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WHITE BOY IN SKULL VALLEY : COMPLETE SUNDAYS

WHITE BOY coverGarrett Price’s White Boy in Skull Valley:
The Complete Sunday Comics, 1933-1936
Edited By Peter Maresca
168 10.5x16-inch gigantic landscape pages
color
2015
Sunday Press hardcover
$75

Once again, Maresca’s Sunday Press brings us a scrupulously reconstructed Sunday comic strip reprinted at the size it was originally published back in the day when newspaper publishers valued comics. White Boy, the strip’s title from October 1, 1933, when it started, until April 28, 1935, when it abruptly changed its title to Skull Valley, is unique in the history of American comic strips: it is the only “western” story told from the Native American point-of-view. The title character, who is not named, is a captive of an Indian tribe. He is well-treated and becomes friends with his captors, particularly an attractive young woman named Starlight. Some of the strips regale us with Indian folklore and legend; and every strip is scrupulously dated.

Another aspect of the strip’s uniqueness is the manner in which Price drew it. It is realistically drawn in the sense that it is not bigfoot comedy: but Price drew in a simple, outline manner, without feathering or shading or any of the other illustrative tricks. He renders clothing, for instance, without wrinkles. And then, every once in a while — when his story demands it — his pictures darken and acquire texture and shading.

Then, suddenly — overnight, without explanation — White Boy disappears and in its place appears Skull Valley, starring Bob White, a cowboy in modern times who acquires a girlfriend named Doris Hale. The White Boy storyline is abandoned in mid-episode; time shifts, and we’re in another world. Bob White’s story is of a quite different sort: the strip is now a fairly conventional adventure strip. The Indian perspective is gone. And Price adds pictorial depth to his drawings with shading and solid blacks. Even a few wrinkles in clothing.

Marsca assures us in the prefatory essay that no explanation was ever given for this unprecedented change. And then Skull Valley eventually morphs into a gag strip about a dude ranch, and it ends without a ripple on August 30, 1936.

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The book’s front matter gives us a brief history of White Boy and a short biography of Price, who, although born and raised in the West (Wyoming), became an illustrator and cartoonist of note in New York, where he appeared regularly in The New Yorker as cover artist and cartoonist. His cartoons were also published in other magazines of the 1920s through the 1970s; I first saw his work in the old humor magazine Life. Maresca’s essays are accompanied by a generous sampling of Price’s other work, including paintings and covers as well as cartoons.

White Boy was a minor masterpiece, and this volume is a gem of a historical work.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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