Category : Strip Teasers

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.

One comment on “Strip Teasers: One for the Reference Shelf

  1. Looks like a great book.

    I for one welcome the chronological listing, it helps put things in relative perspective.

    It's on my "wwish" list now!

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