The Captain confesses
Rectifying a reprint wrong
By Andrew A. Smith
The Captain’s readers – honorary members of the Legion of Superfluous Heroes, all! – have been pretty vocal of late. This month’s mailbag contains questions about comic strips, the best “Favorite Find” story I’ve ever heard, plus … the unthinkable.
Let’s begin with the latter, while I still have the courage. Brace yourselves, dear readers, as I impart to you a fact of life that will stun you into disbelief. There also might be some rending of clothing, tearing of hair, and gnashing of teeth, so perhaps the children should leave the room.
You see, my brethren and cistern, there are, on very, very rare occasions, times when Captain Comics is, ah, not entirely accurate. That is to say: a hair off target. A fact honored in the breach rather than the observance. Conclusions unsupported by the data.
Or, in layman’s terms, “wrong.”
Such was the case in “The Growth of Reprints” (CBG #1687, Mar 12), in regard to “Flash Gordon.” Legionnaire Dennis Roy of Lawrence, Mass., gently offered this correction:
Dear Cap: Like you, I am a fanatical collector of classic reprint volumes. Having just read this week’s CBG column, I felt I had to point out a couple of mistakes in the section covering Flash Gordon.
Quote: “Currently, the Alex Raymond daily strips are available from both Checker and Kitchen Sink. But the Sundays haven't been reprinted as often and never in their original size – until now.”
That’s completely wrong, except for the part beginning with “. . . never in their original size.” The Kitchen Sink FG reprints are now out of print, although new, unused copies of some volumes may still be available from some sellers [while] the Checker Books reprints are still in print. And, in fact, both the Kitchen Sink and Checker Books series reprint the same material – SUNDAY strips, from the beginning (as did an earlier series from Nostalgia Press in the 1960s and 1970s). So, except for format (and the Jungle Jim topper), the Flash Gordon strips that IDW will be reprinting will be the exact same story material as the earlier companies.
Flash Gordon DAILY strips have thus far only been reprinted three times. The first instance was a series of five Tempo Books mass-market paperback reprints of the 1970s Dan Barry-Bob Fujitani strips, which came out in the 1980s. Good luck finding these.
The next reprinting of daily FG strips was from Kitchen Sink in 1988, a single-volume collection of Dan Barry strips (with assistance by Harvey Kurtzman and Frank Frazetta on some strips) from the 1950s, from when the daily was first revived after a long hiatus. Rick Norwood privately printed a sequel volume, Flash Gordon: Star over Atlantis, in 2007 (this picks up right where KS’s volume left off).
The next instance was a two-volume collection of the first run of FG dailies (illustrated by Austin Briggs, from 1940-1942) by Kitchen Sink that came out in 1992-1993. Not sure, but this might have been the entire run of the strip in the 1940s.
Other than that, love the column.
The Captain responds: You love, what, the byline? The paper grade? MY UTTER HUMILIATION? *SOB!*
Seriously, Dennis, you are completely correct, and I was Ruh-ruh-ruh … Ruh-rawww … Raw-uh-uh … Well, I was not correct. I have a smattering of most of the collections you mention – even the Dan Barry volume from 1988 – but I never had enough to know exactly what I had, or where they fit into the canon. So I made some bad assumptions. Now, thanks to you, I know exactly what they are – just in time for most of them to be made superfluous by the beautiful, oversize Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim series from IDW, which not only lushly restores the strips and prints them in their original size, but offers insightful commentary and analysis as well.
Now that I’ve taken my well-deserved lumps, let’s move on to the promised “Favorite Find” story, from Robert Sutliff of North White Plains, NY:
Dear Cap: Those were some great “Favorite Find” stories in CBG #1689 (May 12). Here's my own personal one.
I started collecting the top Marvel titles in late 1964, all of which I still have today. However, I was missing the key numbers 1-15 or so of each title (in the case of Thor, it was Journey into Mystery #83 up). Of course, there was no such thing as the Internet, direct market, major conventions, or even close contact with “comic book dealers.”
The years ticked by until 1971, when I was in college and working a midnight shift job in Manhattan. I got out at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, with a paycheck ready to be cashed on Monday. As I headed back to Queens, I gave an idle thought to the fact that it was a “Second Sunday,” when Phil Seuling held a monthly comic-book “convention” at the Statler Hilton (now the Pennsylvania Hotel) across the street from Madison Square Garden. As I was changing trains at Penn, I decided to go up and have a look, even though the doors wouldn't be open yet.
Realizing that I had very little money, I managed to cash my check at Penn Station, something I would NEVER normally do. As I waited outside the Statler, I noticed a gentlemen pleading with a hotel staff member for assistance or advice. Seeing me, he called me over and told me his situation: he had arrived in New York City from out of town, assumed he could park at the hotel (hah!), and expected to have help carrying in his boxes full of comics to sell. Instead, he was stuck curbside without help.
He proposed that for a cash compensation, he would wait with his car, while I carry his boxes up to his designated area, secure them, and await his arrival. I could tell he was from out of town by the amount of trust he placed in a stranger from NYC! But, being a nice fellow, I agreed (after all, I would get paid for this and get into the convention free as well). After all was delivered and he joined me upstairs, he further requested that I help him unbox his books and set them up since he was now running late.
The doors hadn't opened yet, and I was eager to peruse the room, but, what the heck, I decided to help him again. Soon, my eyes were bulging after we started loading heap after heap of COMPLETE comic runs (#1 up) of every Marvel title.
When all was done and he asked me what I thought was a fair wage for my assistance, I made a counter-offer. I would pay HIM for first crack at all of his books. He gracefully said yes, and I skimmed issues 1-15 off of every pile. Even at 1971 prices, the cash total was still more than an average person would carry around (and credit cards were not abundant), but luckily I had the money from my cashed check! Thanking him, I headed for the exit just as the doors opened for the day.
In my retreat, I heard onlookers reaching his table exclaim “What a great find! But where are the first 15 issues of each title?” In my bag, friends, in my bag. And so that set of crazy coincidences on that crazy day gave me the core of my collection. It was my greatest find!
The Captain responds: And what a find it is! I admit to both jealousy and awe … well, mostly jealousy. You wouldn’t perchance care to part with the first six issues of Amazing Spider-Man, would you? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, congratulations, Robert! But let’s change the subject, before the rest of us burst into tears. Here’s a query from Tim Markin of Erie, Penn., that I hope some publisher out there can answer.
Dear Cap: Hello, regular reader of your column here; however, I couldn't figure out how to post on your blog, so I'm writing to you directly. [Captain’s Note: If cbgxtra.com is unavailable, I can also be found at captaincomics.ning.com.]
I too feel lucky that there are so many reprints available today (although I can't afford to buy most of the ones I want), since I can remember back in the ‘70s when reprints were few and far between. I am a fan of the classic newspaper strips and back then, you rarely saw them, or else they were in small paperback size. (I fondly recall the Dragon Lady Press and Blackthorne books of the ‘80s.) However, there is one classic series I am writing about that I have yet to see reprinted in America: the Saunders/Overgard years of Steve Roper & Mike Nomad. I know The Commercial Appeal [in Memphis, Tenn.] carried it (my ex-wife lives in Memphis so I did see it there when I visited the city) but not sure what years it was there.
I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where Allen Saunders wrote the Roper strip, along with Mary Worth and Kerry Drake (both of which have had reprints published). I discovered it back in 1977 and clipped it every day. It was neat knowing that my favorite comic was being written mere miles from my home, and in the 1980s I was lucky enough to visit Allen's son John at his downtown Toledo office after he replaced his retired and deceased father on the strips, to discuss my love of the Mike Nomad character. (He says that Mike Nomad was modeled after a Marine in a Marine Corps magazine, but I really think the Mike Nomad of 1956 sure bears a strong resemblance to actor Jeff Chandler.)
As a cartoonist, my dream was to write and draw the Roper/Nomad strip (and nearly every comic I created was in some way inspired by the strip. In my own comic book Breakneck Blvd. for Slave Labor, I envisioned Pall Blighter as a gay Mike Nomad).
My point is that with all the classics being reprinted, I think Steve Roper and Mike Nomad are due their own reprint series. I admit that William Overgard's early comic-book work was somewhat crude, but his work on Steve Roper beginning in 1954 (along with Nomad's subsequent introduction in 1956) was the high point of adventure strips. Allen and John Saunders’ scripts were oh-so-literate and very topical as they dealt with contemporary con games throughout the 1950s into the 1980s.
I have been tempted to write to some editor at Fantagraphics or IDW or some other publisher to appeal to their sensibilities and do the Roper/Nomad strip justice. Do you have any interest or familiarity yourself with the strip? (I remember Sergio Aragones telling me at a con about reading the strip in a Mexican paper in the ‘60s and the Hernandez Brothers claiming to be fans.) Do you think there would be any interest from any publisher? Do you think I would be wasting my time trying to appeal to any editors?
Sorry to ramble on so, but I am looking forward to your point of view and pick your brain if you too are familiar with the strip.
The Captain responds: How could I not be, Tim? I grew up in Memphis, and the Li’l Capn loved comic strips so much he cut all of them out of The Commercial Appeal (and the now-defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar) and glued them into individual notebooks. Alas, I threw those all away when paperback collections of my favorite strips began appearing, but I remember Steve Roper & Mike Nomad quite vividly.
Actually, what I remember was wondering why the strip was named Steve Roper & Mike Nomad when I never saw this Steve Roper person. In fact, I remember wondering if it was some sort of in-joke for long-time readers, like a second identity for Nomad when he went undercover. Which he never did. Nor did he seem bright enough to do anything of the sort. But I was young, and probably none too bright myself.
Anyway, I know that Chris Ryall of IDW often reads this column, so I’m hoping he’s reading now and has plans for Steve Roper. And it wouldn’t hurt to write him, Tim, or Mike Richardson at Dark Horse, or Terry Nantier at NBM Publishing. They’re all hip-deep in newspaper reprints, and an inquiry might inspire them to check into the strip. I hope so, because I’d still like to know who this Steve Roper dude is.
We’ve room for one more question about comic strips, so here’s one from Phil Wagner of Arlington, Texas.
Dear Cap: While reading your article in CBG #1687 about the current run of reprint volumes that are now becoming available, I noticed the praise you were lavishing on the upcoming books reprinting the classic Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon comic strips, and I had to ask if you have been keeping up with the current Prince Valiant comic strip, which has been featuring a fanboy crossover (at least for this fanboy of the classic King Features adventure comic strips) with Flash Gordon. And, if you have, what has been your take on this unlikely team-up?
The Captain responds: My local paper doesn’t carry Prince Valiant, but I’m familiar with the subject as it has Legionnaires on my website swooning in fanboy ecstasy. Because, as you state, it is exactly the sort of dream crossover that would make any fanboy or fangirl squeal like a robot being karate chopped by Magnus, Robot Fighter. So what do you think is my reaction to such a thing coming into existence?
Andrew “Captain Comics” Smith has been writing professionally about comics since 1992, and for Comics Buyer’s Guide since 2000.