The Library of American Comics is dedicated to preserving, in definitive editions, the long and jubilantly creative history of the American newspaper comic strip. While our production values are archival, the material we present is fresh and exciting.
Newspapers across the country delivered coverage of Man’s first steps on the Moon to Americans eager to read every word on the morning of Monday, July 21, 1969. As this breakout box shows, the quotes of astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were forever preserved for posterity:
The Chicago Tribune presented its audience with an especially memorable Monday front page:
The comics pages from July 21st lacked the euphoria and pride that was so readily apparent in the “news” sections, since creators had prepared their mid-summer strips while many school-aged children were still in their classrooms; they were an oasis of “business as usual” — given that the “usual” involved gags designed to elicit a smile and the daily chapter in the latest unfolding sagas of adventure series. The Little Red-Haired Girl has moved away in Peanuts, leaving a bereft Charlie Brown to face the consequences of his own inaction. (One wonders how this strip would have been received had something gone tragically wrong with Apollo 11 …) Beetle Bailey and Tumbleweeds deliver their reliable brand of grins, while Roy Crane prepares to plunge Buz Sawyer into danger once again. Like its Friday predecessor that we looked at last week, this Monday Little Orphan Annie also differs from the strips LOAC has reprinted so far in its series of books devoted to the feature — Harold Gray’s signature is absent. Gray had passed away from cancer in 1968 at age seventy-four, and the syndicate kept America’s Spunkiest Kid alive, even without her creator to guide her exploits. The recent LOA strips in this space were the product of artist Tex Blaisdell and writer Elliot Caplin (brother of Li’l Abner‘s Al Capp, who enjoyed a long career in comics all his own).
Viewed from one perspective, the promise of the Apollo program has failed to materialize. The sight of Saturn V rockets blasting man into space, once compelling, became routine. The near-calamity of Apollo 13 was a grim reminder of the perils of exploration, and decisions to “play to the crowds” (with Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard playing golf on the Moon, for example) notoriously backfired, as questions began to be raised about whether the money spent on Lunar visitation could be put to better use on Earth. Yet many areas of 21st Century life that are taken for granted evolved from capabilities originally developed to support space exploration — the fact we are able to share this message is owed in part of satellite technology that has roots extending back to the 1960s Mercury/Gemini/Apollo programs.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported to its readers on July 21st, 1969:
Many of us who remember watching that first Lunar excursion a half-century ago fervently hope that the exploration of the Moon — and beyond — has only been delayed, and is far from completed. In the meantime, we salute Astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, as well as the countless scientists, engineers, launch crew, communications experts, mathematicians, and mission support staff who made their voyage possible. We may promote others to stand with them as Man’s probing of space continues, but we will not see their like again.
— Mankind left its earthly cradle and set foot on another heavenly body as Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin left the confines of their Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), dubbed the Eagle, and walked on the Moon.
That momentous event, however, did not occur until almost 4:18 in the afternoon — which means the Sunday newspapers that day were on sale many hours before Armstrong pressed the first human footprint into lunar soil. In my native New England, coverage of the anticipation of Armstrong and Aldrin’s “extra-vehicular activity” (EVA) was forced below the front-page fold, because news of another newsworthy item concerning a high-profile member of Massachusetts’s “first family” was coming to light.
Here is the Boston Sunday Globe front page, with its first coverage of what is now known as “the Chappaquiddick incident” involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy:
With major motion pictures released during the past two years related to both these events — 2017’s Chappaquiddick and last year’s First Man, focused on the life story of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong — it strikes me as somewhat strange to realize events I lived through are now considered “history” by the culture-at-large …
As we discussed last time in this space, lead times kept the newspaper comics pages during this period basically empty of content related to Apollo 11. I saw symmetry in including below the July 20th, 1969 Sunday page from the very first series LOAC reprinted, Terry and the Pirates, to parallel the very first moonwalk. And in 1969, no TV series was hotter than Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, a brightly-colored comedy series filled with rapid-fire sketches and blackouts. A regular feature of the program was its “joke wall” — in which cast members and guest stars popped in and out of view, tossing off fast-paced “two-liners” — and Ron Doty’s Laugh-In comic strip uses the joke wall to good effect.
The Sunday papers had long been absorbed by the afternoon of July 20th, and America was bathed in phosphor-dot light, watching the network news program of its choice as television transmissions from another heavenly body delivered the transcendent moment the Boston Globe would declare so simply and emphatically in its Monday, July 21st headline:
Of course, getting there was only half the story — Apollo 11 could not be successful unless Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were able to come safely home. The “history” I referenced earlier tells us that was the case, but join us in this space tomorrow for a last look at the flight of Apollo 11 — and our sampling of newspaper comics from that period.
We’re quickly closing in on the 50th anniversary of The Landing of the Eagle, as the Apollo 11 mission brought Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin safely to the surface of the Moon and back. Surely the media coverage of this golden anniversary is difficult to escape, and that’s as it should be — those of us who were alive to follow the voyage of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins (who remained in orbit, piloting the Command Module Columbia as his fellow astronauts trod the Lunar surface) remember it as one of those rare moments when much of the entire planet was united to celebrate an amazing accomplishment.
Being born in mid-July, I was nine years old when Apollo 11 blasted off for its date with destiny, but ten years old when Armstrong made his “one small step for a man.” Headlines across the country mirrored this one, from the Boston Globe, as Columbia roared skyward from Kennedy Space Center atop a Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969:
The mission was reported as proceeding smoothly, as this L.A. Times headline from the next day shows:
America was poised to win the “space race” that began with the launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957, but the competing Soviet Union wasn’t going down without a fight. What is easy to forget is that they had their own unmanned probe, Luna 15, headed toward the Moon concurrent with the Apollo 11 mission. America might be the first to get a man to the Moon, but the Soviets planned to be the first to bring back samples from the surface of Earth’s satellite for scientific study.
Despite the fervor of the space race, the 1960s were a more genteel time than our own, and the race to the Moon was conducted in a gentlemanly manner — the Soviets provided NASA with an advance copy of Luna 15’s flight plan to allow both sides to insure there would be no collision between Luna 15 and Columbia.
On the comics pages, meanwhile, it was largely business as usual. Strips were prepared so far in advance of actual publication dates that trying to tie into Apollo 11 would have been a high-risk venture — the mission was sure to be historic, but no cartoonist’s crystal ball was good enough to predict whether it would be for triumphal or tragic reasons. So it is that the newspaper comics were concerned with more earthbound matters — as shown below in this mini-fantasy comics page from July 19, 1969, The Wizard of Id was poking fun at the “sit-ins,” “peace-ins”, and “love-ins” of the period — Li’l Abner was building suspense around Al Capp’s fictional version of then-superstar lawyer F. Lee Bailey — and as was so often the case, Juliet Jones and Bob Montana’s Archie dealt with the hormonal relationships between young men and young women. Readers of our Little Orphan Annie books may notice something different about the July 19th strip included here, compared to all the strips we have reprinted in the series to date. Keep watching this space as we continue to look at Apollo 11’s historic mission to see what that difference is …
At the halfway point of the year 2019 (what? already? how can that be possible?), we continue to celebrate the LOAC Road to 200 with our June spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune.
Our line of books feature a variety of sizes, shapes, and page counts — sometimes that’s determined by our own aesthetic senses, but often it is dictated by the format of the strips that are available for reprinting. “Tab” Sundays — so-called because they ran in “portrait-oriented” tabloid newspapers — require a different layout than do “halves,” which are structured in landscape mode.
Why is size on our minds? Because for our June spin we opted to load the LOAC Wheel of Fortune with most of our tallest books. Of course, this includes our Champagne Edition titles — Polly and Her Pals Sundays and Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim. Our Superman line of Sunday pages, the Alex Toth Genius series, and Alex’s Bravo for Adventure releases all qualify, as do Miss Fury, Beyond Mars, and King of the Comics. The roster of Big & Tall LOAC volumes looks like this:
The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that our nine Li’l Abner books all could be included here, but we chose not to list them since our April spin of the LOAC Wheel landed on Abner Volume 7. Much as we all admire Al Capp’s incredible series, we knew it wouldn’t be sporting to give the Dogpatch crew a solid chance to hog the “Wheel” spotlight — and even with the Abners not on this month’s list, we have nineteen big books ready to go for a spin!
Here they are, loaded into the LOAC Wheel of Fortune …
… And, after limbering up an arm and giving out with a sizable spin, the Wheel selected …
This book was special to me, personally, because it allowed me to converse for the second and final time with that larger-than-life author, Harlan Ellison. A lifelong comics fan, Ellison agreed to be interviewed to discuss the strip in general, and to provide first-hand anecdotes and observations about his friend and fellow Science Fiction Grandmaster, Jack Williamson. Jack wrote Beyond Mars, setting it in the “Seetee Universe” he had previously established in some of his prose fiction.
I’m sure I first became aware of Harlan Ellison through Marvel Comics — he received credit in a connected story that ran across Avengers # 88 and Hulk # 140 circa 1971 — but it was as a high schooler, buying his paperbacks off the shelves at my local bookstores and newsstand, when he made an indelible impression on me. I was there in 1974 when the “Signet” paperback house published The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World and Ellison Wonderland; also in that year, Pyramid did a third printing of H.E.’s earlier I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream collection. In 1975 Pyramid began two-year run that saw publication of twelve uniform-edition Ellison books, and I haunted the stores, snapping up each as it appeared. Ellison’s stories were always sharp and well-crafted, and they became more subtle and nuanced as he matured as a writer, but as much as I treasured his fiction, I found Harlan’s skill as an essayist equally compelling. I wasn’t alone on that front — my long-time friend (and Gene Colan biographer) Tom Field marks his Ellison connection to my recommending to him the 1982 collection Stalking the Nightmare, and particularly the essay “The Three Most Important Things in Life.”
It was the aforementioned Mr. Field who was responsible for my first encounter with Mr. Ellison. Not long after my Dad passed away, in the autumn of 1998, Tom contacted me to say, “Hey — Harlan Ellison is giving a talk in Boston. We should go!” There were not an abundance of forces that could have roused me out of the funk caused by my father’s death, but would I ever get another opportunity to be in the same room with Ellison? So we went, and Harlan gave a lively and engaging talk, and he signed autographs afterward, and when my turn in line came, I asked after his struggles against the City of Los Angeles. I remember him seeming pleased that I knew of the harangue, likely correctly concluding that I had seen him on The Late Late Show, hosted by Tom Snyder, discussing how he was wrangling against L.A.’s municipal fathers to protect his home and its compelling view. We passed a pleasant minute-plus, and then I made way for those behind me in the line.
As the 21st Century unfolded and LOAC launched and grew, IDW’s then-Publisher/now-President Chris Ryall had an acquaintanceship with Ellison, and through Chris Dean and I learned that Harlan was enthusiastic about The Library of American Comics line of books. It was welcome news — it’s never less than gratifying when a creator whose placed a stamp on your life says nice things about the work you’re doing — but I never expected my path to again cross H.E.’s.
Then we decided to reprint Beyond Mars … and Chris was planning a visit to Ellison Wonderland … circumstances unfolded in fortunate ways … and there I was, in 2015, conducting a phone interview with Harlan Ellison. He was eighty-one years old at the time, and had suffered a stroke during the prior year, but he was animated and charming and opinionated as he spoke with me. You’ll find much of what he had to say about Jack Williamson in the pages of Beyond Mars, but here are two thoughts he shared about Jack that failed to make my final editorial cuts for publication:
“We used to get together whenever he would come back East,” Ellison said. “If I was in New York and he was in New York we would go for lunch and have steaks together. He would have a T-bone, I’d have a T-bone, and we’d sit there and eat like a couple of cowboys. He was a tall, rangy, cowboy-like guy.” And, discussing Jack’s longtime role as an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University, Harlan said, “I think [Williamson] had a great tolerance for the arrogance and in-bred entitlement of young people. He smiled and said, ‘Yeah, been there, done that,’ and then he went ahead and taught them over and above their ability to absorb it. And I think that’s what Beyond Mars does, too – it’s got an intelligence to it that drags you along with it and uplifts you and makes you smarter.”
The comic featured more than Jack Williamson’s intelligence and gift for prose — Lee Elias’s Caniff-inspired artwork is as imaginative as it is eye-catching. I communicated with several comic book veterans who were effusive in their praise for Elias, none more so than John Romita Sr., who discussed the effect Beyond Mars had on him when it ran during his days a a neophyte comics professional. “… Having the full page, on the back [of the News], beautifully colored — to me, is it was like The Wizard of Oz when the color came on,” said Romita. “I remember mentioning to other comics freaks that I was so pleased to see how Lee Elias had progressed, because his work was even more polished than [it had been] when I was a kid, and that extra polish was very reassuring to me. It meant that you could expand your ability, and that was a big thing for me to know, since I’d just been in the business about two years when I saw Beyond Mars.”
The strip is a representative of the kind of science fiction no longer published, but which provided the foundation upon which Star Wars and cyberpunk and “The Singularity” (as discussed in the works of Vernor Vinge and others) was built. It’s also a late-in-its-heyday form of comics storytelling that can still teach lessons to today’s aspiring artists. Some books, however, are measured by more than their value as entertainment, instruction, or historical artifact — they are benchmarks that forever connect us to cherished times, places, persons, and events in our lives. For me, Beyond Mars is and always will be one of those books. And who knows? Maybe our July spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune will land on one of those books for you …
Treasures Retold: The Lost Art of Alex Toth is just hitting stores and the raves have already begun:
The Library of American Comics has “put together an exciting and insightful new companion volume to their Eisner Award-winning Alex Toth: Genius trilogy…a superb mix of material.” —Scoop
“An eye feast of words and pictures…Over 290 pages of eye popping, adventure, art, and creativity by Alex Toth. AMAZING stuff. This is an addition that every creative person must have in their personal library.” —Beau Smith
There’s no better time to fill in your collection or sample a new series at a fraction of its cover price — and since your books are packaged and shipped directly from IDW, they’ll arrive at your door in excellent condition (unless your mailman leaves the package outside in the rain, that is …)
Also, while supplies last, get an EXCLUSIVE Library of American Comics pin with each order. These pins were a hit when we gave them away at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and now here’s your chance to get yours!
Keep reading for all the details!
For each of the next three weeks, we’re going to spin the LOAC Wheel of Savings to offer a 25% discount on all the volumes within one specific series. Which will it be? Dick Tracy? Amazing Spider-Man? Rip Kirby? Little Orphan Annie? Or any of the nearly 200 books in our catalogue?!
We’re going to announce the first Savings Spin exclusively in the LOAC Newsletter on Monday, June 17th. Then the offer will be available to everyone the next day, but supplies are limited and each series will be on sale for just 10 days, so to make sure you get what you want, sign up for our Newsletter today and get in on the ground floor of this exciting offer!
We’ve made it! SUPERMAN: THE SILVER AGE SUNDAYS, VOL. 2: 1963-1966 is concludes the complete Superman Sundays series! Coming in October, this book contains more rare Superman comics from Wayne Boring and Jerry Siegel!
In these classic adventures from January 27, 1963 until the series conclusion on May 1, 1966, the impish Mr. Mxyzptlk returns from the Fifth Dimension to exasperate the Man of Steel; Superman becomes Super-Cop to outwit a master spy when Metropolis’s entire police force is disabled; tries to help a planet of blind people regain their sight, but loses his own powers in the process; fights it out with his arch enemy Lex Luthor on an alien planet where Luthor is the hero and Superman a villain; competes in the Interplanetary Olympics against a field in which everyone has super-powers; travels back in time with Lois Lane; and is reunited with he mermaid Lori Lemaris; plus more!
Superman: The Silver Age Sundays, Vol. 2: 1963-1966
9.25” x 12” | Hardcover | Full color | 184 pages | $49.99
Deadlines, family commitments, and some technical difficulties have delayed our May dip into the LOAC Wheel of Fortune, but it’s not like we forgot or anything, believe me!
Since May is the fifth month of the year,. we opted to look at all our releases to-date that have a “5” in their volume number — that encompasses “Volume 5s,” “Volume 15s,” and in the case of Dick Tracy, even a Volume 25! For the first time, if memory serves, we’re also including a pair of 2019 releases in a Wheel of Fortune population, since both Spider-Man and Donald Duck celebrated their fifth volumes (in Donald’s case, his fifth volume of dailies).
So here’s the population, eleven titles strong:
Looking at the list, I found a few surprises in it — I didn’t realize we finished the Al Williamson run on Corrigan before our seventy-fifth release, or that Bungle Family (which is still fresh in my mind, a testament to the quality of the strip) fell into our first hundred books. Anyway, here it is, loaded into the Wheel and ready for a big spin:
And this month’s featured title is <insert drum roll and dramatic pause here> …
A real pleasure to see the Wheel bring up LOA (as we like to refer to it), since in my opinion this is one of our consistently-best, yet perhaps most-underappreciated series. In one pithy sentence: Harold Gray knew how to tell a story. And he moves to a near-novelistic approach beginning with the tales in this particular volume, which marks the end of Annie‘s first decade and the beginning of its second.
This volume opens with one of LOA‘s most-reprinted continuities: the saga of the blind fiddler, “Uncle Dan.” Annie and Sandy team up with him during one of those periods when gal and dog are on their own, and the trio run afoul of that snake-in-the-grass agent, C.C. Chizzler. (I said Gray knew how to tell a story — I didn’t say he was subtle!) These strips formed the basis of a Cupples and Leon collection, a Big Little Book, and a turn-of-the-21st-Century Pacific Comics Club paperback.
Annie and “Daddy” Warbucks reunite just in time for Christmas, 1933, but happiness doesn’t last long as the continuity we called “Bleek House” unfolds over the next twelve months. Have Annie’s real parents — Boris and Libby Bleek — found their lost daughter at last? Can they separate her from her beloved “Daddy”? Where do the unctuous Phil O. Bluster and Warbucks’s staunch friend, Wun Wey, fit into the picture? How does “Daddy” end up behind bars? And why is he penniless by the time he is once again a free man? It’s a compelling, entertaining read, and our collection includes another excellent Introduction from Gray scholar Jeet Heer, plus information about the Little Orphan Annie radio show and motion picture of the period.
Annie and “Daddy” are both shining examples of qualities we associate closely with America, but which are really universal, and universally admired: the willingness to stand up for the downtrodden who are mistreated by those in power; quick wit and ingenuity; the ability to successfully collaborate with others, or call on a a core of self-reliance that sustains when other, less hearty souls have abandoned the cause. I may not always agree with Harold Gray’s politics or positions, but I greatly admire the way he crafted and grew these two characters, who often remind us of the best to be found in the human condition.
Of course, we have since published many more LOA volumes, carrying Annie, her friends, and family through World War II and into the 1950s. Throughout the years and all their attendant trials, she remains what Dean has dubbed her: America’s Spunkiest Kid. There are many high points in Annie’s long-running narrative, but if you’re interested in sampling one slice of it, you can’t go wrong by picking Little Orphan Annie, Volume 5 — and you may decide to come back for more!
Speaking of that, rejoin me in this space in just a few weeks for our June spin of the LOAC Wheel of Fortune …
The countdown begins! DICK TRACY, VOL. 27: 1972-1974 brings us one volume closer to completing the entire run of Chester Gould’s square-jawed detective. Look for this one in December!
With one end of a rope around Tracy’s neck and the other end attached to an innocent young boy hanging out of a high-rise window, Chester Gould proves that he can still invent unique death traps for the sharp-jawed detective. The tension and excitement continue throughout the stories collected in this book, as Tracy and his team are led on one relentless chase after another. And just when they think they’ve captured the criminal mastermind known as “Button,” he escapes…and escapes again! Also featured are Button’s sister named Hope Lezz; the knife-throwing ex-vaudevillian Keeno-the-Great; a con man named Big Brass, who peddles atomic nose rings; and a seemingly demure grandmother named Florabelle, who dresses up her long-dead brother’s skull with a wig, hat, shirt, tie, and cigar…and just happens to keep a razor-sharp guillotine in her basement. Things never slow down in Dick Tracy Volume 27, which reprints all dailies and Sundays from September 28, 1972 to July 6, 1974.
After a few months off, Bruce Canwell and Kurtis Findlay return to bring you the latest news on the Library of American Comics & EuroComics Podcast!
In this episode, Bruce and Kurtis discuss a bunch of new releases, including Dick Tracy, Vol. 25, Steve Canyon, Vol. 9, Donald Duck, Vol. 5, Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 5 and Superman: The Golden Age, Vol. 3! Plus, special guest Rich Handley talks about his love of Star Wars his contributions to the 3-volume Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Strip series!