Tagged: Prince Valiant

Ed Catto: It Creeps! It Crawls! Beware the Comic-Con!

It’s indestructible! It’s indescribable! Nothing can stop it!

Every one of you watching this screen should look out! Because soon, very soon, the most horrifying monster menace ever conceived

No, this isn’t advertising copy for a comic convention coming to your town. These lines are from the trailer for that old monster movie, The Blob. But it could be used to describe any upcoming comic con.

Comic conventions are not only thriving but, like the Blob, they are now oozing out from the walls of their convention centers and invading local towns. Geek culture cannot be held within its original confines.

Who would have ever thought, way back when Geek Culture was nestled in little comic shops in the scorned section of town, that we’d get to this point? Unlike the foreboding tone of that Blob movie trailer, this expanding, oozing primordial mass inspires a sense of awe and wonderment.

The San Diego Comic-Con is probably the best example of this. The nation’s longest running convention is held annually at the San Diego Convention Center. (And it will be held there until 2021, but that’s a whole ‘nother column.)

The entire city seems to get behind this show. Most of the shops, bars, and restaurants in San Diego offer specials and decorations to welcome convention attendees. It seems like every waiter and waitress is wearing a comic book or Walking Dead themed shirt, in fact. And the show itself is so sprawling, it now schedules events in nearby hotels, local libraries, and even the town baseball’s stadium.

I have a great friend who lives in San Diego. Walshy, as we’ve called him since grade school, doesn’t know anything about comics or pop culture. Check that – he loved MAD magazine. That counts. But by and large, he just doesn’t have a passion for graphic novels, or science fiction, or horror movies, or Doctor Who, or any of the cool stuff at the San Diego Comic-Con.
But each year he attends Comic-Con and has a blast. There is one particularly wild story about how he partied with Michael Rooker (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”) and Miss Venezuela on a hotel rooftop… but we’ll save that one for another day as well.

Walshy throws himself into San Diego Comic-Con because, as a resident, he can’t escape it. It’s so big and so boisterous that it’s all encompassing, even for locals.

And the great news is that Geek Culture is very welcoming. It pitches a big tent and invites everyone to come on in and have some fun.

The same thing is happening at other conventions. New York Comic-Con now hosts “Super Week” before their show, for example. Not surprisingly, it’s also happening at the up-and-coming shows in smaller markets.

Over the past year, I lent a hand to help grow Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a rousing success: it doubled in attendance and exhibitors reported very strong sales. It was officially held at the local convention center in the middle of Syracuse’s downtown area. But in reality, the event stretched to make the two days of the comic-con much longer.

  • The Mayor: Even Syracuse’s mayor got involved. Neal Adams was the guest of honor, and Mayor Stephanie Miner proclaimed the Saturday of the show to be “Neal Adams Day” in Syracuse.
  • Comics on Campus: It turns out Syracuse University has an incredible collection of original comic strip art. And for the past 80 years, only researchers have been able to view these treasures. We worked with SU’s Special Collections Director for an exhibition of original pages for fans. I never thought fans would be able to hold the very first Prince Valiant page, by Hal Foster, in their hands, but they did! One of our favorite artists, Joe Jusko, stopped by the exhibit and was in awe. His posts of viewing his favorite artists (Foster, Frank Robbins, Stan Drake etc.) went viral. And yes, we’re planning something bigger for next year.
  • Barley Quinn Craft Beer: The local brewpub, Empire, created a specialty beer called Barley Quinn and debuted it the week before the show. They gave away free Comic-con tickets and comics publisher Aftershock offered up a box full of Captain Kid graphic novels. Tom Peyer, the co-author of the series, is based in Syracuse and the publisher wanted to support him.
  • Cosplay: The convention partnered with the nearby Schweinfurth Art Center, a museum with a specialty in fabric arts, to host a cosplay “pre-game” event. I always feel bad when cosplayers put so much time and energy into their costumes, and can only wear them for a day, or two, at a convention. I suppose it’s the same way for brides. It was fun to be able to offer one additional “wearable opportunity” for cosplayers.

So even in a market like Syracuse, Geek Culture has creeped and crawled to ooze out beyond the confines of both the calendar and the convention center to become something bigger. Unlike the teenagers and townsfolk in The Blob, I’m not terrified. I’m elated! And you should be too.

Ed Catto, Tarzan, Jane, & Tom Yeates – Plus 25


yeates-dark-horse-cover-tarzan-the-bIt’s time for me to review this brand new book for the second time.

Before we get into that paradox, the bottom line is that Thomas Yeates’ recently published Tarzan The Beckoning is a gorgeous book. But there’s a little bit more to this column than that simple appraisal.

Back in the early 90s, a new publisher called Malibu Comics was creating innovative and fun comics. Malibu had just published Tarzan The Warrior by Mark Wheatley and Neil Vokes. As you probably know, Tarzan, perhaps more than any other character, has been rendered by some of the industry’s all time greatest artists – Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Joe Jusko…the list goes on and on.

So when Malibu was promoting this new Tarzan The Warrior comic mini-series in the 90s, they signaled that they were going to try something very different. It wouldn’t be a comic where the art tried to compete with the fantastic artists that came before. No, this comic invited the readers to take a little detour with the King of the Jungle to try something new and different.

pencils-yeates-for-comicmixIt worked! It was fun and it was fresh. Tarzan The Warrior had a very loose artwork style, and it wasn’t all about jungles and animals. I told them as much in letter that I dashed off to the publisher.

Malibu’s assistant editor was a wonderful woman named Kara Lamb. She liked what I had to say and invited me to write more. And then she sent me a preview of the next Tarzan miniseries Malibu was publishing and asked me to write a letter about that as well.

This was a pretty common practice back then. Letter writing fans would be asked for their thoughts based on early previews so the editors could then populate the letters page of the first issue with a few real letters.

I certainly wasn’t one of the “big name” letter hacks, so I felt pretty special to be asked. The comic they gave me, on stapled black and white pages, was Tarzan: The Beckoning. It had spectacular art by one of my favorite artists – Thomas Yeates. Yeates and Henning Kure wrote the story.

yeates-dark-horse-jane-three-quarter-pageThe Tarzan: The Beckoning mini-series was a thriller with a fair amount of globe hopping. It presented Tarzan and his wife as mature adults. And it dealt with what was then, and what is still, a real issue – the poaching of elephants and the despicable ivory trade.

The art was jaw dropping gorgeous. Yeates’ brilliant page layouts and strong rendering created a fantastic yarn that could stand shoulder to shoulder with Tarzan classics by Hogarth or Manning.

kubert-tarzanI essentially said that all in the letter that was printed back then, and I’ll say it again.

Dark Horse has now collected the series in a new volume, also called Tarzan: The Beckoning. It’s fascinating to see the early color cover sketches, which are included. A handful of pencil sketches and brush and ink illustrations help remind readers of Yeates classic art skills.
The new collection of Tarzan: the Beckoning also includes a letter from Allan Thornton, the President of the Environmental Investigation Agency. The letter speaks about elephants and the scourge of poaching for ivory. It helps provides us all with a little perspective.

And if you’re interested in learning more, might I also suggest you check out www.99Elephants.org?

There’s also a nice synergy to this graphic novel. Thomas Yeates was one of the early graduates of the Kubert School. So it’s only fitting to see this gorgeous adventure re-released at about the same time Dark Horse released Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years volume. (Legendary artist Joe Kubert was also the founder of The Kubert School.) Far be it from me to say the student has surpassed the master… but it’s close.

Dark Horse’s Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Beckoning and Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years are both on sale now. Yeates current work appears on Prince Valiant each week in many Sunday newspapers, and is available online at http://comicskingdom.com.


Ed Catto’s Mitzi McCoy Summer Fling!

MM 110748 300 debut episode

mm-promo3-ccWhat’s more delightful than a summer fling? You meet someone new, get fascinated and before long you’re spending every moment under the hot summer sun together. This summer’s almost over, but there’s still time for one last fling. Get ready to meet Mitzi McCoy…and her creator’s grandson, Brian Collins.

Mitzi McCoy was a lovely strip that debuted in the late forties. Created by illustrator Kreigh Collins, the series opens in the small midwestern town of Freedom, where readers meet the strong willed heiress Mitzi McCoy.

In her first adventure, she summons her resolve to tell her obnoxious fiancée to “get lost.” Mitzi had discovered her fiancée was burdened with debt, and to make matters worse, he had bragged to a gossip columnist that he was “marrying money.” On top of all that, the scoundrel also included a photo of Mitzi in a bikini to accompany the story. Having learned a tough lesson, Mitzi throws herself, and her local newspaper chums, into a series of small town adventures.

The strip is visually stunning. Through the lens of 2016, Kreigh Collin’s artwork is like a lovechild of early Frank Frazetta mixed with a whimsical dash of Dave Stevens. Mitzi McCoy reminds me a lot of Frazetta’s comic strip Johnny Comet, recently collected and published by Vanguard. Each panel is solid, tight and imaginative with expressive figures, gorgeous design and engaging settings.

Kreigh Collns at EaselMitzi and her pals would face off against counterfeiters, art forgers and blackmailers amongst the rolling hills of small town America. As the quintessential “girl next door”, Mitzi offered many opportunities for Kreigh Collins to show off his art skills with demure glamour shots.

But as just as quickly as she came onto the scene, Mitzi was whisked away.

After only two years, artist Kreigh Collins shifted gears. He ended Mitzi McCoy and started an historical adventure strip called Kevin the Bold.

It would be fair to assume Hal Foster’s classic Prince Valiant inspired this new strip. In fact, Kreigh complained to his editor at the NEA syndicate how unfair it was that Foster was able to run Prince Valiant as a full-page strip, when Kevin the Bold was cut to a half page. He compared his concern to boxing with Hal Foster, but with Foster secretly punching with an iron bar in his boxing glove.

In the last years of his career Kreigh would change the strip once more. It became Up Anchor, a nautical strip about a family on a boat. It mirrored his own time living on a schooner with his wife and two youngest children.

mitzi-on-a-swing-panel-300x311-2658245Kreigh’s family took his illustration work in stride. It seems that the family didn’t consider his newspaper strips that big a deal, although Kreigh did enjoy a certain amount of local celebrity. After his passing, Kreigh’s studio had drifted into a state of disrepair. Kreigh’s widow donated many of the strips, proofs and original artwork to others.

But one day graphic designer Brian Collins, Kreigh’s grandson, fell hard for Mitzi McCoy. He didn’t know much about his grandfather’s career or the comic strips he created but he was intrigued when he starting seeing a few of the strips.

It turns out Brian’s father and grandfather weren’t very close. So growing up there wasn’t that much interaction. But Brian had caught the bug and wanted to learn more. As a self-confessed collector, he worked hard to acquire the old strips. He hunted down several old strip clippings from collectors and his uncle would also supply him with surviving treasures whenever they were found.

Perhaps, as a graphic designer, he shares a bit of his grandfather’s talent and appreciation for illustration and narrative adventure.

Mitzi McCoy Sailing PanelBrian has, in essence, become the champion of this grandfather’s work and legacy. He maintains the blog, Kreigh’s Comics with an outstanding collection of strip samples and commentary.

Brian’s now exploring several options to produce a collection of his grandfather’s work. Fans of Geek Culture know that there are so many wonderful and innovative new comics produced each month, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the incredible reprints of classic material offered by publishers like IDW, Hermes, Vanguard, Fantagraphics and Canton Street. It’s become a new Golden Age for enjoying Golden Age work.

It’s surprising Kreigh Collin’s work isn’t better known. Maybe the syndicate didn’t support it enough. Maybe the circulation wasn’t strong enough. Regardless, in these fleeting days of summer, there’s still time for you to fall in love with Mitzi McCoy.


Ed Catto: Strip Tease – Thomas Yeates, Prince Valiant & Co.


Yeates Prince ValiantA few years ago when I had the honor to moderate the Joe Kubert panel at New York Comic Con, I was pleasantly surprised by how many great stories one of the panelists shared.

These tales were spun by Thomas Yeates, one of the first graduates of the Kubert School. Yeates has enjoyed an extraordinary career, drawing iconic characters iconic from Tarzan to Swamp Thing, Conan to Captain Action and even Dracula. And there are so many more.

I still enjoy his brilliant work each weekend when I pick up the Sunday paper and read Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.

Recently, I caught up with Thomas Yeates and chatted about his recent efforts.

Ed Catto: You’ve been illustrating the Prince Valiant weekly comic strip for some time now. How’s it all going?

Thomas Yeates: Basically it’s great; I’m very fortunate to have landed this job. Particularly working with writer Mark Schultz, who likes hearing my story ideas, which makes it a lot more fun.

EC: What are some the challenges you find as opposed to traditional comics or illustrations?

TY: The main problem is the reproduction. I’ve had to limit the line work to accommodate a weird registration problem that we see today. Comic books have much better printing. The format differs from paper to paper, but I’ve been able to deal with that.

Tarzan BeckoningEC: The longevity of Prince Valiant is astounding. Why do you think it endures?

TY: Well the main credit for that goes to Hal Foster who created, wrote and illustrated this Sunday only strip. And, of course, the hard work of those who followed Foster. He set the bar so incredibly high that all of us who’ve continued the strip have tried our best to maintain that level of quality. At least that’s what I think.

EC: Who’s your favorite character in the Prince Valiant cast?

TY: Val himself. His wife Aleta is wonderful too. It’s much better when there are women in action adventure stories. And of course Gawain is always a kick.

EC: I’ve heard rumors that your mini-series, Tarzan: The Beckoning, first published by Malibu in the 90s, is going to be reprinted. Can you tell me more about that?

TY: Yes. We just finished working on that for about nine months, Dark Horse, two assistants and myself. We fixed the coloring, I added a little new art and tweaked the story. There were production problems in the original version so the new collection will be much better, including pages put back in order that were out of order in the Malibu version. I think it will be out in the fall.

EC: One of the issues Tarzan: The Beckoning dealt with was the slaughter of elephants and the ivory trade. We see that countries and organizations are still struggling with this issue, as evidenced by the crushing and burning of ivory. Do you keep up with the issue and what insights might you have?

TY: That’s a terrible situation. “When will we ever learn?” as the song says. Yes, it’s ironic that just when The Beckoning is being reprinted with its fight against the ivory trade theme we find elephants being slaughtered for their tusks again, just like when I originally created the story some 24 years ago. Yes, I follow the issue and had input from various experts back when I wrote it. One of them, from the Environment Investigation Agency, came back and contributed an update on the situation for the new Dark Horse edition.

Prince ValiantEC: In The Beckoning, your version of Tarzan’s wife Jane was exceedingly lovely. Can you tell me a little bit about how you envision these characters?

TY: Well I was quite taken by Maureen O’Sullivan who played Jane in the Weissmuller films of the 1930s so she was my inspiration there. Plus Burroughs descriptions of Jane, and Russ Manning always gave her such beauty and dignity and I wanted to maintain that.

EC: I also seem to recall that you snuck a few of your other characters into that mini-series. Is that correct?

TY: Yes, I do that sometimes to keep myself amused. In the crowd scenes there are environmental activist friends I knew then and The Timespirits as well.

EC: Will you be at San Diego Comic-Con again this year?

TY: Yes.

EC: What keeps you coming back every year?

TY: Good question. Why the hell do I keep going? Recently because my daughter Olivia likes to go with me.

By the way I should mention there’s a new reprint of all the Zorro newspaper strips I did with Don McGregor and Tod Smith coming out from a German publisher <at that same time>, including an English language version.

EC: Yes, Uwe Weber filled me in. The German independent publisher “Classic Heroes” Is launching two exclusive Zorro-Dailies Editions in July 2016. The books will be available only thru direct orders at zorrodailies.com or classicheroes.de . He also explained that fans can find the complete information on these two beautiful books, and all the various projects on the ThomasYeates.com site.
EC: What keeps you going as an artist every day?

TY: What keeps me going as an artist every day is another good question, Ed. I have to make a living and this is what I know how to do. A great script is always inspiring too. I’m still trying to figure out how the great artists I love, like Foster, did it. Sometimes that challenge keeps me going.

EC: Ha! I think there’s a lot of us who to try figure out how you do it, Thomas! Thanks so much for your time and insights.

(Editor’s Note: Prince Valiant by Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates, is available online along with over 100 other current and vintage King Features comic strips – The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Popeye, Flash Gordon, Buz Sawyer, Johnny Hazard, Zippy The Pinhead and a slew of others at www.comicskingdom.com. Tell ‘em ComicMix sent you, and then ask yourself why you’re talking to your computer.)

John Ostrander: Strip Grade

Calvin and Hobbes

I’m not keen on moving these days. When I switch my homestead to a new location, I have to find all the spots I was taking for granted – food stores, gas stations, mechanics, restaurants and so on. It usually also means I have to find a new newspaper. Yes, I’ve just proclaimed myself to be a dinosaur and I still read the newspaper every morning over breakfast.  Yes, I know they offer electronic editions but I like one I can hold in my hands.

Assuming there is more than one local newspaper (or local-ish), I have to make a choice as to which one I’ll read. I have two primary criterions – where they fall on the political spectrum and what comic strips they have. The latter may be more important to me than the former. I was raised in a Republican household in Chicago so we got the Chicago Tribune which was rabidly conservative at the time. However, I might buy the Chicago Sun-Times from time to time and on Sunday I got the Chicago American; their collection of strips included Prince Valiant. Hal Foster, its legendary creator, was still doing Prince Valiant in the days of my boyhood. That was a treat.

Yes, I know that all the strips I read and more are offered on the Internet but, again, I like having the physical artifact in my hands. It’s a tactile experience. My current paper is the Detroit Free Press and so my comments are limited to the strips I read there. I do read some online because I love them but can’t get them from the Detroit Free Press – the Sunday Doonesbury, Dilbert, Mutts, and Bizarro.

Some I don’t know why I read; I don’t really enjoy them. One theory I heard says that it’s quicker and easier to read them than to not read them. That sounds about right.

One such is Arlo and Janis by Jimmy Johnson. Slow paced domestic comedy. There are days when it is so slow paced I think I’ve fallen asleep and missed something. I know it has a fan base who love it. Not pitched at me, I think.

Non Sequiter by Wiley Miller. This strip doesn’t exist without Gary Larson’s The Far Side (or, sometimes, The Addams Family) but I don’t care. One of my prime reads every day. Sometimes it’s a single panel and sometimes it’s multi-panel sequential. It has a running cast (several in fact) and I admire the variety and Wiley’s versatility.

Luann. Originally I wasn’t that much into the strip but the creator, Greg Evans, has let his cast gradually grow and change. The main character, Luann DeGroot, was in her early teens when I started to read the strip but she has grown older (she’s now in college), a little wiser (but not too much) and Evans has really developed the supporting cast. Continuing narrative plotlines has also become a mainstay of the strip which has helped keep me into it.

Wumo, created by Danish writer/artist duo Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler. Ugly strip. This is one of those that is easier to read than not read.

Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley. It stars a befuddled anthropomorphic dog named Satchel, a psychotic Siamese cat named Bucky, and their hopeless nerd of a human named Rob Wilco. I read it every day and sometimes wonder why on several levels. Why does Rob keep Bucky who is nasty, delusional, and destructive? Is Satchel too stupid to live? I’m not sure if I like it but I want to read it every day.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. Phoebe is 9-years old who acquires a unicorn as a best friend named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. At first, I was put off; it all seemed a bit precious and twee. However, I’ve become a big fan. It is smartly written and well drawn. It can actually make me laugh which very few “comic” strips bother to do these days.

Sally Forth, created by Greg Howard and these days written by Francesco Marciuliano and drawn by Jim Keefe. Ostensibly about a woman, her family, and her adventures at work; these days it’s more about the family unit with Sally, her husband Ted, and their daughter Hilary. I think they all need serious medication. Ted was always kind of a goofball but now he gets obsessive and delusional. The daughter is also in need of meds and, at best, Sally is an enabler. Seriously, Dr. Phil needs to visit them.

There are a lot more strips in the Detroit Free Press but I think this is enough for now. Even with the ones that I seem not to like, I read religiously. I learned much of what I know about writing for sequential art from the comic strips and I am indebted to them.

And on days when I don’t get my comic strip fix, I get cranky.

Mike Gold: The Ghost Who Rocks!

phantom first sunday

Harvey HitsPeople have been arguing the “who was comics’ first costumed hero” question for decades. Some feel it was Mandrake the Magician, by Lee Falk and Phil Davis (1934), others cite the truly obscure Red Knight created by John Welch and Jack McGuire, and still others prefer to credit E.C. Segar’s Popeye (1929). But I think it’s safe to say that most comics fans and scholars bestow that honor upon The Phantom, created by Lee Falk and Ray Moore 80 years ago this past week.

Neither Mandrake nor Popeye are “costumed heroes.” They perform their feats of daring in their regular work clothes. Whereas the Red Knight got his start in 1934 as a guy named Bullet Benton, he did not don the Red Knight costume and, therefore, the costumed hero persona until April of 1940. I suspect somebody at the Register and Tribune Syndicate took a gander at the McClure Syndicate’s success with Superman.

So much for history. Here’s where it gets personal. Yep, this is really all about me.

I discovered The Phantom in a comic book called Harvey Hits #26, which was sort of like DC’s Showcase but with a much shorter attention span. This was in 1959, when costumed heroes were very few and extremely far between. DC had just given The Flash his own bi-monthly title, Archie was struggling with The Fly and The Shield, and Marvel was devoting its energies to such monster fare as “Invasion of the Stone Men.” So finding this treasure was quite an event for a kid who had just turned nine years old.

PhantomIt didn’t matter that Wilson McCoy’s artwork was, to be polite, clunky. So clunky that Falk hated it, but the guy was foisted upon him by King Features. Even the cover to this reprint comic was clunky – if you take a good look at it, the perspective is out of the Negative Zone. Attributed to Joe Simon, the cover was in keeping with the interior art.

That didn’t matter. I loved it. The whole bit about the hero replacing his father for an uninterrupted chain of 400 years or so was breathtaking – sort of like how my peers in England felt about Doctor Who in 1966 when the Time Lord “reincarnated.” But, for me, something more important came out of my discovery of Harvey Hits #26.

I was sitting around my school’s lunchroom talking with my pals and mentioned this Phantom comic book. One of my friends said “Oh, that’s in the newspaper!” Really, I replied excitedly. “Yeah; the Chicago American.” Well, until a couple years before the Chicago American was a Hearst paper and no such rag would befoul my parents’ home. It had been sold to the Chicago Tribune and that paper was allowed, but only on Sundays.

KMBT_C454-20130923132755The next day my friend brought in the American’s Sunday comics section and changed my life forever. Yep, the Phantom was there – but so was Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon. Every Sunday morning I was wedded to our teevee set watching Buster Crabbe gleefully taunt Charles Middleton, but I had no idea he got his start in the comics. And Raboy’s art was something mighty to behold… and it still is. Blondie, the Little King, Bringing Up Father – I was familiar with all of them from other Harvey Comics reprint titles. But when I turned to Hal Foster’s full-page Prince Valiant feature, I was incapable of speech and I might have needed a respirator.

This led to my discovering the other newspapers in my town – Chicago had five back then – as well as in neighboring areas. That, in turn, led to my falling in love with newspaper lore. Within a year I was buying four of those five newspapers every day, and I read them damn near cover-to-cover. This exercise had a massive expansionary impact on my worldview and it led me to journalism school which ultimately led to my typing these words now.

I had the privilege of knowing and working with Lee Falk – we double-teamed King Features to get them out of the way of our Phantom comic book at DC, but that’s a tale for another time. I thank Lee from the bottom of my heart for showing me my life’s path.

The Phantom is also known as The Ghost Who Walks. Not in my case. In my case, The Phantom is the Ghost Who Rocks.

Ed Catto: Murphy Anderson – The Non-Traditional Man of Tradition

PS Magazine Murphy Anderson

Last month we said goodbye to the great comics artist, Murphy Anderson. He had such a body of work, and given his impressive talents, it’s not surprising that he was working as a professional comics artist over six decades.

My gorgeous wife, Kathe, had come to love Murphy too. She was so impressed with the man, his lovely wife Helen and his son, Murphy Anderson III. (This is one case where you can’t parrot that old saw, “There will never be another Murphy Anderson” – because there is!) She and I were talking to some friends about Murphy’s passing and we were trying to put it into perspective for these folks who weren’t comic fans. I stumbled into the analogy that Murphy was the “Tony Bennett of comics.” Upon further reflection, I think that’s pretty fitting. He was the consummate professional, always delivering high quality work and was always consistent. He never changed his thinking to bend the times – neither in his art style nor his thoughts on how a professional presents himself. And like Tony Bennett, Murphy was humble, warm and charming.

But even though he never changed what he did or how he did it, Murphy leaves us with a rich scope of non-traditional work.  Oh, sure, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the great man you can pull out some old Hawkman stories or Buck Rogers strips. But this week we’re going to celebrate some of Murphy’s non-traditional work!

MS Magazine

You probably know that MS Magazine proudly debuted with a Murphy Anderson cover featuring Wonder Woman. I wouldn’t have been in their target demographic, but I know I would’ve bought this issue!

PS Magazine

Valiant AndersonIt’s hard to believe, but in the days before Instagram and cellphones, folks used to read print material when they were just hanging around. The Army knew this and created PS Magazine, a hybrid of information for the serviceman told in a light, engaging comics style. You probably know that Will Eisner worked on this, but did you know that Murphy Anderson managed the contract for years afterwards?

Prince Valiant

Pioneer’s Prince Valiant reprint series invited some of the industry’s best artists to contribute covers to the series. Murphy’s Prince Valiant was a winner:

Aurora Ads

Sometimes an advertised product looks nothing like the real thing. Safe to say that no kid’s finished model kits looked as good as they did in the ads in which that Murphy Anderson provided the art.

black-cat-ma-290x450-1473904Black Cat

In the 90s, Alfred Harvey rebooted a family property: the original Black Cat. Mark Evanier was the scripter and Murphy Anderson was the interior artist. Although not known for rendering vivacious women, Murphy could rev it up when needed (see my previous column on his stunning depiction of the lovely Dejah Thoris) and he sure did here. Keep an eye out for this gem (Alfred Harvey’s Black Cat: The Origins) when you’re diving into the back issue bins.

Super Queens

You might have known that Murphy provided the packaging artwork for Captain Action, but did you know he also provided stellar artwork for the companion Super Queen’s line? It included lovely images for Supergirl, Mera, Batgirl and Wonder Woman.

Record Albums

Ok, we’ll admit it – these weren’t quite Sgt. Pepper level, but Murphy created several record album covers for Batman, Robin and more!

murphy-anderson-cover-seduction-of-the-innocent-300x426-9511981Seduction of the Innocent

Do you love Craig Yoe’s IDW reprints (Haunted Horror and Weird Love) as much as I do? Back in 1985, Eclipse did a similar thing with their Seduction of the Innocent comics. Issue #2’s cover features the lovely Gloria Wheeler, Interplanetary Girl Reporter using elements from the 1950s story called “The Space Treasure.” The whole story, with robust Murphy Anderson pencils and inks, was originally printed in Standard series called Fantastic Worlds.

Now, before I wind it up, I might need to remind you that Murphy, the quintessential gentleman, was a Tarheel… and the University of North Carolina’s team color is baby blue. There’s an old saying in the south, “God so loved Carolina, that he made the sky Carolina Blue. There’s should be a corollary to that, something along the lines of: “God so loved the comics industry that he gave us Murphy Anderson.”

John Ostrander: Newspapers and their Great Comics

Dick TracyI’m a fossil. I know it. Proof positive: I read the daily newspaper. Not on a pad or tablet or my computer, I go out and actually buy the blamed thing. I read it during breakfast. Yes, I still get a certain percentage of my news from the computer and/or Jon Stewart and The Daily Show but I like having the physical newspaper, just as I prefer actual books to an e-reader. If I don’t get to read the paper, I get cranky. Or crankier.

I think I got that from my father, Joel W. Ostrander Sr. He was always the first up in the morning but, during my high school years, I was up second. We’d both be at breakfast and we would read the newspaper. I’d get the sections he was done with; that’s where I learned to be possessive about my newspaper. If I buy the newspaper, you get it when I’m done. If you want to read it sooner, go buy your own.

Dad and I would have breakfast and read in a comfortable silence unless my mother decided to get up early and join us. Mom was a talker in the morning. Worse, she would expect you to talk back and on the topic she started so you had to listen. You couldn’t just fake it or grunt replies. She expected coherent sentences. I can do that in the morning but it takes an effort and more concentration than I care to give. Just let me read my newspaper and no one gets hurt.

When I move to a new location, I always have to decide which of the available newspapers I’m going to read (assuming I have a choice which is increasingly becoming difficult as newspapers fold up). So I have to choose which newspaper is going to be my regular. While the editorial bent is an important factor (politically left of center is a prerequisite), the determining factor is usually what comic strips they have. I was raised on the Chicago Tribune but I would also buy the Sunday Chicago American because I enjoyed the comics there. Dad would bring home the Chicago Daily News in the evening so, all in all, I got a goodly number of strips.

Chester Gould was still doing Dick Tracy when I was younger (my buddy Joe Staton now draws it) and Harold Gray was doing Little Orphan Annie. Al Capp was doing L’il Abner, Hal Foster was doing Prince Valiant, Walt Kelly was doing Pogo, and Milton Caniff was doing Steve Canyon. I don’t know if music was better back then but, yes, the comic strips certainly were. Perhaps even more than the comic books I read, comic strips were influential in my development as a writer, especially in graphic literature.

Some of the strips are no longer around. Leonard Starr’s On Stage was beautifully drawn and wonderfully written. I would later come across the British strip Modesty Blaise, created by Peter O’Donnell and drawn by a succession of artists following Jim Holdaway, who drew it first. I read those still not only for pleasure but because O’Donnell was a master of the medium. He knew how to pace and drive a story, wasting nothing, with every line forwarding the plot or the characters in a minimum of words. Elegant and compelling.

These days, there are very few adventure strips or strips with a continuing narrative and that’s a pity. Mostly, it’s gag and humor strips although some strips have picked up that narrative aspect. For example, Luann – created, written and drawn by Greg Evans – started out as a gag strip but has developed into a narrative, with the characters allowed to age and change.

Some strips these days are minimally drawn, such as Dilbert by Scott Adams. The drawing is competent although I get the feeling some panels are simply repeated over and over again but the writing is generally sharp and satiric. Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis also has minimal drawing although, again, the writing is generally sharp and funny. Mutts, written and drawn by Patrick Mc Donnell, is a modern classic; better drawn although sometimes the writing is not so sharp. Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, is unique – sometimes it is a single panel drawing and sometimes it’s a sequential strip. It has continuing characters but it also has many stand alone installments. This one is also superbly written and drawn and benefits, I think, from Miller’s work as an editorial cartoonist. He packs a lot into a little space.

Some strips, unfortunately, are wretched, badly drawn and almost incomprehensible. That was always true, however, and there’s good reading to be found even today. Almost all of them are also available somewhere on the Internet but I still enjoy reading them in the newspaper if I can. There’s a tactile pleasure in holding the newspaper and experiencing them that way. I recommend it.

As they (used to) say, see you in the funny papers.