Saturday, March 1, 2014


I didn’t read newspaper comic strips growing up, but, once I gained the means and opportunity to read more papers and buy collections of comic strips, I became a devoted fan and student of the strips. Lately, between my undercover job as a ghost-writer for a number of syndicated cartoonists and the ease of reading hundreds of strips online, I’ve been reading more strips than ever.

Rex Morgan has usually been hit or miss for me.  Some stories would catch my interest and others would seem to plod along way too long. Some characters would intrigue, others not-so-much.  I love Graham Nolan’s comic-book art, but his style didn’t seem particularly well suited for the newspaper strip format.

A while back, Terry Beatty, a friend and one of my favorite comics artist, became the new Rex Morgan artist.  Terry has long wanted to do newspaper strips and his style/storytelling work as well in that format as they do in comic books. Between Terry’s terrific art and the most recent storylines, Rex has become one of the first strips I read every day.

One of the current stories involves an old school friend of Rex’s being abused by his alcoholic wife.  She even shot him in the head with a nail-gun.  In the two strips above, which ran on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the friend has filed a complaint with the police and tried to prepare his wife for her arrest.  She doesn’t not take this well.

When I read Wednesday’s strip, I wondered if Thursday’s strip had run early.  Because of my background writing comic books, I fully expected Wednesday’s installment to show the knife-wielding woman being tased by the police officers. No comic-book writer or artist would have passed up that shot. However, Wednesday picked up after the cops were forced to stop the woman before she hurt them or anyone else.  It’s still a dramatic strip, but it’s not the action sequence we would have seen in a comic book.

Did the writer deliberately choose to skip the most violent moment of the sequence or did King Features decide it was too violent for Rex Morgan? The Phantom, also syndicated by King, regularly shows relatively mild gunplay and violence, but it is, after all, a strip about a masked hero fighting modern-day pirates.  Maybe Rex Morgan is held to a different standard.  Inquiring minds...

A couple more notes on this...

I applaud this “abused husband” story in Rex Morgan. Spouse-abuse is a serious problem and, though men may not be the victim as often as are women, their suffering is not inconsequential. I also hope the story will point out that police use of tasers is not the risk-free tactic usually depicted in fiction.  People do die from being tased.  Police officer must always consider this before they bring this potentially dangerous weapon into play.

The other current story has Sarah, the precocious daughter of Rex and June, writing a book to be published by a local museum.  Maybe because of my own experiences with unscrupulous publishers, but my spider-sense tingles whenever the museum people talk contracts and deadlines and promotions.  I’m not sure I trust them.

On the other hand, Sarah scares the crap out of me.  She is scary-smart with a will of iron.  If this were a comic book, I’d think we were witnessing the childhood of a super-villain.

Want to see more bloggy talk about comic strips?  Let me know and I’ll try to accommodate your requests.


Betty and Veronica Double Digest #220 [$3.99] is another 164-page collection of comics and features spotlighting two teens who many consider the most beautiful in Riverdale.  I like both of them, but I’m more partial to Cheryl Blossom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch from her earliest appearances in Madhouse and Pepper from She’s Josie. I like my women with at least a hint of red in their hair, with a  certain magic about them and with a whole lot of smarts.  How about that? I just described my Sainted Wife Barb.

The best stories this time around:

“Kiss & Tell” by Dan Parent with inks by Jim Amash. A necklace with clairvoyant powers sends Veronica on a quest to remember her first kiss and those of her friends.

“Feet First” by Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo and Jimmy DeCarlo is all about footwear.  It has one of the sexiest last pages I have ever seen in an Archie comic book.

“Role Model” by Barbara Slate with pencil art by Stan Goldberg and  inks by John Lowe.  Featuring Ethel in a story that had a terrific moral and shows how smart Betty can be.

“Team Esteem” by George Gladir, Goldberg and inker Rudy Lapick is a nice showcase for Veronica’s better angels.

“The Big Chill” by Doyle, Doug Crane and Lapick is a heartwarming tale of good will to men.  I wish the current Archie comics would rediscover the value of putting a whole lot of story into just five or six pages.

If you haven’t read an Archie digest in a while, you should check them out.  You might enjoy them.


From 2009, Dominic Fortune was a four-issue mini-series written and drawn by Howard Chaykin and published under Marvel’s “Max Comics” imprint.  These are not comic books for little boys.

The series takes place in the mid-to-late 1930s. Fortune has been switching back and forth between the sides in a war between Bolivia and Paraguay.  When the war winds down, he is hired by a Hollywood mogul to keep a trio of reckless movie stars from causing too much damage on their drunken frolics.  Before long, Fortune becomes the target of hired assassins and stumbles into a Nazi-sponsored plot involving American Fifth Columnists.

Chaykin’s writing and art are sharp and cocky.  The series delivers wild action, considerable decadence and unforgettable characters. Edgar Delgado’s colors add an almost three-dimensional lushness and weight to Chaykin’s intricate visuals and storytelling. Intending no sexual reference, I had a ball reading these four issues.

The mini-series was collected in Dominic Fortune: It Can Happen Here and Now, a 2010 trade paperback that’s out of print and only available through third-party sellers.  According to Wikipedia, the volume includes the only print publication of a digital Dominic Fortune adventure written by Dean Motter with art by Greg Scott and also set in the 1930s. I just might be keeping an eye out for that one myself.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.              

© 2014 Tony Isabella


  1. Michael Kelly SchurmanMarch 1, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    I did read the newspaper strips when I was a kid, but I didn't really fall in love with them (or even recognize them as a separate artform from comic books) 'til after I was grown. In childhood I read a lot of strips, whichever ones in the morning and afternoon papers my dad took and especially Sundays. Dad liked Smilin' Jack, Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. No surprise as he was a flyer during WWII himself. I liked those but mostly Rick O'Shay. And the Phantom when I could find it. Went immediately for the Harvey Hits issues featuring everyone's favorite Ghost Who Walks.

    It was the strip reprints published after I was grown which really taught me to love the strips and to admire the discipline required to write them well.

    I'll have to check out that Dominic Fortune mini-series. I'm familiar with the character from the '70s, but missed everything in between because a) I had given up on Marvel continuity by then and b) GCD suggests he was often hanging out with the Punisher and I never had any use for the Punisher.

    Interesting sidebar -- while checking out the Dominic Fortune info in GCD, I saw that the Marvel Preview #20 which reprinted the earlier Fortune material also reprinted your story "War Toy." I won't go all fanboy on you, but, Tony, that was a wonderful story. One of my favorites in over sixty years of comics reading.

  2. When did Rex marry his nurse? Holy cow! It's been a L-O-N-G time since the local paper carried that strip.

  3. The Motter - Scott story was pretty good, I remember reading through Marvel's Digital Astonishing Tales a few years ago. Dominic Fortune and to an extent Chaykin's The Scorpion are my favorites of his early work. I've been very pleased to see him still touching base with the character again after so many years.