Classic Comics Press Continues Reprinting Great Forgotten Strips
Although some of the more familiar comic strips have garnered tremendous press as a part of IDW’s Library of Comics, some of the best strips being collected have been overlooked. For the last several years, Classic Comics Press has been re-presenting Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins and Stan Drake’s The Heart of Juliet Jones and these are just as deserving of readers’ time and attention.
Publisher Charles Pelto has turned a labor of love into a business that is surviving despite tough economic times. Along with James Gauthier, he has been slowly growing his operation, adding two new series this year. ComicMix had to the chance to chat with the two and in part one, we look at CCP’s origins and why these two strips launched the line.
ComicMix: Charles, how long have you been interested in comic strips?
Charles Pelto: I learned how to read from the daily and Sunday funnies. In the early 50’s there were a lot more papers available in Detroit, where I grew up. I delivered the Detroit Free Press (with Mary Perkins), but also regularly read The Detroit News, and a number of suburban papers. Around the age of 15 to 17 I used to ride my bike to a newspaper in Utica, MI that printed Secret Agent Corrigan. The paste-up guy used to save me the proofs and I’d ride my bike up there every other week or so to pick them up. For a while I was a bit fanatical, I started receiving papers from all over the country just to get a particular strip. It drove my father crazy.
CMix: And what led you to form Classic Comics Press? When was this?
Pelto: I left comics for a long time, sometime around my early 30s. For some reason my interest in comic art was rekindled about eight years ago and I started buying stuff off of eBay. For a while there I was buying lots of comics but to be honest they were boring the hell out of me. Things like Local Heroes, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Criminal and the like really turned me on, but the normal, run of the mill comic book just didn’t grab me. I still enjoy a good Batman story and I like what they’ve been doing with Superman off and on, but for the most part I still don’t buy comics. After a while, I just naturally gravitated towards the comic strips I’d read as a kid.
CMix: How did you decide on which strips to pursue? Right now there’s a lot of competition between IDW’s Library, and efforts from NBM, Fantagraphics, and Hermes Press.
Pelto: At first it was only On Stage. I was buying all the various reprints out there, as well as Sundays, and what dailies appeared. I stumbled across Jim’s email address on the Rules of Attraction website and contacted him. Jim happens to have become Leonard’s archivist and he started sending me binders containing a year’s worth of On Stage from the beginning.
As I continued to read through the years I could not believe that no one had taken a serious interest in reprinting the strip from the beginning. So being the impetuous fool that I am, I contacted the offices of Tribune Media Services and asked if the rights were available. From that point it took about a year and a half to actually get a contract.
With Juliet Jones, it was a natural compliment to On Stage.
CMix:: Are the rights difficult to come by?
mentioned, it took me about 18 months to get the rights to On Stage.
With Stan Drake’s The Heart of Juliet Jones it took about the
same time. I had approached King Features Syndicate with a list of
titles I was interested in doing — Rip Kirby, Secret Agent Corrigan,
Apartment 3-G, Buz Sawyer, and Big Ben Bolt. At that time I
was someone without a track record so it was tough, but once I had a few
books under my belt to show what I could do, I acquired the rights to
The Heart of Juliet Jones. And on the strength of what I’ve done with
Jones, they gave me the rights to Big Ben Bolt. I would still
love to do Apartment 3-G. IDWs doing Corrigan and Kirby, I see Buz
Sawyer‘s being done, so I’m a happy camper.
What about finding the strips to collect? I can only imagine syndicates
no longer maintain pristine files of proofs for these defunct strips?
Were the artists able to help you?
Pelto: With On Stage
it was a snap. Jim has been spending years rebuilding Leonard’s proof
set, so I had a very good start. So far we’ve been able to fill a lot of
the missing pieces with better source material from fans of the series
and collectors. Volume 7 was a particular challenge since a large chunk
of the “Pete in Vietnam” storyline consisted of trimmed dailies –
luckily a week or two before publication a collector appeared who had
almost every strip we needed. In the end we were able to replace every
bit of bad source and it was well worth it.
For The Heart of
Juliet Jones and Big Ben Bolt I’ve been lucky enough to
acquire proofs from Randy Scott at the MSC Special Collections Library.
For the upcoming Cisco Kid, I’m working with a number of people
in the US and Europe who are helping me build a complete run of the
strip. It’s amazing how lucky I’ve been on this one, and though it’s
been a lot of work, it’s very rewarding to be able to pull this
CMix: Now, James is listed as compilation
editor. James, tell me about your background and role with CCP.
Gauthier: I’ve always been an avid reader, and I grew up reading
the comic strips. I originally became aware of Leonard Starr’s work when
he took over the comic strip Annie in 1979. Several years later I
had the pleasure of meeting him at a convention where he was promoting
the Kelly Green graphic novel series that he did with Stan
Drake. Sometime later I met him at his house and I came across a few
bound volumes on his shelf. I discovered that he had done another comic
strip before Annie called On Stage and these were bound
proofs that the syndicate had sent him many years earlier. I borrowed
the volumes and fell in love with the strip, but the bound volumes only
went up to 1969.
I searched his attic where he had amassed a
large collection of reference material and I located some loose proofs
from 1970-1979. I made photocopies of them along with photocopies of the
original artwork for the missing time period to create high quality
volumes for the remaining ten years. There were many missing pages and
incomplete strips in the bound volumes. Over the years pages had been
taken out of them and panels had been cut out when Leonard needed to use
an image. So I had to find other copies of those strips to fill in for
the missing panels. There are several instances where I had to use four
different proof sheets to complete one Sunday page because so many
panels were missing from each of the proof sheets.
later I had finally acquired an almost complete run of the strip using
various proof sheets and original artwork and I wanted to share what I
had with fellow collectors. I contributed samples of Leonard’s work to
several websites which was how Charles found me.
He sent me an
e-mail about acquiring copies of On Stage. After I sent him the
first six years of the strip he called me to say that he had fallen in
love with the strip all over again and he was very anxious to get it
reprinted. He contacted the syndicate and quickly signed a contract with
them to reprint the strip. Unfortunately the syndicate did not have any
source material for him to use so he used my copies. As I continued to
scour through Leonard’s attic I came across various pieces of rare
promotional artwork and photos from the run of the strip that I sent to
Charles for the book. Some clean-up was required on a lot of the
material because it had been neglected for so many years. The problem
was that nobody had ever foreseen the need to preserve any of this
material because it had been considered by many to be disposable art.
Once the strip was printed in the newspaper nobody saw any future use
for the proofs or artwork.
CMix: You’ve presented a
wonderful array of introductions from people ranging from Bill
Sienkiewicz to Howard Chaykin to Batton Lash. Who picks and how does
Pelto: For the On Stage series Jim helped me get Walt
Simonson for the first volume and from there it just fell into place.
Artists have a great deal of respect for Leonard and they were clamoring
to do introductions. I had to turn people away. With the Juliet
Jones books Leonard was an obvious first choice for me. And I knew
Bill and Howard were big fans of Stan Drake’s work so I just asked.
CMix:: Did either of you ever consider color for the Sundays?
Also, I see The Heart of Juliet Jones is only printing dailies. I
take it the Sundays were a separate storyline, a fading trend by the
1950. Any plans for those?
Pelto: I would love to do Sundays in color but Classic Comics
Press, being a small self-funded company can’t afford it. Adding color
raises the cost of production by 50%. Maybe someday we’ll reprint the
entire run of On Stage in hardcover with color Sundays but that’s
way down the road.
With both The Heart of Juliet Jones
and Big Ben Bolt, the Sunday storylines do not run concurrent
with the daily storylines. I believe at some point the storylines merge
for Juliet Jones, but I’m not sure with Bolt. I do plan to publish the
first volume of Juliet Jones Sundays sometime around 2011-2012,
but for right now I’m just focusing on the dailies. My hope is to
reprint the first Juliet Jones volume using tabs. I’ve got a
source for the black and white proofs through MSU, but have no access to
color proofs so I’ve been buying what I can off eBay and collectors.
We have talked about doing the Sundays in color but decided not to for
two reasons. The first is the high cost of reprinting the Sundays in
color. Because we have a low print run the added cost would be more than
we would be able to sell the books for. Secondly, this is the first
time that many people are seeing the Sundays in the black and white
format and they can see it without the distraction of color. Since we do
have color proofs for almost the first ten years of the strip we may do
a future volume or two reprinting just the color Sundays. But this
would only occur after we have finished reprinting the entire series.
The plotting, characterization and pacing in Mary Perkins and
Juliet Jones are superb. The artwork is also amazing. What are the
strengths and differences between the two series?
was talking to someone yesterday about the differences between Leonard
and Stan and said, “Stan is movement, Leonard is style.” Simple, but to
me true. When I look at Stan’s work all I see is movement. Stan’s
characters are full of life. With On Stage, Leonard’s created a
glamorous world of actors, actresses, writers, gangsters, con men and
misfits. I find it amusing that Juliet Jones retains its 50’s
sensibilities, while On Stage is still very contemporary. The
comic strip also deals with very adult themes, what was it in that
little kid that was drawn to On Stage at such an early age? And
stuck for all these years?
As to weakness — If Leonard has any,
it’s the fact he does take enough credit for the pure genius of Juliet
Jones On Stage. Leonard is always telling me how much better
Stan was them he. How Stan could draw women like no other, etc. But
then I look at Leonard’s work and some of the amazing illustrating going
on and I have to defer. It’s like comparing Apples to Oranges.
worked too hard. Near the end of the run of Juliet Jones there
is a lot of swiping going on. Stan had a number of tricks to get the job
done and it shows a bit. Luckily for us though there are still a lot of
years before then of great Stan Drake art.
I am a fan of both strips I would have to say that my favorite is Mary
Perkins . Leonard created such interesting secondary characters
that several of them would work in series of their own. His range of
stories and locations were more interesting to me than the exploits of
Juliet Jones. Over the years I have heard that Stan Drake could draw
beautiful women and I do not disagree, but I prefer Leonard’s
Tomorrow, we look at a series that didn’t find its
audience, their plans for the future, and their prose line of books.