Tuesday, November 19, 2019


The great newspaper comics artist-writer Alfred Andriola, best known today for his later Kerry Drake comic strip, wrote and drew a Charlie Chan newspaper strip in the late 30’s and early 40’s. The B&W daily strip and the separate color Sunday strip had different continuities and ran from 1938-1942. You can find many samples of these strips online, and they’ve had sections published in collector paperback books over the years. Some recent exciting news for fans of Andriola’s Chan strip is that the Library of American Comics (LOAC, who do the wonderful horizontal, large-sized reprints of one year of a daily strip, one day’s strips to each page) is bringing out the first year of Chan’s B&W strip, from October 1938 to November 1939, in a hardcover volume which should be out by the time you read this. That should re-ignite interest in both Andriola’s work and the Chan strip. What I’m covering today, though, is a book from 2015 that contains the first 72 color Sunday strips, starting from the beginning in late October 1938. Pulp Tales Press promised to deliver the complete Sundays in three volumes, but so far, this is the only one to appear. I’ve been trotting it out every year or so to re-read since getting it, and recently I’ve been re-reading it to get ready for the LOAC volume (I do have most of those daily strips elsewhere, but the quality will be so much better and the size much larger in the LOAC edition, it will be like encountering the strips for the first time---I’m sorry I missed the Pacific Comics Club over-sized reprints of the Chan dailies back in the 80’s, which I saw briefly then but could not afford) and thought I’d mention its existence to the newspaper comics fans and Chan fans among the BTC readership.

Although the Chan name would be familiar to almost anyone in 1938, the specifics of his character would not necessarily be known since not everyone saw his Fox movies or read the novels of Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers, so the initial Sunday entries are complete-unto-themselves and introduce the police inspector for the Honolulu Police who is of Chinese background, showing his family, his methods of crime detection, etc. Only after a few weeks of that, to get readers used to Chan and his environment, do we get multi-week story arcs, and those tend to last for a few months each. That allows for plots involving multiple characters/suspects, changes in setting, multiple subplots, etc. and gives the strip more of the feel of a movie, or more accurately, a movie serial. In one of the early Sunday entries, as the readers are being introduced to the character’s methods, we see him solve a theft ON ONE PAGE in one Sunday strip! Thank goodness that technique was not continued! It would be like those “Five Minute Mysteries” radio shows I’ve sent Chris over the years, which he’s reviewed here.

Instead of sons Tommy or Jimmy Chan assisting him on these cases, Charlie has an assistant from the police force here, one Kirk Barrow, an athletic blond who would no doubt have been played by some former-male-model heart-throb had this been a film, and Kirk is assisted by Gina Lane, formerly of a Hollywood film crew that was filming in Hawaii in the first multi-week Chan color Sunday adventure, and who fell for Kirk and decided to stay in Hawaii. Charlie managed to get her a position on the force! The cases involve kidnapping, theft, piracy, crooks posing as missionaries, crooked phony-rebels who are terrorizing their home area, and of course, some murders. “Murder, Chan specialty” I can hear Sidney Toler saying in one of the Monogram Chan films.

Alfred Andriola apprenticed with Milton Caniff on Terry and The Pirates, and with Kerry Drake he became a fine craftsman with his art (and his storytelling). As this book is taken from photocopies of actual yellowing Sunday strips, and not syndicate proofs, and since there is none of the “re-coloring” and “digital enhancement” we see in so many of the reprints of both comic strips and comic books in the last 25 years, and because of the crude color-newsprint reproduction in the 1930’s, a purist might turn his nose up at the reproduction of the art here, but you don’t need a Criterion edition of a PRC or Monogram film, so I’m happy with the quality. Pulp Tales Press clearly put some effort into making sharp and crisp copies of what would have been a bit blurred in the original medium. I’m sure the LOAC edition of the B&W dailies will show every detail of Andriola’s action-packed, vibrant art, so I’m looking forward to that book. Until then, though, this color collection of brisk and mystery-filled Sunday continuities is the perfect company on a lazy evening…like tonight, as it’s 101 degrees here in South Texas in August----and with the humidity, it’s easy to imagine myself in Hawaii with Inspector Chan! This is actually my FOURTH or fifth reading of this book, so that in itself tells you how much I like this collection. Just Google the publisher and title, and YOU, my friend, can order the book directly from its maker, and if they sell a few more, maybe they’ll finally bring out the second and third volumes of this series. I’m ready for them!

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