November 30, 2007 – Scorchy Smith, the daily strip that exploded in popularity in the 1930s and catapulted author and illustrator Noel Sickles to comics fame, has been a Holy Grail among fans, landing on countless top-ten lists. But a complete collection hasn’t existed in 70 years.
Next summer, IDW Publishing will release the first complete collection of Sickles’ work on Scorchy with a hardcover edition entitled Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles. This deluxe editionshowcases every panel drawn by the author and illustrator, who is regarded as the individual responsible for putting the John Terry-created strip on the map.
Scorchy Smith, which ran in newspapers from 1930-1961, was drawn by many artists. It featured a pilot-for-hire who traveled the nation doing everything from battling spies to busting up bands of cattle rustlers. Because adventure found Scorchy at just about every turn, Sickles once described the strip as “pure entertainment, pure action, from one damn thing to another.”
Though Sickles only drew the strip from 1933 to 1936, taking the lead when Terry fell ill, it was Sickles’ cinematic-style art that made it one of the most popular and influential comic strips of its era and beyond.
Before IDW Publishing secured the rights to Sickles’ portion of the collection, enthusiasts had to settle for two incomplete 1970s editions from Nostalgia Press. Dean Mullaney, Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles’ editor and co-designer, says these paperbacks represent an enticing introduction to the series, but are both rare and costly.
“Now we finally have a complete, definitive edition for the ages,” says Mullaney. IDW’s Scorchy collection will appear as an oversized, 352-page book featuring much more than just Sickles’ complete works: Also included are DVD-style extras, such as a look at Sickles’ post-comics career as a magazine illustrator and painter. Terry, who preceded Sickles on Scorchy, and Bert Christman, who worked on the strip after Sickles left, will also be featured in the IDW tome’s extras.
Along with Mullaney, Scorchy Smith & The Art of Noel Sickles will be designed by Dale Crain, a DC Comics veteran who has served as the art director, production manager and senior editor of more than 100 volumes in the DC reprint archives.
Noel Sickles’ Groundbreaking Work and Life
Noel Sickles’ groundbreaking work on the 1930s aviation adventure series is considered to be a milestone in the history of newspaper comic strips. During his time on Scorchy Smith, Sickles moved away from the heavy black outlines that dominated the comic strips of that era. He adopted storytelling panel techniques inspired from the frames of motion pictures, while relying on brushwork to create a looser, more impressionistic representation of people, action and scenery.
At the time that Sickles drew Scorchy Smith, this chiaroscuro approach had never before been seen in the comic pages of newspapers. As an added bonus, this looser, more-forgiving style helped Sickles deal with the relentless deadlines of drawing a daily strip. The style, also adopted by Sickles’ studio partner Milton Caniff, artist on Terry and the Pirates, continued to influence illustrators long after Sickles left Scorchy.
“The whole industry was copying from photostats of the Scorchy Smith dailies by Noel Sickles,” said longtime Spider-Man artist John Romita in the 1950s.
Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1910, Noel Douglas Sickles was primarily a self-taught artist who produced political cartoons for the Ohio State Journal while still in his teens. Sickles moved to New York to work as an Associated Press staff artist in 1933, and after blazing a trail through the comics world, Sickles left both comics and the Associated Press in 1936 to launch a 40-year career as one of America’s most successful magazine illustrators. A regular at Life magazine, Sickles’ work also appeared in Look, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, Boy’s Life and The Saturday Evening Post. In both 1960 and 1962, Sickles won the National Cartoonist Society’s Advertising and Illustration Award. He eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona, and turned to painting, winning further acclaim for his work. He passed away in late 1982.