This is a continuation of Bleeding Cool contributor Ian Melton's interview with Bruce Canwell. Find previous interview parts here.
BLEEDING COOL: The other comic book super-hero collections the Library of American Comics has done there was a collection for Wonder Woman, and the Silver Age Batman collections, and the Silver Age Superman collections. You were an associate editor on the Silver Age Superman collections, and I was wondering if you could answer why the Silver Age strips for Superman were collected first? The front flip on the dust jacket states the Silver Age will be collected first, then the Atomic Age, and the Golden Age last. So far the Silver Age and Atomic Age have been collected with the Golden Age having volume 1 published so far. Is this related to the older Kitchen Sink / Sterling collections?
Bruce Canwell: No, it's primarily related to access to the source material, that is, the comic strips themselves. Dean has observed — rightly, I think — that these newspaper strips are probably the rarest Superman collectibles of all. Comic strip fans tended not to collect Superman, because they saw it as a comic book spin-off, and the comic book fans felt no need to clip and save the strips when they had their own stacks of Superman comic books always at hand. Seemingly no one has a complete collection of Superman comic strips — and if you do, or know someone who does, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org! This leaves us cobbling together the contents of a book by finding a run of strips available here, another batch of strips from a source there.
We used the collection of Silver Age strips owned by Sid Friedfertig, who wrote the introductions to those books, since Sid had high-quality copies of those strips readily available. That's why we published the Silver Age strips first. We have enough consecutive Golden Age strips in hand to do two more books, but we're still looking for reliable sources of Superman strips. It's the comic strip equivalent of an Indiana Jones archeological hunt!
BC: Is there a plan to collect the Golden Age Batman strips? How about the modern day Batman strips? Or the World's Greatest Superheroes strips?
Bruce Canwell: DC tells us that World's Greatest Superheroes is currently not available. The other Batman strips remain a possibility, but as with Hulk and Howard at Marvel, no deal has yet been struck.
BC: Now in the realm of non-super hero newspaper strips and since IDW does publish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, could the TMNT newspaper strips see collections at some point?
Bruce Canwell: No talks on that front yet.
BC: Now, the Library of American Comics publishes a lot of different collections as well including For Better Or Worse, Star Trek, Star Wars, Little Orphan Annie, and Dick Tracy, to name a few. You've covered some of the process and collections you've worked on at your blog. One series that caught my eye was Star Hawks with the legendary Gil Kane on artwork. What other collections do you recommend for those who read monthly floppies?
Bruce Canwell: It's tough to say without knowing why readers are coming back each month for their "floppy fix." For those who like the "big branded properties" LOAC has the superhero projects you mentioned, plus the Star Trek and Star Wars newspaper strips, Russ Manning's impeccable run on Tarzan, several volumes of Archie comic strips, and a variety of Disney titles, spearheaded by Al Taliaferro's lively Donald Duck feature.
For those who are interested in deepening their knowledge of the history of the medium while reading some fantastically entertaining comics in the process, Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, and Little Orphan Annie are the "trinity" of my world. And if those three series are the comic strip equivalent of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, I'd say Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim, Red Barry, and Li'l Abner are my world's equivalence to Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Martian Manhunter.
For folks who might like comics but find themselves feeling that "same old, same old" sensation — I know what's that like! That was part of the motivation behind my buying that original Sabre graphic novel from Eclipse, way back when. For those persons I'd recommend our two-book "Popeye by Bobby London" set, which is packed with action, pop culture references, and humor — it's fabulous stuff! King Aroo and our new For Better or For Worse series both offer gentle humor and eye-catching art, while the LOAC Secret Agent X-9 and Rip Kirby are available for those who want a more straightforward action-adventure reading experience (accompanied by beautiful Al Williamson, Alex Raymond, and John Prentice artwork, of course!).
In short, odds are the full LOAC line will appeal only to those die-hard comics lovers who are dedicated to absorbing the full width and breadth of the medium, yet there's likely something in the LOAC catalogue that will entertain almost any comics fan.
BC: Which collections have excited you the most?
Bruce Canwell: That's like asking a parent which of his children he likes best! (laughs) Seriously, it's hard not to put the Alex Toth Genius trilogy high on my personal list — I have a Harvey and two Eisner Awards on my mantel, one for each book in that series. It was a five-year project, and even though it doesn't cover every aspect of Toth's remarkable career — we'd have needed another book or two in order to do that! — it's still very, very comprehensive, and Alex's four children were delighted with the end result. They felt we were fair and even-handed in telling Alex's story, and their approval was in many ways a bigger validation than the trophies we won for it.
I delight in writing about and collecting Al Capp's Li'l Abner and Milton Caniff's two major features, Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. These are series that need to be read by anyone who is serious about understanding the history of comics, and it's great when Important Stuff also qualifies as Fun Stuff to Read!
BC: In finishing up our talk, what about the comic strip art form really appeals to you and has created such a love for it?
Bruce Canwell: If "comics" is a tree, then "comic books" and "comic strips" are two huge branches of that tree (more recently, the "graphic novels" branch has also grown in size and stature). For those like me, who love the whole tree, it's only natural to explore all its branches, and I've been fortunate enough to do just that.
Experiencing the comic strips branch of the tree is important, since it precedes the comic book branch and, in the early years of the two branches co-existing, comics strips were viewed as more sophisticated, better drawn, and certainly more lucrative than their comic book brethren. We read a Milton Caniff and see one of John Romita's major artistic influences, we understand how those Spider-Man stories we love trace their ancestry back to Terry and the Pirates. We laugh as we read Li'l Abner, but we're also astonished to realize that, because he had tens of millions of readers every day, Al Capp could influence the culture of his time by creating something as enduring as Sadie Hawkins Day. Even when we move into the 1980s, we see Bobby London doing something utterly contemporary with Popeye, yet remaining true to the precepts for that squinty-eyed sailor established by his creator, E.C. Segar. It's hard not to love a branch of the comics strip branch of the tree, since it's been so rich and vital for so long.
BC: Any final thoughts?
Bruce Canwell: As a kid, in the days before comics shops and big-budget movies, I'd check out with a stack of new comics at my local bookstore or drugstore and get disdainful remarks from the clerks. Some of them would sneer things like, "Are you going to read them all tonight?" In our contemporary world — with dozens of characters coming to life as major motion pictures, SHIELD on TV every week, the CW hosting a whole block of DC television programs, and Netflix streaming several series featuring several Marvel characters — comics have taken over, and in more ways than just the leveraged superheroic properties.
My wife doesn't read comics, knows practically nothing about them. That means we see an old episode of the Press Your Luck game show on cable TV and I get to say, "You know, that came from comics — Al Capp coined the term 'double whammy' in Li'l Abner." We see the movies Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, or Red, or Road to Perdition and I wait for the proper moment in the credits and then say, "See? This comes from comics!" Sometimes she gets exasperated and rolls her eyes and says, "I know, I know — everything comes from comics!"
Not quite — but we're getting there. And that's something comics fans and professionals alike can be proud of. At the Library of American Comics, we try our best to produce entertaining books that make you proud to be a comics reader.
BC: Thank you for your time, Bruce — looking forward to more great collections.