MICHAEL H. PRICE: Roy Crane: A life in comics
The following text contains the remarks of comic-strip master Roy Crane (1901 – 1977) from a visit with George E. Turner and Yrs. Trly. on May 13, 1969, in the Editorial Art Department of the Daily News & Globe-Times at Amarillo, Texas. George and I had become acquainted with the Texas-bred artist a few years earlier when he had visited various client-newspapers on behalf of his Reuben Award-winning feature Buz Sawyer. – M.H.P.
Back about 1912, when I was a boy, our next-door neighbor in Sweetwater [Texas] was a traveling salesman for a wholesale grocery firm. Mother and I went with him and his wife, once, when he made his rounds, and we went up to Amarillo. I had an impression of endless grass, and the car seemed always to be going uphill. The grass was very thick and grew right up to the ruts – there wasn’t a graded road. There was a world of prairie dogs. They’d dive into the runs, and we’d run over hundreds of them a day. Now they [residents of the Texas Plains] have discovered trees, and there are beautiful lawns and flowers.
Les Turner, who later was my assistant on the Wash Tubbs daily strips, is from Wichita Falls [Texas]. We were going on a sort of bumming trip together after we finished art school. There were no jobs for us, and we went riding freight trains and hitching rides. I missed him by one day when he got a ride to California. I went to Galveston and got a job as ordinary seaman on a tramp steamer to Europe. When we returned and landed at New York, I got my first art job on the New York World.
I started Wash Tubbs in 1924. Later that year, [Harold Gray’s] Little Orphan Annie came out, and it was quite a departure. Here was a strip that tried to make you cry instead of laugh! I wanted to make Wash Tubbs an adventure strip, and the office wanted to make it a movie [humor, i.e.] strip. When I broke in, there had been a few continuities. I think Andy Gump [of Sidney Smith’s The Gumps] ran for President, and they had running gags about the election. He lost, of course.
But 1924 was in the day of joke comics, and the guy who took [subscribed to, i.e.] the most joke magazines was the biggest-rated cartoonist. Some [cartoonists] collected foreign joke books and had them translated. I was living in Cleveland, then. Once, two different strips in the Cleveland paper had the same joke on the same day – and there it was, the next day, in still another one! No one paid much attention to adventure strips until the Depression. They were called comics, and they ran on the comics page, and they were supposed to be funny.
A number of us were trying to tell stories. We called them continuities, not stories. They were more or less like the situation comedies on teevee today. I was trying for adventure, connected with romance. In 1929, I picked up [Captain] Easy. He was someone I could put some force behind. [The title character] Wash had been with a pal about like himself, and they couldn’t fight or anything. I even had to have some eunuchs in a harem help them out a bit, and that was going too far! Easy was what I needed, a two-fisted type.