Thursday, January 09, 2014

No Paine No Gain

Thursday Story Strip Day.

One of the most exciting finds on the Fulton History site is the fact that they have a full microfiche run of the progressive New York newspaper PM, including Sundays. There are many things to like in that paper - most of which weren't syndicated so very rare as well. Even though the run has some holes in it (as you will see below) it is 95% complete and mostly of pretty good quality. I was able to get good scans of many of my 'holy grails' from that period. You have to load every page separately before you can see if it has what you want and then you still have to download it and clip whatever you need, label that and file it in the right order. And because I really wanted to make sure the missing strips weren't just because I had skipped them in some way, I had to download almost every page for two months of material, but here is how far I have come on this particular favorite of mine, Carl Wexler's Vic Jordan.

Carl Wexler is a pretty unknown artist, who worked most of his career for the advertising agency Johnstone and Cushing. He usually didn't sign (I believe I have one signed ad under his label) and at some point his style became a bit generic, so it can even be hard to compile a goo list of his accomplishments. But Neal Adams mentions him as one of his prime teachers at Johnstone and Cushing. I have always taken that to be spiritually more than artistically, but after looking at the Viceroy ads from the early sixties Tom Schreuer (who is stylistically much closer to Neal Adams) wrote to me that the first few of those were done by Wexler as well.

Wexler did some comic book work at the start of his career and he created Vic Jordan with writer Andrew Paine. Here's what Alan Holtz wrote about this excellent war strip in 2008:

One of the better though less well-known of the war strips was Vic Jordan. American publicist Jordan was caught in Paris when the Nazis took over and he became a member of the French resistance. The strip was several notches more realistic and better-written than the standard fare. Vic doesn't defeat a whole battalion at his whim, like many wartime strips, but he did engage in smaller and more realistic assignments like blowing up bridges, smuggling out downed airmen, and, in our story above, help to blow up a munitions factory that has been taken over by French workers. When France was liberated in 1944 Jordan took his base of operations right into Nazi Germany where he continued his derring-do until victory in Europe ended his career.

The daily and Sunday strip started the week before Pearl Harbor on December 1 1941. It was ostensibly written by 'Tom Paine', who was in actuality the team of Kermit Jaediker and Charles Zerner. The strip went through a succession of artists; the first was Elmer Wexler. Wexler went into the military but managed to finish out six months on the strip; his last daily was May 30 1942, his last Sunday June 14. When Wexler left the Sunday was dropped.

Paul Norris then took over the art duties until he in turn went into the military. His stint lasted until July 10 1943. Our samples above are from his tenure. Norris was replaced by a fellow by the name of D.H. Moneypenny who hung on until February 12 1944. He was in turn replaced by someone who signed himself Robinson (Jerry perhaps?) for a two week stint ending February 26. The final artist was the excellent Bernard Baily, better known for his comic book work. He brought the strip to its conclusion on April 28 1945.

The strip was syndicated by the great liberal paper Newspaper PM. The paper was funded by Marshall Field, whose Chicago paper, the Sun, also ran the strip. Few other papers ran Vic Jordan, which is a shame. The intellectualism of PM shows through in this strip, where Nazis are never shown as bloodthirsty monsters as they are in most strips -- they are the enemy, of course, ruthless and efficient in their machinations, but nevertheless human. This alone sets Vic Jordan apart as a higher quality strip, interested more in providing realistic adventure with fleshed out characters than in mindless propaganda.

He also gives a nice set of samples from the Norris years. I will be showing more of those as well and I must add that I got the impression that there are at least some Norris Sundays as well. The strip started on December 1 1941, though and although there are some days missing in the first month, my run of PM did include the very first not. The first Sunday was December the 7th (as per a notice on the Friday before that). Sadly my first Sunday is the 28th. The 21st was there, but only a sliver as it seems the microfiche copier skipped a beat around that page. I am also preparing january 1942 to show here next week and as I was researching this piece I found another run from the beginning on Google News (which has been search able again from the last month or so, after having done nothing for over a year), so I filled the holes with those slightly lesser scans.

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