Sunday, Jun 20th, 2010
More Jabs Than Puns
The end of Annie as a regular newspaper feature received significant media coverage, but here in the Library of American Comics universe we are smack in the midst of Great Moments in Annie History. You'll see one of the greatest later on this year, as the incredible Punjab marks his debut in the sixth volume of our series.
Check out the extremely rare Punjab Mystic Code Translater above, courtesy our friend Richard Olson. He'd been searching for this elusive premium for nearly forty years and recently added it to his phenomenal LOA collection. Richard has been kindly sharing his goodies for the introductions to our Complete Little Orphan Annie.
The year 1935 opened with Annie, Sandy, and "Daddy" on the bum. Prospects looked bleak, but the first sign fortunes would change occurs in the January 26th daily, when "Daddy" shaves off the scruffy beard he had been cultivating for almost three weeks. "Maybe I was a little bashful about letting people recognize me-the great Warbucks sunk to the level of a tramp," Warbucks muses. "But what do I care? Let 'em look-I've never cringed yet and I'll not start now." When "Daddy" gets that steely note of resolve in his voice, it's only a matter of time before he's back on top again...
But what's the one lesson Gray consistently teaches? Even a man as formidable as Warbucks can't do it alone. This time the path back to respectability leads to "Daddy's" globe-trotting old friend, Henry Morgan, and his giant bodyguard from India, the exotic Punjab.
We get our first look at Punjab in the February 3, 1935 Sunday; "Daddy" begins introducing him to Annie on Monday, February 11th. In the weeks that follow, Gray's stoic new character tosses around no-goods like Doc Savage, he appears and disappears like The Shadow, he espouses a Far Eastern philosophy that's a mix of Rudyard Kipling and Sax Rohmer. As he performs feats of prestidigitation and serves up inscrutable visions of the future, Punjab takes Little Orphan Annie—always the most hard-headed and pragmatic of series - into the misty realms of mysticism. It is Punjab who shows America's spunkiest kid there are unseen forces at work in the world, that there is knowledge and then there is Knowledge.
By the end of March, when Annie finds an old tramp near death, lying deep in the woods, it is Punjab who uses his many abilities (including his skill with the "jungle wireless") to save the tramp's life. That tramp, as Annieologists know, puts "Daddy" back on the path to respectability as Harold Gray begins to unfold perhaps his most trenchant sociopolitical commentary.
Little Orphan Annie Volume 6 offers more than a dance around the edges of the supernatural—old friends Wun Wey and (huzzah!) Pee Wee the Elephant make their returns, as well. But the spotlight moment comes in the early months of 1935, when Punjab steps onto the stage and into Annie's life.
posted by Bruce Canwell
Monday, Jun 7th, 2010
A TERRY Top Ten
And now for something completely different...
I thought it would be fun to compile a Top 10 of my favorite Terry and the Pirates characters. No small task, that, given the large cast Milton Caniff assembled and the many memorable moments he crafted during the first dozen years of the strip's existence. I'm exempting Terry, Pat Ryan, and Connie from consideration. Our three heroes, who were on stage from that very first pair of October, 1934 dailies, get an automatic pass into the Hall of Fame. Beyond that, any character is fair game. I calls 'em as I sees 'em, and here's how I sees 'em:
10) Pop Scott: He brought an early dash of color to the narrative, and was the strip's first sacrificial lamb, proof that Caniff was willing to use death to amp up the drama.
9) Nasthalia "Nasty" Smythe-Heatherstone: Her dad is a mensch; she's proof that even the most upright tree can bear rotten fruit. I enjoy the way Caniff made her a thorn in Terry's side both as a child and, later, as a conniving young woman.
8) Singh-Singh: A great visual: hulking form, bald head, enormous jet-black moustache. A great bit of comedic relief, too.
7) Captain Blaze: The Sundays first come alive when he battles the Dragon Lady, with Terry, Pat, and Connie caught in the middle. A true "pirate," in every sense of the word.
6) Dude Hennick: Bless Bess, he's a more devil-may-care leading man than stolid Pat, making him the perfect character to play male lead in Caniff's his most dramatic storyline. Based on Frank Higgs, Dude is the first character to be based on one of Caniff's true-life pals - but he's far from the last.
5) April Kane: From spunky Southern belle to cold-blooded opportunist, no character in Caniff's vast tapestry undergoes more radical change than darlin' li'l ol' April.
4) Captain Judas: His heinous act of 10/05/41 makes him one of comics' all-time grand villains. I hope Burma put a slug straight through his inky-black heart.
3) The Dragon Lady: Beautiful, complex, calculating. Look at all the myriad ways Caniff used Lai Choi San throughout his Terry tenure and it's clear what a spectacular creation she is.
2) Big Stoop: I'm a sucker for misunderstood brutes. I'm a sucker for tough guys with unsullied hearts of gold. I'm a sucker for the skillful use of pantomime. Stooper successfully turned the Terrific Three into a Fabulous Foursome.
Annnnnn-n-n-nd, my Number One favorite Terry and the Pirates character...
1) Burma: She hits the strip like a sassy blonde meteor, heating up the comics page as it had never been heated before in the sequence from 03/17/36 - 03/21/36. And ask yourselves this: Who was the star of the prototype Male Call series? And when Caniff spun his final Terry storyline, whose note and newspaper clipping sets up the final week of strips? Burma, both times. For those reasons and more, she's tops in my book.
* * * * *
I'm certainly not arrogant enough to claim my list is the be-all and end-all: your mileage may (and almost certainly will) vary. If you'd care to submit your own Terry Top 10 to email@example.com, we'll run responses in future installments.
posted by Bruce Canwell
Thursday, Jun 3rd, 2010
One of the catalysts that helped create Li'l Abner was the hitchhiking trip undertaken by teenaged Al Capp and his friend, Gus Lee. Determination and a youthful zest for adventure overcame the obstacles created by Capp's wooden leg as the duo traveled from New England to Memphis, Tennessee via Virginia and Kentucky, meeting a variety of "hill folk" along the way.
Later milestones in Abner's genesis occurred in New York City: Capp hired on as Ham Fisher's assistant on Joe Palooka, where he created that strip's "Big Leviticus" Sunday sequence - during a night out at a theatre in Columbus Circle, a comedic "mountain music" performance made a huge impression on Capp and his wife, Catherine - counseled by artist Paul Fung, Capp worked up his samples and hit the Syndicate trail, ultimately selling Li'l Abner to United Features in 1934.
Yet neither New York nor the Ozarks figured into Capp's life while his brainchild was in full flower - instead, Capp and his family (Catherine, two daughters, and an adopted son) spent much of each year occupying a sizeable farmhouse in Catherine's hometown of Amesbury, on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Today, more than three decades after Capp's passing, Amesbury is remembering its adopted son.
As reported in the Saturday, May 18, 2010 Boston Globe, this quiet town has renamed its amphitheater in the artist's honor and is looking to develop a Capp Museum. As part of its annual "Amesbury First" festival, four 4' x 8' paintings recreating scenes from Capp's June 24, 1946 Life autobiography-in-comics-form were unveiled (the entire feature appeared on pages 21 to 24 of our first Li'l Abner volume). The jumbo-sized reproductions were created by local artist Jon Mooers under the watchful eye of Capp's heirs, including his surviving daughter, Julie.
Capp was not the town's only famed citizen - 19th Century poet John Greenleaf Whittier also resided in Amesbury. The Globe article hints that modern-day Whittier fans may look down their noses at Capp and his rambunctious comic strip; one paragraph in reporter James Sullivan's piece reads:
"My son or anybody younger wouldn't really know about [Capp]," says Diane Cole, 56, who is a member of the John Greenleaf Whittier Home Association. "A lot of people don't make the connection at all."
The Amesbury Improvement Committee is more bullish on Capp and
the tourism potential associated with his name, and artist Mooers
expressed this wish for the newly-rechristened amphitheater: "I'd
love to find somebody who could donate a bronze statue of Al. I'm a
Only time will tell if dreams can come true. Mooers's cause may be aided later this year, when PBS devotes a segment of its American Masters series to Al Capp.
And who knows? Perhaps a segment of our readership might find ways to help Amesbury remember one of its favorite sons.
posted by Bruce Canwell