Wednesday, Apr 27th, 2011
T Minus 0: It's Toth Time
Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth goes on sale today. Two years in the making, we're mighty proud of our efforts. Bruce Canwell and I recently sat down for a stimulating interview with Dan Nadel over at the Comics Journal.
Dan also offers the first review of the book, calling it "an astounding achievement. Through thoroughly researched text and a gob-smackingly great selection of visuals, Mullaney and Canwell have done what the best biographers should: Both illuminate their subjects life and decisively show what, precisely, made him worthy of their (and our) attention…
"This book is, for me, a game-changer: The first (literally) expansive visual biography of a classic comic book artist that manages to show and tell just what made the man and the work…
"As a fellow historian, I’m still, weeks later, in awe of it. Anyone with an interest in the medium should own and study this book. It’s one of those."
posted by Dean Mullaney
Tuesday, Apr 26th, 2011
Bill Blackbeard—our friend and mentor
When I created the Library of American Comics in 2007, our first release carried the following heartfelt words:
Dedicated to Bill Blackbeard,
who almost singlehandedly rescued
the American newspaper comic
strip from oblivion
Bill Blackbeard, who died recently at age 84, did all that and mentored at least two generations of comics historians and archivists. It's safe to say that without him, today's readers would not be able to enjoy the complete Terry and the Pirates, Krazy Kat, Flash Gordon, Bringing Up Father, and dozens upon dozens of other series that make today the Golden Age of Comic Strip Reprints.
We owe it all to Bill.
photo by R.C. Harvey
Bill's and Martin Sheridan's Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics and Bill's line of Hyperion strip reprints introduced many of us to the classics for the first time. I met him 25 years ago when he gave me my start in reprinting newspaper strips, first with Jiggs is Back by George McManus, and then beginning the complete Krazy & Ignatz. Spending hours upon hours with Bill over the years was better than 100 years of "media studies" at any university. He just about knew it all, and what he didn't know was located somewhere on the over-burdened shelves at his house, which doubled as The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art.
He was a gentle friend and a generous mentor. And while we'll all miss him, he lives on in each and every one of us who knew him, and in the books you read that we produce.
posted by Dean Mullaney
Wednesday, Apr 20th, 2011
Talkin' Toth—and Toths Talkin' Back
April 27, 2011 marks the official on-sale date for Genius, Isolated, the first volume in our massive three-book examination of the life and career of the great Alex Toth. We know this book has been eagerly awaited by Toth's fans, many of whom are some of the most popular and prestigious names in comics, animation, and motion pictures. We hope, as our readers make their way through the thirty thousand words of biography and twenty complete comics stories—many of them printed from the original art—contained in this 325-page, 9.5" x 13" tome, they will recognize it as a true labor of love, and will feel it has been worth the wait.
Certainly we were encouraged by the reactions to the book expressed by Alex's four children. They received a pre-publication edition for their review and approval and what they had to say was an affirmation that we had successfully achieved our goals.
Three generations of Toths. Alex
in 1970 with (from left to right) his mother,
daughters Dana and Carrie, and (in front) Eric and Damon.
Eric Toth read his copy of the book while traveling (in China, if memory serves). "The work looks great," he sent via his Blackberry from halfway around the world. "This is very exciting. Thanks for all of your hard work."
Eric's sister, Carrie Morash, was in her home when she wrote to us, saying, "I couldn't go very far without feeling emotional and missing my dad while reading your book. From the preface, which was thoughtful and kind, to the introduction by Mark Chiarello, I think my dad is being given a very fair biography. I loved the story of Mark's where he asked my dad for a drawing—the words and description of how dad responded were so him—"OK, pest..." A picture popped in my head of him sitting there and saying those words with one eyebrow raised as he often did. And, the quote of his—"See kiddo it's simple"—is all dad. Endearing. Heartwarming to me. The art work was a joy to read and view. So much has been gathered—it's hard to comment on all that went through my head as I read the story of my father. I don't think that I will ever stop discovering new things about him and his life now."
Like his brother, youngest son Damon also had to pass along his thoughts to Dean while on the run. "I want to thank you and Bruce for such a wonderful job you did on Genius, Isolated. I enjoyed reading every page and learned a great deal about dad. I look so forward to Genius, Illustrated and Genius, Animated."
Alex's first child, Dana Palmer, had this to say in two separate e-mails: "As I sit here in tears with a lump in my throat - this, this is a beautiful body of work. The layout/graphics/scans - done so impeccably. What a tribute. This was my father—Alex Toth. Wow. It sort of hit me in a new way during this process, and this book will be my bible when it comes to his legacy. My father would have loved this. I wish he were here to read it, and it makes me miss him even more. I wished I'd known some of the things discovered in this body of work. It explains a lot."
This is, in some ways, The Year of Toth. Several publications dedicated to the work of this unique talent are being released during 2011, but Genius, Isolated is the only project undertaken with the approval of and in cöoperation with Alex's estate, and the only project returning money to that estate. We went into this project enthusiastic about presenting Alex's life story and artwork to modern audiences, but the relationship we've built with Dana, Carrie, Eric, and Damon over the past two years has made the Genius series even more special.
posted by Bruce Canwell
Monday, Apr 18th, 2011
April is Magyar Month
We have enough ongoing news and information about The Library of American Comics to prevent us from using this space to recommend noteworthy items from other genres…but Dean's letting me make an exception this time (mostly because he's in sync with every word that follows). I'll still bring it around at the end and connect it to LOAC, because, as a friend of mine likes to say, "It all comes back to comics."
Beginning April 19th, The Ernie Kovacs Collection goes on sale nationwide. This is glad news for humor fans in general and Kovacsphiles in particular. I am not big on the "pre-order" concept, yet I've had my copy of this six-disc DVD set pre-ordered since the end of March, which is an indication of how excited I am at the prospect of renewing my acquaintance with some of my favorite comedic characters and seeing some new-to-me Ernie material.
Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962) was a pioneer of television comedy, a genial Hungarian who combined a classicist's tastes with a street-level sense of humor. Ernie saw the fledgling television medium of the 1950s as a playground of infinite possibilities. To the best of my knowledge, Kovacs invented the music video - admittedly, he did it with classical music, setting an urban street scene to Bartok, an exaggerated poker game to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and creating other quirky combinations, but there is no doubt he was incorporating music with video imagery a quarter-century before the debut of MTV.
Ernie was a master of the blackout sketch (also often set against a musical backdrop, most famously a German rendition of Mack the Knife). His lineup of recurring characters? Can't be beat. Wolfgang von Saurbraten, German disc chockey ("Brushen de getoofens mit Schnitzeldent") - the "old country" Hungarian, Miklos Molnar - kiddie show hosts Auntie Gruesome and Uncle Buddy - French arteest Pierre Ragout - tipsy magician Matzoh Heppelwhite - and flamboyant poet Percy Dovetonsils, whose classic Ode to Stanley's Pussycat includes such inspired lines as:
That pussy's personality
Slowly began to change
He hissed and arched his back so much
He looked like a camel with mange
Even Ernie's end-credits were interspersed with terrific gags. "Bless me, Tom Swift, is this your electric fiancé?" - "Sure, it's easy for you, Bernice, because you're a girl ... but for Doberman pinchers, it's a sometimes thing."
Ernie's desire to push the envelope and explore the boundaries of TV's capabilities meant he had a hard time finding a permanent home: his programs started locally in Philadelphia, then bounced to NBC, CBS, the DuMont Network, and ABC. He starred in daytime series, nighttime series, late-night comedy, and even hosted the Take a Good Look quiz show.
Incredibly, he did some of his best work while his personal life was haunted by emptiness and uncertainty. In 1953 his first wife kidnapped their two daughters, Elizabeth and Kippie, successfully hiding them from their father for over two years. Ernie spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on private detectives and traced seemingly as many false leads. "To tell you the truth, I sit here crying for hours sometimes," he confessed during one print interview from this period.
Photos of young Kippie and Elizabeth Kovacs, distributed to the wire services during the two years they were the kidnap victims of their mother.
In the book Kovacsland, Kippie discussed with biographer Diana Rico the 1955 day her father and grandfather tracked the girls and their wayward mother to a dingy house in central Florida:
I wanted to go with him, because I was living a life of misery, a total nightmare ... [Finally] I got in the car with him and he turned and said, "I see you still suck your thumb." So I said, "I see you still smoke cigars." And right away, it was right.
If the poignancy of Ernie's personal life and the hints of Ernie's genius aren't enough to sway you, here are four connections between Ernie and the world of comics, with three of them tied directly to The Library of American Comics:
1. Ernie made a handful of appearances in the early Mad magazine. Wally Wood illustrated the Kovacs take-off on Ripley's Believe It or Not titled Strangely Believe It, which featured items such as: "The strangest SCIENTIFIC PHENOMENON of all time was recorded on May 18, 1956, when Elizabeth Donohue Forsney was born in a commercial airliner while traveling over Grand Canyon, Colorado ... A telegram was immediately dispatched to Elizabeth's mother, who had missed the plane in Denver." Will Elder provided the artwork for Ernie's madcap board game, "Gringo!" (later brought to both the TV screen and long-playing vinyl album as "Droongo!").
2. Ernie's second wife was Edie Adams, the blonde bombshell famous for bringing Daisy Mae Scragg to life on stage in the 1950s Broadway production of Al Capp's popular Li'l Abner. Edie also appeared on several of Ernie's TV broadcasts and is sure to be well represented in the new DVD set.
3. Another member of Ernie's band of TV players was the ravishing Jolene Brand, who later played the role of Anna Maria in several episodes of the late-'50s TV adaptation of Zorro. The first Zorro comics based on the TV series were, of course, drawn by Alex Toth ...
4. …And Alex, like Ernie, was of Hungarian extraction.
In fact, with both The Ernie Kovacs Collection and our own Genius, Isolated being released so closely together, it seems fitting to declare April as Magyar Month, featuring hours of Hungarian-created comics biography/artwork and TV hijinx!
See? It really does all come back to comics…
posted by Bruce Canwell
Wednesday, Apr 6th, 2011
Three More Eisner Nominations!
The Eisner Award nominations have been announced. In the first three years since we created the Library of American Comics, we received six nominations and took home the award twice.
This year, we up it by one, with three nominations. The massive Polly and Her Pals has two: one for Best Archival Collection—Comic Strips. and one for Best Publication Design.
Also nominated in the Best Archival Collection category is our tribute to Bob Montana's early Archie newspaper strips.
It's gratifying to see the incredible cartooning of Cliff Sterrett and Bob Montana continue to be recognized. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of "Polly and Her Pals." What better way to celebrate the strip!
Thanks to the Eisner judges for recognizing our efforts! Vote early and vote often!!!
posted by Dean Mullaney
Sunday, Apr 3rd, 2011
Ehhh—Crawford's Up, Doc!
In case you missed Dean's announcement in his interview at Previewsworld.com, Crawford is a one-shot due for release later in 2011, a book I'm especially thrilled to have in our lineup. If you're asking, "What is it, a Crawford?", a better question would be, "Whose brainchild is Crawford?" Because the answer to that is, "Chuck Jones," and if you're like me, that's sure to make you smile.
Though in my twenties I grew to enjoy Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse and Carl Barks's Donald Duck and Uncle $crooge, as a boy I pooh-poohed all things Disney - I was strictly a Looney Tunes kinda guy. Not for me The Wonderful World of Disney with its airings Herbie the Love Bug, Professor Ludwig von Drake, and Charlie, the Ding-a-ling Lynx. I was all about The Bugs Bunny Show and the Warner Brothers characters, led by the wascawwy wabbit himself. It was guaranteed laughs whenever Bugs appeared in shorts like "Long-Haired Hare," "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!", "Beanstalk Bunny," or "Bully for Bugs." As I grew older and began reading the material on hand in the 1970s about Warners animation, I learned all the cartoons named were directed by the same talented individual, one Charles M. "Chuck" Jones.
Jones's earliest work as a director was considered "cute" and slow-moving by his peers at the studio; his pacing quickly improved, but in his artwork there was always a rounded, curvy cuteness to the line. Long before manga and anime entrenched itself on American shores, Chuck Jones was drawing big-eyed kid characters in everything from his aborted Road Runner TV pilot to Cindy Lou Who from 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The trademark Jones cuteness is on display in Crawford, as well - and that's hardly a bad thing. Jones filters his stories through a kid's perspective, which includes flights of both whimsy and fancy while running an emotional gamut that will resonate to everyone who grew up as the neighborhood maverick, running against the herd.
Dean's co-editor on Crawford is Kurtis Findlay, who conceived the project and has been researching this "Unknown Chuck Jones" project for the past couple of years. We're working with Marian Jones, Chuck's widow, on the project, and all art is © the Chuck Jones Estate. We'll have more on Crawford for you as its publication date draws near. In the meantime, why do I have a sudden urge to watch "The Rabbit of Seville" again ... ?
posted by Bruce Canwell