Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roy Crane: Adventure Comic Strip Giant!

Born today in 1901, Roy Crane would be 108 years old today.

Roy Crane was a comic strip artist who was one of the inventors of the adventure strip.

It's hard to imagine in today's comics page full of gag-a-day comic strips that are almost too small to be read without a magnifying glass, but back in the 1930's-40's, adventure strips were all the rage. The continuity of these continuing sagas ensured readers would come back and buy tomorrows paper. That's right, back in the days of cities having multiple newspapers, the features would be what often bought reader loyalty.

Crane didn't begin his career that way of course, he was one of the inventors of the genre. It didn't much exist before him. Crane began with a humor strip entitled "Washington Tubbs II" in April 1924, later shortened to just "Wash Tubbs". That's the main character below:

It didn't take long for Crane to become bored with the daily humor format though. That's how it happens. The person who creates something doesn't just have the idea full-born in his head, it is usually born out of the person doing what seems most natural to him. Out of keeping himself interested.

Late in 1924, Wash Tubbs set off on a treasure hunt and the daily continuity, while still having plenty of gags, became more and more adventuresome.

It set itself in stone in 1929 when a roguish soldier of fortune was introduced into the strip named "Captain Easy". That's him below:

Soon the partnership became permanent and the strip was renamed "Wash Tubbs with Captain Easy.

That's just a great friggin' name! Say it with me. Captain Easy.

After Captain Easy, other adventure strips followed. Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Prince Valiant, etc.

But, like "Thimble Theatre" with Popeye...Wash Tubbs seemed to be more fun than those. The humor and deeper characterization which comes from showing the human part of the hero, makes it all the more interesting if you ask me.

Below is a sample of the Wash Tubbs Sunday strip...

...and after it changed titles to featuring Captain Easy alone. (on Sundays only. This was a separate continuity from the dailies which still featured our man Tubbs.):
Roy Crane and his strip are not the household name that those who followed in his footsteps are, but were it not for him, they would have had no trail to follow.

For a time, whenever Charles Schulz (creator of "Peanuts") would do lecture tours to colleges about his life as a cartoonist, he would sometimes begin by asking the auditorium full of students if they knew who Roy Crane was. When they answered with their silence, he would give a sad little half grin and remark that he wasn't sure if he really wanted to talk to them at all.

Roy Crane was funny, he was a masterful draftsman and he told gripping adventure tales. All the things a cartoonist should be.

In 2010, Fantagraphics Books will began a full printing of Roy Cranes "Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs" strips in hardcover with the Sunday pages in full color. Roy will once again be influencing budding cartoonists.

All for the good, I say.

Thanks Roy! For all the adventure.

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