Thursday, Aug 30th, 2012

Dick Moores, Master Cartoonist

Dean Mullaney posted by Dean Mullaney

I can't think of anyone who doesn't love Dick Moores's delightful and charming art and stories in Gasoline Alley. His long run on the strip is one of those few cases in which the cartoonist taking over from the original creator actually improves the creation.

Frank King first met Dick Moores in Chicago in the 1930s, when Moores was Chester Gould's assistant (and letterer); the two then shared a studio while Moores was drawing the adventure strip Jim Hardy. By the early 1940s Moores was in Southern California drawing exclusively for Disney. His much-admired work at that company includes inks on Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse, art on the Brer Rabbit and Scamp Sunday pages, and many, many great efforts in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, some of which he was allowed to write as well as illustrate.

By the mid-50s, Frank King was looking for an assistant who could eventually take over the daily strip (Bill Perry had been doing the Sundays since 1951) and remembered his old colleague from Chicago. Moores left Disney and moved to Florida in 1956 to assist on Gasoline Alley.

There's no hard evidence that indicates when Moores took over full responsibility of the Gasoline Alley daily, but our friend Jeet Heer, who co-edits the magnificent Walt & Skeezix series reprinting the early Frank King dailies, tells me that it was most likely in 1960, although King may have continued suggesting story ideas until 1964 when Moores was given a byline, sharing it with King until the elder cartoonist's death in 1969.

This is all a preamble to announcing that we're very happy to bring Dick Moores's fantastic Gasoline Alley strips from 1964-66 back to print. Both we and our friends at Drawn & Quarterly think it makes a nice bookend to the early Frank King dailies.


Frank King in a 1964 interview announcing Dick Moores's byline.


A promo piece to celebrate Skeezix's 40th birthday!


Three strips from the beginning of 1964 that feature lamps designed by Clovia and Slim. (Click for larger view.)


A publicity photo of King and Moores holding the self-same custom-made lamps!


Above: A later Moores promo drawing (note Nina at left). Below: a past-over head for the final version.


And a wonderful piece of art by Dick Moores, which we've used for our cover.


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Thursday, Aug 23rd, 2012

Our First-Ever L.O.A.F. Citation

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

If, as some reviewers have claimed, there is a noticeable degree of depth to the standard LOAC book, that is a testament to the variety of hands who strive—against all the pressures of marketplace, deadlines, and competition—to turn every release into a labor of love. That includes Dean (at the top of the LOAC pyramid) and Lorraine (as Art Director), presiding over the painstaking restoration of the strips and setting a high level of quality control. It includes essayists like Jeet Heer, whose dedication and wide breadth of scholarship bring insights that help illuminate the artform, as well as Brian Walker, who literally grew up inside the business and whose range of contacts has brought first-hand accounts to titles like Rip Kirby and Blondie from friends and family members of the creators that would have been difficult, if not impossible, for others to come by. (And yes, as regular readers of this space and our books can tell, I'm more than willing to interview subjects and sift through the archives in preparation for writing my own text features. Of course, I admit I'm also still fan enough to have refused to erase the voice mail Howard Chaykin left me several months ago…)

Any praise for the depth of the LOAC line should also include those persons who have kept the torch burning during the lean times between the two Grand Waves of comic strip reprints, one taking place in the 1980s and the other occurring right now. The accessibility created by the Web has given those stalwarts easier avenues to reach out and share their treasures first with us, and through us with you. In getting to know these folks we learn that many of them have fascinating life-stories and have never been given their due…which brings us to this occasional series, which I've labeled L.O.A.F., for Library Owes A Favor. Without the contributions from the L.O.A.F.ers, our work would be less robust and your reading experience would be significantly diminished. This inaugural L.O.A.F. installment, then, is dedicated to a John Steed-esque tip of the cap to the one and only Bill Peckmann.

Bill has been not only a key contributor to our Alex Toth Genius series, he's befriended the great and the near-great while also having a hand in a surprising number of pop culture highlights. Where Toth is concerned, the paths of the two men first crossed at the end of the 1970s; they remained close for almost fifteen years. Since they lived at opposite ends of the country—Alex in Hollywood, Bill in New York—much of their friendship was conducted by mail, and Bill graciously provided us with copies of all his Tothian postcards, letters, doodles, essays, and screeds, a stack of correspondence that stands almost two inches tall. Peckmann shared enough of Alex's tastes in cartooning and illustration to receive many of the genius's ruminations about such little-known talents as Roland Coe ("one of our best post-WWII gagsters") and Leslie Ragan (one of Alex's shorter paeans to Ragan states, "Did over 100 NYCS RR posters in the mid-'40s - also did ads for NYC's Moran Towing Co., 'Budd' RR coach-builders, 'Norfolk and Western' RR Systems, etc.etc - this man's work is akin to that of Ludwig Hohlwein - lovely watercolors of great subtlety/simplicity/skill!"). Bill kept an eye peeled in Manhattan's many used bookstores of the day for items of interest, which he would buy and send to Alex as gifts.

Bill's background in art production also made him one of Alex's sources for specialized materials and supplies, as well as a sounding board for various issues about same (thanks to Bill, we know Alex agonized for more than twelve months over the idea of buying a photocopier—he received and painstakingly studied manufacture specs and brochures, weighing the advantages and drawbacks between one manufacturer and another, and between the models produced by any given manufacturer. Only Alex could have turned such a monumental effort!).

Bill was professionally involved in advertising and animation. When Toth did his Underoos work featuring various DC and Marvel superheroes, his primary contact at the agency was Bill. Some of the Underoos art has been previously published, but thanks to the redoubtable Peckmann, you'll see new examples of this assignment in the forthcoming Genius, Illustrated.


This Alex Toth UNDEROOS graphic has run in several other places - thanks to Bill Peckmann, you'll be seeing never-before-released Toth UNDEROOS images in the upcoming GENIUS, ILLUSTRATED.

The primary home for Bill's work was at Phil Kimmelman & Associates (PK&A), though the relationship between Kimmelman and Peckmann began earlier, at a studio known as Focus Design. Phil Kimmelman began his career long before that, initially working for the Famous studios, the one-time popular animation house that produced Casper the Friendly Ghost and Baby Huey shorts, along with inheriting control of the Popeye and Superman cartoon series when the Fleischer Studios dissolved. At Focus, Bill was an animator and designer on a variety of advertising efforts for companies such as Flying "A" Gasoline; it was at this time Bill forged his friendship with a multi-talented cartoonist/illustrator, the late, oh-so-great Rowland B. Wilson; I haven't inquired of Bill directly, but surely he must have one of the most comprehensive collections of Wilson's work in existence today.

Not long before the founding of PK&A, Kimmelman and Peckmann animated the short subject, "Three is a Lucky Number," which became one of the earliest installments of ABC's much-beloved Schoolhouse Rock series. "We did [Schoolhouse] to fill the time between good-paying commercial jobs - now it turns out that's the work we're most remembered for," Bill told me in June of this year (unaware that my nosing about was to gather material for this L.O.A.F. tribute). "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" are only two of the many Schoolhouse Rock pieces that came out of the PK&A shop.


Grammar Rock was a subset of Schoolhouse Rock that served up such favorites as, "I'm Just a Verb" and "Conjunction Junction (What's Your Function?)". The capture below is a spill from the Hill that's designed to thrill: the very popular segment called "I'm Just a Bill."


In addition to Schoolhouse Rock, Bill Peckmann also had his hand in some of the animated pieces that appeared on Sesame Street. He's credited with that show's "Car Imagination" segment, and he and PK&A were involved in such Harvey Kurtzman-led Sesame features as "Count Off" and "Boat."

Still, PK&A's bread-and-butter came from advertising work. "We had a great run in the animated commercial business," Bill told me. "We did TV spots - all in a Seventh Heaven mode - with print cartoonists Rowland Wilson, Gahan Wilson, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, Arnold Roth, Herb Trimpe, Stan Mack, and probably a few named I'm forgetting now." The first commercial featuring the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee is just one of the enduring ad images to emerge from the PK&A studio.


Later named "Buzz," the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee has appeared in countless TV and print ads, was featured in a commercial "spelling bee" game, and appears on a number of licensed products, such as this T-shirt.

All good things, of course, come to an end. Eventually PK&A shut its doors and by the 1990s Bill Peckmann got involved ("on a very limited basis") with two more icons of the MTV Generation—Beavis & Butt-Head and its spin-off series, Daria. It was, perhaps, a bittersweet experience for Bill. "I was happy to have the work," he said, "but the times, they were a'changin'. You really can't teach an ol' hound new tricks." Still and all, Beavis & Butt-Head is one of my friend Tom Field's all-time favorite TV series (he even wrote some B&B continuity for Marvel when they were publishing a comic book based on the boys' misadventures), and Daria was high on my younger sister's list during her high school years, so some piece of their enjoyment is owed to Bill, whether or not the appeal of that work "speaks" to him in the same way his earlier successes do.

These days Bill Peckmann is comfortably retired in New York State; though they've never met, he shares a doctor or two with inker extraordinaire Joe Sinnott ("one of my favorite cartoonists," says Bill—one of ours, too!). Bill joins me in rooting for the Boston Red Sox, though they've given us mighty little to cheer for this season, alas. Most important, he shares with the world at large the wide range of artistic treasures he's accumulated, not just in our Alex Toth books, but also on the pages of Michael Sporn's animation blog - where you can feast your eyes on calendars by Fritz Baumgarten, illustrations by Keith Ward, the comics art of Jesse Marsh (yes, and Alex Toth), an astounding array of work from Rowland Wilson, and photos of many of the luminaries with whom Bill rubbed professional elbows during a most remarkable career. The "splog" is truly a must-visit-often site, well worth supporting.

This small L.O.A.F. plug doesn't begin to even the scales for all the help and support you've given us, Bill—but heck, we gotta start somewhere…!

(P.S.: For those who may think "L.O.A.F." is an awkward acronym to bestow upon those heretofore-unsung heroes who have done so much to help us, all I can say is: thank your lucky stars! My initial thought was to riff on the old Marvel Comics fan organization, Friends Of Ol' Marvel, and call this effort Friends Of Ol' Library. F.O.O.M. may have worked fine for the House that Jack/Stan/Steve Built, but somehow it didn't seem right to honor folks by using the acronym F.O.O.L.…)

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Monday, Aug 20th, 2012

A Herculean Effort

Dean Mullaney posted by Dean Mullaney


Everyone who's interested in old newspaper comic knows Allan Holtz as the go-to-guy when it comes to even the most obscure strip. No matter if the strip only appeared for one day in a single newspaper in 1908…if anyone knows about it, Allan will. Not only does he most likely have the strip in his personal collection but he's willing—and eager—to share the information with the rest of us.

His Stripper's Guide blog is a must-read for all sorts of esoterica.

He's also been working for many years on an exhaustive academic list of every newspaper strip ever published…or at least the ones he's been able to find and verify. Will there eventually be addendums to this list? Invariably yes. But this information—now published in a humongous book from the University of Michigan Press—is the latest tome on our Library's shelves. It's not for the casual fan but it is the definitive word from the definitive researcher in the field.

Congrats to Allan…and lucky us that he took the time to produce such an invaluable resource! Click here for the University of Michigan's page, and here for the discounted price at Amazon.

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Wednesday, Aug 15th, 2012

A Tribute to Joe Kubert

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

By now you've surely heard the sad news of Joe Kubert's passing at age eighty-five. To say Joe was a giant of the industry still does not capture the magnitude of his influence on the comics industry throughout almost its entire existence.

Joe Kubert was the original teenage wunderkind, inking the work of artists such as Mort Meskin and making an early mark as penciller of features such as the Golden Age Hawkman. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement was the combination of quality and longevity he enjoyed—last year he released his graphic novel Dong Xoai: Vietnam 1965, and in he was providing inks over one of his sons pencils on another DC project while also fronting the new six-issue anthology series, Joe Kubert Presents.

The "tree of talent" Joe unleashed on the comics industry is also unequalled by anyone else—not just his sons, Andy and Adam, but the many, many, many artists who entered the business after attending the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Even those who didn't complete The Kubert School curriculum—like my friend, Marvel artist Lee Weeks—or those who attended the school but chose not to pursue a career in comics (like Lee's and my good friend, Mike Dudley) had their sensibilities shaped an influenced by what they learned at The Kubert School.

I spoke with Joe by phone a handful of times, most recently in 2011, after speaking with him face-to-face in April of that year at the Boston Comic Convention (and six months before that, at the New York Comic-Con). He was always considerate, professional and personable, willing to share his time and insights. We'll share more of those insights with you in our upcoming Genius, Illustrated and the next few volumes of our Definitive Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim. Joe was an Alex Raymond fanboy, as you'll learn in our third volume of that series.


And while I occupy a sliver of a niche in the industry, I remain a fanboy for select talents; Joe Kubert was definitely among them. At the '10 NY Comic-Con, I got Joe to autograph my hardcover copy of his superb 2003 graphic novel, Yossel–April 19, 1943. And in April of '11, in Boston, I imposed on him again, this time to sign my copy of Fax from Sarajevo. My plan is to keep those books on my own shelves until I, too, am called up yonder.

Dean, Lorraine, Beau, and I extend our most sincere sympathies to the Kubert family—and we salute Joe's monumental contributions to the comics artform.


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