From the comics pages to your bookshelf: Archie and Superman!

Sept. 17, 2013 -- The purpose of comic-strip collections from America’s rich past is entertainment. But in many cases, they’re a public service, too.

Such is the case with IDW’s “Library of American Comics,” which aggressively searches out classic comic strips in danger of disappearing, because there was no mechanism (outside of private collectors) to save them. The Library, edited by the legendary Dean Mullaney, is in the process of preserving dozens of classic comic strips in beautiful hardback collections.

Mullaney, editor and publisher of Eclipse Comics from 1977 to 1994, is the perfect guy for the job: He combines the experienced eye of an editor with the enthusiasm of a fan.

“The goal of the Library of American Comics is first and foremost to preserve and bring into print as many classic strips as possible,” he says. “It’s equally important that we frame the strip within its historical context, which is why our books contain introductory essays that provide details about the strip and the cartoonist. This way, new readers can jump right in and start enjoying strips that may be as much as 100 years old.”

Mullaney isn’t exaggerating with that number. The Library is reprinting such strips as “Bringing Up Father” and “Polly and Her Pals,” both of which began in 1913. It’s also preserving dozens of other famous strips from various eras, from “Bloom County” to “Gasoline Alley” to “Flash Gordon.”

Two recent releases highlight the diversity and quality of the Library – and raise some questions.

Archie: The Swingin’ Sixties Dailies Volume 1: 1960-1963 ($39.99) and Superman: The Silver Age Dailies Volume One: 1959-1961 ($49.99). Aside from the historical importance of these books, they are worth getting because they’re so much doggone fun.

The Superman book will seem vaguely familiar to long-time Super-fans, because most of the stories are adapted from 1950s Superman comic books – but in longer, comic-strip form, allowing for more details and extrapolation. See the lion-headed Superman (again)! Wonder (once more) who is behind the Black Knight’s helmet! (Re-)visit doomed Krypton, where Superman falls in love! Best of all, these Super-tales are brought to you by classic Super-artists Curt Swan and Wayne Boring. It’s like finding a stash of old Superman comics you vaguely remember but haven't seen for years.

The Archie book is equally good, with gag-a-day strips by original Archie artist (and probable creator) Bob Montana. After 20 years working on the Riverdale gang, Montana is at the top of his form in these genuinely funny strips starring not only the ol’ redhead, but Betty, Jughead, Miss Grundy, Mr. Weatherbee, Reggie, Veronica – even minor characters like school janitor Mr. Swensen and cafeteria chef Miss Beazley.

This gag-a-day format contrasts with the first Archie collection IDW released, which collected strips from 1946 to 1948 that told long-form stories. The reason those strips exist is because both the Archie and Superman comic strips began in the early 1940s! That raises some obvious questions, like why are these two collections from the ‘60s (called “the Silver Age” in comics parlance), and will the other Superman and Archie strips ever be collected?

Mullaney explained the problem. “The most difficult part of our work is to locate good quality source material,” he said. “No strips … no books.” Mullaney provides some strips from his personal collection, but he also relies on loans from other collectors and university archives, as well as the newspaper syndicates.

“The sad thing -- which makes our work more important -- is that for many strips, there are no known collections of the entire run,” Mullaney said. “Often, we will gather strips from around the globe, piecing together a complete set.”

Which explains why the Superman daily strip are being reprinted in chunks. Mullaney said he has a complete set of the Sunday Superman strips, and those will be published chronologically. But the daily strip is tougher.

“I've been in touch with many long-term collectors who have tried in vain for decades to assemble a complete set of dailies,” he said. “We started with the Silver Age dailies for two reasons: (1) it's a period many in our audience, me included, read as children and there's a great demand to see these strips for the first time; (2) Sidney Friedfertig, who's been collecting the strip for years, put has put together the only known set of the Silver Age strips.

“That said, we'll print the Silver Age first. Then go back to the 1950s “Atomic Age” (we're still working on locating some years), and finally, the Golden Age (we have about 90 percent of these in-hand).”

The Archie strip is equally problematic.

“There are no known archives of the strip,” Mullaney said. “A fan sent Archie Comics a scrapbook containing the first few years of the daily (1946-48), which is what we used for our first volume. We have since located several complete years from the early 1950s but not 1949. When we eventually find the missing strips, we'll print them. In the meantime, we located a great stash of complete dailies from 1960-1970, so skipped ahead to ‘The Swingin' Sixties.’”

And it is this work, archiving as much as entertaining, that makes Mullaney’s job a public service.

“The important thing is that, in the long run, we'll all have complete runs of these strips on our bookcases,” Mullaney said. “It won't matter if the Silver Age was published first or last. The key is having the complete library!”

And this comic fan couldn’t agree more.

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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There are several companies presently engaged in reprinting archival runs of classic comic strips, with IDW’s “Library of American Comics” being the preeminent example. I was a bit disappointed with the production values of the “Silver Age” Superman volume; it was obvious it was reprinted from clipped strips rather tha the syndicate proofs. (You see how spoiled I am?) You can tell by looking at the fine, wispy lines of individual strands of hair or it the pupils and irises of the characters’ eyes run together. The problem is, the engraver doesn’t know what to do with them using the printing techniques of the time. The choice is either to “thicken” the line up, or risk losing it altogether. Neither situation is ideal, but the former leads to blurry reproduction. If an archival edition is reproduced from syndicate proofs there’s no problem (using today’s printing techniques). Don’t get me wrong; I would much rather have a slightly blurry reproduction of some of these strips than not have them at all!

I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Previews catalogue yet, but IDW has now solicited Batman: The Silver Age Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1: 1966-1967 (as well as Steve Canyon, Vol. 4: 1953-1954) for ;ate January release. (I’ve been waiting particularly for the Batman volume every since sample were reprinted in one of the three “Golden Age” Batman volumes published in the ‘90s.

But the comic strip related news from the new Previews I am most excited about (from Dark Horse) is the publication of Gasoline Alley: The Complete Sundays, Vol. 1: 1920-1922. Life is soooo good!

Yes it is!

I focused on IDW in this column for two reasons. One, I was really curious why Archie and Superman were jumping around chronologically. And second, I really wanted to talk to the legendary Dean Mullaney!

The Superman strips are a missing link in the history of the Silver Age Superman, because they explain why Weisinger had Swan doing covers when Boring was still doing the interiors (Swan was doing the strip) and what happened to Boring when Swan began doing the comics stories (he replaced Swan on the strip).

I had assumed the reason for jumping around chronologically was to lead with their strongest material first (which is the same reason I assume Fantagraphics is releasing the volumes of their "Carl Barks Library" out of order), but lack of availability of strips makes sense, too.

Eclipse Comics started out in Columbia, Mo. (which is where I went to college). Infortunately, by the time I got there, they had relocated. :(

Good point, Luke. As a kid, I wanted Swan -- "the good Superman artist" -- to draw everything Superman related, and didn't understand why he didn't. (Hey, I was a kid.) But I've never really thought about what he drew and when, and you've certainly put the biggest piece of that puzzle in place.

I guess when the strip ended is when Weisinger bounced Boring. If you haven't heard that story, look it up -- and you'll know all you need to know about Mort Weisinger.

Luke Blanchard said:

The Superman strips are a missing link in the history of the Silver Age Superman, because they explain why Weisinger had Swan doing covers when Boring was still doing the interiors (Swan was doing the strip) and what happened to Boring when Swan began doing the comics stories (he replaced Swan on the strip).

...I've bought the book ,  yesterday , and have read maybe 1/4 by now .

  Should I comment on it/invite others here , or in a new line ???

  Obviously , seeing it as the front page main display here , when I came over...

  BTW , every story in the book is in some way - to differing extents - a version of a story , with the contents credits saying what story it is related to . Yes , I believe some are closer to the comic-book version than others .

  There is one story here that is a version , with Superman , of a story that was a Superboy story in the comic books . I had read that the Super-strip tended to do this - run as Superman stories stories which were Lad of Steel stories in the 10/12c magazines - and there is proof of that .

Which one was the Superboy story re-worked, ED? Of course, it's possible that it was also a Superman story at some point, too. Weisinger frequently re-used plots.

...It was titled something like (II , obvious-like , RC ~ It's not here with me now .) " Battle For Earth " and appeared funny book-ward in ADVENTURE , not the Lad of Steel's epoynomous(Sp?) title .

...BTW , regarding the Montana-era ARCHIE daily (which ran in our local daily - no Sunday , they didn't publish one - newspaper in the 70s with me as a wee 'un fanneladd , noting its different style to the I-now-know " DeCarloized " comic books and featuring adult characters Pa Archie and Mr. Weatherbee a lot ~ Obviously , newspapers are...You mean they're bought at all anymore ?...presumed to be bought by the " responsible " parents and thisis heading to something that I put up and either didn't go up or got taken down...Sob !!!!!!!!!...I put up here about the time of the Occupy movement's initial boom when I compared the general difference , especially during the late Silver and early Bronze Ages , between , in general , newspaper strip creators' business and contractual situations and how that may have affected the general , as I saw it , politico-economic bent of newspaper strip creators and funnybook ones)) I think that when the " Sixties " come to the fore in this Montana daily series...rather than the " Swingin' " Sixties , the strip will start to feature , maybe more by the early 70s literally speaking , a WHOLE LOT of rather sour/grumpy " longhair/protestor/hippie/rock'n'roll sucks " jokes an awful lot of dailies then did , that made DOONESBURY rather a new flavor when its syndicated version (Which our local - Pretty distinctly Republican , too !!!!!!!!! - paper carried from the beginning , the White Plains/Westchester County , NY REPORTER DISPATCH now known as the JOURNAL NEWS and tending to , Chamber Of Commerce-like , brand its general area as " The Lo-Hud " - Lower Hudson River Valley , ay yi yi (I had Carmen Miranda on before) the sort of abbreviation only a Chamber Of Commerce/local business boosters could think up !!!!!!!!!...IIRC .)...I have long thought a book/website of " hippies/long hair suxxx " vintage " humor " from back then , someone else when I brought this up suggested " The Hippie-Hater's Handbook " for a title , would be a decent ideer . And I was distinctly aged under/tucked a bit away in quiet suburbia from the greatest aggro of the time regarding that issue !!!!!!!!!

Captain Comics said:

I guess when the strip ended is when Weisinger bounced Boring. If you haven't heard that story, look it up -- and you'll know all you need to know about Mort Weisinger.

 

I've heard the story. I'm sympathetic to Boring, and I've also developed a taste for his art in recent years. But what was Weisinger to do? I have to suppose Boring's work was no longer commercial.

It wasn't so much that Weisinger fired Boring, it was the way he treated a dedicated veteran while doing it.

...(I am low on time , so a teaser)...The story " The Ugly Superman " , which is described as " considerably different " or even moreso , from the funnybook version has a REALLY strange moment at the end after the main point is wrapped up...It is , like Supie changing in a phone booth , one of those " Did this ever really HAPPEN in the actual comics ??? " moments...( Remember when the Mort's letcol started a search for any actual not-a-self-consious-joke phonebooth switches in the actual comic book itself ??? )

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