Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Discovery of the Golden Age: Part 5: The Comic Strips and the Comic Book Strips


The New Reprints: A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books

Part 5: The Comic Strips and the Comic Book Strips

This project will be presented in twelve parts. Unfortunately, I can’t change the order, so later posts will appear first. Please try to check this out in order! And your comments are important. Please post how you became aware of comics and their history!
  1. Introduction/Comics in "real" books.
  2. 1960s: Reprints from the Comic Companies: 80 Page Giants & Marvel Tales!
  3. 1960s: The Great Comic Book Heroes
  4. 1960s: The Paperback Era
  5. 1970s: The Comic Strips AND the Comic Book Strips! 
  6. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part I
  7. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part II
  8. 1980s until Today: Horror We? How's Bayou! The EC Age of Comics
  9. 1990s until Today: The Archives and Masterworks
  10. How The West Was Lost
  11. When Comics Had Influence: Public Service, Education & Promotion
  12. Journeys End, What We Leave Behind: A Century of Comics
So let us continue our voyage to and from the 1960s and discover the world of comics once almost forgotten. Our expedition is mostly into the world of reprints that were available OUTSIDE the newsstands and comic book stores but we will have a few detours on the way.


I'd like to thank Art Lorie, Ray Cuthbert, Tony Rose, Mike Vassallo, William Ashley Vaughan and
Kid Robson!

Let's visit the realm of Comic Strips and then continue to the world of Comic Books. The reprinting of these strips will lead the way and form the construction of the reprinting of comic books.

Meanwhile, back at the bookstore:

In 1968 I walked into a Barnes and Noble store in Manhattan and saw the first large book of reprints since The Great Comic Book Heroes. It was the comic strip, Flash Gordon, in a 14 by 11 inch, black and white, book by Nostalgia Press. The book cost $12.95, about seven times what minimum wage was. It had introductions by the publisher, Woody Gelman, and by Maurice Horn and Al Williamson. It presented the first Flash Gordon strip from January 4, 1934, in color. Then, after a brief “The story so far,” recap it jumped to the Sunday strips 11/6/1938 and concluded with the one from 6/29/41. These were just beautifully drawn, well told stories, printed clearly in black and white. Spectacular! I was truly blown away by the artwork of Alex Raymond. I loved it and I was anxious to see Volume 2. 

The First Sunday Flash Gordon from Nostalgia Press, the only page in color

STOP!

It changes here. Before I saw these great strips, when I referred to the Golden Age of Comics, I meant Comic Books, starting from Superman's premiere in Action Comics #1. But if the Golden Age includes the best of what was out there, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates must be included. These were wonderful stories, beautifully told. Granted, Hal Foster had a week to do one page and while comic book artists such as Jack Kirby had to do an entire comic in the same time, but that does not diminish any of their work. It explains why Foster could do most of the work by himself and Kirby needed writers, inkers and colorists. So, from this point on, when I use the term Golden Age, I am including the best from the creators, no matter what their delivery system was, comic books or Sunday comic sections.

So what year does it end? Back then, I didn’t know, I hadn’t read the comics. But I will have an answer to that in a later installment.

A Panel from the first Flash Gordon book by Nostalgia Press
In 1971, Nostalgia Press published a second Flash Gordon book, smaller than the first at 12 by 9 inches.  These stories were not yet at the beginning, they started with the storyline beginning on 4/12/36. The book included this explanation from the publisher:


In 1974, a very different pair of books were published, in color, containing the first Flash Gordon episodes beginning with his first strip, January 4, 1934. Seen below, it is the Green Flash Gordon, second to last on the right. These two books were big, 8.5 by 12 inches. At this shape, the color Sunday pages would not fit, so the pages were reformatted to fit the book.
The third volume of Flash Gordon started at thew very beginning, but reformatted the pages to fit the book. Compare this to the original Sunday strip above.

Today, we would say that it was laid out as a graphic novel, but I did not know that term then. Frankly, the pictures often seemed not quite as sharp as the previous black and white editions, but that was the nature of using color, I think. The format hurt, or at least changed, the pacing of the story because it was not laid out as a weekly Sunday strip. That is, as you can see above, the cliffhangers were gone. But I finally got read the beginning of Flash Gordon. Alex Raymond was fantastic.

The first full page of the fourth Flash Gordon book, "Into the Water World of Mongo"
 In 2003, the series was released in their original format, in color, by Checker Press. In 2011, the Flash Gordon series was released, in color, in its original Sunday size, complete with the Jungle Jim series on the top, as Raymond had originally produced it.

Four decades of Flash Gordon books. I included "Secret Origins" so you can judge the sizes. I photographed these from my collection



Another reprint of FLASH GORDON from beginning to end (in six volumes) was by Kitchen Sink Press from 1990-1993. These were printed in both hardcover and softcover editions. The Checker books used the same printing plates after Kitchen Sink went bankrupt. These books were 11.2 x 8.7 inches.

 



Starting with Dell’s Four Color Comics, Flash Gordon found extra duty in several comics book over the decade. Above is one from Harvey and one from Charlton.
 

These Golden Age Archives, featuring Flash's earliest comic book adventures from 1947 through 1953, are now available, thanks to Dark Horse

 Coupled with the 1974 publication of the two color Flash Gordon books were four volumes of Prince Valiant, by Hal Foster. This was my introduction to these strips; they were not published in the New York papers, at least not the ones we got.  

Prince Valiant from Nostalgia Press.
Prince Valiant had a slightly better restoration, but the coloring weakened their sharpness too.Their formatting was also changed, but perhaps because I had never seen them in their original layout it didn’t bother me as much. They were just wonderful to read and I became a fan. And these stories started at the beginning.

Four decades of Prince Valiant.I included "Secret Origins" so you can judge the sizes.
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, Prince Valiant was published in large “paperbacks” and were very good looking. Things got even better when Fantagraphics began reprinting the books using some of the original documents and notes in 2010.

In 1969, Ray Bradbury wrote the forward to “The Collected Works of Buck Rogers”, an 11 by 13.5 inch, 375 page book, which cost $12.95. It was mostly in black and white but it had 66 pages in color. Instead of giving one continuous run of stories, this book printed several different stories spreading out over a few decades.   
A daily from "The Collected Works of Buck Rogers" 1969
It would take until 2008 for Hermes Press to publish the Buck Rogers stories from the beginning. They are publishing them in two different sets, one for the dailies and a bigger volume for the color Sundays.
 
The Buck Rogers collection from 1969 and the more recent collections
 
Dick Tracy would follow a similar route, with a big collection, in 1970.

The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy printed some dailies in color
This Chelsea House edition of “The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy” was mostly black and white in a large book, 12 by 9 inches and had 292 pages. It was not quite as large as Buck Rogers. They colored some of the daily strips along with some of the Sundays. This book printed selections from various stories spanning the decades. Throughout the years, similar, but smaller books were published.

 
IDW began reprinting the “Complete Dick Tracy” in 2007 at a size of 9.5 x 7 inches, but the books grew up to 11 x 8.5 inches. These books contain the dailies and the Sundays but all are in black and white.

Today, many adventure strips are now being published in their entirety, including Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon in color and Mary Perkins in black and white.

This is only 20% of the Little Nemo page from Dec 17, 1905. You MUST see these strips in a very large size!

Of course, not all hardcover reprints were the adventure strips. Little Nemo (now wait, this could be an adventure strip) had a beautiful, “Sunday Page” size reprint in 1974. This is the red one below. It was incredible color book that captured the magic of Windsor McKay. Just a few years ago an even larger book was released.

The new edition is to your left, the 1970 edition is to your right
 
Nostalgia Press also published strips from the Thimble Theatre’s Popeye.” This $8 book was in black and white.  The Popeye strips would have several incarnations and most recently in 11 x 18 inch 200 page books by Fantagraphics. Here is a copy of the splash page from Nostalgia Press, 1972. Popeye, if you read "All In Color For a Dime" was the first super-hero of them all.


Popeye would have several incarnations and most recently in beautiful 11 x 18 inch 200 page books by Fantagraphics.The daily strips are in black and white and, in a separate section, the Sundays are in color.  Popeye was originally brought in as a supporting player in the comic strip entitled, "Thimble Theater.  Many of those early strips without Popeye are presented in the Fantagraphics books.

Once again, note how much longer the comics strips were before World War II. Storytellers had a great deal more space to tell their stories.
Let’s Go Back to the Comical Pages and Regroup!
             
There had always been a link between the comic strips and the comic books.  Famous Funnies and Funnies on Parade, from the early 1930s, were the first comic books of the type we are familiar with. They featured reprints of early comic strips.



In outlining the history of Golden Age Comic Book reprints we should look at the comic book characters that made their way into the comic strips but only a few have been reprinted. Let us again visit comic strips highlighting the Superman, Batman comic strips and a few others.
 
Cover to the Kitchen Sink Superman Sunday Reprints
Siegal and Shuster, when they first created Superman, created it for the then high paying daily and Sunday newspapers. It was the publishers at National (now we call it DC) who were able to get the character syndicated. The first strip appeared on January 16, 1939. In 1998 Kitchen Sink Press published separate volumes of the dailies and Sundays.

First Superman Sunday reprint

 
This strip was known to accompany the Superman Sundays in the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 10/24/43 through 2/27/1944

Wonder Woman got part time employment after the war; from 1945- 1946 in both the daily and Sunday pages but these have never been reprinted. Dr. Marston and H.G. Peter handled the script and art as they did in the comic books.





Batman has had three series of comic strips, 1943 – 1946, 1966 – 1972, 1989 – 1991, but only the 1943-6 series was reprinted. I showed the color Sunday in the 80 Page Giant section. Here are the first daily black and whites from Kitchen Sink Press, 1990.


And a couple from 1966 which have not reprinted. Note that it is still signed by Bob Kane, who had not drawn the strip in years. The real artist’s name is not given, but Whitney Ellsworth was the writer with Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Al Plastino, Shelly Moldoff and Nick Cardy doing the art.



Superman and Batman also appeared in the Justice League strip, often called “WORLD'S GREATEST SUPERHEROES from 1978 – 1982. They too have not been reprinted. The artwork here is by George Tuska and inked by Vince Colletta.



 In 1946, Archie, who first appeared in Pep Comics #22, got his own comic strip. Here are the first three dailies (By Bob Montana) from the IDW book and his first Comic Book splash page from the recent Dark Horse Archives.


Splash for Archie's first appearance in Pep Comics.
The Incredible Hulk was his gray self again is his short lived 1970 series. These Incredible Hulk comic strips by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber were reprinted in 1980 by Tempo Books in several black and white volumes. 




Marvel In Great Britain!

Odhams Press in Great Britain published five weekly papers known collectively as POWER COMICS, which included WHAM!, SMASH!, POW!, FANTASTIC, and TERRIFIC, which reprinted Marvel comics.


 Smash! #38 (October 22nd 1966), contained a Hulk story never printed in America. The tale takes place between Avengers #3 and 4. Since this is a blog about bookstore reprints, the Hulk in the UK is an overdue book from Amazon.





A tip of the hat goes to Kid Robson for his generosity in sharing this information. The Kid informs me that "Although British comics are often referred to as papers, they are really just comics - nothing more. Therefore, to categorize them as comic 'strips' in the way that you mean (as in something a newspaper publishes), isn't quite accurate."

Visit his fun filled and informative site!


In the U.K. Tales of Asgard was re-sized for a bigger comic book page!

:

There is no great reason to include this, but my friend Nick is an Ant-Man fan!

In Great Britain, World Distributors published their second Marvel Comic Annual in 1969 and the British got a taste of Marvel's Golden Age with reprints from the 1950s of the Sub-Mariner and Captain America. These stories were mixed in with the then current Marvel line.




Meanwhile, back in the USA:

 Howard the Duck found his way into the newspapers:


  two strips, by Marvel, that are available in reprints; the first one is Conan, The Newspaper Strips Vol. 1, by Dark Horse. This was a reprinting of the black and white dailies and the Sunday color strips from 1978-1979. In a 12 by 9 inch, 280 page book, the dailies were enlarged to fill the pages, but they are printed badly. They are not sharp, with little detail, and look like they were taken from bad Xeroxes. The initial color Sunday strips are printed just okay, with great color, but still there is a lack of detail. Starting with the 11/26/78 Sunday the strips are compressed. This is not a book I would recommend highly.



Marvel reprinted the Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, Volume 1, (January 3 1977-January 28th 1979) and Volume 2, (January 1979 to January 198x by Stan Lee and Johnny Romita. These are only black and white dailies. They are printed well and sharp and are easy to read and enjoy. While it looks like a regular book, 7.5 by 11 inches, you have to turn it 90 degrees to read it. After you get used to that, it’s fine.

Pocket Books in 1980 reprinted two volumes of the Stan Lee/John Romita Spider-Man comic strips.

From 1952 through 1964, Peanuts also had a life in comic books appearing in 152 issues. Sadly, none of these have been reprinted. The main artist was Dale Hale. Mr. Schulz had said that he did very first one, Jim Sasseville did the next few and Dale Hale did all the rest.

TOTAL PEANUTS COMIC BOOK APPEARANCES
  • UNITED COMICS 21,22,23,24,25,26 1952 6 issues 
  • TIP TOP 173,184-225 1952-61 43 issues 
  • TIP TOPPER 16-22,24-28 1952-54 12 issues 
  • FRITZI RITZ 27-33, 37-49,57-59 1953-58 23 issues 
  • PEANUTS 1 1953/54 ? 1 issue 
  • SPARKLE COMICS 33 1954 1 issue 
  • SPARKLER 115,120 1954 2 issues 
  • NANCY 142,146-192 1957-63 48 issues 
  • FOUR COLOR 878,969,1015 1958-59 3 issues 
  • PEANUTS 4-13 1960-62 10 issues 
  • PEANUTS 1-4 1963-64 4 issues 




And since we mentioned the United Kingdom, Peanuts was available there too!






The most intertwined marriage of comic books and strips occurred with a very famous possum named Pogo, who was created by Walt Kelly. Pogo actually started out in a comic BOOK before finding full time employment in the newspapers.



 I cannot describe the great significance of the Pogo strip here briefly, it deserves better than that. The 360 page, Fantagrapics book, “Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder” is a spectacular book, well worth getting and treasuring. It is one of my favorites. If you love comics and comic strips, please get this volume!



Walt Kelly began to draw the daily strip for the New York Star in 1948, a year later it went national. Note the same joke is used on both premier strips seen above.

After Pogo became a very successful newspaper strip, was then to find his way back into the comics for 16 issues (Dell comics, 1949-1954). To the best of my knowledge, Kelly wrote and drew the stories. But I am looking for conformation on that.


Pogo was one of the first strips to have a “modern” day Paperback series of books, with Walt Kelly doing new layouts.



Well, let’s end here where Pogo ended, on July 20th, 1975…

“We’ll go back to the comical books and regroup”

2 comments:

  1. A most enjoyable post but one correction. Whitney Ellsworth, although he did start out as a cartoonist, had long since given up drawing by the '66 BATMAN AND ROBIN newspaper strip. Ellsworth was the writer, not the artist. Moldoff, Infantino, Giella and Plastino (later ghosted by Nick Cardy) drew the strip while Ellsworth was involved with it.

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