One of the best reprint projects you’re ever likely to see is also one of the hardest to buy. Algrove Publishing, apparently based out of Canada, has produced a wonderful series of books reprinting the classic panel cartoons of Out Our Way and Our Boarding House. Due, I assume, to the unlicensed status of the reprint project, they’ve been keeping a very low profile.
There is only one book of Our Boarding House available, a complete reprinting of the year 1927. Out Our Way, though, is available in a series of 12 volumes. There is one thick sampler volume and 11 smaller volumes that reprint favorite J.R. Williams series titles; six of the classic machine shop Bull of the Woods series, plus one U.S. Cavalry book and a series of four featuring cowboy subjects.
The quality of the reproduction is uniformly excellent. The source material is obviously scanned tearsheets, but the material has been so expertly and thoroughly restored that you could be fooled into thinking that original proof sheets were used. And, of course, I shouldn’t need to tell anyone here that Gene Ahern and J.R. Williams’ work is well worth your time. Personally I’m more of a Major Hoople fan, but the style and wit of J.R. Williams, especially in his lovingly written Bull of the Woods cartoons, is classic stuff.
As I said, these reprint books are obviously unlicensed by NEA. There is no acknowledgement of the syndicate in the books, and the copyrights have all been removed from the strips. It’s really a wonder that these volumes haven’t already fallen victim to a United Media lawsuit, so if you want these books you might want to do it quickly. I can find only one source for the books online, at a hardware supplier called Lee Valley Tools. Here’s a link directly to the books, since they can be a challenge to find even once you’re on the site. I placed an order for the complete set and the books arrived at my door within a few days, so I’d classify the company as eminently safe to order from.
I’m a bit conflicted over recommending books that attempt to skirt the copyright laws. I think that the syndicates have every right to get a cut of the profits from reprint projects like this one. However, given that NEA hasn’t licensed these popular features for reprinting in over 50 years, I’m going to take a wild guess that the syndicate is being unreasonable in their license fees. I’m going to hope that the folks at Algrove Publishing have at least tried in good faith to strike a deal with NEA, and were rebuffed or simply couldn’t afford to do things above board. I’ve certainly heard plenty of horror stories from publishers whose jaws dropped at the ridiculous fees that syndicates sometimes quote for material that will only sell to a small group of fans.