If ever there was a time to be a fan of the comic strip in all of its glory, it’d be hard to find a more rewarding moment than right now.
Even a scant few years ago, that statement would have elicited laughter, not just because today everything connected with newspapers seems on the decline, but more because it was generally acknowledged that the real Golden Age of the comic strip was the 1930s and '40s. That was when all the great adventure comics first appeared on comics pages of papers across the land, captivating readers of all ages with their thrilling action, aura of romance, and generous dose of earthy humor.
Still, even those heady days can’t really compare with the abundance of good strips seeing print these days. Whether it’s Flash Gordon or Dick Tracy, Peanuts or Krazy Kat, it seems that just about every worthy strip is enjoying a second life in reprinted volumes from a variety of major independent publishers, including Dark Horse, IDW, Fantagraphics, and more.
Simultaneously, there’s been a growing trend for smaller imprints to spring up, specialty houses that are totally dedicated to re-presenting their carefully chosen catalog of unjustly overlooked or forgotten strip reprints to a new, eager generation of readers. Classic Comics Press, the home of Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins on Stage and Stan Drake’s The Heart of Juliet Jones, among others, has long been at the forefront of this trend towards micro publishing houses. And now, with the recent addition of The Cisco Kid, one of the most revered of the mid-century comics, to its stable, CCP has only strengthened its position in that burgeoning field.
The Cisco Kid first appeared in O. Henry’s 1904 short story, “The Caballero’s Way,” but that original version bears little resemblance to the more familiar heroic version beloved by millions.
According to CCP Publisher Charles Pelto, “In the story, he’s a bit of a scoundrel, ladies’ man, and cold-blooded killer.” However, as the character appeared in movies, radio and television shows, comic books and eventually a comic strip, he was transformed from a villain into what Pelto terms “a romantic, swash-buckling ladies’ man.”
Debuting in 1951, Cisco Kid ran for about 18 years, all of them good in Pelto’s estimation. “It starts out strong and is consistent throughout. A lot of great art and stories—adventure, romance, pretty girls, barroom brawls, gun fights, it’s all there.”
But, as good as the stories by Rod Reed might be, the real draw is the art by Argentinean artist Jose Luis Salinas. “Salinas was a truly gifted illustrator and some of the artwork is just amazing. He really knew what to do within the confines of the daily comic strip panel,” Pelto said. “There are dailies in which Salinas used the whole panel to create a panoramic view of the action that’s taking place. It’s mind-boggling the time he must have spent on each day’s entry.”
The first volume of Cisco Kid and Mary Perkins on Stage Volume 9 hit store shelves on October 15, 2011. They can be preordered at the Classic Comics Press website, and like all of CCP’s books, both volumes will also soon be available via Amazon.