Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

May 4, 2020

thoughts on the first ten months of Frank Robbins’ JOHNNY HAZARD Sunday strips

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:51 pm
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JOHNNY HAZARD, THE SUNDAYS (Full Size) : 1944-1947 (Hermes Press), by Frank Robbins

johnny-hazard-sundays-1944-1947

Frank Robbins’ action-adventure comic strip JOHNNY HAZARD ran for 33 years, from 1944-1977.  I’ve read a number of reprints of the 50’s and 60’s material and remember reading the original strips as a teenager in the 70’s. In the last few days, I’ve been savoring the amazing over-sized Hermes Press edition of the first few years of color Sunday strips, in original full-page size. This massive and beautiful hardcover book, 12.25″ x 17.25″, is limited to 1000 copies, so you should act soon if you want one.

While this is an extremely worthwhile collection (as are any of Hermes’ Johnny Hazard or The Phantom collections—-this is how comic-strip archival reissues should be done), the reason I’m writing about it today is more specific than just general praise. I always knew Johnny was a military flyer in World War II serving in the Pacific, but in the post-WWII era of the 50’s and 60’s, he was an pilot-adventurer for hire, a globetrotting action hero involved in complex two-fisted narratives that went on for months in daily-strip form, and for months in the separate Sunday continuity. The plots and adventures were like some B-movie that might star Rod Cameron or Scott Brady, and that cinematic quality in the storytelling was one of the major selling points of the strip (and of course the distinctive art and characterizations).

However, I was quite surprised in reading the first ten months of the Sundays, from July 1944 through May 1945 (I just moved into June 1945, and noticed the huge change in the strip), and discovering that each Sunday page is a separate slice-of-military-life, with no continuity running over from week to week. Also, the emphasis is very much on the group and its various members—-it is NOT a vehicle for Johnny’s solo exploits. Some weeks Johnny is hardly seen and the focus is on other members of the unit, and there are some weeks which feature mostly military humor or introduce us to the local Chinese population surviving through the Japanese occupation. Also, in the first panel of each week’s full-page Sunday entry, Frank Robbins has a small scale, incredibly precise, line drawing, from two different perspectives, of a war plane and challenges the reader to guess which one it is. The next week he provides the answer, and then has a new drawing and another challenge. The planes are a wide variety of American, Soviet, Japanese, and German models, and they provide a fascinating counterpoint to the narrative (I was reminded of Chester Gould’s similar studies of police technology in Dick Tracy).

On May 6, 1945, Robbins announces at the top of the Sunday page (which no longer contains any drawings of planes), “starting next week, Johnny Hazard’s Sunday adventures will be continuous”… and starting the next week, they are, gradually building in length and complexity to the post-War Johnny Hazard, now EX-military, I know so well. However, for ten months in 1944 and 1945, it was a different strip—-and a unique one, in many ways unlike what it later became.

It’s interesting to note that this first year is what won over readers and made the strip a hit and gave it its initial momentum, a momentum that kept things going for 33 years of exciting adventures enjoyed by millions daily. I’d bet the military readers loved the first year (seeing themselves represented by someone who “got it”), and as Johnny left military service and found a new identity in the post-war world, so did his readers. So many heroes of post-war B-movies and crime fiction and men’s adventure magazines were veterans, and adventurer veterans like Johnny Hazard provided a model of how that was done.

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