I just finished reading the first volume of the Fantagraphics collected Captain Easy Sunday strips. I’ve been a big Roy Crane fan for a while, but I was mainly interested in the black and white Wash Tubbs dailies. For whatever reason, I’ve always been really fond of the duotone board technique he used for those strips and you can see me shamelessly ripping off paying homage to Crane throughout my first book, Farewell, Georgia. Although NBM had reprinted the Wash Tubbs dailies a while back, the print quality was quite poor and didn’t accurately reproduce the the duotone shading from the original strips. I was therefore somewhat disappointed when I first heard that Fantagraphics would be starting their Crane reprint series not with the dailies, but with the color Sunday Captain Easy strips. (Captain Easy was a character who appeared in the original Wash Tubbs strip and eventually took over the story, becoming its lead character and starring in his own Sunday series.)Before now my interest in Roy Crane had been mainly aesthetic; the black and white Wash Tubbs strips are truly things of beauty, but the stories are for the most part unremarkable. My sit-down read of this Captain Easy volume is really the first time I’ve devoted much time to actually digesting the narrative of Crane’s work–and the first time I’ve really read and enjoyed an “adventure” strip (unless you count Segar’s Popeye).
When I’ve mentioned to folks how much I’ve been enjoying this book, the usual response is, “You really should read Terry and the Pirates.” And, indeed, I probably should go back and re-read Caniff; I’ve never read a sizable chunk of Terry and the Pirates start to finish–at least not in recent memory.
Comparing Easy vs. Terry side by side wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense since the former is really the progenitor of the latter. Aesthetically, though, there is a certain lightness to Easy that isn’t present in the technically beautiful but somewhat staid artwork of Terry and the Pirates. For all that stunning chiaroscuro of Caniff’s work, Crane seems to my eyes to be a cartoonist drawing cartoons, whereas Caniff hits me as a cartoonist drawing little, still movies (if that makes any sense). Although certainly not the draftsman that Caniff was, Crane is a cartoonist much more of the medium.
Another thing that I really enjoyed about this book was seeing a soon-to-be-standard comics genre really finding its feet as the strip progresses. Sometimes all pistons are firing (as in the strip’s many great escape sequences) and sometimes things fall on their faces (like the extended and not very funny sequence of Easy calling Pippy everything buy “Pippy”) but I really love seeing Crane poking around and exploring the possibilities of using a comic strip to tell a fairly straight-ahead adventure story. Nowhere is this struggle more evident on the visual level than with Crane’s drawings of animals. Even when he’s abandoned the goofy/cartoony Wash Tubbs-esque character designs for his human characters in favor of the square-jawed Easy template that set the standard for everything that came after it, his animals are still really goofy-looking:
A final observation: this may be complete coincidence, but I often found myself struck by similarities between Captain Easy and the Indiana Jones films. There’s of course just his general square-jawed, grizzled, squinty appearance which is quite similar to Harrison Ford’s look in the movies, but also some specific sequences–for instance one in which Easy and his companion are offered a starving village’s last bits of good food in an attempt to woo him to their cause.