Sunday, June 4, 2017


For some reason, lately I've been almost infatuated with newspaper action/adventure strips of yore. If you'll pardon several paragraphs of self-indulgence, I'm going to try to figure out exactly how I got to this point.

I think I can pinpoint the kernel of when it started, at least. At some point about five or six years ago, I was, "researching" sword-wielding barbarian gals in the mold of Red Sonja (as you do), and I came across a character named Axa, the heroine of a post-apocalyptic wasteland who starred in a strip for Britain's Sun newspaper back in the early eighties. The strip, created and illustrated by Enric Romero with scripts from Donne Avenell, had been released in the United States many years earlier, but those collections were long out of print. However I found some scans online and read nearly the entire Axa canon in short order. I really liked Romero's mostly realistic artwork in the black-and-white format, and I found the daily newspaper strip format pretty interesting. It didn't hurt that the strip was "mature" (i.e. juvenile) in nature, with the title character constantly losing her top in battle.

Somewhere around that same time, circa 2009/2010, Marvel released two volumes collecting the original Spider-Man newspaper strip run by Stan Lee and John Romita. However these books were panned by critics for their presentation of the material, so I skipped them -- but they stuck in my mind as something I might be interested in checking out someday. (And, as noted a while back, I have in fact gotten into these strips by way of IDW's more recent Library of American Comics reprints of the same material.)

Jump ahead a few years to 2014, not long after I started this very blog, when I decided to cover Dark Horse's CLASSIC STAR WARS trade paperbacks, which featured the original STAR WARS newspaper strips by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson (albeit reformatted into comic book dimensions and colored). Later that year, I checked out CANNON by Wally Wood, a strip distributed in the Armed Forces Weekly paper to American troops stationed overseas.

So certainly I've had an interest in serialized action/adventure strips for several years now. Interestingly, I had pretty much zero exposure to these things as a child. For whatever reason, our local papers didn't carry any adventure strips I can recall other than PRINCE VALIANT on Sundays, nor did we have any of the soap opera strips aside from MARY WORTH. (We did get SPIDER-MAN eventually though, sometime around my middle school years, and I know we had the short-lived BATMAN strip that coincided with his 1989 movie as well.)

But, as noted above, lately I've been crazy about these things. I have the IDW SPIDER-MAN volumes and I'm planning to pick up their upcoming STAR WARS collections as well, even though I already own those strips in the CLASSIC format -- I really want to see them, in particular for Williamson's artwork, in the original versions as well.

And I think Al Williamson, and artists of similar style, are at the heart of this sudden interest. I suppose it makes sense that, as you get older, your artistic preferences change. As a youngster I loved really overexaggerated comic book art. Whether from Joe Madureira or Andy Kubert or Mark Bagley or any of a number of others, I liked my fictional character illustrations to have impossible musculature and dynamism in everything they did. I should note, by the way, that I still prefer this for superheroes -- give me a Bagley any day over a photorealistic artist like Bryan Hitch or Greg Land. But for some reason, in certain other genres, I love a really well-done photorealistic style -- which is something perfected by the likes of Williamson and his idol, FLASH GORDON creator Alex Raymond.

To that end, I've been seeking out some more photorealistic strips to read beyond STAR WARS. The afore-mentioned FLASH GORDON comes to mind, of course, but I'm also looking into Raymond's other work, SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN and RIP KIRBY, both also available from IDW, as well as Williamson's turn on the CORRIGAN strip (renamed at the time to SECRET AGENT X-9 by the time he took it over). Titan Books also has collections of JAMES BOND strips from the British papers, and there are one or two others I've been glancing at, too.

Beyond the artwork, I really like the idea that, especially in the era of Raymond's FLASH GORDON -- the 1930s -- these strips were a huge source of entertainment for people! Reading Flash's adventures every Sunday was probably the equivalent for some kids to my experience with Saturday morning cartoons as a child. (Daily strips would of course be the equivalent of syndicated weekday afternoon shows, I suppose). It's fun to try to put myself in that mindset and imagine what it was like to have no TV, and to derive much of one's action-adventure content from the newspapers.

Which I guess means that, as with so many other things, the crux of my recent interest in newspaper strips is nostalgia -- and, as happens to me once in a while, it's specifically nostalgia for an era I never actually lived through. It's more the idea of the nostalgia, I suppose, than the nostalgia itself.

Anyway -- this blog is going newspaper strip crazy for the next several weeks. This Friday I'll take a brief look at SHATTUCK, a Western strip from Wally Wood's studio, and then on Sunday comes the formal announcement for this year's "The Summer Of...", which will cover another long-running strip! (Hint: I mentioned it somewhere up above.)

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