Interview: Bruce Canwell on IDW’s Steve Canyon Vol. 1

Steve Canyon Vol. 1

Steve Canyon Vol. 1


Bruce Canwell is the Associate Editor of The Library of American Comics that publishes collections of such classic comic strips as Bloom County, Little Orphan Annie, Li’l Abner, and more through IDW. Available for pre-order now is the first volume of Milton Caniff’s classic strip, Steve Canyon. Westfield’s Roger Ash contacted Canwell to learn more about this collection.

The second week of Steve Canyon begins, featuring Steve, Feeta-Feeta, "Copper" Calhoun, and Mr. Dayzee.

The second week of Steve Canyon begins, featuring Steve, Feeta-Feeta, "Copper" Calhoun, and Mr. Dayzee.


Westfield: For people who aren’t familiar with Steve Canyon, what can you tell us about the strip?

Bruce Canwell: This is sort of a two-fer, Roger – let’s talk about Steve Canyon, the strip, and Steve Canyon, the title character.

Steve Canyon, the comic strip, launched in January, 1947 and ended in 1988, shortly after the death of its creator and guiding light, Milton Caniff. Caniff’s name was and continues to be spoken with respect that sometimes borders on awe – he was known as “The Rembrandt of the Comic Strips,” and no one ever contested his right to that title!

Canyon‘s creation came about because, in a way, Caniff was the prototype for Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and the other original Image creators. He had been phenomenally successful as a “well-paid slave” for one newspaper syndicate while producing the fabulous Terry And The Pirates comic strip, but he jumped ship, the way the Image guys abandoned Marvel, after getting an opportunity to create something new over which he had full ownership and complete creative control. The slam-bang action (and sexy women) of Steve Canyon are the result.

Steve Canyon week 2, strip 2

Steve Canyon week 2, strip 2


When we first meet Steve Canyon, the character, he’s a post-war pilot operating his own charter air service. Steve is rangy and smart, as quick with a quip as he is with his fists. He’s a solid patriot and lives life by the Golden Rule, but when he’s pushed he doesn’t hesitate to shove back. Steve returns to military service when the Korean War gets hot, which means there are combat missions and espionage work in his future, but in this first volume he’s strictly a small businessman with an exotic job, trying to do the right thing and make ends meet.

Caniff is justly praised for the fabulous first week of Canyon strips that introduce his rangy, hard-hitting hero – would-be comics artists and writers should study this sequence to learn valuable lessons in storytelling and suspense-building!

Steve Canyon week 2, day 3

Steve Canyon week 2, day 3


Westfield: Aside from Steve, who are some of the other characters readers will encounter in the strips?

Canwell: Manoman, that’s a loooooong list! Caniff was at the top of his game when he launched Canyon, and he was determined to present a broad cast that would seem “Caniffesque,” but wouldn’t closely duplicate the beloved Terry And The Pirates characters he had recently left behind.

Steve starts out with a five-man flight crew in his charter business, but eventually they’re replaced by a single sidekick: first Steve partners with eccentric old-timer Happy Easter, then with youthful Reed Kimberly. In my introductory text feature I have a really interesting quote from Caniff discussing how his thinking evolved regarding the supporting cast, and how Happy and Reed fulfill different but complementary needs.

Terry And The Pirates fans are well aware that Caniff was known for his villains and for his women — he brings to bear all his formidable talents in both those areas in Steve Canyon. Steve matches wits and trades punches with conniving plantation owners – heavy-handed oil wildcatters – Communist espionage agents – fugitive Nazis – and lots more! Every villain has a look, personality, and speech pattern that’s all his (or her) own.

Steve Canyon week 2, day 4

Steve Canyon week 2, day 4


Caniff makes his women as varied and distinctive as his baddies. Steve’s business manager is a Samoan sweetie nicknamed Feeta-Feeta, and the first client we see him doing business with is that slinky business tycoon, “Copper” Calhoun. Madame Lynx and Captain Akoola are blonde-haired vixens; Fancy is the classic attractive thirty-something who hasn’t recovered from the curve-balls life has thrown her; Convoy and Cheetah are both young and cute, but their completely different outlooks on life produce polar opposites.

Sometimes creators who are good with plot allow their characterization to suffer, and sometimes a person who finds it easy to whip up memorable characters doesn’t give them interesting things to do. Caniff has both sides of the equation in near-perfect balance – his stories are a joy to read, and his artwork is often a visual delight.

Steve Canyon week 2, day 5

Steve Canyon week 2, day 5


Westfield: Why did you decide that Steve Canyon should get The Library of American Comics treatment?

Canwell: As if you couldn’t tell, everyone at The Library of American Comics is a major Milton Caniff fan. In fact, this summer we released Caniff, a big, beautiful artbook that serves as a “visual biography” and an overview of this remarkable career. We’ve always wanted to do Steve Canyon, but until recently another publisher had the reprint rights. Circumstances changed, we were eager to pick up the rights to the strip, and Harry Guyton – Caniff’s nephew and the executor of his estate – agreed LOAC was the right place for his uncle’s masterwork.

It’s a tremendous pleasure to be reprinting Steve Canyon, because in terms of size and shape, we’ll do this in the same format as our strong-selling, Eisner Award-winning Terry And The Pirates books. We’re essentially creating a uniform Milton Caniff Bookshelf within The Library of American Comics.

Steve Canyon week 2, day 6

Steve Canyon week 2, day 6


More than that, Roger, we’re able to offer readers Canyon like they’ve never seen it before, because we’re reprinting the strips from Caniff’s own personal set of printer’s proofs. That means we can give the series the best-quality reproduction it’s ever enjoyed, but in addition, for the first time Canyon will be reprinted with full-color Sunday pages – and Caniff’s color work often has to be seen to be believed! – plus full-size, uncropped dailies! I’ve been a Canyon fan since the series was reprinted by the now-defunct Kitchen Sink Press back in the early 1980s, but I’ll gladly replace those old KSP magazines with our shiny new hardcovers.

A Steve Canyon color Sunday featuring Steve, Happy, and the slinky Madame Lynx, here posing as "Madame Jones."

A Steve Canyon color Sunday featuring Steve, Happy, and the slinky Madame Lynx, here posing as "Madame Jones."


Westfield: How many volumes will this run?

Canwell: I expect we’ll do about twenty volumes – Steve Canyon essentially ran forty years and as with our Terry volumes, we’re collecting two years in each book. Given that our Dick Tracy series is up to Volume 12 and the phenomenal response to Rip Kirby convinced us to continue that series into its John Prentice years, I like to think readers will support Canyon and allow us to reprint the entire series.

Westfield: What other projects are on the way from The Library of American Comics that you can tell us about?

Canwell: There’s no shortage of nifty LOAC books in the pipeline! Our first jumbo-sized Alex Raymond Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim volume is available just in time for the holidays, with the third Secret Agent Corrigan and the second Blondie hot on its heels.

February will see the release of Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow & The Little King, which we’re VERY excited about. Soglow is one of those fantastic talents who has unfortunately been allowed to slide off too many radar screens, and we’re delighted to bring him front-and-center once again. Cartoon Monarch will not only reprint hundreds of pages of The Little King, it will also include the complete run of The Ambassador, the strip Soglow produced prior to launching King. And just how good is The Little King? He was so popular the Fleischer Studios once licensed him to guest-star in a Betty Boop cartoon – it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

In the months following Cartoon Monarch we’ll have Genius, Illustrated, the second volume in our comprehensive Alex Toth biography. A lot of loving care is going into that book, believe me. I’m also mighty pleased to announce that we’ve decided to do another Bringing Up Father volume! Our first BUF release snagged an Eisner nomination, and sales were so strong we had to go to a second printing. So if you liked BUF: From Sea To Shining Sea, you’ll want to see what happens when Jiggs loses all his money in our follow-up, Bringing Up Father: Of Cabbages And Kings. And here’s an exclusive for you — a sneak-peek at the second Bringing Up Father cover!

Bringing Up Father: Of Cabbages and Kings

Bringing Up Father: Of Cabbages and Kings


We have lots of other stuff percolating, as well. Folks are always welcome to visit us at www.libraryofamericancomics.com for the latest and greatest!

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Canwell: I got two of ‘em for you. First, a sincere thank-you from all of us at LOAC to everyone who buys and supports our books. Second, here’s my wish for a great 2012 in which publishers big and small produce comics we all have fun reading, and your Cubs and my Red Sox both go deep into the playoffs!

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Steve Canyon Vol. 1

 

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  1. Tony Says:

    “the phenomenal response to Rip Kirby convinced us to continue that series into its John Prentice years”

    That’s extremely great, but you know we comic fans are never content and always hungry for more, so let me ask this:

    Hasn’t the response to Terry and the Pirates been phenomenal enough to convince you to continue that series into its George Wunder years?

  2. Bruce Canwell Says:

    Hi, Tony –

    Thanks for your comment! The response to TERRY has been phenomenal enough to convince us to do CANIFF and STEVE CANYON, but no immediate plans to do the Wunder TERRY (although anything is possible, eventually). Reasons being: [A] Dean, Lorraine, and I are major Caniff fans, so getting Milton’s work collected is a priority for us, and [B] while I’m probably prejudiced, I believe the visual/narrative drop-off from Caniff-to-Wunder on TERRY is far more noticeable than the same drop-off from Raymond-to-Prentice on RIP.

  3. Mark Says:

    Bruce-

    Thank you for responding. I have two questions if you don’t mind.

    Have you ever considered reprinting some strips in the cheaper trade paperback format?

    The reason I’m asking is that I was a bit dismayed to learn that there will only be two volumes of Blondie reprinted. Blondie is such a hugely popular strip even today, that I can’t help but wonder whether sales of Blondie would pick up if they were published in a lesser expensive format, even if that meant cutting back on the extras (which I enjoy, but I buy the books for the strips).

    Would going to a trade paperback format also work for some more modern day strips that have yet to be reprinted by anyone as well? The Johnny Hart strips (BC and The Wizard of Id) and Mort Walker strips (Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois) have never received comprehensive, archival reprints and while they might not sell well as the usual expensive LOAC hardcovers, they might sell, and possibly sell well, as trade paperbacks. I know I’d pick ‘em up if anyone decided to go ahead with such a line of books.

    Thanks for your time

  4. Bruce Canwell Says:

    Hey, Mark –

    Thanks for your note; much appreciated! Here’s my long-winded two cents on the points you raised:

    POINT THE FIRST: We released our first Library of American Comics (LOAC) paperback — THE BEST OF DICK TRACY — earlier this year, and we’re watching its performance very carefully. Even before BEST OF TRACY, we’ve talked about the possibility of doing a batch of LOAC paperbacks, as well as trying out some experimental formats (how’s that for a tease? Can’t say any more about “experiments” right now, but …). We continue to have those discussions. One problem is, there are only so many assets — time, money, staff members — to be expended, so our ability to launch projects has its limits (already, our motto is: “Sleep is overrated!”).

    What you wrote makes me think you may be assuming a correlation between BLONDIE/format/sales and coming to a potentially-misleading conclusion. BLONDIE Volume 1 sold nicely for us (and continues to sell); we expect Volume 2 to perform just about as well. Our plans from the outset were to do two BLONDIEs, then pause and decide where to go from there. As you know from Volume 1, the original BLONDIE material is so different from the “familiar” BLONDIE everyone knows, we wanted to make sure the market was there for The Great Old Bumstead Stuff. So we’ll release Volume 2 (which I found great fun, by the way — I’d never read much of that material before the book started coming together!), then we’ll take a look at sales. If the signs all look positive, BLONDIE could go on from there, much in the same way we’re doing a BRINGING UP FATHER companion volume next year because the first one did so well.

    POINT THE SECOND: An excellent question about more modern strips and whether they’d sell enough in paperback format to make them viable. Right now, WIZARD OF ID and BEETLE BAILEY have started appearing in hardcover from a non-LOAC publisher (I bought my copies straight from Westfield, where I’ve been a customer for *mumble-mumble* years!). I think the “more modern” strips aren’t getting full attention right at this moment in part because there is so much amazing older stuff that urgently needs and deserves the best treatment we can provide it. I’d bet this doesn’t mean strips like B.C. and HI & LOIS won’t get their day in the sun, in one format or another — but they _will_ have to wait their turn.

    That’s how it seems to me, anyway. Thanks again for your note — as you can see, your comments were definitely thought-provoking!

  5. Tony Says:

    Thanks for all the explanations, Bruce.

    Personally, I’m not interested in any LOAC edition that is not (a) hardcover and (b) comprehensive.

    On the other hand, I do agree with the previous commenter on one thing: his assumption about the reason for only 2 Blondies. I thought exactly the same thing, that low sales had forced you to cancel the series. Now, if that was your plan all along, then maybe you should have said so when the series debuted in the first place (although maybe you did and I wasn’t paying attention), to avoid this kind of misunderstanding.

    In any event, very happy to hear vol. 1 is doing well and the door is open for more after vol. 2.

    BTW, you may be interested in this thread on a board of hardcore collectors I frequent:

    http://marvelmasterworksfansite.yuku.com/topic/17678/Library-Of-American-Comics-What-Should-They-Reprint-Next

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