Interview: Dan Herman on Hermes Press’ Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One SC

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One SC


Walt Kelly is well known to comic fans as the creator of Pogo, but he did much more than that. He was an animator at Walt Disney Studios, drew Disney comics, and illustrated numerous comics for Dell. One of those comics, Peter Wheat, was a giveaway that has remained largely unseen until now. Hermes Press will collect all of Kelly’s Peter Wheat comics beginning with Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One. Publisher Dan Herman recently spoke with Westfield’s Roger Ash about this upcoming collection.

Westfield: For people who aren’t familiar with it, what is Peter Wheat?

Dan Herman: Peter Wheat is a great gem that no one’s ever seen. It’s a comic book that was created by Walt Kelly but it wasn’t sold in comic book stores. It was given away as a promotional item printed by Dell Publishing. It was given away by bread companies across the United States as an inducement. Comic books actually started out as inducements anyway. I think Tootsie Rolls had one, Captain Tootsie, and Big Boy did too. The difference was that they were just advertising. They used the characters in advertising situations. Walt Kelly, being one of the most creative people in comic strips and comic books ever, I think that’s a fair statement, he created a fairy tale universe that had nothing to do with the bread company or advertising. There was an ad at the end of every story, but the stories would arc together so you had one extended story over several comic books. Walk Kelly was very influential. Anyone growing up in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, even into the ‘70s read Pogo. Pogo, I believe, is the only comic strip that actually started out as a comic book. It has that distinction of originating in Animal Comics. Peter Wheat is this gem that everybody who loves Walt Kelly knows about but has never been able to see because it was given away and it was thrown away. Getting a complete run of these things is extremely difficult; virtually impossible. I’m a big fan of Walt Kelly, obviously, as we’re reprinting all of the Walt Kelly comic books, starting with Animal Comics and now we’re into Pogo Possum. We have two more issues of that to go. We’re going to do every Pogo story. But I wasn’t satisfied with that. I felt that it would be important to reprint Peter Wheat. People were stunned that we could do it. It’s thanks to the effort of a group of people. Geoff Blum had most of these books in his collection. My special projects editor, Thomas Andrae, has been writing about comic strips and comic books since the beginning of time. He’s been writing books for me for over ten years. Peter Wheat is this group of stories that is charming, is very well done, is extremely intelligent, that a kid or adult could read and still enjoy it, done by one of the all time great comic book/comic strip artists that no one’s ever seen.

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One HC

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One HC


I’ve known about it for years and Tom Andrae was talking about doing it and Tom is very influential with me because I have a great deal of respect for his opinion. The other person who urged me to do it was Trina Robbins. I remember when we were doing one of the Pogo books, Trina gave us an essay. It talked about how when she was a little girl, Trina used to convince her mom to buy Krug Bread so she could get the Peter Wheat comic books. The piece she wrote was incredibly charming, but it made it very clear to me how influential the strip was for a lot of people. Basically, what you have is the story of Peter Wheat and the wheat field and the bad guys. Actually, the bad guy is quite an attractive woman, the hornet character Dragonel. I don’t want to ruin the story, but let’s just say she undergoes an interesting change during the series. Her father, on the other hand, is the wizard. Let’s just say that he never changes his tune. He’s a bad guy from beginning to end. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lost treasure.

We’re doing a paperback version which has the same content in it and is more affordable if people just want to read it. We’re also doing a hardcover with a dustjacket which is printed to order. We’re doing that because in your library, if you have all six volumes of the Pogo book, this book is the same size and will have the same kind of binding so it will line up evenly. For a collector like me, that’s the kind of thing I like. That’s the reason we’re doing two versions.

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One preview page 1

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One preview page 1


Westfield: Who exactly is Peter Wheat?

Herman: Peter Wheat is a little boy who lives next to a wheat field. He has adventures with the small creatures that inhabit the wheat field. This is obviously a fairy tale and a fantasy so he has animal friends that he talks to and he gets into predicaments. And, of course, no story is good without an antagonist. You have Dragonel who’s the queen of the hornets. She’s on the cover of the book. When the story begins, she’s really the bad guy. She is the enemy of Peter Wheat and his animal friends. She has an army called the hornet knights and they try to destroy the wheat field. Over the development of the series, Dragonel goes from being a bad guy to not quite a bad guy. She’s not the main evildoer because her father is the wizard and he’s the bad guy. His raison d’être is to make everyone’s life miserable. He’s not particularly sympathetic.

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One preview page 2.

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One preview page 2.


Westfield: Aside from the difficulty of finding all the parts, what were some of the challenges of putting this collection together?

Herman: Getting all the pieces was the primary problem. The collection that we used was actually missing book number four. I was talking to Tom Andrae and he said “do you know how they got book four?” I said “no, how did they?” He said, “They got it from Maggie Thompson!” That doesn’t surprise me because Maggie is a huge fan of Walt Kelly’s. I think that’s great because Maggie Thompson’s always been important to me. The first Hermes Press book was published 16 years ago and it was primarily sold through the Comics Buyer’s Guide.

Westfield: What sort of extras do you have in the book?

Herman: We have some of the advertising that was done. We also have vignettes of the characters. The cover images are taken from the vignettes because Walt Kelly did very, very tight renderings of the characters for these. There really wasn’t a cover on these books. Dell did very high quality printing so the printing on these books is very good. We’ve developed our own in house style of doing digital reproduction. I have a philosophy, kind of like doctors; do no harm. The black and white stuff just needs to be cleaned up, but color stuff is much more difficult because you have a degradation issue. With these particular comic books, we had to make them look all the same. These books were printed a long time ago. They ran from 1948-56. Walt Kelly only did the first 33 issues, so he didn’t do it through the entire run. Getting everything to look the same is something we’re used to doing. Let me emphasize the fact that we do not strip out the color and repaint the colors. That distorts the look of the original books and we’re not interested in doing that. If something is missing, we’ll digitally replace the dot pattern or halftone screen or whatever so that it looks as it’s supposed to. It’s a chore to make everything look consistent. The big thing, and some people like it and some people don’t, is I use matte coated stock paper to print on. It’s not a gloss. I do that because you have a much higher level of color saturation. For an archival edition, you want the highest level book.

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One preview page 3.

Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One preview page 3.


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Herman: I’m very excited about doing this particular book because it’s taken us a long time to be able to do it. We’ve been looking for a source to do this book for about five years. I’ve had a lot of support from Tom Andrae doing this book. He’s been invaluable in helping us secure the material. When you do something like this which is a forgotten gem, it takes a long time to get the material.

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Walt Kelly’s The Adventures of Peter Wheat The Complete Series: Volume One

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