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COMMENTARY

Pogo Volume 1

Possums and Ducks and Bears, Oh My!

This has been a banner year for books reprinting vintage comic strips and comic books, and the release by Fantagraphics of the first volumes of Walt Kelly's Pogo and Carl Barks's Donald Duck is a fitting climax. I've never made a secret of my own biases: Barks and Kelly have always been the two cartoonists I most admired, the two whose best work has variously comforted, inspired, and depressed me, making me want to be a cartoonist and then convincing me that I could never come close to being good enough.

Their trajectories were similar, both cartoonists achieving a remarkable level of excellence by 1949 and then maintaining and even surpassing it without significant lapses for at least the next five or six years. My own enthusiasm for comics tracked their ascent and then what seemed to me to be their decline (Kelly as he found political themes too useful a substitute for real comic invention, Barks as he was hamstrung by his publisher's paranoia). Their decline, as I saw it, coincided with my own adolescence—when an interest in comics was difficult to reconcile with what my hormones and my classmates were preaching to me—and I worried occasionally that I might have been reading into my heroes' work what was happening in my own life. Repeated re-readings have banished that fear. Both Barks and Kelly really were at their best circa 1949-54, when I was old enough to appreciate how good they were and not yet unduly distracted by other things. Sometimes coincidences are just that.

The Pogo compilation, titled Pogo by Walt Kelly: Through the Wild Blue Yonder (Fantagraphics, $39.95), brings together all of Kelly's syndicated dailies and Sundays from 1949-50, plus the New York Star dailies from 1948-49. The book is a triumph for Fantagraphics and for its editors, Kim Thompson and Carolyn Kelly (Walt's daughter). The Barks book is, alas, another matter. But more of that later.

In the Kelly book, the comics are almost all reproduced beautifully—including the color Sundays, most of them reprinted for the first time—and in a generous size. (The few strips that look a little rough around the edges serve as a reminder of just how difficult it was to assemble a satisfactory set.) Although Fantagraphics has published the dailies before, in a paperback series, there is nothing superfluous about the new book, the Sundays alone ensuring that.

The accompanying commentaries, mostly and appropriately placed at the beginning and end of the book, are modest and genuinely helpful, as when, for example, Mark Evanier explains the peculiarities of Sunday comics and R. C. Harvey identifies references in the strips that might escape readers too young to remember the Korean War. I'm afraid I noticed a couple of mistakes in Steve Thompson's otherwise solid biographical introduction: Western Printing & Lithographing helped Walt Disney finance Disneyland, not the Disney studio itself, and NBC telecast The Pogo Special Birthday Special not just once in May 1969 but three times altogether, the latter two times on February 22, 1970, and February 20, 1971. But Thompson has done so much good work on Kelly's behalf that he could be forgiven much worse mistakes.

Pogo didn't find its way into one of my local newspapers until 1951, about two years after syndication began, so when the first of Simon & Schuster's Pogo trade paperbacks appeared that year, all of the strips were new to me (and to my father and my brother, who competed with me for possession of the book). I was aware, though, that Kelly must have done a lot of editing, dropping whole sequences, lopping off panels, bridging gaps with new drawings. How I wanted to see those missing strips! And here they are.

There are riches in the strips that didn't make it into that first trade paperback, or any of the later ones, and also some minor revelations (I realized for the first time when reading some of Albert the Alligator's dialogue that Kelly, like everyone else in the country, listened to Amos 'n' Andy). But there is mainly a sense, upon reading the strips in chronological order, of seeing Kelly achieve an artistic stature that very few other comic-strip creators have even approached.

Kelly was, in his prime years, a remarkably fecund artist. His strips call to mind Charles Dickens's novels in their generous outpouring of distinct characters (hundreds of them, just in these few hundred strips!) and in their flood of language, at once fantastic and unforced. Not least, there are Kelly's beautiful drawings, with almost every panel seemingly assessed carefully for its comic possibilities—except, of course, that Kelly was doing so much, and working so quickly, that what we see is the product not of calculation but of a great artist's intuition.

When it came time to assemble the trade paperbacks of the '50s, Kelly was an astute editor—he knew which strips demanded to be included, and which could be set aside. As a result, the trade paperbacks have a flavor that differs considerably—more concentrated and intense—from the new reprint collection (and from Fantagraphics' earlier paperbacks), even when the strips are from the same period. There were also Pogo trade paperbacks that didn't reprint newspaper strips but were instead made up of original material. A truly comprehensive reprinting of Kelly's work, the kind he deserves, would give us annotated editions of all the trade paperbacks as well as all the dailies and Sundays, not to mention fugitive pieces like the occasional spread in Life or Collier's. That would be wonderful; but I'm not holding my breath.

In the interest of full disclosure, let's admit that there are, inevitably, patches in the new book when Kelly is just marking time until inspiration returns. Likewise, in the loose-jointed stories in the first year of the Sunday page (it began in January 1950, six months after the daily strip) he may have overworked the sort of rowdy slapstick that was his ace in the hole in the 1940s, when comic-book pages were pouring off his drawing board. But any such reservations shrink into insignificance once you've advanced a few pages into the book..

Lost in the AndesThe Barks book, titled Walt Disney's Donald Duck "Lost in the Andes" by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics, $24.99), reprints Barks's duck stories that were published over a span of a little less than a year, starting in late 1948 and extending through the summer of 1949. The stories are not presented in chronological order, but are grouped as "adventures," "short stories," and "gags." There are genuine classics here—the title story, "Voodoo Hoodoo," and several of the ten-page stories from Walt Disney's Comics & Stories qualify easily—and almost everything is on a very high level of craftsmanship. The new coloring is, if considerably less than ideal, still better than the color inflicted on Barks's stories in many of their comic-book reprintings.

(Reprinting comic-book stories on bright white paper is tricky. The coarseness of newsprint tends to tame large areas of flat color, whereas white paper can shove that color in the reader's face. The European Egmont edition, which you can read about at this link, probably resolved that dilemma better than any other edition by relying on a subdued palette.)

So what's the problem with the new Fantagraphics book? I guess I could summarize it as a combination of a lack of seriousness where it's needed and an overabundance of seriousness where it's not.

To begin with the excess of seriousness: Unlike the Egmont edition, whose generally excellent annotations were all written by Geoffrey Blum, the Fantagraphics book offers an introduction by Donald Ault and annotations of individual stories by Ault and no fewer than eight other authors, a mixture of academics and knowledgeable fans, several of them from Italy. (For the record, both Geoff Blum and I were invited to take part in Fantagraphics' Barks project, and we both declined.) Many of the commentators have been placed in the unenviable position of having to come up with something pertinent to say about stories that resist exegesis.

That is especially true when Barks was working from someone else's script, as with four of the one-page gags, "Toyland" from the 1948 Firestone Christmas giveaway, and, most notably, the ten-page story from the December 1948 issue of Walt Disney's Comics. The commentators on most of the stories from other writers' scripts at least mention in passing that Barks was revising others' work, but Ault ignores that fact in his close reading of the December 1948 story. That story is, to me, a rarity among Barks's stories, one in which it's possible to envision the ducks' places taken by other cartoon characters, even non-Disney characters, but there's not a hint in Ault's piece that it's anything less than echt Barks.

Barks's best stories repay intense scrutiny because there is so much going on in them—subtle emotional shadings, brilliantly staged comic action—but they suffer when too much is read into them, as happens repeatedly in the new book's "Story Notes." Thus we're told by Stefano Priarone that "Lost in the Andes" is a "strong satire of conformism," that Barks himself in the 1950s was "a nonconformist living in a conformist society," and that the residents of Plain Awful—literal "squares," you see—"seem friendly, but they are also narrow-minded." Do I need to say that this is all much too facile? Priarone brushes up against the one minor weakness of "Lost in the Andes"—once Barks has gotten his ducks into Plain Awful he has a bit of trouble finding interesting things for them to do there—but he is straining too hard at phantom significance to recognize it.

Likewise, if "Toyland" is, as Jared Gardner writes, "a wistful portrait of the timeless pleasures of childhood that Barks knew were in the process of being given an expiration date," how to account for the mocking tone of the Christmas-themed stories from the 1940s that Barks himself wrote as well as drew and that got him into trouble with his editors on two occasions, to the point that a 1946 story (about the "timeless pleasure" of caroling) was suppressed completely? Barks rarely indulged in sentimentality about Christmas, or about anything.

Barks had no more devoted friend and admirer than Don Ault, and that devotion has taken very positive forms, as in Ault's editing of the interview anthology called Carl Barks: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi, $25), but he lost me in his introduction to the new book. He likes too much the idea that Barks's characters were distinct from the "roles" they played in the comic books, that they were "actors" performing on comic-book stages: "For Barks, Donald Duck is not just the changeable Duck but rather is 'performing' the Duck." Ault quotes Barks in support of that notion, but Barks also spoke of Donald and the other ducks as if they were not theatrical roles but imaginary creatures who remained in essential ways the same as they evolved on his pages. I think it was that conception of his characters that actually shaped Barks's stories.

An example: In the September 1951 Walt Disney's Comics, the nephews are Junior Woodchucks, sober, responsible, industrious. Donald is a boob, a surrogate parent who can't do anything right. In the October 1951 issue, though, the nephews are little boys who hate school and play hooky. It is Donald, not the nephews, who is sober and responsible, a working-class parent who has no patience with hooky players. There is, you might say, a contradiction in how the ducks are presented in those two stories, but for me there's no contradiction at all, because Barks through his dialogue and his drawings brings the ducks so completely alive both times. If the ducks' behavior seems to differ sharply in the two stories, that's because Barks has depicted them as utterly convincing people, beaks and feathers notwithstanding, and he understands what people are like: never the same from moment to moment except within very broad boundaries.

To regard the ducks as "actors" seems to me to create a condundrum in the name of solving one. If the ducks are actors, and we see them on their comic-book stage playing roles distinct from their real selves, what are those real selves like? If they're like Carl Barks, if they are Carl Barks, does regarding them not as richly complex creations of Barks's imagination but as actors—that is, adding another layer—serve any purpose at all?

Perhaps nestled in Ault's idea that the ducks are actors is his resistance to what seems to me Barks's essence, a cheerful but decidedly chilly skepticism about human nature. His Barks is not just a more benevolent figure, but one whose benevolence is fused with his work. Ault writes:

The enormous quantity and range of work Barks produced, which has remained in print all over the world since 1943, fundamentally altered millions of people's lives during their formative years and afterwards[,] infusing them with a love for reading, pointing them in the direction their lives should take, defining the codes of morality and excellence by which they led their lives (even inspiring them to enter specific occupations).

Let's set aside the question of just how effective Barks was at instilling in his most ardent fans—some of the big-gun collectors of his duck paintings, say—those "codes of morality and excellence." There's no suggestion in what Ault writes that Barks's stories changed over the years, rising and falling in consequential ways. In fact, Ault singles out for praise late stories that are embarrassingly weak, when measured by the standards the earlier stories set, and that invite endorsement only because they might have had some positive effect on a child reader. Barks himself spoke favorably about some of these stories, but however much we may respect an author's opinion of his own work, we're not required to accept it.

Barks Bear BookIn effect, Ault writes about Barks as a children's author—which he was, of course, but only in the sense that his stories were accessible to child readers. It's because the stories offer so much more to adult readers, as those readers grow into them and perhaps share some of Barks's wisdom, that the stories are not just objects of nostalgia but living presences. It's the Barks who created stories that speak most clearly to their adult readers that I find missing from Ault's introduction.

As if taking its cue from Ault, Fantagraphics has packaged Donald Duck "Lost in the Andes" as if it were a children's book: not in a cloth cover and dust jacket, like the Pogo book, but, instead, in boards in bright colors, with drawings of the ducks picked up rather clumsily from panels of the comic book of the title. There's only the slightest hint that this might be the first volume of a Barks series. (Is there hesitation because the Barks stories have been reprinted before? If so, why is there no such hesitation about Pogo, which Fantagraphics itself has reprinted?) There's no identification of the sources of stories within the stories themselves, only a list tucked away in the back, using titles most of which did not originate with Barks. There is, as I say, a lack of seriousness where it's needed.

If, as I fear, this book winds up in the hands of at least as many children as adults, what will they make of "Voodoo Hoodoo"? Disney has, miraculously, permitted reprinting the story as it was originally published, racial stereotypes and all. (The unctuous "story note" on "Voodoo Hoodoo" is, curiously, unsigned.) I can only applaud Disney's courage—but I won't be surprised if it lasts only until some angry mother writes to the Walt Disney Company, causes a predictable stink, gets some mid-level excutive in hot water, and throws the whole project into jeopardy.

Another Barks collection has just been published, this one devoted to stories that are more obscure than the Disney stories in Fantagraphics' volume. The Carl Barks Big Book of "Barney Bear" (IDW, $34.99), edited by Craig Yoe with an introduction and cover illustration by Jeff Smith of Bone, reprints all the "Barney Bear and Benny Burro" stories that Barks illustrated and mostly wrote for Our Gang Comics between 1944 and 1947, twenty-six in all. Barks's other stories with MGM cartoon characters for Our Gang—three solo "Benny Burro" stories, two "Happy Hound" stories with the renamed Droopy— are not included here, perhaps for copyright/licensing reasons.

The Barney-and-Benny stories are not top-drawer Barks; he didn't like working with those characters, and he credited his "constant griping" to his editors for his release from the series. Some of the best stories were written not by Barks but by Gil Turner, who created the irascible Mooseface McElk. Barks could be highly critical of other writers' comic-book scripts, but he liked Turner's, which he found "rich in gags and situations."

Everything Barks did is of interest, and the Barney-and-Benny stories suffer most by comparison with his brilliant duck stories from the next few years. The Barney-and-Benny stories have been reprinted twice now in Europe, once in black and white in what was called The Barks Bear Book, and more recently by Egmont in color, in a book that included all the Our Gang material as well as Barks's single attempt at Porky Pig. I've not seen either book, but my understanding is that The Barks Bear Book was shot from the original comic books, whereas the Egmont volume used mostly first- or second-generation photostats sent to Europe many years ago. The new IDW book was shot from comic books, like other Craig Yoe-edited reprint volumes.

I haven't compared the reprinted stories with the comic books, because color fidelity really isn't important; Western Printing's colorists could, and did, ignore clear instructions from the artist and cues from the text. The only question is whether the reprints are clean and readable, and the reprints in Carl Barks' Big Book of "Barney Bear" pass that test. There's no reason to hope that any of Egmont's Barks volumes will be published in English, and Fantagraphics' performance so far doesn't encourage the belief that it will bring his non-Disney work back into print, so anyone who wants to read the Barney-and-Benny stories is probably well advised to pick up the Yoe book.

Perhaps one half-hidden obstacle as Fantagraphics undertook its Barks project was that Barks was a comic-book creator, and not a comic-strip creator like Walt Kelly. There has always been snobbery at work where comic books are concerned, even or maybe especially among comic-strip aficionados, such snobbery originating in the belief that comic strips, produced for a largely adult audience, are on a more elevated artistic plane than comic books, with their audience made up mostly of children. I remember the late Bill Blackbeard, the great comic-strip collector, remarking to me years ago that he thought the comic book, in all its history, had yielded only as much worthwhile material as the contemporary comic strip; I think he said that in the late '70s or early '80s, at a time when Peanuts was already approaching its dotage, most adventure strips had long ago become victims of their shrinking size on the newspaper page, and ugly junk like Garfield was inexplicably popular. But all of those crippled strips somehow had as much artistic weight in Bill's eyes as the collected comic-book work of Barks, Kelly, John Stanley, Will Eisner, and Harvey Kurtzman.

TTothhere have been a few great comic strips, certainly, like Pogo and George Herriman's Krazy Kat and E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, with Popeye, but a great many more bad ones, especially among those strips drawn in a more or less realistic style and telling a continuous story. Over the years I've acquired and read hardcover collections of such highly praised strips as Flash Gordon, Wash Tubbs, and Terry and the Pirates. Beautifully drawn, all of them, but almost always hopeless as stories, at least partly because the difficulty of sustaining a story line over a few panels a day for months at a time—plus Sunday pages that might or might not be integrated with the daily continuity—so often tempts strips' creators into broad gestures and crude shortcuts. The strips that foreswore glamorous drawings in favor of grotesquerie, like Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie, have been more interesting, but ultimately not so much as narratives as clinical specimens.

The comic-book story, as a coherent unit that can be read at one sitting, offers much better opportunities to a storyteller, at least if it's of adequate length. Carl Barks's best stories are perfect examples: Ten pages in Walt Disney's Comics and thirty-two pages in Donald Duck were lengths that worked well not just for Barks but for others of his colleagues at Western Printing. One reason I was always drawn to Western's Dell comic books, I'm sure, is that so many of them included stories that were long enough. That the opportunities offered by such length were not exploited creatively often enough doesn't alter the fact that those opportunities existed.

Other publishers tended to offer shorter stories, often made even shorter in actuality, especially in humor titles, by reliance on a six-panel format, as opposed to the eight panels per page that were standard in Dell's humor comic books, like Walt Disney's Comics and Little Lulu. Those other publishers carried ads on their inside pages—for a long time Dell carried no ads at all, except for subscriptions to its own comic books—and no doubt shorter stories made it easier to position the ads. But those shorter stories were almost always a guarantee of lower quality.

The comic books that Ned Pines and his father-in-law, Benjamin W. Sangor, published under a variety of corporate names were exemplars of this shorter-is-better philosophy, and the consequences are visible in the new book called Setting the Standard: Alex Toth, 1952-54 (Fantagraphics, $39.99), superbly edited by Greg Sadowski. The book collects all sixty-two stories that Toth illustrated for comic books of various kinds—war, romance, horror, science fiction—published under Pines's Standard label. The stories vary in length from one to ten pages, but most fall in between.

Toth was an excellent cartoonist whose best work was distinguished by its elegance, economy, and sophisticated use of black. He becomes visibly more accomplished over the two years spanned by this book; his pages hang together as well-designed units even when they're crowded with the Standard writers' dialogue. But ah, that dialogue, and those stories! They are uniformly terrible. Length alone isn't the problem: it's that the writers have come up with story ideas that could have been realized satisfactorily only in many more pages, or, just possibly, with drastic rewriting by a truly talented comic-book editor—Harvey Kurtzman in his war titles comes first to mind. And yet, as Toth says in the 1966 interview from Bill Spicer's Graphic Story Magazine that is an invaluable addition to the book, it was the writers whom editors valued—not the artists, whom both writers and editors regarded with disdain.

Toth also says, though, that he preferred working with such short-form stories: "I'd rather have twenty 10-page stories than one 200-page story. ... I could be tired as hell, having just come off a job, when a new script would arrive in the mail and I'd be perked up by it. ... Even those 34-pagers [movie adaptations that he drew for Dell comic books in the late 1950s] used to drive me up the wall." Toth says that he would have preferred working on a syndicated comic strip to working in comic books, but he sounds in the interview like someone who was doomed to dissatisfaction with whatever work he was fated to do.

The daily comic-strip format is so severely demanding, it's no wonder that so many cartoonists—or, more to the point, their editors and publishers—have foresworn continuity in favor of a gag a day (even though, or maybe especially, so many of those gags have never been especially funny). One of the distinguishing features of the three great strips I mentioned above, and of other great strips, like Peanuts in its prime, is that their creators (who, significantly, both wrote and drew their strips) seemed so comfortable with the daily format, turning it to their own purposes instead of being confined by it, and, especially, never showing that they felt any compulsion to move ahead with a story line if they were enjoying themselves doing something else.

I thought of Segar, in particular, when I was reading Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse "Trapped on Treasure Island" (Fantagraphics, $29.99), the second volume in Fantagraphics' reprinting of the Floyd Gottfredson comic strip. (I wrote about the first volume at this link.) Some of these Gottfredson adventures, from 1932-34, are what the Popeye strips might have been like if Segar didn't have much of a sense of humor.

On page 106 of the new collection, a character called Mrs. Churchmouse gushes to a blushing Mickey about how wonderful he is: "You're the kindest, bravest, finest boy I've ever known!" The next day, in case we missed the point, Minnie tells Mickey: "The papers are full of stories about you! You're a hero!" I can imagine Popeye saying something similar about himself, actually, with comic seriousness, maybe just before slugging an innocent bystander. Popeye was, among many other things, a chivalrous bully, and in every way a more complex and interesting character than the Mickey of the Gottfredson comic strip.

Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse will get better in succeeding volumes, which will contain genuine classics like Mickey's encounter with the Phantom Blot. But the second volume, like the first, can try a faithful reader's patience.

There is, for example, the serial called "The Mail Pilot," which stretched over three and a half months in 1933. Its early installments are good examples of the perils lying in wait for a cartoonist presenting a serious (or, as here, semi-serious) continuity. As a student pilot, Mickey is a disaster, wrecking planes and wreaking general havoc. His screwups would get any other comic-strip student pilot thrown out on the street, but here they're played for the sake of a gag, or a sort of gag. Gottfredson—or, more likely, Ted Osborne, the radio writer and comedian who was then writing the Mickey strip from Gottfredson's plotting—evidently couldn't think of any plausible way to make Mickey a pilot without bogging the strip down in the practicalities of training. The strip thus lurches from one ridiculous accident to another, until finally Mickey is somehow acclaimed as the ace of the flying service.

Mickey Mouse Vol. 2Animated cartoons had it easier. In the 1933 Mickey Mouse cartoon called The Mail Pilot, Mickey is simply a pilot when the cartoon begins, and no questions need be asked about how he became one. Thomas Andrae, in his introduction to the new book, identifies the comic-strip story as an "adaptation" of the cartoon, and that raises an interesting question that Andrae doesn't address.

The "Mail Pilot" comic-strip continuity began on February 27, 1933, and ran until June. The animated cartoon was released in May 1933, but the director, Dave Hand, had begun handing out animation on February 9, when he gave a bundle of early scenes to Les Clark. The mimeographed outline of the cartoon story, distributed in the studio with a request for gags, is not dated, but the writing of the story must have begun by early January 1933 at the latest—that is, it could have coincided with the writing and drawing of the comic strip by Osborne and Gottfredson (and Ted Thwaites, who is credited with inking Gottfredson's pencils). So, was the comic strip an adaptation of the film, or was the reverse possibly true, that the cartoon was made in response to the comic strip, which Disney's writers certainly could have seen well before it appeared in newspapers?

Andrae is almost certainly right, and it was Gottfredson who was adapting the work of the cartoon's writers, and not the other way around. But I would have enjoyed reading more about the practical side of this intersection of strips and cartoons. This book being an official Disney project, though, the weight falls not on a discussion of what actually happened but on what it meant, or might have meant; and so Andrae writes of Mickey: "Leaping over fire hydrants as he expounds on his dreams, or happily sailing through the air with his makeshift wings, Gottfredson's mouse is a character of great cheerfulness and vitality, a source of joy and hope in a troubled world." Sort of like Lady Gaga today, I suppose.

Four Color AdventuresThis mandatory reverence doesn't lead Andrae into any errors that I noticed, but it does have some strange results elsewhere, as in the introduction by Leonardo Gori and Francesco Stajano to "The Mail Pilot," where they expound at length on the supposed resemblance of a mechanic character called Gloomy to Buster Keaton. Not so: Gloomy is a Ned Sparks character if ever there was one. In 1933 that supremely sour comedian was far more in the public eye than Keaton, but today, of course, it's Keaton who is the prestigious comic figure. Ergo...

The Gottfredson serials are not as good, and Mickey Mouse himself not as important, as the book's annotators and its editors, David Gerstein and Gary Groth, would like us to believe, but as I've said, the comic strip did get better. Make no mistake: Gottfredson's comic strip was always, compared with Carl Barks's duck stories, something of a factory product, written and drawn by a frequently changing cast of characters even though Gottfredson himself was a constant. Barks was far and away the greater artist, which makes his comparatively second-class treatment by Fantagraphics all the more irritating. I'm glad that we're getting a uniform edition of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse in attractively designed volumes released in chronological order, but Barks deserves not just as much, but far more.

A couple of closing notes.

° Boom Studios, which published the first volume of the Walt Disney's Comics and Stories Archives earlier this year, has followed up with the first volume of a projected series devoted to Disney one-shots: Disney's Four Color Adventures (Boom Studios, $14.99). Just as the Walt Disney's Comics Volume 1 included the first two issues of that comic book in facsimile, the new book includes the first two one-shots as published in what is known as the Dell color (not yet Four Color, pace David Gerstein's introduction) series: Donald Duck, color No. 4, and The Reluctant Dragon, color No. 13. No. 4 consists of reprints of Al Taliaferro's Donald Duck comic strip, but No. 13 is the first Disney comic book tied in to the release of a new feature, and so its contents are new, and pretty crude-looking at that, like so much early comic-book art.

Popeye Vol. 6There were two more Disney titles in the Dell color series, No. 16, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot, and No. 17, Dumbo; presumably they'll make up the second volume, if this series continues. The Four Color numbering began with No. 19, through No. 25, and then for some reason resumed with No. 1. The next Disney one-shot was Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, Four Color No. 9, followed by Bambi, Four Color No. 12; they would make up the third volume. I'll be surprised and delighted if this series continues, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts, especially Donald Duck No. 4, the only early color one-shot that eluded me in my active collecting days.

° Fantagraphics has scheduled for publication next January the sixth and final volume of its complete collection of E. C. Segar's Thimble Theatre with Popeye, both dailies and color Sundays: Popeye Vol. 6, Me Li'l Swee'pea (Fantagraphics, $29.99). This is cause for celebration, because one of the greatest of all comic strips will have been brought back into print, near perfectly. There may be reason to hesitate over the purchase of many other comic-strip reprints, but not this one, or any of the five earlier volumes. They all deserve a place on your shelf.

[Posted November 27, 2011; corrected December 11, 2011]

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