Sunday, August 31, 2014

REVIEW: Now a Major Motion Picture: The Monuments Men

Though I plan to, I haven’t yet seen the film, the Monuments Men. I did, however, have the opportunity earlier this year to read the book on which it's based, by Robert M. Edsel, which I review here.

The story of the plunder and repatriation of art during World War II has received some coverage over the years, but sometimes lost amidst that coverage was the important role that the so-called Monuments Men played in these efforts. This is partly due to the fact that the effort was an ad hoc operation that involved a relatively few number of individuals. Though the group eventually had a chain of command, it was never officially an independent unit and, thus, no official history of the unit’s work exists.

Driving the effort were individuals from the U.S. and Great Britain, primarily from leading museums and cultural institutions, who recognized early on the great risk that works of art and cultural and architectural artifacts faced due to the war. Understandably, allied leaders at first put little stock in such efforts, since they were focused on fighting the war and not interested in anything that might hamper efforts to wage war against an implacable enemy. Over time, however, the importance and public relations value of protecting such works—as well as stopping Nazi Germany’s systematic plundering of them—came to be recognized and appreciated.

An oft-repeated assertion of Hitler’s psychological profile was that he was a failed and frustrated artist. Whether or not this played a role in the Nazis’ methodical cultural ransacking of Europe, it’s clear that Hitler and his henchmen, including Herman Goering and others, went beyond simple war plundering in confiscating some of the great art masterpieces of Europe: they even created a list of works they coveted (including, according to this book, several in the United States!), so that when the war began they mounted a systematic, organized effort to confiscate art, which involved special military and civilian units. The Nazi state even tried to legitimize these activities using legal cover, such as passing legislation that made it illegal for Jews to own art, which they believed gave them the right to pillage the private collections of dealers and private collectors. As foreign occupiers, they believed they were entitled to confiscating the national treasures of other countries with impunity.

Not George Stout
On the flip side of the coin were the museum and cultural leaders—led by a few particular visionaries, including George Stout, an American art conservation specialist and museum director, who recognized early on that artwork and culture around the world were at great risk with the world on the precipice of global conflict. Beginning with position papers sent to the U.S. and British governments that predated the war, these cultural leaders essentially forced the issue. Other than lip service, however, the U.S. and British governments provided little in terms of resources or manpower (Stout used a commandeered German army vehicle through much of the war.) Though the allies gave these efforts low priority, it was enough of an opening for Monuments Men to mobilize themselves and insert themselves into the war.

The Monuments Men initially focused on protecting the great cultural legacy of Europe from wartime destruction. This particularly included minimizing as much as possible unnecessary destruction of art and architecture by the allied military machine, which sometimes involved educating commanders and soldiers in the field, as well as standing up to both the military establishment and line officers who did not immediately understand or appreciate their roles. But as the allies began to see the extent of the Nazis’ plunder of both cultural institutions and private collections, their roles quickly expanded to include extensive detective work as they sought to identify, track down, and repatriate stolen art. As the war wound down, this also extended to protecting Germany’s cultural history. It’s unlikely in the annals of war that any military victor had gone to the extent of the allied armies, with the support of the Monuments Men, to restore and repatriate cultural and artistic treasures that might have otherwise been destroyed or claimed as the spoils of war. (At one point, among the treasures, the allies even found a large part of Germany’s gold reserve hidden away, some of it stolen from the reserves of the countries conquered by Germany. Though some advocated keeping it, the allies took great efforts to protect the gold—particularly from the Soviet Union—for eventual repatriation.)

Not Rose Valland
Of course, the work of the Monuments Men would not have been possible without the work of counterpart museum staff and curators across Europe. Chief among them were Jacques Jaujard, director of the French National Museums, who as early as 1939, at least a full year prior to the invasion of France,  began spiriting away the Louvre’s national treasures to keep them from being confiscated by the Germans; and, perhaps even more crucially, the work of Rose Valland, a low-level staff person personally asked by Jaujard to stay at the Louvre during the war. (Many assumed her to be a collaborator.) Kept on by the Germans and often close to arrest and execution by her Nazi handlers, Valland surreptitiously and doggedly kept close track of the disposition of stolen works, information which became invaluable at war’s end. (It helped, as well, that the Germans worked with their usual Prussian efficiency by keeping meticulous records of their activities and the disposition of the pieces.) And as the war shifted in the allies’ favor, German cultural officials similarly began protecting their art from destruction by bombs and soldiers.

While little needs to be said to expose the level of depravity and psychosis of the Nazi leadership, it even extended to art. As Germany and Berlin collapsed around him, Hitler issued the “Nero Decree” which ordered all German infrastructure to be destroyed so that they could not be used by the allies. Beneath the scorched earth policy was Hitler’s psychotic and narcissistic belief that the German people and its state had failed him and, as such, did not deserve to survive him. The Nero Decree caused much consternation within the inner circle and the ranks, as the “true believers” did their best to fulfill Hitler’s orders—including the wholesale destruction of art—while the more pragmatic (led by Nazi minister and Hitler confidant Albert Speer) sought to stop their peers and soldiers and commanders in the field from carrying out the orders, which would only deepen the misery of Germany and its people. Told in a novelistic style, the book delves deep into obscure papers and interviews to ascertain what actually happened during some of the incidents at the end of the war that led to the near-destruction of some of the greatest cultural treasures of Europe.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Order Rob Hanes Adventures #15 Now!

Issue 15 of Rob Hanes Adventures is now available for purchase!

Use the purchase button below to place your order immediately (via PayPal) or visit our online store to purchase the newest issue and other back issues (including the full series).

Purchase Rob Hanes Adventures #15:

In the issue, Rob is sent to China to investigate the mysterious death of a German national who was consulting in the construction of a high-speed bullet train and discovers corruption that reaches into the highest levels of the government.

A preview of the issue is available here.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Walk, Don’t Run: A Report of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con

Click here to go straight to the photogallery from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con
"There is no running in the exhibition hall. Please walk to your destination." --repeated announcement each morning at the show's opening
 photo 1910502_10202862156255870_150125690925291705_n_zpse6b30f49.jpgThe 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, held July 24-27, 2014 (with the usual preview night on July 23), was another fun and successful show. I sold lots of comics, connected with fellow cartoonists, friends and longtime fans, and made many new ones as well. The event’s footprint continued to expand beyond the convention center, with many official and non-affiliated programs and events now being held at nearby hotels or across the street from the convention center in the Gaslamp District. Even if you didn't have an attendee badge, there was plenty to take in—in fact, when I went out to grab lunch across the street one day, the crowd outside was as shoulder-to-shoulder as inside the convention hall!

Issue 15 of Rob Hanes Adventures debuted at the show, my 11th consecutive appearance as an exhibitor at Comic-Con since 1993 and my 17th overall. As noted in a prior press release, this show also marks the 20th anniversary of the series—admittedly, a slightly arbitrary number since I created and have worked on the title since well before then. The anniversary marks the year that WCG Comics officially launched as a business and released the series as a full-size comic-book, so that is the milestone I celebrate.

As anyone who attends the four-day show knows, Comic-Con is a big tent for all things fannish, pop culture, and geek: Films, books, television, cosplaying, gaming, anime—and, yes, even comics—are all there under one roof, with large, impressive, lavish exhibitor booths sharing the same convention space with small tables and booths like mine.

Though I generally stayed tied to my table, I did occasionally wander around to check out other booths, say hi to friends, and look at the various merchandise on sale, from comics, original art, posters, t-shirts, books, action figures, cosplay outfits and accessories (steampunk!), and more.


 photo DSC07077_zps1affa127.jpgA Small Exhibitor’s Perspective
Though sales were in line with past conventions, this year’s Comic-Con crowd seemed a tough sell relative to prior years. As I’ve noted in past Comic-Con reports, unlike the convention’s early days when the show was exclusively about comics, not everyone attending the show  is there necessarily to buy comics, let alone commit to a little known ongoing indie comic-book series. (Some fellow exhibitors have found it necessary to boost their sales with merchandise having nothing to do with their comics—such as t-shirts and prints with cool images or fan-favorite characters.) With so many booths and tchotchkes competing for people’s eyes and a finite amount of disposable dollars, a small exhibitor like myself has to be very proactive to catch people’s attention for a few moments. And even though all my stories are stand-alone, it is always a challenge to convince people to commit to a series now 15 issues and two trade paperbacks in, even though “binge-reading,” like binge-television, is now a thing!

 photo DSC07012_zpsced62192.jpgAs a result, I was surprised by how many people pulled back from making a purchase, especially when they seemed genuinely excited about and tuned in to my work—an observation that some of my neighbor exhibitors (at least on some days) also noticed.

Nevertheless, it was still heartening to have people instantly connect with the series based on the concept or the sample art on display; or to have others return to buy everything, excited about discovering a new title, after reading a sample issue they picked up the day before. There was also the usual crop of people who had not seen me for years and were delighted to rediscover the series and learn it was still being published. And, of course, the wonderful longtime fans and supporters who stopped by to pick up the latest issue and ask about what was up next.

I genuinely enjoy Comic-Con (as does my family)—it is the major convention in my "backyard," which I have steadily attended since the late 1980s. Comic-Con has done well by me, playing a major role in putting my book on the map when it launched. I have established a presence here and many people know make a point of looking for me to get their latest fix of Rob Hanes Adventures. So though it may no longer be exclusively a comic-book convention, it remains a show I still enjoy immensely.

The Fan Experience 
 photo DSCF0492_zpse9e955d9.jpg
Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop signing
I rarely have the time or patience to stand in lines for panels or signings. With that in mind, a friend asked me to purchase at Comic-Con the book, The Art of Film Magic: 20 Years of Weta, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the special effects company that rose to prominence supporting filmmaker Peter Jackson’s extraordinary work on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie trilogies, and get the authors' signatures during one of their scheduled signings. (Since I'm a huge fan of the books and movies,it gave me an excuse to visit the Weta booth.)

Though I initially warned my friend that I might not be able to break away to fulfill her request, I was pleasantly surprised to find no line when I went to purchase the book; and not only did I get the author to inscribe the book to my friend, but I was also easily able to obtain the autograph and photo above of the head of Weta, Richard Taylor, as well as the one below of one of Weta's concept artists, Daniel Falconer, who I recognized from the Lord of the Rings DVD making-of extras. These were some of the most  memorable fan moments for me personally in many years!

 photo DSC06992_zpsc83cdfc9.jpg
With Weta concept artist Daniel Falconer
Fellow professionals I saw at the show included Sergio Aragones, with whom I took a picture (I have a picture with him from many years ago, but couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a newer one!); John Roberts, one of the co-founders of Comixology, which earlier this year was purchased by Amazon (John has been incredibly encouraging of me to finally get on the platform and sent out the tweet below to mark the appearance of my first issue on Comixology; and Barry Gregory of indyplanet.com and Ka-Blam and Steven Butler of Gallant Comics, who were there to promote John Aman: Amazing Man, and with whom I discussed at length our mutual admiration for cartoonists Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, and Frank Robbins. I unfortunately heard I missed Usagi Yojimbo writer-artist Stan Sakai who stopped at my table early during the show to say hi. (A book to raise funds to help Stan with medical costs he has incurred due to his wife’s illness was released at Comic-Con.)

Twitter announcement about the release of Rob Hanes Adventures #1 on Comixology

Every Comic-Con, I also spot the occasional celebrity walking by. This year I saw comedian/actor/screenwriter Tom Lennon (Reno 911), actor Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men—in fact, I’m pretty sure I saw Cryer last year!), and actor Deidrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show), most with their families.

Apparently, actor Paul Rudd (for the upcoming Ant Man) and the full cast of the Avengers also visited the Marvel Comics booth on the main floor. Given how crazy it became just for free posters when I walked by a few hours afterwards, I can only imagine how frenzied it was with the actors there!

I half joke each year that I must depend on outside news sources like everyone else to learn what has gone on at Comic-Con. Some of this year's highlights appeared to be Stephen Colbert's appearance as the moderator of the Hobbit panel; the appearance of the Avengers cast at the Marvel Comics booth; and the appearance of the stars of the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film.

Swag
 photo IMG_6725_zpsc2185cbc.jpg Even by my standards, compared to past shows, I really didn’t walk the floor much or attend panels. My main purchase was the first coffee table book sized volume of a projected collection of the Terry and the Pirates comic-strip by George Wunder after its original creator, Milton Caniff, left the strip to create Steve Canyon. I was strongly tempted to purchase some original Johnny Hazard comic strip art dating to the 1960s, but decided to hold off as there were so many good pieces to choose from.

My children are now older and went quite to town with purchases thanks to the generosity of my wife. One of my favorite purchases for my son was a set of steampunk goggles we found for him at a retailer booth.

The kids also exercised more independence exploring on their own—my daughter has become quite a big animé fan in the past year, so she was frequently going to showings, sometimes with her little brother in tow.

 photo DSC07060_zps0d80a264.jpgCosplayers
Of course, what gets all the attention at Comic-Con are the cosplayers. Some people clearly attend just to be seen, but they of course add to the fun and atmosphere.

It’s always interesting to see what the popular themes are at each show. This year, it was clearly the Disney film, Frozen, with plenty of Princess Elsas on hand. Also popular was Maleficent and Finn (or Fiona) from the animated television show, Adventure Time.

It’s obvious that some cosplayers choose certain characters because they bear some resemblance to them (like here and here from previous years), which occasionally leads to fun appearances. In the photo gallery, you’ll see a steampunk Teddy Roosevelt; characters from Orange is the New Black; and John and Yoko (the Yoko was indeed a dead ringer, not so much John though).

Steampunk continued to be a nifty cosplaying category. It has even begun mashing up with superheroes: I saw a steampunk Green Lantern and Iron Man. See the photogallery for more!


Food and Drink
If I have any complaint about Comic-Con, it's the quality of the food at the show. Concessions appear to be operated by the convention center and consist of a rather unimaginative menu of unappetizing hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and packaged salads and deli sandwiches. The only outside vendors are Starbucks and Mrs. Fields.

Clearly, they are banking on the fact that attendees simply want to eat and run. Given the long day, however, I like to enjoy a good meal and the only way to do that is to go to the Gaslamp or a nearby hotel. With all the great eateries in San Diego, it seems a shame they can't get better quality and more variety of food inside the convention center or even food trucks (which they did one year).

On top of that, unlike past years, we had bad streak of dinners this year. There are several tried and true upscale restaurants that I have frequented regularly through the years, but this year we decided to explore new places and were somewhat disappointed each time. The quality of the meals were themselves generally fine, but for the money, they seemed a bit skimpy on the portions and one place gave us some of the worst service we ever experienced, by getting our orders wrong and then not getting the correct meals to us for more than a half hour.

Oh, well, you can't have everything!

Monday, July 14, 2014

For Immediate Release

WCG Comics Kicks Off 20th Anniversary Celebration at San Diego Comic-Con

Rob Hanes Adventures #15 also to Debut at the Show

 

Rob Hanes Adventures #15 will debut at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, July 24–27. To pick up the issue, visit WCG Comics at exhibitor's booth K1 in the Small Press Area (off aisle 1400). This is WCG’s 11th consecutive appearance at Comic-Con as an exhibitor and 17th time overall since 1993 when the Small Press Area debuted.

In addition to the new issue, WCG also kicks off its 20th anniversary celebration at Comic-Con, making it one of the longest-running indie comics titles. In 1994, WCG officially opened for business, releasing Adventure Strip Digest #1 that year, the series’ original title. (Adventure Strip Digest ran four issues and was re-booted in 2000 as Rob Hanes Adventures. These early four issues have been collected as a trade paperback, Rob Hanes Adventures, Volume 0.)


“It’s been a real labor of love, working on this series and trying to capture the excitement and feel of the newspaper adventures trips I admire so much,” said Reynaldo. “I’m proud to say that many of the fans of Rob Hanes Adventures have been with the series since the very beginning, who look forward to each issue, and every year more people discover or re-discover it. I know it’s always a challenge for a series to succeed when issues come out so irregularly, so the patience and support I’ve received for the series over the years is incredibly gratifying.”

Inspired by the classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer but set in the modern day — with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit — readers and fans alike have lauded Rob Hanes Adventures for carrying on the spirit of the classic adventure strip genre for modern day audiences.

Click here for the previous press release announcing Rob Hanes Adventures #15 and to see a preview.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

For Immediate Release

Preview of Rob Hanes Adventures #15 Now Available

Issue Scheduled for Release this Summer


In advance of the release later this summer of Rob Hanes Adventures #15, WCG Comics has released a preview of the new issue at its website at wcgcomics.com. (Scroll down to see the pages or click here for the slideshow. A PDF of the preview—with word balloons—is also available at WCG's digital download page.)

In the story, “Just Another Gilded Age,” globetrotting Justice International troubleshooter Rob Hanes is hired to investigate the mysterious death of a German engineer who was consulting on the construction of a high-speech bullet train in China. But in the course of his investigation, Rob uncovers corruption that reaches up into the highest levels of the ruling establishment. Inspired in part by real life scandals that have recently rocked the country and made international headlines, the story features the kind of intrigue, mystery and topicality that have made Rob Hanes Adventures a favorite among fans of classic high adventure.

Set in the modern day, the long-running indie series continues the tradition of the classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer — with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit. Readers and fans alike have lauded Rob Hanes Adventures for updatingf the classic adventure strip genre for modern day audiences.

Every issue of Rob Hanes Adventures is self-contained. All back issues are still available, including issues 1–14 and two trade paperback collections of earlier work, Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 0 and the Rob Hanes Archives. For more information about the series, previews and to purchase back issues, visit the WCG Comics website at wcgcomics.com.

Over the years, Rob Hanes Adventures has been reviewed, spotlighted and featured in numerous respected comics industry news publications and websites, including the Comics Buyer’s Guide, Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and Bleeding Cool. The series also was featured at wired.com and included in 1000 Comic Books You Must Read by Tony Isabella (Krause Publications, 2009).

The year 2014 marks WCG’s 20th anniversary publishing. The company also makes its 11th consecutive appearance as an exhibitor at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con and its 17th overall in July. More details about the 20th anniversary celebration and WCG’s Comic-Con appearance will be made available soon.

For more information about WCG Comics, visit wcgcomics.com or facebook.com/rhadventures.

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To see the images below as a slideshow, click here.



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Monday, June 16, 2014

REVIEW: Genius, Animated

Just released is the third and final volume of the oversized illustrated biography of cartoonist Alex Toth, Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth.

I’ve written about Toth extensively and reviewed the first volume of this handsome series here. Though Toth is not well known by the general public, within the industry he is remembered as a true “artist’s artist,” one of the most admired and influential cartoonists in both the comics and television animation industries. (He was even the subject of an extensive and comprehensive documentary, “Simplicity: The Art and Life of Alex Toth,” which I reviewed here). Adding to Toth’s mythos was his dark, surly and tortured personality that broke friendships and relationships on what seemed to be the smallest of provocations. Yet it’s a testament to how much the artist and his work were revered that he remained someone fellow artists continued to reach out to and publishers wished to work with. Any lesser artist would have never been able to repair the many bridges he burned over his lifetime. Driven to attain perfection in his art and his life by setting impossibly high standards, he was his own worst critic and could be equally hard on others (as I can attest to in some of the correspondence I’ve received from him!)

This last volume concludes what is surely one of the finest and most ambitious art biographies of any cartoonist to date. Measuring approximately 13” x 9.5”, these lavish volumes tell Toth’s personal history in his own words—as well as those of colleagues and family (who cooperated with the author)—and includes extensive reprints of his art (original, printed and unpublished), full stories, photographs, etc. The book includes numerous reminiscences and tributes from contemporaries and modern masters.

The first volume, Genius, Isolated (2011, reviewed here), focuses on Toth’s early years, through the 1950s, when he was a journeyman cartoonist. Though much of this work was for romance comics for small publishers, it was during this time that his art style and philosophy jelled and others began taking notice.

The second volume, Genius, Illustrated (2013), covers his work from the 1960s, through his death in 2006. During this period, Toth settled in California, where he continued working as a freelance cartoonist and dabbled a bit in Hollywood. In his later years, he remained an admired talent, but the volatile Toth worked sporadically and only on his own terms. (The closest he came to a signature work was his outstanding Bravo for Adventure, which captured all his interests and tastes. But sadly, he only produced two full Bravo stories.) He became a recluse in his Hollywood Hills home after the death of his last wife, Guyla, who was his lifeline into the everyday world, though younger artists who admired him continued to seek out his friendship and mentorship, and contemporaries tried to remain in touch. Towards the end, Toth found a measure of peace, reconciling with many old friends with whom he had become estranged over the years.

The third and final volume, Genius, Animated, released earlier this month is an addendum of sorts to the first two volumes that covered the span of his life. This final volume exclusively covers his work in television animation, beginning in the 1960s and ‘70s, where he worked on some of the most seminal television animated shows of the era, including Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Scooby-Doo, Super Friends, and many more. The fact that this whole volume is focused on his animation work is a tribute to his influence in the industry.

Character model sheet for Jonny Quest
Though Toth’s work was primarily with Hanna Barbera, he worked for many companies. As in the comic-book industry, Toth could be difficult to work with, but he was indispensable, particularly at Hanna Barbera which benefited greatly from his ability to sell the networks on a series because he could quickly convey a concept, story and character through his presentation art. Aside from presentation art, Toth was a sophisticated storyboard artist and outstanding at character and set design. Plus, his photographic memory enabled him to work at a good clip.

Given the quality of Saturday morning animation during that time—they were done quickly and cheaply, and many of the artists simply did not have the talent to adequately translate Toth’s work to the small screen—Toth was likely working at a quality level far beyond what was necessary or could be affordably or realistically replicated with limited animation. Nevertheless, the strength of his design work shone through well enough that it inspired a new generation of animators who grew up on his animation work and revered Toth before they even realized he was responsible for it. These artists would eventually enter the animation (and comics) industry themselves and bring new vitality to the medium. The first and most prominent of these was Batman: The Animated Series, which many fans credit as remaining one of the best Batman adaptations of any medium. The critical and commercial success of the series launched and spun off a whole slew of high-quality animated television in the genre. Toth, himself, was a fan and became friends with many of the animators associated with the series.

One interesting sidenote: In 1996, a massive collection of Toth’s animation work, including model sheets and storyboards, were published in a book called Alex Toth: By Design. Some of the pieces included in this book appear in Genius, Animated. I was fortunate to snag a copy when it first appeared and, like many artists, it has become an invaluable resource and inspiration for me in my own character design work for my comic-book series, Rob Hanes Adventures. The book is no longer in print and remains highly prized—a used copy goes for $250 or more. Though I haven’t confirmed it, my understanding is that the book did not get proper permission to reprint the pieces included in the collection, especially since they involve well known characters and properties. (Model sheets used to be considered useless and nothing more than fit for the trashbin after they were used.) Which doubly makes this book a valued part of my comics-related book collection.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

REVIEWS: Buz Sawyer, Vol. 3


This is the first of two reviews I’ll be doing of recently-released oversized artbooks I’ve purchased: Buz Sawyer Vol. 3: Typhoons And Honeymoons (Vol. 3) by Roy Crane and the third and final volume of the Alex Toth biography, Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth.

Buz Sawyer Vol. 3: Typhoons And Honeymoons (Vol. 3)

Back in 2011, Fantagraphics Books launched its planned compilation of seminal cartoonist Roy Crane’s classic adventure comic strip, Buz Sawyer, which ran from 1943 to 1989 (Crane died in 1977 and was lasted credited on the strip in 1979). This third volume in the series collects the strips from July 1947 to July 1949. Crane is a seminal figure in newspaper comic strip history because he was among the first cartoonists to introduce cliff-hanger style adventure into what until Crane had been a standard low-brow, gag-a-day medium.

I’ve written several times about Crane’s legacy and his influence on my own work, most notably here. Though Crane may not have quite reached the popularity and heights of his adventure strip contemporaries like Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon) or Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), his work was much respected by his peers. Cartoonists as diverse as Caniff and Charles Schulz (Peanuts) have credited Crane as an important direct influence. Crane may have been ultimately surpassed by artists who took the adventure strip genre to a higher level in sophistication and realism. But beneath a deceptively simple cartoony art style, Crane nevertheless remained second to none as a draughtsman, able to capture atmosphere, place, and time of day with great effectiveness. As I mentioned in my earlier appreciation linked above, Crane’s work reflected solid mid-Western American values and a vibrancy that was not easily replicated.

Crane cemented his reputation with an earlier series, Wash Tubbs, which began as a classic big-foot humor strip in 1924 and evolved into what is considered among the first adventure strips. The turning point of the series came with the introduction of two-fisted soldier-of-fortune Captain Easy, who soon relegated Wash to second banana status. The strip was eventually re-named Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy.


Crane left the strip in 1943 during the middle of World War II to create Buz Sawyer, a somewhat more traditional adventure strip (the strip also gave him ownership of his own characters). Though Sawyer was a solid piece of work (in fact, I personally prefer Buz Sawyer to Wash Tubbs), Crane was already well established—a new school of cartoonists led by Caniff and Raymond were now the cutting edge and building on the foundatoin Crane had put in place. (I have read several Buz Sawyer stories from the 1960s and found the strip as vibrant and well done as ever, even this late into its run.)

When the strip began during wartime, Buz was a naval pilot in the Pacific, based on an aircraft carrier. In the post war, he became a globetrotting troubleshooter for private industry and, during the strip’s later years, a naval intelligence officer.

A great example of Crane's draughtsmanship
Though this is the third volume of the series, it’s the first of the new compilation I’ve purchased – primarily because I already own the earlier strips in prior collections. The third volume has Buz working for Frontier Oil, preventing a revolution in South America, facing off against an international fixer Harry Sparrow and his henchman Hammerhead Gool. I was also surprised to see Crane marry off his lead character so early in the strip’s run, only about four years in — surprised because the normal convention for such series is to keep the characters footloose and far from being settled down, to keep readers in suspense. Clearly, Crane thought the idea of a married adventurer would lead to fresh storylines and challenges.

A couple of other observations about this collection….

Like most comic-strip artists, Crane used assistants. Indeed, Crane had several who were very fine artists in their own right and, compared to some other strips I’ve seen, I’ve rarely seen any inconsistency or lapse in quality in Crane’s work. So it was interesting to see in this volume a series of strips, from late August to early September 1948, which clearly was the work of another artist and one who fell short of Crane’s usual high standards.

The introduction by series editor Rick Norwood also offers some interesting insights into Crane the man, quoting extensively from a letter that Crane included with the art and personal papers he donated to Syracuse University.

While Crane is justly proud of his achievements and self-effacing, he also comes off as defensive and even a bit petty in his writings. Crane clearly was not a master of self-promotion as his better known and ultimately more successful rivals, particularly Caniff and Raymond. As such, Crane used these writings to set the record straight and show he established many of the conventions of the adventure strip and how other artists stole from ideas and characters. (Including Caniff! He even points out that he was the first to show nudityah, those pre-code days!)

Although Crane’s points are well taken, they nevertheless expose a measure of professional insecurity and competitiveness over his more successful peers. (Indeed, for all his complaints over stolen ideas, I always felt that the introduction of the female character of “Sultry” into Buz Sawyer, who briefly cameos in this volume, was an obvious-but-rather watered-down attempt to capture what Caniff had achieved with his larger-than-life Dragon Lady.) Written in retirement near the end of his life, Crane’s writings also reflect some weariness over the grind of producing a comic strip and questions whether his dedication to the strip was worth it.

It is invaluable record to have Crane’s thoughts, comments and remembrances in writing and in his own words. But I must admit they were also a bit deflating and disappointing.

To most everyday people who are familiar with the work of Charles Schulz and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Milton Caniff, Crane is relatively unknown. Nevertheless, as the continued collections of his work shows — including Wash Tubbs in a 17-volume collection published in the 1980s and early ‘90s, and prior collections of that strip and of Buz Sawyer, including the present compilation — the power of Crane’s work and achievements can  speak for themselves. His work has clearly stood the test of time, remaining fondly remembered and in print for future generations, highly respected by comics fans and aficionados.

A review of Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth, will follow soon. It's notable that Toth was a huge admirer of Crane, and though Toth was often praised as following the footsteps of Milton Caniff, his philosophy of cartooning was actually much closer in approach and style to Crane.