Penny and Some Thoughts

So earlier today I was waxing rhapsodic about the many fantastic reprint projects we’ve been getting recently, and specifically delighting in the existence of Drawn & Quarterly’s Thirteen (Going on 18) reprints and their Walt & Skeezix volumes. Between those, having nice full reprint sets of the Milt Caniff run of Terry and the Pirates, a long stretch of Steve Canyon (but not quite enough; I want reprints up through the early 1960s at least) and Classic Comics Press’s Mary Perkins On Stage books, I’m in reprint heaven.
In fact, I noted, the one additional strip-reprint project that would put the cherry on top, as far as my particular comic-strip obsessions go, would be collections of Harry Haenigsen’s Penny.
My friend Rob Clough said, “You should advocate for that publicly…someone might actually be listening.”
So, okay, I’m doing it.
I first ran into Penny during the summer of 1978, when I was spending a lot of my off-days in the Boston Public Library’s microfilm section, reading through the 1950s run of Steve Canyon by scrolling through microfilm copies of the Boston Herald, finding the comics page in each and then madly scrolling through to the next day’s paper. It was an interesting way to go about it—the scrolling preserved the suspense of the daily strip, and along the way I’d catch the front page news, ads for clothes, cars, movies and more that gave me a strong sense of the period, and in the Sundays, the rotogravure section, full of photos that brought the period to life. [When I was reading wartime Terry strips this way, in fact, I was startled to find a rotogravure picture of a sleek young blonde in a skimpy red-white-and-blue outfit doing a “patriotic tap dance” for U.S. troops, and then discovered by reading the caption that it was our next door neighbor, who I’d only known as a pleasant, dumpy old lady…]
Anyway, while reading the Canyon strips in the comics sections, I’d see other comics as well—and the ones that kept catching my attention were Bob Lubbers’s lushly-drawn Long Sam, and Penny.
Penny was a gag strip about the life of a confident, self-assured teenage girl, her oft-mystified parents and her friends, dates and such. It was amiably, breezy, funny-comfortable rather than edgy in any way—but the thing that made it stand out was the art. Harry Haenigsen, who also drew Our Bill, gave Penny Pringle the cheekbones of Katharine Hepburn, a chin that could cut glass, and a stylized coltish charm that just arrested the eye. Penny was fluff, but the graphics of it were bold and engaging, whether Penny’s sprawling upside down in an armchair as she gabs on the phone, in a raccoon coat cheering on her school football team, wearing bluejeans in the bath to make sure they shrink right, or whatever else she did.
The strip is a charming portrait of mid-century suburbia and teen-agia, light as a meringue and crisp as autumn leaves. I want to see more of it. There was at least one book collection of it, back in the late 1940s, but it’s the Fifties stuff that’s really choice, and it’d make a delightful subject to be unearthed and collected, maybe along with samples of Our Bill and Haenigsen’s magazine cartooning.
Anyone up for it? Any publishers out there?
[Hey, Tom Spurgeon! Spread the word, willya?]
You can see a gallery of Penny Sundays here.

And as long as I’m here, as it were, a couple of e-mails have come in. First, a note from a reader named Chris Cashel-Cordo, who writes…
I discovered Astro City last summer upon finding the first volume and thinking it looked cool, and since then I’ve collected as much of it as I can in trades. My question is whether or not the recent specials (Astra, Samaritan, etc…) and the upcoming Silver Agent special are going to be collected into a trade soon. I can’t wait for next week and the end of the Dark Age!
Glad you’re looking forward to it, Chris!
It’d probably be smart to say, “Gee, I don’t know if those will be collected, you’d better buy the regular old comics,” but after such a steady progression of Astro City book collections, no one would believe me. Those issues—the Samaritan special, the Beautie special, the Astra two-parter and the Silver Agent two-parter—will be collected as Astro City: Shining Stars, sometime in 2011. Alex is working on the wraparound cover already.
Next, a collegiate question from Nic Netzel…

As a graduate (2001, history) of Carleton College, I’ve always wondered why you chose it as Lois’ alma mater in Secret Identity, and then, again, to be warped in Trinity.
And a very simple answer: My sister Amy went to Carleton. Nothing more to it than that. I’ve also made reference to Guilford, where my parents when to college. Don’t think I’ve name-checked the schools my other sisters went to (UMass, Harvard, BU), but you never know.

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