Sunday, August 14, 2011

Steve Canyon Reprint On The Way! or How Modesty Blaise Used to Ruin My Day

One of my favourite imprints, The Library of American Comics, has just announced a new project! Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff!

Almost every book LOC have published has been incredible (Well, they've probably all been incredible to the right people. Personally Agent X-9 didn't do much for me). Their first collection - the series that launched the imprint - Terry and the Pirates was a huge eye opener to me. Newspaper comics strips were always a small section of the Newspapers available to me (though they are far smaller now) and the strips that were run were mostly the dregs that I assume were bought in a package with the big strips that a newspaper that had no interest in the section might purchase. Garfield, basically.*

Is it Monday already?

As far as I can tell, Newspaper comics were always bigger in the US than Australia anyway**. So what I'm saying is, the comics I grew up with were mostly not that interesting to me (I never understood The Perishers), and the best of what we did get were mostly past their prime anyway. So I always assumed that Newspaper comics were largely a waste of time. But Fantagraphics were putting out those beautiful Peanuts collections, so I picked one up.

And it was wonderful. And I picked anther one up, and another. I had forgotten how much I loved Peanuts as a kid. I had forgotten how many of those reprint books I had had as a kid - the ones printed in a dumb paperback book format that needed all of the strips to be reformatted.

After reading a few of them, I was interested in some of the other high quality newspaper comic collections. I picked up the amazing first collection of Walt & Skeezix (had never read Gasoline Alley before), and I was hearing a lot of buzz about Terry and the Pirates. But Terry and the Pirates was an action comic strip, not a funny one, and the closest I had come to that before were the Modesty Blaise strips that always ruined the run of the comics section.

(I had a ritual, by the way. A specific order that I would read the comics in each day, jumping up and down the page. It was a single page of comics – probably something like six or seven strips. The top strip was Calvin and Hobbes, the only strip I actually looked forward to, so I would cover it up with my hand so that I wouldn’t spoil the strip by seeing what it was. I didn't want to know if it was a Spaceman Spiff comic, or a snowman-creation comic, or Calvin getting bullied at school. I was already worried about spoilers as a kid, pre-internet. I don’t remember the exact order of the rest, and of course the line-up changed from time to time, but I am pretty sure I’d start with Cathy if I was bothering to read it that day, or when it was still in the paper, The Perishers. At least they would have those days when it was The Crabs***. Which I still didn’t enjoy, but crabs are pretty cool. I would never, ever read Modesty Blaise.)

The first Terry and the Pirates book blew me away. Of course newspaper comics were never meant to be read in a single volume, they were disposable and all collections with continuity have that need to recap the previous strips with each new one, but these stories were so fun! There is something amazingly pleasing about most of these classic comic adventure comic strips, so morish.

And though I’ve only delved into a handful of these strips so far, Caniff was the best of the best. Aside from the art, which was impeccable, Caniff would always take the characters into very unexpected places, sometimes funny and often crazy. All twelve years worth of Caniff’s run has been collected by LOC, in 1946 Caniff left Terry and the Pirates to create a comic the he owned outright: Steve Canyon!

The story starts with Steve Canyon assembling a crew of WWII veterans to join his new air-transport business and no doubt adventure soon follows. Canyon has been collected before, but never completely, and the strips have also never been published fully intact. (Newspaper comics were often cropped to fit more of them onto a page)

I can’t wait!

* OK, in fairness, we had Calvin and Hobbes.

** We do of course have an Australian newspaper comic strip, Ginger Meggs, which continues to this day.

*** Did you enjoy The Perishers, dear reader? Why?


  1. That's a killer cover, huh? One of the most badass covers I've ever seen.

  2. Your comics-reading ritual is adorable!

  3. Have you read the original The Spirit newspaper strips? They were weekly eight pagers telling a complete story each time.

  4. I think I'd let Steve Canyon buy me a drink.