Monday, June 15, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Sam's Strip

Sam's Strip was the third newspaper comic devised by Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas, the team better known for Hi & Lois and Beetle Bailey. It ran for a little less than two years before the creators, unable to make much headway selling it, pulled the plug. It really is an odd little strip. Sam is a well-meaning grouch who's very much aware of the fourth wall separating his four panels from the rest of the newspaper funnies, and periodically interacts with his peers, with cameos by everybody from Charlie Brown to the character who'd later become Grandmama on The Addams Family.

Naturally, the strip became a fast favorite of comics afficionados, who enjoyed the in-jokes and what we might term as "metatextual commentary" if this blog was any more po-faced than it actually is. With regular asides to the readers, light commentary on current events and trips to a prop closet stocked with a variety of word balloons, Sam's Strip was lost on many comics page editors, and the strip never had more than 60 client papers.

Well, it might have been a failure in its day, but Sam's Strip has grown into a cult classic over time. Fantagraphics recently released a very nice paperback edition which compiles the series in its entirety. It includes annotations to explain some of the topical references of the early 1960s and commentary by Jerry Dumas. This may not be a book worth going too far out of your way to sample, but if you enjoy newspaper funnies, then this might be a very nice addition to your bookshelves. Give it a try!

Read more of what I've written about the publishers at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

Read other reviews of this book:

Chris Barat at News and Views
KC Carlson at Comics Worth Reading
Allan Holtz at Stripper's Guide
Chad Nevett at Comic Book Resources
Andrew Williams at Den of Geek

The biggest news of the last month comes from the good folks over at Titan, who have finally confirmed the rumors - hardback editions of the terrific Johnny Red are in the works. The long-running series by Tom Tully and, initially, Joe Colquhoun, ran for a decade in the pages of Battle Picture Weekly. This is a big favorite of mine, and one of BPW's best series. I've been rereading the John Cooper-drawn era lately and it's a consistently wonderful strip which you should all check out. The first in what we hope will be an annual collection is due in September.

The second biggest news of the month - and any other month, it'd be the biggest - is that Steve Holland of the wonderful Bear Alley blog has formally announced he's going into the publishing business with Bear Alley Books, looking at doing small print-run, complete editions of classic British comics, done right. Holland has the knowledge and the commitment to make certain his collections are as comprehensive and good-looking as bookshelf editions can be, and I wish him all the success in the world with his new venture. First up from Bear Alley, later this summer: complete collections of the time-travelling war yarn The Phantom Patrol, with art by Gerry Embleton, and the excellent late sixties occult thriller Cursitor Doom, with art by Eric Bradbury and Geoff Campion. Steve's commissioned new covers by Chris Weston and John Ridgway for the titles.

In other news, as if you didn't have enough books to buy this year, the long-rumored Groo Treasury has finally been scheduled by Dark Horse. This 336-page collection of the earliest episodes of the comedy strip by Sergio Aragon├ęs and Mark Evanier is due in October, which is nice, because I was not keen on filling up on those little 80-page collections of the old Epic Comics series. That'd get a little expensive.

DC has announced they're releasing what might be the first-ever collection of Mike Grell's weird 1970s swords-and-lasers fantasy The Warlord, a title I enjoyed for about seven weeks when I was twelve, in their Showcase Presents line. The 528-page book, scheduled for September, reprints the character's debut in the anthology 1st Issue Special and the first 28 issues of his own book. If I was still in touch with a couple of guys I went to middle school with, I'd let them know, but I'm not, so I'm telling you.

So ten days ago, I was talking about how somebody needs to release more old Osamu Tezuka comics in the US. Well, the company Digital Manga Publishing is way ahead of me; there's a complete, done-in-one omnibus collection of Tezuka's 1968-69 serial Swallowing the Earth due in July! Great news, I am looking forward to seeing it. For more Tezuka, the wonderful Helen McCarthy is putting the final touches on a big, image-heavy coffee table biography of Tezuka for Abrams, the company that brought you Mark Evanier's wonderful tribute to Jack Kirby last year. The book is due out in October. And speaking of Abrams...

In another example of what's either a late April Fool's gag or definitive proof that everything that ever appeared in a newspaper is going to end up in a hardcover collected edition before much longer, Abrams is bringing out a collection of Stuart Hample's Woody Allen comic strip. No, I never knew there was a Woody Allen comic strip, either. It ran in the 1970s. The book is entitled Dread and Superficiality: Woody Allen as a Comic Strip and is due out in November. With an introduction by Buckminster Fuller. Oh, now I know this is a gag!

Finally this time, a couple of interesting Judge Dredd collections from Rebellion are in the pipeline for November. The 14th volume in their Complete Case Files series will include all the 2000 AD strips up to prog 700, including the epic "Necropolis" and all of its lead-in stories, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. The collection won't include the separate serial The Dead Man, which ran for a few months prior to "Necropolis" and dumped readers on their heads with the beautiful revelation that the two strips were intricately connected. Happily, The Dead Man is getting its own trade collection alongside CCF 14, so new readers can enjoy all of its beautiful John Ridgway artwork and read it at the same time as the main Dredd strip.

That's all for this month! See you in July!

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