulting in worn gags spun in slightly different and interesting directions.

Jim Sasseville, who assisted Schulz on It’s Only a Game, provides interesting and informative commentary on individual cartoons, his relationship with Sparky and the experience of working on the ultimately unsuccessful feature.

This book reprints the entire run of the newspaper strip with one panel per book page. Even the dingbats from the feature’s title header are dutifully included. It’s a small format book but the panels are printed at a nice large size, probably as least as big if not even slightly larger than they originally appeared in newspapers. The reproduction quality varies; obviously some of the panels are scanned from tearsheets and the reduction of colors to greyscale is sometimes not all that attractively handled. However, the majority of the cartoons seem to be from old black and white proofs (or more deftly restored) because they are gorgeously crisp.

Stripper’s Guide Bookshelf: The Cartoon History of the American Revolution

The Cartoon History of the American Revolution

by Michael Wynn Jones
G.P. Putnams, 1975
12″ x 9.5″ hardcover, 191 pages, indexed
ISBN 399-11598-6

I’ve had a hankering to read this book for a long time, but the price on the used market, usually around $50, held me back. It is, after all, pretty far afield from my area of greatest interest, so I wasn’t willing to shell out that kind of dough. But lately the price took a precipitous drop, as low as $10, on ABE so I finally bought one.

Jones does a fantastic job of giving us a concise yet full-bodied history of the American Revolution, telling the tale with the show-and-tell of contemporary cartoons. Particularly interesting is that much of the perspective comes from the British side. This is necessarily so because there were very few American period cartoons outside of the famous ones by Ben Franklin and Paul Revere. Being a Canadian who’s knowledge of the Revolution is a bit sketchy, I was surprised at the fact that the vast majority of the British public, and therefore the Brit cartoonists, were against the King’s war — not so much that they sided with the colonists but that they (correctly) predicted that the British economy would suffer greatly from the adventure.

As good as Jones’ text is, the reproduction quality of the cartoons is pretty awful. Given the age of the source material I suppose that’s not too surprising, but the often too-small reproduction certainly doesn’t help any. Much of the lettering on the cartoons (and there is a lot) is indecipherable, at least to my eyes. In some cases Jones recognizes this problem and tells us what it all says, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Generally his discussions of the cartoons seem to assume more legible reproduction than he actually got.  The quality of the artwork itself ranges from absolutely gorgeous (Gillray and Rowlandson, for instance) to amateurish but dynamic scribbles.

If you’re looking for a coffee table art book you can give this a pass, but if you are interested in seeing the state of editorial cartooning during an exciting period in history I highly recommend the book despite the reproduction problems.

Strip Teasers: One for the Reference Shelf

American Comic Strip Collections, 1884-1939 — The Evolutionary Era
by Denis Gifford
G.K. Hall & Co, 1990
218 pages, 8″ x 10″, original price unknown

I pride myself on the completeness of my reference shelf, but this book has long been lacking because of the price. On the used market the asking price has often been over $50 which I wasn’t willing to spend considering I didn’t know much about what I’d be paying for.

Recently, though, I snagged a copy for $25 on abebooks.com, and I feel that I got my money’s worth. In the book Gifford describes every comic strip reprint book and comic book in the era ending in 1939. Well, not really every one since there are a few missing here and there, primarily ultra-obscure items. He wisely limits himself to collections based on comic strips as opposed to panels, which would have made for a much fatter book, but forgets his rules occasionally by listing items such as a Strange As It Seems collection.

Each entry gives the title, publisher, publication date, page count, size, original price if known and a description of the contents. These descriptions vary in quality, I think because he had to rely on second-hand information for some books he was unable to peruse for himself. However, in general the descriptions are excellent and of definite value to researchers and collectors. Many of these books are hard to get hold of, and cost a pretty penny if and when they are available, so it’s great to have such thorough descriptions of the contents without having to shell out a wad of cash, especially if you’re just curious about the contents like I am.

The publications are listed chronologically, and I found it all very interesting reading until we hit the comic book era and my eyes started to glaze over a bit. Of course, many readers will find this the most valuable part of the book.

Since the chronological listing can make finding a publication a bit tough, I was delighted to find both character and creator indexes at the back of the book.

Strip Teasers: Bringing Up Father From Sea to Shining Sea


Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea

IDW Publishing, 2009
Hardcover, 11″ x 10″, 277 pages, $50
ISBN 978-1600105081

What a wonderful treat to have two high quality reprint books of George McManus’ masterwork available after so many years with not a peep from Jiggs. First there was NBM’s reprinting of the first two years of the series, both historic and wildly entertaining, and now IDW enters the market with arguably some of the very best of the strip in its greatest era, the mid-30s to mid-40s.

Being a big fan of McManus I’m thrilled with both books, of course. Not only that but I had the privilege of working on both, a thrill in itself. For the IDW book I did the restorations on the majority of the dailies, a job which only increased my admiration for McManus’ superb clean-line style.

This whopping fat book reprints not only the famous cross-country sequence of the strip from late 1939 through mid-1940 but also the balance of 1939. While the tour sequence is justly famous, I’m glad editor Dean Mullaney chose also to reprint what might unjustly be called more mundane material from earlier in the year. 1939 is a great example of how humor strips operated back in the days when the adventure strip was king. Instead of strict gag-a-day material, Bringing Up Father and most humor strips weaved the gags into storylines. In 1939 we have the arrival of Jiggs’ grandson providing comedy fodder in a long story, plus great short sequences like Jiggs trying to rid himself of an always-snoozing brother of Maggie’s and a hilarious series with Jiggs waiting for Maggie to get off an interminable phone call. McManus had a gift for juxtaposing the reasonable and the surreal in these sequences that is magical to behold.

If the book were sold on infomercials this would be the point at which Ron Popeil would gleeful tell you “… but wait, there’s more!” Not only do you get a year and a half of Bringing Up Father dailies, but we’re throwing in all the Sundays from the same period! Of course the tour sequence just wouldn’t be complete without those glorious Sundays, a few of which you’ve undoubtedly encountered in survey-type books. The Sundays, restored here to their original brilliance, are a joy to behold. Zeke Zekley, McManus’ assistant and a master in his own right, claimed that one of the Sundays took them two weeks to produce and I don’t doubt it for a second. They are not to be missed.

Rounding out the book we have two intros, by Brian Walker and Bruce Canwell, which supply some interesting nuggets, a subject index by Randall Scott, and a sampling of 11 strips from the Bringing Up Father “Remember When” sequence of Jiggs’ and Maggie’s younger days in the Irish ghetto (a series which richly deserves reprinting, too).

My impression is that, despite reasonably strong sales, NBM has no immediate plans for a follow-up to their Bringing Up Father book, so if you’re a McManus fan then you really need to show the folks at IDW that you want more of this material. This McManus fan certainly encourages you to buy multiple copies!

Strip Teasers: Book Reviews


Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip
By Stuart Hample
Abrams ComicArts, 2009
Hardcover, 11 x 8, 240 pages
$35
ISBN 978-0-8109-5742-8

“Inside Woody Allen” was a comic strip that ran from 1976-84. It never appeared in many papers, which was as it should be since, frankly, it wasn’t that great a strip.

The feature starred the famed comedian/filmmaker who was at the time riding high on a string of smash hit movies. Although Woody’s persona was all there — the neuroses, the philosophy, the skirt-chasing — in the comic strip he was scrubbed so clean, so innocuous, that it may as well have been a strip about Bob Saget.

What makes the book a worthwhile read certainly isn’t the strips, which are reproduced in great abundance, and it certainly isn’t for the intro by R. Buckminster Fuller, whose bizarre attempt at a comic strip got the best of me after a few pages. The highlight of the book is a 16-page introduction by cartoonist Stu Hample which traces the development of the strip and its travails with the syndicate. This is a great insider narrative that provides insight on the way syndicates, newspapers and comic strip creators interact. I felt this alone was worth the price of the book.

Not to give too much of the story away, but it turns out that if Woody and Stu had been given free reign on the strip it might well have been a classic. Hample reproduces many notes from Allen that show that Woody, genius that he was and is, had a keen understanding of what makes a great comic strip. Syndicate executives, on the other hand, were like a broken record — make it inoffensive, dumb it down, don’t make the grannies angry. As usual, the suits won. A pity…

One interesting design choice in the book should be mentioned. The nearly 200 pages of strips are all reproduced from original art, with corrections, blue lines and margin notes intact. The strips are all photographed in color, despite all the originals being in black and white. I can see reproducing a selection this way, but it seems an odd choice for an entire book. The production costs for all that color (even though the only actual color is just cream colored paper and blue pencil) explains the $35 price tag.

Strip Teasers: Capsule Book Reviews

An Anthology of Captain and the Kids Comics
Published by CreateSpace
10 x 8 softcover, 50 pages, $14.99
ISBN 978-1449571504

If you troll about on Amazon looking for new strip reprint books you will have noticed in the last few months a burgeoning crop of titles from something called CreateSpace, a print on demand service.

Books published so far include collections of The Captain and the Kids, Bringing Up Father, Krazy Kat, Barney Google and several others. I was a bit leery of these publications just based on the Amazon listings — the covers are black and white and amateurish in design. The descriptions, usually only a single sentence, also don’t bode well. For instance, the description for the reviewed volume begins “An anthology of Captain and the Kids, later named the Katzenjammer Kids …” So our anonymous editors aren’t exactly comics scholars by any stretch.

However, incurable optimist that I am, my curiosity was piqued enough to go ahead and order one volume. I chose this one for no particular reason. Now I can report that the contents are very well-matched to the slapdash cover. What lurks inside are fifty Captain and the Kids Sundays, all either reproduced from microfilm photocopies, or, more likely, from the ProQuest online service.

Reproduction is exactly what you expect from microfilm photocopies. Acres and acres of muddy grey replaces all the color, film scratches mar many pages, and that curious dot-haze that characterizes laser-printed greyscale is spread like an algae bloom over everything. In the spirit of trying to say something nice, I do have to admit that the lettering is surprisingly legible. It’s small enough that I need my reading glasses, but you can’t expect anything more given the size of the book. There seems to have been absolutely no effort whatsoever made to clean up or restore the images.

Needless to say, I won’t be purchasing any additional volumes in this series, and unless you are willing to shell out $15 for a stack of third-rate photocopies I recommend you take a pass, too.

A side note — there’s no editorial matter in this book, no credits and no copyright. Since some of the books in this series would appear to flout, at the very least, trademark laws, and possibly in some cases copyright laws, that’s to be expected. However, is the presence of these books on Amazon for months now an indication that the syndicates have completely given up trying to uphold their rights to these characters? Are we now all free to publish old strips at will with no legal consequences? You would think with the state of the newspaper industry that syndicates would be enforcing their rights more jealously than ever, given that their current profit center is eroding away beneath them. In the very near future, character licensing may be the only thing that keeps these companies going. Are they waving the white flag?


Comics Revue #281/282 (October 2009)
Published by Manuscript Press
8″ x 10.5″ softcover, 128 pages $16.00

Whether you like Comics Revue or not, you’ve got to admire Rick Norwood for plowing forward with the magazine all these years. I can’t imagine all the travails he’s gone through with this publication, and despite further recent setbacks he just keeps on marching.

Recently, if I’ve got the story right, Norwood was threatened with losing his comic book store distribution due to low sales. The easy response probably would have been to thank the distributor for giving him an excuse to put the thing to rest. But not Norwood — this glutton for punishment figured out that he could perhaps squeak by on the requirements if he reduced the magazine to bimonthly and doubled its size (hence the paired issue numbering).

I don’t subscribe to Comics Revue because a great deal of the material reprinted in the magazine is just not my cup of tea. However, I received a review copy recently and so I’ll put in my two cents.

The line-up in these new double-sized issues is vast — featured in this one are Flash Gordon, Rick O’Shay, Buz Sawyer, Tarzan, The Phantom, Mandrake, Secret Agent Corrigan, Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, Steve Canyon, Alley Oop, Krazy Kat and Modesty Blaise. If your taste is for adventure strips then you’ve got quite a menu to choose from.

Now I make it no secret that when it comes to adventure strips my bar is sky high. Let’s put it this way — I think Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates was over-written, and that the introduction of Captain Easy ruined the great Wash Tubbs strip. Given that, you can feel free to ignore my comments on this material, which in my estimation falls miles short of either of those strips.

The first problem I see with Comics Revue is that much of the material is from the 1950s to 1970s. If there was ever any doubt that the heyday of the adventure strip was over by the end of the 1930s, this magazine provides such definitive proof that I half-expected the final page to end with quod erat demonstrandum. The marquee item in this issue, a Flash Gordon story from 1960 written by the great SF novelist Harry Harrison, is just pathetic. The plot is nonsensical, the pacing is awful, the dialogue trite and characters are flat. If Harrison spent more than a few hours cooking up the whole story I’d be surprised.

Things don’t improve thereafter. One bright spot is a cute little Buz Sawyer story, but it isn’t complete in the issue. The delightful Alley Oop entry from 1938 goes by too quickly with just three weeks of dailies. Caniff’s Steve Canyon was embroiled in an anti-feminist storyline that was embarrassing in its patronizing attitudes. Modesty Blaise had art so bad I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Rick O’Shay, never a favorite of mine but usually a pleasant enough read, shows up with a surprisingly weak story that can’t even seem to keep its facts consistent from day to day, a sign that the cartoonist disdains his readers and just plain doesn’t care what he produces.

I assume Norwood is catering to completists here, those folks who are so in love with a character that they just have to read every strip in their favorite series no matter how bad it got in later years. Surely this can be the only explanation for printing some of this tripe. Where he’s missing the boat, I humbly suggest, is that interspersed among these “for completist only” features he should print better material that might appeal to a general audience.

Reproduction is far from ideal on some of the features. While many are crisp and fresh-looking, others are washed out (Little Orphan Annie to a particularly bad degree) and some look like they were reproduced from pretty bad source material (Rick O’Shay and Mandrake).

The worst reproduction problem is on the color pages. The magazine’s format is really too small to do justice to Sunday strips (which are often printed two to a page to add insult to injury), and the muddy, blotchy color full of moire patterns certainly doesn’t help any. And frankly, there are so few color pages that I really don’t see the point anyway. We get four Flash Gordon Sundays, four Tarzans, and a like amount of a few others. I can’t imagine anyone buying the magazine specifically because of the color strips, yet I assume they cost an arm and a leg to print, explaining the magazine’s lofty price. My advice would be to dump the color and slash the price of the magazine.

I’m sorry to say that this issue of Comics Revue did nothing to inspire me to subscribe. And I truly am disappointed because I take supporting efforts like this seriously as a part of being a good comic strip fan. I love the idea of a magazine that reproduces old comic strips, but there’s just so darn little here that I want to read. If you are a big adventure strip fan, though, it could be worth your while to try it out. Me, I’ll gladly take another look if the type of material changes — and here’s a few suggestions for adventure strips that would perk up my interest — Barney Baxter, Oaky Doaks, Adventures of Patsy, The Red Knight, Dickie Dare, The Shadow, Roy Powers, Connie, Miss Fury, Bronc Peeler.

Strip Teasers: Capsule Reviews

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes
by Nevin Martell
Continuum, 256 pages, hardcover, $24.95
ISBN 9780826429841

What can a comic strip fan do for light summer beach reading? You’re certainly not going to risk getting sand in your expensive reprint books, and reading a stack of old tearsheets out by the pool seems ill-advised. Nevin Martell offers the perfect solution in Looking for Calvin and Hobbes.

Martell writes about pop music for magazines, and he’s the author of some fluffy rock star bios, so this book is a bit of a departure for him. Seeing those credits I wondered what he could possibly bring to the table in a book about comic strips. The answer is that he brings very little in the way of comic strip expertise (no Nevin, Ignatz does not throw stones at Krazy Kat) but that turns out to be a good thing. If this had been 250 pages of navel-gazing analysis of the comic strip it would have been insufferable. Rather, Martell tells the story of his adventures trying to wheedle an interview out of the famously reclusive Watterson. It’s a Don Quixote story that is humorous, well-written and (if I may borrow that tired summer-reading platitude ) a real page-turner.

Martell skillfully interlaces the main narrative with bits of Watterson biography, musings about the comic strip, and interviews with Watterson’s fellow cartoonists. In true summer-reading style, no subject sticks around long enough to become tiresome. If you’re looking for a ‘serious’ Watterson bio, a la Schulz and Peanuts, you’re not going to get it — thank goodness. But Martell does a fine job of picking up the crumbs of Watterson’s public appearances and infrequent writings, doing a surprisingly thorough job of pulling Watterson out of that hermit crab shell of his.

I have only a few criticisms of the book. When Martell discusses comic strip history he shows himself to be a rank minor leaguer. The author should have shown the book to someone with the chops in that department to squash embarrassing little mistakes like the aforementioned Krazy Kat clunker. The other criticism may not be valid (I read an advance copy of the book) but I wondered why we don’t get a single illustration. I realize that the book could not reproduce any Calvin & Hobbes strips, but why no photo of Watterson, no example of his college or Cincinnati Post cartoons? Surely the publisher could have gotten permission to reproduce a few items that lay outside of Watterson’s control freak zone of influence.


The Complete New York World Comic Sections: 1905

Compiled by Jonathan Barli
Digital Funnies, 2 CDs or 1 DVD, $25
Available from Digitalfunnies.com

Jonathan Barli’s Digital Funnies image collections have been advertised on the web for quite a few years now, but it took me a long while to get on the bandwagon. I’m glad I finally did, though, because the first collection I tried, a complete set of images of the New York World‘s 1905 comics sections, is absolutely fabulous. What could be more pleasant for an old funnies lover than an afternoon clicking away on image after image of rare material by McManus, Kahles, Carr and Follett (a forgotten cartoonist, but one of my faves). Barli’s source material is a beautiful run of tearsheets. I saw only a few minor chipped corners and brown center creases. The scans are only at screen resolution (72 dpi) but the images are nice and large so that you can zoom in to see even the finest details. Barli wisely didn’t go overboard trying to tweak these images in Photoshop. It looks to me as if he probably upped the contrast and lightened just a tad, enough to take away that tan haze that scanners love to cast over old Sunday pages.

My only criticism of the collection is that the image names are simply 001.jpg, 002.jpg, and so on. Though this does gives us the correct order in which to view the sections, Barli could have made the package a lot more user friendly by including the date of the sections in the file names, or even better, the date plus the titles of the strips on that page. Then I could easily navigate through the files to find all of the Panhandle Pete or Terrible Twins strips in one fell swoop.

By the way, there’s no image viewer application included with these collections. That’s fine by me because that sort of thing often gets in the way of the user viewing the images in the app of their choice. However, if you are computer illiterate just be aware that you simply double-click on any file name and the image will automatically be displayed by your system’s default viewer application.


Big Funny
Cartoonist Conspiracy, broadsheet, 48 pages, $5
Available from cartoonistconspiracy.com/bigfunny/

Hoo boy. Someone’s going to have to explain to this clueless neophyte how you’re supposed to deal with items like this. Steven Stwalley, a friend of Stripper’s Guide, sent this item to me for a little blog-flogging. So I want to be positive, but my churlish need to be objective leads me down another path. So let’s start with the positive — this is one VERY cool format. I don’t know how this group managed to find a printer who would tackle the job, but what we have here is a giant newspaper broadsheet ‘comic section’, filled with (mostly) full page comic strips. How cool is that? When it arrived my heart skipped a few beats — I’m just not used to seeing any comics printed this large that aren’t yellowed and musty.

The idea is inspired. Offer a group of cartoonists the opportunity to draw a giant full page strip just like the fabled newspaper cartoonists of the good old days. The problem is that most of the creators represented here squandered what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spread their wings, or are simply not up to the task. A few did rise to the bait, like Diane Nock who offers us a beautifully designed page that riffs on classic comic strip format and conventions. There is plenty of excellent cartooning in the book, but darn few pages that make any real use of the vast acreage of newsprint that they had to work with. Many, in fact, give the impression of being blown-up comic book pages.

What was really disappointing, though, was the writing. Most of these strips reminded me of the kind of narcissistic claptrap that I remember from the lesser underground comics of the 1970s. You know, the stuff that cartoonists drew after downing a couple hits of acid with a chaser of Wild Turkey. I’m sure the creators (then and now) think they’re producing amazing avant-garde works of art, but I have no patience with such self-absorbed gobbledegook. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate artsy comics. I’m not a troglodyte in these matters — I read all 300 issues of Cerebus and most everything Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman have ever produced — but most of this material is art for art’s sake, and not in a good way.

I do hope that the Cartoonist Conspiracy will try this experiment again. Perhaps after seeing the first issue, these cartoonists and others will better understand the potential inherent in this classic format and rise to the occasion.

Strip Teasers: Bringing Up Father 1913-14


George McManus’s Bringing Up Father

Edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt
Foreword by Bill Blackbeard
Introduction by R.C. Harvey
Annotations and Restorations by Allan Holtz
NBM, 2009, 11 x 8 hardcover, 192 pages, $24.95
ISBN 978-1-56163-556-6

First things first: as you can see in the credits above, I’m not a completely impartial reviewer when it comes to this book.

Bringing Up Father is probably my favorite comic strip of all time, so when NBM decided to reprint the first two years of the strip I was delighted to be a part of it. There was, as most of you know, a prior reprint effort of some of this material. In the 1970s, as part of their Classic American Comic Strips series, Hyperion did a Bringing Up Father book that covered some of this same ground. But there were three problems with it; the reproduction in the book was just awful (the material was printed just as it came off the old dilapidated tearsheets, warts and all), the strips were printed so small that McManus’ chicken-scratchy sloppy lettering was sometimes illegible, and quite a few strips were missing and others misplaced in the strip’s continuity.

The first problem was solved in this book with the application of over 300 hours of restoration work by yours truly. Some reviewers have commented that some amazing pristine source must have been found to get the strips looking so great. That’s a comment I cherish because it speaks well of my work, but the assumption is incorrect. All but about a half-dozen of the strips reprinted are from browned, flaky, often badly-printed and misprinted newspaper tearsheets. The remaining few were — ugh — from microfilm, a REALLY big challenge of restoration.

The size problem was improved by printing the strips about 15% larger than in the Hyperion book. While I would have liked larger, it’s amazing what an improvement this small increase has made. The strips are all quite legible now (in part because I restored the lettering as well as the art).

The problem of missing and out of sequence strips was solved by using Bringing Up Father‘s home paper, the New York American, as our benchmark. Hyperion worked off of Bill Blackbeard’s collection, which was a mix-up of San Francisco and other papers. That led to pretty major omissions and continuity mix-ups. The strips in the new book are all in sequence, not a single one missing, and each is dated based on its original appearance in its home paper.

Besides doing the restorations, NBM allowed me to do something that I think should be a standard feature in all classic strip reprint books. I wrote annotations for many of the strip episodes explaining the references which are likely to be opaque to today’s readers. And it’s not dry history lessons — I talk about such things as pop songs of the day, the curious origin of collapsible tophats, the allure of French postcards, and so on. The idea is to bring these strips and their very dated cultural references back to life for the modern reader, and if the reviews I’ve read are any indication it has worked quite well.

By the way, I wrote so many annotations that NBM couldn’t fit them all into the book! You’ll find a link to an expanded version of the annotations on NBM’s website. The good news is that my annotations were cut back so that the book had room to print the BUF strips all the way to the end of 1914 (Hyperion’s stops in July 1914) so you get in total over 100 strips never before reprinted.

Of course the real question is whether the strip is entertaining. While we all enjoy McManus’ work in the ‘classic’ period of the 1930s and 40s, his work in 1913-14 is rougher around the edges. His amazing clean lines are already there, though, and his humor is fully developed (after all, he was already a veteran stripper at this point). What I find particularly interesting is the contrast between the 1913-14 Jiggs personality and its later counterpart. The 1940s Jiggs, despite his protests to the contrary, is a subdued, domesticated homebody. The early Jiggs is a rough-and-tumble troglodyte, a gambler, a womanizer, a fighter, either drunk or trying his best to get to that state. In short, he’s a more entertaining character in his raw state than once Maggie had a score or so years to wear him down. By the 1940s Jiggs had grown into a bit of a sarcastic old sourpuss, while in 1913 he is unadulterated, full of life and revelling in his own crudity. I re-read the BUF strips of 1939-40 shortly after working on this book. I can honestly say that if it were not for the transcendent art of the later strip I’d choose the material of the 1910s over the later stuff hands-down.

You can order your copy at NBM’s website or at Amazon.