Monday, October 22, 2007

Newspaper Reprints: Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy

One of the all time classic strips is the focus of this post. Washington Tubbs II first appeared on April 14, 1924 as a small town clerk in a Midwestern grocery store. Diminutive with big round eyeglasses Wash was a spunky adolescent who soon felt the call of adventure and began to roam the world in search of excitement, treasure and girls. Wash soon matured into a young man but retained his small stature.

His first partner was Gozy Gallop, described by Maurice Horn as gawky and cocky. These adventures were part realistic adventure and part big foot humor with humor holding the edge. The focus shifts to the adventure side in May 1929 when Wash meets his longtime partner in a middle European prison.

Captain Easy, a soldier of fortune, with a hazy past, a Southern accent and manners joins up with Wash. They break out of prison and begin a series of adventures together that lasted until Wash finally married and settled down. Easy is then left to pursue adventure pretty much alone. On July 10 1933 the strip was formally renamed Captain Easy.

Royston C. Crane was born in Abeline Texas on Nov 22 1901. By the time he was 14 and living in Sweetwater he signed up for the C.N. Landon mail-order cartooning course. Crane's $25 investment would pay unexpected dividends in a few years. Crane enrolled and dropped out of several colleges before hitting the road. He rode the rails and served as a seaman on a freighter. Eventually he landed in Chicago where he was again studying Art. Crane next moved to New York where he landed a job as an assistant to cartoonist H.T. Webster, creator of Casper Milquetoast, The Timid Soul.

Crane had a short-lived panel called Music to My Ears syndicated by United Feature. After it flopped UF suggested he try out with their Cleveland affiliate NEA. C.F. Landon was now comics editor of NEA. He disliked the panel and suggested Crane submit an idea for a strip. The result was Wash Tubbs.

Crane's art was unique and his influence was wide spread. He became a master of Black and white work before he began to experiment with benday. His use of gray halftones set the standard.

Crane left Captain Easy in 1943 to create Buz Sawyer for King Features. Crane died on July 7 1977. Among his honors he received a Ruben in 1950 and left an endowment to the University of Texas which established an award for achievement for UT Art students.

Captain Easy continued under Crane's assistant Leslie Turner. Turner did the daily while Walter Scott briefly took the Sunday before turning it over to Turner. In 1960 Mel Graff took over the Sunday page. Both continued until late 1969 when Turner's assistant Bill Crooks took over the art and Jim Lawrence the story. Captain Easy came to an end in 1988.

Easy and Wash appeared in a one-shot reprint issue published by Hawley in 1939, 8 reprint issues from Standard beginning in 1947 and a one-shot reprint by Argo in 1956. All were published under Captain Easy. Dell issued one Captain Easy book in Series I and one in Series II. Wash Tubbs was issued 3 times in Series II.

On the cover of Issue 24 from Series I we find Captain Easy at the mast with a nasty brute advancing with an axe while Wash is getting poked in the eye in the background. The issue is 68 pages and reprints strips from 1939 and 40.

We open on the inside of the front cover where we find Wash, Easy and the Milsons (Father and Daughter) held captive on a modern pirate vessel, hence the cover scene. Wash has a rare and unique jungle animal as a pet, called a swink, which has a knack for causing mayhem. It gets loose and is chased by the crew. He hides in the galley stove pipe causing it to back up and send a huge cloud of smoke skyward where it is spotted by the Navy. They board, discover the captives and arrest the crew. Phew, that's just the first page!

Taking a liner home they arrive back in the States. The swink has never been in a big city and is frightened by everything resulting in mayhem and destruction. Wash has to pay for damages from his reward money. Resting in the park the swink generates so much attention that a huge crowd has formed, Wash realizing the audience generating potential sinks his remaining money into buying Dr Ducks Medicine show, which consists of a truck with a cabin on the back, a recipe for patent medicine and a banjo.

Wash and Easy hit the road and in the next town the swink raids a bait shop eating all the trout fly lures, hooks and all. This sends the poor beast into agony. Wash is beside himself...What to do? Out of desperation Easy pours Dr Ducks Indian Remedy into the swink. In five minutes he's rooting through the cabbage in the produce bin outside the grocery store. Wash and Easy realize the stuff really works and set up to begin pitching.

The tonic works wonders curing ills in kids and animals and growing hair on bald men. However a side effect soon manifests - everyone that took the tonic has started to grow warts. The townsfolk rally and run the boys out of town. Easy takes a dose to test it and sure enough..he has a face full of warts. Just like that the boys are out of business.

On the road they run out of gas. Pushing the vehicle along they stop at a farmhouse to ask if they can buy any gas. The farmer's wife whips up her grandmother's home remedy for warts out of potato peels and Easy's warts disappear. The boys are back giving away a free bottle of wart remover with every bottle of tonic.

In the next town the swink gets lost by falling into a mail box. Wash goes looking and word gets around that it's valuable, worth a million bucks! Wash finds him when the postman opens the box and the swink escapes. However local crooks get wind of it and decide to grab the swink and cash in by selling it to a museum. The grab him and hide out in the woods. Wash has put up reward posters all over the area. In order to hide him from prying eyes, they paint him black and put a stripe down his back disguising it as a skunk. They hang him out on the back clothesline to dry but the swink escapes.

The swink spots the truck and is following Wash and Easy. They think it's a skunk and keep trying to run it off. Meanwhile the crooks are searching for it. They mistake a real skunk for the swink and well you know... Anyway, a rainstorm finally washes the swink clean of the paint. Wash spots him and rushes to feed him goodies. The swink after all Wash's efforts to run him off when he was painted is skittish.

In a sudden skip we know find our heroes taking refuge from another storm in a remote farmhouse. There we meet Little Bessie who want to run away and join a medicine show with her pistol shooting and knife throwing. Wash and Easy decide to try and sneak off in the middle of the night to leave her behind. They are well away when they start to have car trouble. It seems Bessie had hitched her trailer to the back of the truck. Easy has her push the trailer while Wash cuts the rope holding it to the truck and they leave her behind.

The escape is short-lived as Bessie catches up with them as they enjoy they company of a bunch of bathing beauties they find at a lake. Easy sets up another escape ploy by having Bessie and the swink battle it out over a pie. The swink drops her in a mud puddle. As Bessie's clothes are hung from the line to dry Wash and Easy take off again.

Wash gets the idea to try to use the swinks advanced sense of smell to find gold. He locates gold fillings and gold watches but no gold mine. So they change the search for oil. An oil magnate looses a gusher to Wash and for revenge send him a hippopotamus. The hippo named Kitty wreaks havoc across town until Wash unloads it on a fisherman that hooked it in the city pond.

We switch gears where we find the find news that Dovey Jo Wicket has inherited money and a mule but has only two weeks to find a husband or lose this fortune. Her brothers decide to hold a raffle to select the lucky bachelor which causes all the single men to head for the hills. Which is when Wash and Easy arrive on the scene and are told they are the lucky finalists. Easy is captured and Wash escapes. As he searches for help he runs into Bessie who is on her way home. Wash tricks her into rescuing Easy. When she hugs him he pretends to be injured and Wash sends her for a doctor. They quickly take off again.

With Bessie hot on their trail they buy airplane tickets on the first plane out, which is destined for Peru. On board the plane they meet Mary Lancaster who is on her way to search for her Archaeologist father who disappeared three years ago. When she arrives the authorities refuse to let her go to the Lost Canyon where her father disappeared. So Mary has Easy fly her into the canyon where she parachutes to the ground. When he returns the authorities inform him that he took her to a wild and untamed region where the natives have resorted to savagery. Wash and Easy fly back in to rescue her. They find a lost city where they are captured and reunited with Mary and her Father. Wash and Easy are sentenced to be sacrificed to the Sun God. Dr. Lancaster concocts a scheme to use the swink to save the boys. He convinces the King that the swink will eliminate their bug problem but only Wash and Easy can control the swink. They are freed.

Leaving the swink behind in exchange for their freedom the four head out of the valley led by scouts from the Lost City. However the scouts desert them at night under the King's orders. Fortunately the swink has followed them and leads them out of the mountains in it's search for food. The group parts company as Wash and Easy try riding the rails to get back to civilization. Wash is captured and tossed into jail where he meets another American, Lonnie Plunkett. Known as The Great Plunkett he is a magician and escape artist. Lonnie breaks them in and out of jail to have dinner and get furnishings for their cells. This drives the guards insane. Easy drops by for a visit and is let in on the scheme. They escape for good and stow away on a freighter for passage back to the States.

On arrival they rely on Lonnie's act to provide for them. A crook tricks Lonnie into opening a safe. He locks himself inside foiling the robbery. Upon release he is offered a job with the safe manufacturer.

Easy spots a suspicious fellow who turns out to be a foreign spy as well as captures a notorious escaped criminal. This leads to his being hired by eccentric spinster Minnie Blunt to find solve the mystery of her missing Chinese cook, Wing Duck. Easy solves the case proving that her short tempered brother killed the cook.

Wash and Easy have been making out pretty well lately collecting reward money for catching crooks. They pick up a hitchhiker who takes their suitcase by mistake and leaves his, which has money and guns in it. The crook, Pretty face Nixon, whose m.o. is to disguise himself as young women comes back after the loot. Easy pops a couple of women by mistake before catching Nixon. With this last bit of reward money they buy a new airplane.

Easy and Wash meet up with an old pal of Easy's, Woodie Woodson, who is developing a top secret weapon called the flying torpedo. Woodie has had spies and crooks after the plans and prototype so the boys sign on as security.

A group of spies has been watching and waiting for a chance to grab the prototype. They finally get the chance when it lands on a freight train. Racing along they board the train as Wash and Easy land their plane on the train. The spies manage to reach the torpedo first and make a getaway. They catch up with them and manage to recover the device. Having proven it's value the Government purchases it and takes over.

As Wash and Easy are flying off a disgruntled spy takes a potshot at their plane and hits a fuel line. They land in a maze of cactus. There they are found by a pair of outlaws and are taken prisoner. The only other prisoner is a half-wit girl or so the crooks think. She's been playing the part biding her chance to escape. With her help they capture they crooks and escape.

We jump once again as Wash finds himself hired to fly a plane of machine parts. He finds he has landed in Mexico and that the parts are rifles. The bandits force him to fly for them. Easy tricks the guards and escapes as the issue comes to a close.

Series II Issue 11 is another 68 pager reprinting strips from 1937 and 1938. On the cover jst below Wash's right foot is a rarely seen Dell logo with a boy and girl riding on Pegasus holding a banner that says Dell Publishing Co.

We open on the inside front cover where we find Wash and Easy on board the S.S. Platonic returning to the States from South America. Also on board is Helga Zmith, a green eyed beauty that all the fellows, and most especially Wash are all panting over. Miss Zmith has frozen all the would be suiters out. Easy has found her dropped handbag and declares that he can make her acquantance.

Easy and Miss Zmith quickly develop a relationship spending the rest of their time shipboard in each other's company. Upon making a port of call in Trinidad Easy encounters Barney Hill and old adventuring buddy. Easy agrees to keep an eye on Hill's daughter Beverly who is boarding the ship to journey on to the States. This sends Zmith into a jealous rage and she and Easy part company. Each siteing of Easy and Beverly sends her into a rage that is only calmed by her bodyguard reminding her that their trip is for business. The business is piracy. Zmith is the leader of a pirate crew that attacks the ship and escapes with $3,000,000 in gold and kidnaps Beverly.

The authorities have had no luck locating the pirates so Easy and Wash take leave of the liner and rent a sailboat and begin a search. After 17 islands they approach Cutlass Island where they are fired upon as they approach. Warned that it's a leper colony they turn around. The Captain tells them the island is haunted as well.

Wash and Easy return after dark and find the Pirate's boat as well as the ruins of an old plantation house. Suddenly a trap door opens and Zmith appears. Zmith tells Easy that Beverly is down below and he goes in after her. Easy knocks out the guards and is about to escape when an alarm is raised. Easy and Beverly escape out of a secret passage and pick up Wash and Zmith on their way to the boat. The Pirates fire upon the boat and scare the Captain who sails off leaving them on the island. Recaptured Zmith puts our heroes down a dry well.

After the pirates desert the island, the captives escape by making a human ladder. They start a signal fire which is seen by the pirates who return to the island. They attempt to steal the boat while the pirtaes are searching the island but run onto a sand bar and are again recaptured. This time the pirates take to the sea with our heroes.

Chumming the water to first attract sharks Wash is tossed overboard. It looks grim until a destroyer arrives. The sailboat captain had found the navy and brought them to the rescue. Wash escapes the sharks, Zmith escapes the Navy, the remaining pirates are captured and the gold is recovered. The Navy drops them off in Puerto Rico, where they book passage to continue on to the States.

On board ship Easy receives a mysterious telegram. Once they arrive in New Orleans Wash and Easy part company, Easy to answer the telegram and Wash continues on home. He looks up his old pal Gozy who takes him home to see the family. Wash and Gozy's tales of life on the road finally get to the Mrs who throws them out of the house into the cold and snow. Gozy having been domesticated is ill suited for the matter and soon finds his clothes taken by a gang of bums. Found by the sheriff they are returned home where Wash resolves to settle down and find a job.

After overhearing the local girls discussing him in a derogatory way, Wash packs his belongings and is on the way out the door when Carol McKee arrives. Wash falls immediately in love with Carol and she seems to return his feelings. Her father, being a wealty businessman decides to check Wash out. He meets Gozy's father who tells him that Wash is "the laziest, good for nothing imbecile I laid eyes on".

Wash recieves a windfall check in the mail, a $3000 reward for recovering the gold. Wash places an ad in the newspaper looking for investment opportunities and immediately all the sharpers in town are out to part him from it. Wash leases a night club, the Topsy Turvy Club. What he didn't now was that he leased it from Frankie Slaughter, the biggest gangster in town. Unfazed Wash set out to redecorate the club when Easy reappears. Wash appoints him Assistant Manager of the club.

The big night arrives for the Grand Reopening of the Club. Wash is on the way when he comes to a detour on the road. The road is being repaved. Wash stands to loose his investment if he can't find a way to get customers to the club. Things get worse when Wash buys a minauture steam locomotive at auction. Inspiration strikes him and he sets up a railroad to get customers past the construction and to the club.

Wash is a success, the club is going over big and Wash is rakingit in. Still his success is bittersweet. He hasn't heard from Carol for weeks. That's because she has been out of town visiting. Upon her return she learns from her father that Wash's club is going over. However he still hasn't changed his opinion. She contacts Wash and the romance is on again.

Trouble rears it's head as Frankie Slaughter is moving back in on the club trying to muscle Wash out. Wash stands up to him so Frankie begins vandalizing the place. Business is off and things are looking grim again. Wash has hired himself bodyguards. Frankie gets the drop on Wash and gives him a beating. Easy sets up a trap and Frankie falls into it. The gang is captured but Frankie escapes. Things are still bad as Wash has no cash and payday is coming. Frankie shows up at the club and is tricked into giving Wash $15,000 to buy back the lease.

Despite his iron-clad alabi Frankie is arrested as Easy has been collecting the evidence against him. Frankie goes out in a blaze as he tries to shoot it out with the police.

Riding the glory of the moment Wash proposes to Carol. She says yes which sends her father into spin. Mr McKee tries to impress upon Wash the importance of her marrying the right man. He trots out his family pedegree and Wash responds that he grew up poor and was orphaned young. Switching to his business acumen Wash reveals that his final profit from the night club was 20 cents. Mr McKee refuses to grant his concent to the marriage. Carol agrees to travel to California with her father. If she is still in love with Wash upon their return he will give his concent.

As the issue comes to a close Wash having resolved to make a success of himself has adopted a stray dog and finds himself a place to stay at Mother Grey's house.

Our next entry is Series II Issue 28 . This issue has been downsized to 60 pages and reprints strips from 1939. We jump from last issue skipping much to find the McKees being held prisoners in the Central American country of Panazuela. Wash arrives with Easy (who is suffering from amnesia) to free them. They have been captured and thrown into prison as well when the revolutions breaks out. Shells destroy the prison and Easy regains his memory. All this withing the synopsis on the inside front cover as the issue opens.

The revolution is being led by Easy's old enemy Bull Dawson. The President loots the treasury and is attempting to flee the country. Dawson who has been playing both sides tricks the money out of the President as he puts him aboard an airplane to make his getaway. Dawson has loaded the loot uaboat a boat that he runs into a sand bar. Meanwhile, the McKees being unsuccessful in trying to find a way of leaving the country spot the boat. When they hail it they find that Dawson is on board. Dawson sets Mr McKee up to take the fall for looting the treasury and he's is soon arressted. Easy rescues Mr McKee and they get the boat away from Dawson and make their escape. Reaching the shipping lanes they are picked up by an ocean liner. Mr McKee has been so impressed by Wash's actions and dealings he offers him a position with his company.

Meanwhile back home at McKee Industries, Rowden Splendix Sr and Jr are conspiring to marry Jr off to Carol and have access to the McKee millions.

Upon their return home Wash and Easy meet with Mr McKee at the plant. Mr McKee introduces them to Splendix Sr and Jr. Junior is to show them around but upon spotting Easy he tries to make excuses to leave but to no avail. Turns out that Jr was the person that conked Easy over the head with a wrench causing him to lose his memory. Easy extracts his revenge beating Jr to a pulp.
Upon his return to "work" Jr puts into motion a plan to make Wash look bad in Mr McKee's eyes. The plan works, McKee sends a memo that Splendix Jr is boss over Wash, so he begins to overwork the poor boy causing Wash to break dates with Carol. Junior is on the spot to pick her up and take her around. Jr arranges to have Wash caught up in a bar brawl and arrested. Despite all his efforts Carol still believes in Wash and stands behind him. Jr attempts to break into Wash's desk but is thwarted by Easy. Sr assigns Easy to be an assistant to the assistant manager of the hairpin department to get him out of the way.

Their next step is to discredit Wash by turning up his long lost missing and presumed dead father. Wash rushes down to the train station to meet the old man. After no one exits the train Wash is confused...until a bum crawls out from under a car and declares himself to be his father.

After some delays and excuses, Wash finally has to bring his "father" to dinner at the McKee's mansion. Of course he is an utter boor embarasing Wash and insulting the McKees.

Piling it on Junior locates Fifi, a girl he had problems with in the past but is willing to do anything for a buck. The Splendix's hire her and her boy friend to frame Wash. Junior sends Wash out to supposedly wine and dine a customer but it's a set up to put him and Fifi together. Meanwhile Easy overhears a phone conversation between Splendix Sr and Wash's "father". Easy now aware of the deal tracks Wash down at the night club and gets Wash away from the table. Easy then returns to the table and lets Fifi know he's wise to the scheme. Fifi then goes to her boyfriend and tips him about the bigger stakes involved which sends him back to Splendix Sr to demand more money to carry out the frame. Wash returns to the McKee's home where he finds "father" has spent the evening insulting them. In walks Fifi and Wash suddenly finds himself behind the eight ball. Carol trows him out.

Back home at Mother Grey's, she and daughter Virginia tell Wash what Junior has been up to and reveal that his "father' is a bum they hired.Wash is outraged and is determined to get his revenge on the Splendix'. He stroms to their home spouting threats. he arrives and finds Senior in a chair. Wash soon realizes that he is not asleep in the chair but has been shot dead. With the police at the door Wash goes out the window but is seen by Junior. Desparately on the run he runs into his "father" who helps him escape on an outbound freight train.

Junior tells the police what he has seen, Wash's fingerprint's are found on the murder weapon and he's fled town. Wash is the only suspect. Carol however refuses to beleive it and convinces her father of Wash's innocence. They go to the police but they refuse to accept anything but Wash as the killer. Easy encounters the McKee's as they are leaving the Police Station and tells them he has information that will clear Wash. Easy then meets with the Police and proves Wash's innocence and puts them onto Fifi and her boy friend, Coker. The police arrest Coker for the murder.

Returning to the Grey's he finds Wash is missing. Later he recieves a letter from Wash telling him he didn't do it but couldn't involve the McKees in a scandal and to tell Carol he will always love her. On the bum with his "father" they get off in a small town where Wash is dressed up as a little girl to fool the police. Unfortunately Pop is arrested as a vagrant and Wash is placed in the care of the Sherriff's wife. Unable to maintain the masquarade Wash gets the Sherriff's keys and sneaks out to the jail to free the old man. They go to the train station and purchase two tickets to Cincinnati but get off the train early. Finding a shanty boat they purchase it and being a live as river rats. Back home Carol convinces Easy to track Wash and bring him home. Back on the boat Wash and Pop put ashore and sneak onto a farm stealing a chicken which they take back to the boat and cook up. The farmer and mother track them down and during the fracas it is discovered that Pop is the father of the farmer and husband to mother. They stay on the farm as Pop vows that he will not runaway again but stay and be a good husband. Wash decides that he is only in the way and goes back to the baot and casts off. As the issue closes a row boat approaches the boat. It's Easy who takes Wash back home to Carol.

Series II Issue 53 is a 52 pager reprinting strips from 1939 and 1940.

Series II Issue 111

Reference: The Funnies: 100 Years of American Comic Strips, Ron Goulart, Adams 1995; 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Maurice Horn ed., Random House 1996; Grand Comics Database; University of Texas, ; The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art; Jerry Robinson; G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1974