Some tantalizing tidbits from 2010: Adam Hughes, Archie comic strip, 'Harpe'

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Feb. 8, 2011 -- You think you’re behind? *Sigh* Let me try to get the last 2010 books out of the Teetering Tower of Review Stuff …


* I initially passed on Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes (DC, $39.99) because I have all the comics whose covers are contained in this oversize hardback, and art books don’t have a narrative to sustain my interest.


Oh, what a goose I am. Yes, I have all these covers from Catwoman, Wonder Woman and elsewhere, but I don’t have them all in one place, all annotated by the artist and all this BIG. Hughes is a terrific artist, not just with the female form (for which he’s known), but in the use of color palettes, composition and light effects. It would be a joy just to flip through the oversize pictures by themselves, but the amusing, self-deprecating explanations by the artist about his processes and decision-making is fascinating, especially to frustrated artists like your humble narrator. Hughes signs his work “AH!”, and that’s pretty much the reaction I had to every page.


* I also passed last year on Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948 (IDW, $39.99), because I usually don’t enjoy humorous comic strips. That’s because they’re usually what’s called “gag-a-day,” and at my age I think I’ve read every conceivable three-panel gag. Or they do have a narrative, but each daily installment spends so much time recapping yesterday and anticipating tomorrow that they rarely say much and it takes forever to tell even a simple story.


Maybe that’s not a fair assessment in general, and it surely isn’t for Archie, which a Legionnaire on my website insisted I buy (thanks, Jeff Plackmeier!). This stuff – all written and drawn by Archie’s creator, Bob Montana – is genuinely funny, even though it’s 60 years old. Plus, I love spelunking through old pop culture like this, trying to figure out the entertainment sociology of times long gone. For example, is it meaningful that every walk-on character is named Iggy? And there are a couple of surprisingly naughty gags – so was dirty-mindedness more acceptable then, or did they get through because 1940s editors weren’t dirty-minded enough? Also, it goes without saying that everyone was skinnier then, especially the (very fetching) girls – except for people over 40, who were invariably pear-shaped. Was that true?


I had a ball with these reprints, which really whet my appetite for Dark Horse’s complete Archie archives, beginning later this year. Also, everyone go buy a copy, so that IDW will publish a volume two!


* Harpe: America’s First Serial Killers (Cave In Rock, $9.99) came out sometime in 2009, a self-published, B&W, historical graphic novel that found itself to me last year. And, as both a history buff and a comics fan, I’m glad it did.


Harpe is the story of two brothers with that surname, Wiley and Micajah, who went on a killing spree in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky between 1797 and 1804. That’s during the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson administrations, which means that this story is on the Western frontier of the time, where there was no mass communication and very few lawmen. It’s hard to think of Knoxville as the Wild West, but it surely was in this time period, which allowed the bloody-minded brothers (with three women in tow) to escape justice long enough to kill more than 30 people. No, that’s not a typo. And it’s all true (mostly)!


Writer Chad Kinkle does an excellent job of suggesting the time and place through dialogue, which is necessarily fabricated.  I have to say artist Adam Shaw’s work – mostly ink wash – is a little rough. But then, so is the subject matter. And the horror sticks with you long after you’ve put the book down.


* The Tango Collection (Trafalgar Square, $24.95), as its name implies, is a collection from the first eight issues of an Australian comic book called Tango, which is described as “a quirky romance comic anthology.” I’ve recently come to appreciate romance books more than I used to, but Tango, I’m afraid, is a bit too quirky for me.


Tango offers 60 tales in 240 pages, so most are bafflingly short. And the art varies from odd to odder. I allow that could be ethnocentrism talking, but the upshot is that Tango read like a high school art class project, and I can’t recommend it.


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

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Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on February 14, 2011 at 8:40am

I recently read through what is essentially "Beetle Bailey: Year One," which was put together just like the Archie book you reference. I liked it enough to want to try more of these. I currently have "Hagar: Year One" on my list. I think I will be giving Archie a try too.

Thanks for the review Cap (and Jeff)!

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on February 14, 2011 at 8:41am
I'm glad you liked the Archie dailies as much as I'd hoped you would!
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on February 14, 2011 at 9:16am
What many people don't realize is that Beetle Bailey started out as a college humor strip (set at my alma mater, University of Missouri - Columbia). When I went there, Mort Walker's name could still be found carved into one of the tables at "The Shack" (since burned down). A Beetle Bailey statue has been erected near the spot, but I've never been back to see it.
Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on February 14, 2011 at 6:19pm

...Lumb , does this BEETLE BAILEY  book collect the few months or so of college strips ? Dailies(Sp??) -only or Sabbaths as well ? ( Likewise for the ARCHIE book ? )

  I recently read Missisippi Press's " Conversations With Mort Walker " , so I'm quite Mort-minded now .

  As far as volumes of vintage humor strips , I've been fiendin' a little for the " Origins Of Blondie And Dagwood " Vol. 1 of a complete BLONDIE collection , which , app. dalies-only , collects D&B's courtship finishing off with their wedding .

  I don't know that I'd be all that inclined to buy the umpteen volumes that would follow that , but if they reached the sweet , twelve-panel , Blondie Sundays of my youth , which I read in attractive , nicely-printed full-page tabloid in the New York SUNDAY NEWS , I think I'd get that:-)...

  Are these Archie comic-book archives going to print the Archie stories from TOP-NOTCH , ( I THINK that was the title !!!!! ) his anthology title and where he first appeared ? Especially the stories preceding ARCHIE #1...??? ???

Comment by Captain Comics on February 14, 2011 at 11:42pm

Emerkeith, the "Archie Archives" planned by Dark Horse are advertised as printing all Archie stories chronologically from the beginning. So, yes, we'll see all the Archie and Archie-related stories reprinted from all MLJ books, including Top Notch, Blue Ribbon, Pep Comics and all the other anthologies of the early '40s.


And, to tell you the truth, I thought that would be a painful (and expensive) exercise until we reached the Dan DeCarlo era. That is, until I read the Archie newspaper collection Jeff turned me onto, and I am no longer worried -- I'm eager! I want to read all the Bob Montana stuff, from whatever title.


You know, I don't believe Archie has EVER reprinted Montana's work in the 40-plus years I've been reading comics. I had no idea it was this good.

Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on February 15, 2011 at 6:58am
The Beetle Bailey book, "Beetle Bailey "The First Years: 1950-1952" does include the strips of his college days. They are the first six months (or so) of the strip before he transitions into the Army.
Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on February 15, 2011 at 2:20pm

...Thank you to both !!!!!!!!!

  If nothing else , a few years ago the " main " Archie digest reprinted all the editorial content of ARCHIE #1 - and , the first TOP-NOTCH story .

  Also , the " Archie Americana Series " tpbs had 2 volumes of 40s material .


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