Bruce Canwell Interview: Scorchy Smith

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Bruce Canwell is the Associate Editor of The Library of American Comics, whose collections of Little Orphan Annie and Terry and the Pirates are published by IDW. Westfield's Roger Ash contacted Bruce to learn more about their latest collection from IDW, Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles.

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Westfield: Why did you decide to collect Scorchy Smith?

Bruce Canwell: The Library of American Comics wanted to do a single-volume release to complement our multi-book series, Little Orphan Annie and Terry and The Pirates. We already had Noel Sickles in mind, because he was a lifelong friend of Terry's creator, Milton Caniff. We also knew this was an opportunity - for the first time ever - to collect the entire Sickles Scorchy Smith run between two covers. Finally, at last summer's San Diego Comic-Con, I participated in "The Great American Comic Strip" panel discussion, where several audience members were asking for someone to reprint Scorchy. So really, a whole lotta stars moved into alignment for this project!

Westfield: What can you tell us about the strip and its creator, Noel Sickles?

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Canwell: The Associated Press launched Scorchy Smith, about the adventures of a footloose pilot, in 1930. America was literally aviation-happy in those days; Charles Lindbergh had made the first trans-Atlantic flight only a few years earlier. Scorchy ran until 1961, with artists like Bert Christman (DC's Golden Age Sandman) and Frank Robbins (who drew Captain America, Luke Cage, and The Invaders at Marvel in the '70s) doing distinguished work on the strip. Yet Scorchy's pinnacle is from 1933 to 1936, when Noel Sickles wrote and drew the series. He invented a lot of the artistic storytelling techniques used in both comic strips and comic books. If you read something modern like, say, Frank Miller's Sin City and then read Scorchy Smith, that's the comics equivalent of starting at the mouth of the Nile in Egypt and tracing the river back to its source.

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Noel Sickles himself was The Artist's Artist. The great Alex Toth was never lavish with his praise, but he was a stone Sickles fan. John Romita, Sr. talks of Toth showing other artists photocopies of Sickles's Scorchy Smith, and how those artists started copying the Sickles approach to storytelling. Scorchy Smith influenced a whole generation of comic book artists, including many, like Romita, who helped build the Silver Age.

Westfield: There is more than just the comic strip in the book. What can you tell us about the other material in this volume?

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Canwell: Scorchy Smith happened at the beginning of Noel Sickles's career. That's why we're including a large "Art of" section, to showcase the full range of his talents. This section will feature some of the fabulous material Sickles produced for the Navy Department of Intelligence during World War II - many pieces of his eye-popping advertising art - examples of his wonderful magazine and fiction illustrations (did you know Sickles illustrated both Hemingway's Old Man And The Sea and Alex Haley's Roots?) - plus several rare and never-before-published works. Sickles fans world-wide, and our good friends at the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, have given us many wonderful pieces to choose from. I'll be contributing a lengthy essay discussing Sickles's life and work and offering up some little-known facts, but Sickles's amazing artwork is the cake and the frosting, too - my words are just little jimmies, sprinkled on top!

Westfield: Do you have more comic strip collections on the way?

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Canwell: Oh yeah, bay-bee! Obviously, we have more Terry And The Pirates, more Annie, and if sales on Scorchy Smith warrant, we'd love to do a second Sickles book. There are plenty of other plans in the works, but if I name names before all the deals are in place and all the logistics worked out, editor Dean Mullaney will wring my neck! My promise last year in San Diego was that The Library of American Comics will surprise and delight readers, and I firmly believe we're on a path to do exactly that.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

 height=Canwell: Here's a bit of late-breaking news about this book that I can pass along: guess who just agreed to write an introduction for us? How does the name "Jim Steranko" grab you? As a kid, I absolutely adored Steranko's SHIELD series at Marvel. I bought the seminal Steranko History of Comics when it was first released and I must have read it cover-to-cover a dozen times, so it's a thrill to have my work appearing with his in Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles!