Roy Crane's Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips (1933-1935)
(Fantagraphics; US: Jul 2011)
Captain Easy, square-jawed and two-fisted devil-may-care man of action, resembles Clark Kent and acts like Indiana Jones. He was created by Roy Crane in Wash Tubbs, which comics historians have pegged as the first daily adventure strip.
Its little bespectacled hero began his humorous exploits in 1924 and met Captain Easy in 1929. The captain was imprisoned in the catacombs of a castle while “revolution rages in Kandelabra”. The friendly, easy-going brawler with sang-froid soon spun off into his own Sunday strip.
Here is Volume One of Roy Crane Captain Easy, a wonderfully colorful and nicely designed Sunday page from 1933-35. Crane’s style is a wonderful paradox: broadly cartoony characters against nice filigrees of background illustration. The eye is lost in the pastel colors, the bold crossword puzzle layouts, the simple lines, and the breathless breezy action. The adventures never let up, and no scrape is too tight for this impossibly ingratiating and resourceful hero.
At first glance, the modern reader might assume Easy’s adventures among lost Chinese cities and primitive natives aren’t politically correct, as per American pop culture of the era. Although there’s some truth to that, however, the closer one looks, the more ambiguous this “Easy” assumption becomes.
One story features an Ugly American making greedy trades, to Easy’s disgust. Then another story has Easy doing similar things and assuming anything he finds is his to keep, and he learns differently. He’s always horning in on local unfairnesses like slavery and piracy, to show that Americans don’t honor multicultural values too extremely, yet native cultures are often given their due as reasonable places with their own values.
The last story of 1935 is a Ruritanian parody of European war that shows two nations manipulated by profiteers into declaring war that Easy must settle single-handedly, and it has its moments of grim moralizing as well as spoofery. The fact that the countries are invented allows this kind of criticism, and it’s interesting to see this “commie” interpretation of the last Great War holding over during the rise of Nazism. The funny foreigners all speak with Cherman accents.
This book is more than a historically interesting sociological artifact; it’s a delight. Four volumes are projected to gather Crane’s whole run.