Classic Comics Press Adds ‘Big Ben Bolt’ and ‘Cisco Kid’
Classic Comics Press is the little engine that could, a small operation that has produced lovely editions of many series, including The Heart of Juliet Jones and Mary Perkins On Stage. Publisher Charles Pelto and collections editor James Gauthier yesterday talked about those books and today, we continue to examine their plans.
ComicMix: Irwin Hasen’s Dondi is quite unlike the others and is a forgotten gem. What’s the appeal for you?
Charles Pelto: I did it because of Irwin Hasen. Roy Thomas suggested I talk to Irwin and we instantly hit it off. Irwin is a hell-of-a-guy and after meeting him I wanted to do it for no other reason than to honor Irwin’s work. I would have liked to continue past Volume 2 but the sales just don’t justify it. But I was able to do two volumes, people seemed to enjoy it. And it’s too bad; the storylines in what would have been the third volume are some of Irwin’s best work.
James Gauthier: I remember growing up and reading it in the New York Daily News. Dondi was always a favorite. Since it has never been reprinted before I never had the opportunity to see the early strips from the 1950’s and so putting the books together helped answer many questions that I had. I always wondered how Dondi got to this country, how he came to be adopted and what his relationship was with Mrs. McGowan.
CMix: Irwin’s a terrific guy and quite the character. What’s his take on seeing these in print?
Pelto: Irwin loves it. I happened to be there when Irwin saw the first copy and the look on his face was well worth the price of admission.
Gauthier: He was thrilled that people are able to experience the strip again, and it was great to be able to reprint the strip and see his reaction to it. So many of the great comic strip artists have passed away before they could see their work reprinted and preserved for future generations to enjoy. It’s nice that Irwin is still around to see them get reprinted.
CMix: You must be doing well since you’re expanding. What’s the
market for classic comic strips from you and your competitors? Who’s
Pelto: Well, I don’t know if I’m doing well. I’m paying the
bills and getting ahead but it’s been tough. As long as sales help pay
off production costs I plan to continue. We’re in the middle of another
comic strip reprint boom which I’m proud to be a part of. Who knew a
couple of years ago that we’d be seeing complete reprints of Terry
and the Pirates, Buck Rogers, Rip Kirby, On Stage, Jet Scott(!), The
Phantom and more. It’s a great time to be alive, and I think that
all us publishers, IDW, Hermes, Fantagraphics, and others are helping to
keep this art form alive, at a time when its parent, the newspaper is
dying or transforming into something else.
Gauthier: The market has tended to be fans of the strips who
remember reading them when they originally ran in the newspapers. But
we’ve heard from other comic strip fans who have seen the books for the
first time and they can’t believe that they never knew fantastic strips
such as Mary Perkins and Juliet Jones existed. We’ve
gotten high praise regarding the great stories and artwork and we are
very happy to be able to preserve the strips in this format and make
them available not only to fans of the strips but to first time readers,
as well. Unfortunately the continuity comic strip is a dying art form
and what has come out up until now should be preserved for future
generations to discover.
CMix: Later this year, you bring out the first volumes of Cisco
Kid and Big Ben Bolt, two more oft-forgotten series. What
can readers expect?
Pelto: I’m starting both from the beginning. The Cisco Kid
will come out the first part of 2011, Big Ben Bolt is scheduled
for August of this year.
I think readers are going to be surprised when they see John Cullen
Murphy’s Big Ben Bolt. It’s not Prince Valiant and many are not
going to believe it’s the same artist. Bolt has more of a Juliet Jones
feel to it, much looser than his work on Valiant.
And Jose Luis Salinas’ work on The Cisco Kid is going to astound
people. This man was an amazing artist and he does things with a comic
panel that no one else would even attempt to do.
Gauthier: People who have never seen them will discover two more
great quality strips to enjoy. Meanwhile, fans of those strips will get
to relive some of the wonderful adventures that in some cases are being
reprinted in the states for the first time.
CMix: I gather there’s been a problem with the Big Ben Bolt proofs
and you’re working on using a set of proofs from Europe. Can you
explain the situation and why this is important?
Pelto: Yes. I posted a week’s sample of dailies on the Classic
Comics Press website and was alerted to the fact that they were the
dreaded ‘trimmed’ dailies. During World War II and into the fifties, it
was common practice to offer two versions of proofs to newspapers –
trimmed and untrimmed. Trimmed were used to save page space.
Unfortunately there does not seem to be a set of untrimmed production
proofs available. Much to my dismay I’ve learned that is the situation
in Europe as well. I’ve recently been contacted by a collector who may
be able to help me but for Volume 1 it’s too late. Due to my contact
with KFS I can’t delay the publication date so for Volume 1 I have to go
with the material I have. Not a total catastrophe, still I would prefer
to reprint the art in the manner the artist intended.
Gauthier: Pretty much the biggest problem for anyone
reprinting comic strips is finding good source material to reprint from.
Tracking down proof sheets or finding people with good quality
newspaper clippings is very difficult, time consuming and expensive.
Most of the syndicates did not have the foresight to retain good quality
copies of many of their comic strips because they never envisioned
another possible use for them once they appeared in the newspapers. Many
comic strips had very short life spans and it is very doubtful that any
of them will be seen again by the general public. That’s a real shame,
because comic strips are a spectacular American art form that we should
try our hardest to preserve.
Pelto: Jim’s right, and it’s the reason I started Classic Comics
Press. When I first spoke to Leonard about reprinting On Stage, he
thought I was crazy. Luckily we proved him wrong. There’s a long list of
comic strips that I’d still be interested in seeing reprinted: Casey
Ruggles, Robin Malone, Rex Morgan, Mary Worth, Dateline: Danger, David
Crane, Tiffany Jones, Hopalong Cassidy, Friday Foster, Dr. Kildare…I
could go on and on.
CMix: Beyond CCP, I gather there’s a connection with James other
project, Homeworld Press’ series of prose novels featuring the teen hero
Bishop Chance. Can you elaborate?
Gauthier: We were interested in publishing other books in
addition to comic strip reprints and Charles decided that it would be
better to do so under another publishing name so as not to confuse any
potential buyers. I already had gotten several books ready for
publishing and we decided to publish them under the Homeworld Press
Pelto: Along with comic strips, I read a lot of Science Fiction
when I was a teen. I loved the Earl Dumarest books by E.C. Tubb and a
couple of years ago I reread the 32 Dumarest books available. The last
book sort of leaves it open as to what happens to Earl so through a
friend, I contacted Tubb’s agent and bought the rights to Child of
Earth, what was supposed to be the end of the long cycle. But Tubb
tricked me and left it wide open at the end of the book, so maybe I’ll
print number 34 if he finishes it.
CMix: Like the strips, you are using comic book and comic strip
artists such as June Brigman and Roy Richardson (from Brenda Starr)
or veterans like Frank Bolle to illustrate the books. How’d you select
Gauthier: I grew up reading illustrated novels and when I started
writing I felt that this would be a great way to encourage kids to
read. Frank Bolle had always been a favorite artist of mine and I was
happy to hear that he was available to do the pencils for my first two
books. I was fortunate to find that Bob Wiacek was available to ink
Frank’s pencils and to do the covers for the first two books. When Frank
and Bob were unavailable to do the illustrations for the third book I
contacted June Brigman to see if she was interested in working on the
project. I have been a big Brigman fan beginning with her work on Power
Pack for Marvel Comics. She did the all the artwork for the third
book with her husband Roy Richardson and they also did new covers for
the first two books when we needed to reprint them.
CMix: What’s the feedback been to the series and when will the
fourth volume arrive?
Gauthier: I have had very positive feedback from my readers and
so many are anxious to see the next book in the series. They are
captivated by the characters and stories, and they all have great praise
for the artwork. I try to write a story that not only appeals to kids
but also is of interest to adults. There are many plot twists and
surprises sprinkled throughout the book. Our biggest problem lies in
making more people aware of the series and convincing them to try and
give it a chance. They won’t regret it. The fourth book was just
completed and I’ll soon send it to June and Roy. That is one of my
favorite parts of the project. I give the artists a few suggestions as
to what scenes I want illustrated and for the remaining illustrations I
let them decide what scenes they would like to do. So it gives them the
ability to influence what the reader is going to see. I’ve just finished
the first book to a new series called A Pack of Trouble about
two twelve year old brothers who get into a great deal of trouble when
they acquire a magical pack of manga cards. The story was influenced by
two of my readers who wanted to be in a future Bishop Chance book. There
was no place to use them in the fourth book and so I wrote a new series
with them as the main characters. Sal Amendola is currently working on
the illustrations for that book.
CMix: James indicated to me recently that Homeworld Press is
looking into some classic literature. Charles, are you in a position to
Pelto: Well, at this point I really can’t go too deeply into it
because we’re still working it out. It’s another one of those
labor-of-love projects that harkens back to my days of reading science
fiction and fantasy. I’m working on reprinting a series of books that
have been out of print for quite some time that will be illustrated by a
prominent artist that everyone is aware of. When we do announce the
series I’m sure there will be those out there who will be saying to
themselves – “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that!’ and others who will be
thrilled no end.
CMix: Back to the strips, what’s your take on the current state
of comic strips, both adventure and humor?
Pelto: I don’t read the comics pages anymore. I’m a fan of the
continuity strip and today’s gag-a-day funnies don’t grab me. The comic
strip that I know and love is a thing of the past. I’m focusing on
preserving as much of that past as possible before it all just
disappears. Throughout the years, the comic strip was viewed as
something you spent a few minutes with then went on with your day. It’s
disposable art. But when you consider the talents of artists like Hal
Foster, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, and the artists who followed them
in creating this wonderful art form, there is a real desire in me to
make sure it all just doesn’t disappear. To think that just a few years
ago, the only examples of a lot of comics strips could only be found in
books like Brian Walker’s The Comics, or 100 Years of Comics,
and now we have (or will have) complete run’s of Rip Kirby, The
Phantom, Buck Rogers, On Stage, and the like, it warms the cockles
of my heart.
Gauthier: I feel that the comic strips of today are in a very
sad state. The story strips have disappeared almost entirely from the
comics pages and we only get to see gag-a-day strips. In addition to
that they have cut down on the number of comics that they carry and the
size of the strip keeps shrinking. I’ve heard it said many times before
and it is true, the current day comic strips are almost postage stamp
size, which deters many people from reading them. Little by little the
newspapers have stripped away most of the appeal of the comic section.
What newspapers today have forgotten is that the comics were created by
Hearst and Pulitzer to help sell newspapers — and they did!
CMix: Guys, thanks so much for your time.
Pelto: Thank you.
Gauthier: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.