Wednesday, August 17, 2011
FOUR COLOR FANTASY
Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon: The Complete Series, Volume: One (Hermes Press)
Steve Canyon appeared annually from 1953 to 1959 as one-shots that were part of Dell Comics anthology series known as Four Color. Wouldn't it be great, I once wondered, if somebody collected these in one book? My thought was not alone in the ether. Hermes Press has just released a beautiful reprinting of these comics in hardcover.
John Ellis of the Milton Caniff Estate writes the introductory essay that gives a nice overview of Steve Canyon's history in the comic book field. The first Canyon comics were reformatted strips published by Harvey in the late 1940s. This lasted only six issues, not faring as well as 'Terry & the Pirates', which ran 11 years in the anthology title Popular Comics, as well as 28 issues of its own title.
The Four Color comics were not strip reprints, but original stories which introduced new characters. For six issues, Steve is aided by Tuck, a young sidekick similar to the strip's Reed Kimberly. In two of the three issues that center on the Civil Air Patrol, a young Civil Air Patrol officer named Janice becomes Tuck's love interest. The main gist of the stories typically involves Steve's role as an Air Force troubleshooter trying to protect U.S. interests from the Commies.
Each issue, save the last, has a painted cover. It's interesting to me that Four Color issues featuring humor strip characters (e.g., Beetle Bailey, Little King) have cartoon line art, but the ones with adventure strip heroes (Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim) have stunning painted covers. Each cover artist is different, but they continue to remain anonymous. They each reflect a scene from the story, except for issue #939, which happens to be the best of the bunch and was used as the stunning cover for this collection. The seventh issue has a photo cover, which was a tie-in to the "Steve Canyon" TV series. Ellis is 2/3 of the way through releasing crisp, remastered episodes of the complete series on DVD.
Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon comics are, for the most part, not by Caniff. The art chores were handled by William Overgard and Ray Bailey, two veteran strip artists of the "Caniff school" who could do a pretty good impersonation of the master. Overgard did the first issue and Bailey the other six. According to Ellis, Caniff did the inking of the Steve Canyon faces to provide continuity between the books and the strip (and likely to keep his own stamp/brand on the character). The stories are by the prolific Paul S. Newman, though Ellis suspects Caniff had a hand in the first. All are Caniffesque adventures stories, though admittedly they lack the snap of Caniff's dialogue.
All in all, a dream project made true by the folks at Hermes, who deliver a first rate, faithful reproduction of the comics. A great example of both restoration and preservation of comics no longer scattered and forgotten.