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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...Okay , while SPOILING , this isn't really a detailed description...

  After the main action of " The Ugly Superman " finished , Lois , wanting to summon Superman and say something to him...GOES OVER to a window in the (I guess) Daily Planet building and JUMPS OUT of it , so that she may force Superman to rescue her (and so that she may talk to him) !!!!!!!!!!!

  Is this the only time this often-joked-about-in-" rude " Superman parodies piece of Lois' dependence manifests itself ?????????

  Superman rescues her JUST before she hits the ground ~ To give her a scare ~ But she does it !!!!!!!!!

  The first strip setting this up might , I suppose , be taken by a newbie to the strip as showing " real " despair on Lois' part - However , if you're familiar with the strip , I think , and read the words carefully-

I was just reading some 1960s Super-family stories last night, and boy, Lois was a pain!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

Did this ever really HAPPEN in the actual comics ??? " moments...

I don't know I've seen any, but the motif was sometimes parodied on covers in the 70s. I have in mind Action Comics #421, #475. My recollection is in one or more of the Fleisher cartoons he's seen changing in silhouette through the door window of a cloakroom, office or storeroom. One sees phone booths in 30s/40s movies that have a similar appearance (lined along an interior wall in some big building, with door windows but providing some privacy). In "Superman, Matinee Idol" from Superman #19 Clark and Lois go to see a Superman cartoon, and the cartoon has a sequence in which Superman changes in a cloakroom(1) and it's shown this way. Clark contrives to prevent Lois seeing the bits of the cartoon that give away his identity.

 

When I brought this issue up on the old board someone pointed out that the "Superduperman!" from Mad #4 has a phone booth change sequence. I think I recall another (I originally wrote it was the same story, but that's not so; it might be the Popeye one) where the phone booth is located in the middle of a football field during a game.

 

The first Christopher Reeve film has a sight gag where he's looking for somewhere to change and passes a line of boothless phones. When I saw the film it got laughs.

 

(1) It's presumably a cloakroom because cartoon-Lois locks cartoon-him in there after sending him to get her hat.

 

(corrected)

You know, I don't recall a phone booth change off-hand. If it happened, I'd bet it was in the very early stories, so if I were to look, I'd look there first.

What I remember in the Silver Age most is Clark changing in the stock room at the Daily Planet. That was even featured on a couple of covers. I can remember Clark ducking into a room at The Daily Planet on the '50s TV show, and while I can't remember what the sign on the door said, I'd bet "stock room." He also favored an alley on the left side of the building as you face it.

I don't have my copy of Michael Fleischer's "The Great Superman Book" at hand, but as I recall, he cited only two instances of Superman changing clothes in a phone booth. The overwhelming number of examples found him doing so in the Daily Planet supply room. That's where he always did it in the Filmation TV cartoons in the '60s.
The phone booth thing seems to be from the Fleischer cartoons. Even though it didn't happen all that often, it clearly is a vivid image, since it's the one everybody remembers!

I'd guess at the time of the cartoons, being in a phone booth was a universal experience!

...Okay , no-one had anything to say about " silly sucicidal Lois "...And , with me likely to be in the hospital for a while , now , me writing this before admission , I may not either !!!!!!!!!

Get well soon, E.D.

Indeed, ED.  Hope it goes well.

 

(I loved that scenario of Lois jumping out a window just to have a casual word with Clark.  Wonderfully surreal.  In fact those old comics are obviously surreal more than they are realistic.  Realistically speaking Lois was a pain, but witihin the weird world of those comics, she was another wonderful sparky, crazy, hilarious element, with her trousseau ever at the ready!)

I'm happy to see these strips coming out, no matter what the order. I'm looking forward to the Batman Silver Age strips, which apparently have been delayed until July 2014. A rare strip that I would like to see (which will never happen?) is the 1950's My Friend Irma by Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo. I very much enjoy the comics I have of this title.

...At least by the time we get beyond the Archie period covered here , into the later " Sixties " and earlier Seventies , doesn't:

(1) Archie tend to have a larger number of jokes involving the adult characters of Archie's parents and Mr. Weatherbee , with no connection to teenagers at all ?

(2 the strip , as the " Sixties " roll along , feature a number of rather cranky/you-kids-get-off-my-lawn ! longhair/rock'n'roller/protestor jokes ?

Yeah, the Batman strips have been delayed. I'm not sure why.

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