Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I am glad I am not doing this seriously yet, because keeping this up on a regular basis needs a lot more structure in your life than I can manage at this moment. So I guess I'll be filling in these posts one by one under the radar until I have a good number of them, before I go public with them.

And boy, do I have a lot to share with you. First of all, I will finish up my run of Stan Lee and Dan deCarlo's Willy Lumpkin Dailies with a little more commentary. After that I have a couple of other rare newspaper strips from the fifties and sixties I'd like to share. In between I will try and ad a couple of posts about my other interest: sitcoms.

In the late fifties, Stan Lee was looking around for ways to leave the comic book grind. The Toni Mendez archives at Ohio State University show that he prepared several comic strip proposals, including a very early soap opera strip with Vince Colletta. Toni Mendez was the driving force behind Creator's Syndicate, a small outfit that was famous for allowing Johnny Hart to keep creative control and many of his rights to B.C. I hope some further research will make clear how Stan Lee arrived there, but one connection could be that some of his former collegues and employees at Timely were doing strips for them. One of those was Al Jaffee, who had a long running panel series called Tall Tales. In a private e-mail Jaffee told me that he had a good working relationship with Toni Mendez (a woman, by the way). Even after Tall Tales folded, he kept submitting new strip ideas. "I did one every two weeks," he told me. That could be hyperbole, but knowing Al Jaffee's supple mind and huge production, it could also be true (at least for some periods).

Stan Lee's first succes with Creator's Syndicate was Ms. Lyon's Cub Scouts, a gentle humor strip about a family whose children were in the club scouts. The artist was Joe Maneely, Stan Lee's favorite artist in the fifties. When Maneely died in 1958, Stan Lee had to look for a replacement. In a recent book about John Romita Sr. from Twomorrows a try-out by his hand is seen. But in the end he chose Al Hartley, another of his Timely mainstays. Unfortunately, Hartley drew the strip in a lackluster style. The amount of detail in the art was more than halved, the parents were dropped and the strip became even more juvenile. Later on I will show a few samples and talk a bit more about this strip.

But first, more Willy Lumpkin sundays.





Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BARNEY'S BEAT

In the late fifties Stan & Dan, as they affectionately called themselves in the comics, created a new strip called Barney's Beat, centered around an easygoing city cop. At the same time, deCarlo developed a strip on his own called Josie, another in a long list of dumb blondes. This time the main character was named after deCarlo's wife. He even gave her his wife's hairdo. Publisher's Syndicate was most interested in Barney's Beat, but asked for a less urban setting. Stan Lee had preferred the world of the suburban social climbers as he knew it well and it would give him a lot to saterize. But he agreed that a more gentle apporach might attract more papers and they changed their cop into a mailman and relocated him in the small town of Glenville, USA. Dan worked up a fresh batch of sampled and off they were...

As I said, most of this comes from Bill Morrison's excellent Art of Dan DeCarlo, although it is completely corraborated by the information in Stan Lee's own autobiography. Willy Lumpkin ran for 14 months before it was cancelled and I think it is a pretty good sample of the best both it's authors were capable of. It wasn't a hit, but in a way we should be glad for that, or otherwise we wouldn't have had the Marvel Universe or Dan DeCarlo later creation Josie and the Pussycats.

A lot of background material for this strip (and others by Stan Lee, Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth and Dave Gantz) is available at the Ohio State University in the Tony Mendez collection. I would love nothing more than to spend a couple of days there to prepare a definitive article about this strip... or maybe even the introduction to a nice collection.

Here are acouple more sundays.



Wednesday, January 09, 2008

WILLY LUMPKIN

Recently, for the special Stan Lee issue of prozine Alter Ego I wrote a lengthy article about the writings of Stan Lee from 1941 to 1961, which is when he revitalized the comic book industry together with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko by starting the Marvel comic book line with heroes such as Spiderman en The Fantastic Four. So lengthy infact, that Roy and I decided to leave it for another date. I did get him a couple of scans to use, including one of a sunday page of Stan Lee and Dan deCarlo's 1961 newspaper strip Willy Lumpkin.

In the next couple of days, I will upload one page a day of all the sundays I have for this delightful strip. This will give me a chance to get familiar with the working of Blogger and anyone who stumbles upon this site something to read and to come back for.

But first, some history.

In the late fifties, the comic book industry was faltering. Many publshers had thrown in the towel and others were either downsizing the number of their titles or at least reducing their page rates and find other ways to make the books cheaper to produce. many comic book artists took this as an incentive to try and leave as well. Most comic book creators wanted to be in newspaper strips or advertising anyway. So this was their chance to try and make it in the big leagues.

Among them was Stan Lee, who had a good job as editor of a huge line of comic books from his uncle-once-removed Martin Goodman. But a job is all it was, he didn't have a part of the company and from his point of view at that moment in time, it must have seemed like a dead-end job in a dying industry.

So he approached several artists and tried to get some proposals up. One of them was Dan deCarlo. Not a weird choice, as they had worked togetehr succesfully since the late forties on what we now would call Archie-type teen humor comics. But they were more than that. They were in fact, quite unique and of a style all their own, combining Stan Lee's love of cheap puns and silly situations with deCarlo's slightly sexy yet still innocent and very attractive illustration style.

Their most popular series had in fact already been a newspaper strip. My Friend Irma was based on a popular radio series in the forties and had been a newspaper strip in 1952. When the artist of that strip couldn't make a go of it, Stan Lee and Dan deCaro even took it over for a while. But they too, couldn't turn it into a hit. Still, some of their tries at newspaper strips followed the model of Irma closely. Maybe too closely. I get all of this information from Bill Morrison's book on the art of Dan deCarlo, which for some reason he called The Art Of Dan deCarlo (Fantagraphics). In my next post I will steal a bit more from this book, show a few samples and tell you how Willy Lumpkin got started.

But first the first of my Willy Lumpkin sundays. Click on the image for a larger scan.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

First post.

I am still trying to decide if I am going to do this in Dutch or English.

Heck, I am still trying to decide what I am going to use the blog for. I wanted to secure the name, but in fact writing about my life as a sitcom writer here in Holland is just one of the things I could make this about. I have written sitcoms for almost twenty years now, so that would qualify as a subject or at least a title. In which case, it probably should be in Dutch, because I don't see why it would be of interest to anyone abroad.

On the other hand, I also write about television and humor for several magazines here in Holland and I could use this blog to give all my writings a permanent home. Again, Dutch would be the main language used.I could also use it to publish some of the interviews I did with some of the American sitcom writers I have not yet sold or had to bring down to their absolute minimum for publication. Last year I talked to Ken Levine, Jim Burrows, Rob Long, Lee Ahronson and Ian Gurvitz. Here's Ian, by the way. I also have an earlier interview with Phoef Suttton about his Cheers career and more.

But I also collect American comics and newspaper strips from the fifties and write about comics for the Dutch fanzine Stripschrift. I have been writing about comics (from all over the world) for more than 30 years now and have interviewed such greats as Will Eisner, Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Jeff Jones. I have found rare war material from Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman, which I could share. Or long runs of Stan Lee's comic strip work. I regulary send stuff to Roy Thomas to use for his excellent publication Alter Ego (a fanzine from Twomorrows about comics and comic creators from any period Roy likes or worked in). And I collect and scan rare art from various artists, which I could share here as well. All this would be in english, of course.

But... the main reason for me to pick this up right now is because I did my spring cleaning early this year and need a place to sell my surplus stuff. I will be listing all my double Timely books here to sell. You will have to add postage, but so had I when I bought them. It's usually best to buy a few at the time. I'll list the possibillities when I get back to post the list.

So, to lure all you potential buyers in, I will start by writing about the comic books and newspaper strips I like or have something interesting to say about. I'll start with Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo's forgotten early sixties newspaper strip Willy Lumpkin. Which, due to the bloggers tradition of having the last post first, you will already have seen.