Saturday, January 24, 2009
DEAN MULLANEY INTERVIEW
The 6th and final volume of 'Terry & the Pirates' is being released this week from the Library of American Comics. I figured it was time to get the inside scoop from series editor Dean Mullaney while the series was still fresh in our minds and hearts. I thought we should go back to the beginning and find out where the idea of reprinting 'Terry' began. "I originally planned to reprint ‘Terry’ in the ‘80s not long after I started Eclipse Comics," Mullaney explains. "So the format we’re using now, which is the color Sundays followed by three dailies, three dailies and the color Sunday again, that was a format I came up with more than 25 years ago. I was going to do it then, but then NBM came out with the black and white books. We were all grateful at the time that NBM did them because that was the first time the entire Caniff series had been reprinted. Luckily I’ve lived long enough that I’ve got the chance to do it the way I’ve always wanted it to be. ‘Terry’ has always been my favorite strip, so for me to do it now is just a thrill."
Before the NBM reprints in the 1980s, no one under 50 had ever seen anything close to a complete run of 'Terry & the Pirates'. It was hard to be a Caniff & 'Terry' fan, but dogged comics lovers, like Dean Mullaney, somehow found a way: "Growing up in New York, I was fortunate that we had conventions earlier than many parts of the country. Phil Seuling ran these monthly marketplaces, which were basically these little mini-conventions. It was a great place to buy old comics. You’re looking around through all the dealer tables and people would have clipped strips. I knew about ‘Terry & the Pirates’, but I had never read an extended run because it wasn’t available. Then in the ‘70s there were those Nostalgia Press books, those three or four books that Nostalgia published. Those are the introduction...that for most people my age, I’m 54, was the first time that we really saw it in an extended strip."
With this week's release, a complete run of 'Terry & the Pirates' can be enjoyed again by a new and wider audience. The strips are beautifully reprinted, with extra attention paid to faithfully reproducing the color Sunday strips. Most of the Sunday strips are from Mullaney's own collection, while the source of the dailies is the Cartoon Research Library and Museum (the Library and its staff are thanked in each volume). A smart addition to each volume is several articles of introductory material. For Mullaney, this was imperative: "Bruce Canwell, who’s been writing them, he’s my associate editor, and I put at least an equal amount of thought and time into researching and preparing the introductory material as we do the strips because I think it’s important, especially for new readers...to give the historical perspective and tell Milton Caniff’s story as the story of the strip. I think it adds a lot to it. Especially since the majority of the readers, the people buying the books, have never read the strips before. The feedback we're getting, it seems as though the vast majority, is from people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We get a fair amount of handwritten letters, which are obviously from older collectors. But to me it’s fantastic to introduce Caniff to a whole new generation or two of new people."
Like the younger generations, the 'Terry' books came out at a fast pace, falling quarterly since late 2007. I wondered why he didn't go with two a year, like the Complete Peanuts series. Mullaney was emphatic:"I wanted to get them done. I’ve been waiting 25 years to do it. I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to do one a year or two a year. They came out on roughly a quarterly schedule. I wanted to get them done for myself and I wanted to get them done for all the readers. Since these are the first books that I’ve done after being away from comics for 12 years, I thought it was important to get the series out on an aggressive schedule to show people that the books in the imprint were going to be coming out on time."
Dean Mullaney's life has now become one of too many great strips and not enough time to do them all. His schedule is set until 2011, currently continuing the reprints of Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy, and getting ready to launch Alex Raymond's 'Rip Kirby' in November. Mullaney admits, closing the book on his favorite strip, the greatest of all adventure strips, is going to be tough: "As soon as I sent that sixth book to the printer, I already missed working on them. I was hoping I could do another one. In the meantime I’ll enjoy reading and re-reading them, which is what I’ve done for the last 25 years. I’ve probably read the entire Milton Caniff run once ever year or two years. It gets better every time I read it."
photo (top): Matt with Dean Mullaney (taken by Ted Haycraft)