Sunday, 17 May 2015

Frank Bellamy and Menomonee Falls Gazette

Menomonee Falls Gazette 1972 September 4 No38

Menomonee Falls Gazette was published by Street Enterprises (who also published the cartoon strip equivalent Menomonee Falls Guardian) from 13 December 1971 - 3 March 1978. As a fan publication it changed size, number of pages, quality throughout its run but was always interesting. It had concurrent runs of approximately six daily strips for each title so you could read several days' worth of newspaper strips at once. The Wikipedia article lists some of those comic strip titles. There were also factual columns down the outside margins which had some interesting stuff as well as interviews - when space allowed. I suspect most of the time it was when paid advertising didn't fill the space.

Mike Tiefenbacher and Jerome Sinkovec (MFG's creators) not only included American adventure and soap opera strips (and some Australian) but also British ones too. They were James Bond with art by McLusky, Sydney Jordan's excellent Jeff Hawke, O'Donnell and Holdaway's Modesty Blaise, Paul Temple (by Durbridge and Phil Mendoza), Scarth A.D. 2195, John Burns (and Les Lilley) The Seekers, Peter O'Donnell and Alfred Sindall's Tug Transom.

In the MFG #37 (p.13) the announcement was made that the replacement for "Drift Marlo",
"... starting next issue, will be Garth, England's answer to Superman. After the final two weeks that Steve Dowling did before he retired [sic] (he created the strip in July of 1943), which will appear in #38 and #39 of the Gazette, Frank Bellamy takes over on the art chores. Bellamy is one of the finest craftsman in the whole of comic art and is admired by professionals and fans alike. Garth is the reincarnation of a Greek god, who has the habit of journeying into the past or present to fight tyranny - wherever and whoever it may be 
"Garth" was reprinted from the beginning of Bellamy's first story "Sundance" - 2 issues having John Allard's work until Bellamy started in issue #40 where 6 daily strips were presented on one page

The December 4 1972 issue has #52 on it but was in fact #51 (the James Bond cover), but issue 52 had the end of "Sundance" and the beginning of "The Cloud of Balthus" too, as strips were in blocks of 6. The reproduction was much better than the original Daily Mirror.

MFG #54 p.3
Richard West of Wisconsin
Initial reaction to this "new" strip, that we know about from MFG, was interesting and one wonders if the editors had a letter that covered a lot of points rather than representing the actual reaction. Max Allan Collins, the crime writer, applauded the new strip "By the way, I still can't get over how good Garth is." he said in the same issue.
Menomonee Falls Gazette 1973 January 29 No59
Jerry wrote to Bellamy in the early 1970s asking for clarification regarding John Allard's part in producing Garth, which they began reprinting in their Gazette (#40, 18 September 1972). Bellamy in his usual generous way replied and the two creators of MFG included it in the Gazette:
FRANK BELLAMY
Letter to Menomonee Falls Gazette
Published in no.81, July 2nd, 1973

A few weeks ago, the London MIRROR Syndicate told us that Frank Bellamy, illustrator of GARTH, would like to see a copy of the GAZETTE. We dashed off a letter to him and this was his reply:
First, I do hope that you will accept my apologies for the delay in writing to you. I have had, and still have, so many deadlines to meet that I have found it very hard to get away from the drawing board. I am sure that you will understand and I do hope that I am forgiven.

Secondly, very many thanks for writing to me and for sending a copy of the GAZETTE.

I can tell you that I was more than pleased to see a copy at last. I must congratulate you both on an excellent production. It's great. May I say here and now that I feel most honored to be included in the GAZETTE with such illustrious company.

Thank you for the complimentary remarks about my work. You are very kind. It means a lot to me to find acceptance in the United States. I was very interested to read about Al Williamson. As I am a great admirer of his work it gives me great pleasure to know that he is familiar with at least some of my work.

You ask about the functions of Jim Edgar and John Allard. Well Jim Edgar is the scriptwriter. John Allard was on the strip for a number of years before I was called upon to draw it. He sometimes letters the balloons. However, I now do all the drawing, but the credits remain. Sounds confusing... it is!

I will do my best to see if it is possible to let you have an original GARTH. The fate of the originals remains with the newspaper. In any case I would be pleased to draw a cover for you, when I can get the time to fit one in!

It's a pity that most of my strip work from the 50s until two years ago was in full colour gravure. It would probably have interested you. That 50s bit alone makes me sound very old! I guess that I am! When I was in the army during the war I was at one time next to a U.S. Unit. My home was surrounded by the U.S. 8th Air Force. Yes, I have a soft spot and affection for the United States, hence my thanks to you for looking at my work.

I would love to receive the GAZETTE and would like to thank you for your most generous offer.
May I think you both again for your kindness and consideration and trust that one day we will meet.
Take care and with many good wishes to you.
Yours sincerely,
Frank Bellamy
Interesting that Bellamy mentions the fate of the originals as his family eventually had these returned and thus they are scattered to the four winds in collectors' hands now. Anyway continuing the MFG letters.....


Menomonee Falls Gazette 1973 August 13 No87
THE PUBLISHED REPLY
Thank you, Frank, for doing such an incredible job on GARTH. Many of us remember your color work on such strips as THUNDERBIRDS and STAR TREK for the English weeklies also. We hope you continue GARTH for a long time.
In this article I've published all the covers that featured Garth (different characters featured on the cover spot starting in issue #17) and a page of strips. The benefit of these reprints at the time was the clarity of reproduction which was on better paper than the Daily Mirror in the Seventies.

Menomonee Falls Gazette (MFG) #95 had a lovely overview of how the editors gathered the strips from around the world and re-formatted them when needed and how they sent the prepared material to the printers. At this point it was a weekly enterprise! This "Statement of ownership, management and circulation" shows how many copies went out:
MFG #96, p.43

With the 105th issue they celebrated their third year and Garth appeared amongst illustrious company!.

Menomonee Falls Gazette #105
Issue #126 has a column where the editors share their financial position (an unfortunately regular feature from here on in)
Announcement in #126
Menomonee Falls Gazette #127 was the last in which Garth ran every issue. And this is how come I became confused about when and which issues Garth appeared in. People like Steve Rubin emailed me to let me know about discrepancies but I have now exactly mapped the episodes here

In issue 162, again there is talk of costs - this time "The price of Garth is still too prohibitive to restore it to weekly (in fact, it just went up at the turn of the year)." The thinking was to show the same quantity of strips but over a two week cycle.  In #185 the advert appeared for the STreet Enterprises Benefit Portfolio. In January 1975 Jerry Sinkovec wrote to Bellamy asking if he were able to provide a drawing that could be used in this benefit portfolio - the idea being that the money raised would help the financial situation of the publishers (who also ran the Menomonee Falls Guardian (a humor comic strip tabloid) and took over The Comic Reader in which they placed some of their comic strips from MFG when that folded). Bellamy's work did not appear so I assume that he couldn't provide anything, at that time. The Portfolio reads like a Who's Who of the comic world in the mid-70s. The tabloid sized 48 page portfolio book had over 60 artists providing 83 pieces of art: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Alex Toth, Syd Shores, Joe Sinnott, Jim Steranko, John Romita Sr., Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Michael Kaluta, Dave Cockrum, and Jim Aparo.

Issue 186 saw Garth appear in regular sequence but this was an even-numbered issue - so why was the strip there? The answer lies at the bottom of the 6 strips in that issue: "Still waiting for the new Jeff Hawke story, this is a temporary replacement". That situation went on until #194. Garth appeared on the cover of issue #200, drawn with other characters by Walt Simonson (see below). In #202 an explanation was given as to why the strip "Jeff Cobb" ended suddenly and Garth came, once again, to the rescue.



Menomonee Falls Gazette 1974 July 01 #133

Menomonee Falls Gazette 1974 July 1 #133 p.16
Menomonee Falls Gazette 1975 March 24 #171

Menomonee Falls Gazette 1975 October 13 #200

Menomonee Falls Gazette 1975 November 17 #205
Issue #220 had the awful notice saying:
This issue is a sort of a landmark, although one that we are not particularly proud of. This is the last weekly issue you will receive for at least a year, although we will be publishing twelve, monthly issues during that time. 
Issue 223 has the saddest account of happenings behind the scene and #224 announced the death of the Gazette but also its continuation! It limped along and in #227 announced "The Gazette is back!" and issue #232 was the final issue. Some strips moved to The Comic Reader #164 (January 1979) but Garth was not one!

I know how sometimes a small bit of information helps move research on a bit, so in that spirit I've inserted the two relevant pages for researchers from said TCR.
The Comic Reader #164

The Comic Reader #164
CONCLUSION
These two guys deserve a Lifetime Achievement Award for what they gave fans of comic strips. Reading the columns where they shared the background to ordering, receiving, assembling, printing and distributing what was always a fan-publication was sometimes heart-rending. Their intentions were good but support (through prompt payments from comic sellers and numbers of subscriptions) was not enough to sustain the enterprise. A fascinating research project lies waiting for someone to write and Jerry and Mike are both on Facebook!



I have to thank the scanner of the copies I have - 'Pete The PIPster'  (and if you just want to see the covers - ComicVine has them) and the following people for helping me over the years:
Heinz-George, Allen Lane, Guy Lawley, Roger Clark and the last word goes to Jerry Sinkovec himself , who left a comment on the blog: 

Your confusion over the issues of The MF GAZETTE that included GARTH has a simple explanation. We expanded to 48 pages, and found we had overextended ourselves, being hardcore comic strip fans but terrible businessmen. It was hard cutting back, and some of the strips that were reprints went to appearing in every other issue. So GARTH was in the GAZETTE in every issue from #38 to 126, but appeared in just the odd numbered issues from 127 to 181. Most, but not all of the back issues of the GAZETTE and GUARDIAN are still available from me at Jerome Sinkovec, 4040 South 41st Street, Greenfield, WI 53221-1040. I have kept a storage unit full of them for years, not having the heart to throw all of them out.  ~ 18 May 2015

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your confusion over the issues of The MF GAZETTE that included GARTH has a simple explanation. We expanded to 48 pages, and found we had overextended ourselves, being hardcore comic strip fans but terrible businessmen. It was hard cutting back, and some of the strips that were reprints went to appearing in every other issue. So GARTH was in the GAZETTE in every issue from #38 to 126, but appeared in just the odd numbered issues from 127 to 181. Most, but not all of the back issues of the GAZETTE and GUARDIAN are still available from me at Jerome Sinkovec, 4040 South 41st Street, Greenfield, WI 53221-1040. I have kept a storage unit full of them for years, not having the heart to throw all of them out.

Norman Boyd said...

Jerry, it's so good to hear from you. I have added this here so folks can help diminish your supply - do you have a contact email? Or maybe Facebook account so folks can contact you?
Thanks for getting in contact and for your hard work making so many of us happy in the 70s!
Norman

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am on Facebook. Just look for Jerome Sinkovec, or you can just search for... "that old fart who is still alive and kicking" Any body who asks for one can get a list of the issues I have and what I need for sending 'em to you.

Frank's GARTH was a great strip, and Mike and I loved it when we able to make it available to comic strip fans on this side of the Atlantic. The GAZETTE was my crowning achievement, and the low point of my life was when I found I was not able to keep it going.

Norman Boyd said...

Really grateful to you for your answer Jerry.