Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Book Snapshot: Old Glory at the Crossroads 1861-1865

Between January 8, 1961 and June 6, 1965, the Chicago Tribune and its newspaper affiliates published the color comic strip "Old Glory at the Crossroads 1861-1865." The Civil War Centennial project was the combined work of writer Athena Robbins and artist Rick Fletcher, the latter perhaps best known for his work on the Dick Tracy strip (which he worked on for decades and headed from 1977-1982). Compiled, edited, and self-published by Thomas S. Suhs, Old Glory at the Crossroads, 1861-1865: The Original and Complete Tribune Newspapers Civil War Centennial Comic Strip (2021) gathers together all 230 strips for the first time in book format (it is a 8.5" x 11" paperback presented in landscape orientation) and arranges them in order of original publication.

Iowans Fletcher and Robbins previously collaborated on an award-winning illustrated history of the American flag ("The Old Glory Story"), and were asked to take on the American Civil War in commemoration of the Centennial. At the time, the series was lauded for its "accurate portrayal of the personalities, battles and equipment." In terms of popular print media sources capable of sparking a life-long interest in the war, I can imagine the strip possibly having an effect on Midwest youth similar to what the American Heritage tome and the more modest How and Why Wonder Book of the Civil War did for the same generation. After the war concluded, Fletcher and Robbins extended their work for another year, the focus then being on postwar westward expansion.

As one might have anticipated given the sensibilities of the period and Sunday comic page placement, the strip avoids dark or controversial themes in its presentation of a largely military history-focused story line. That said, with the strip covering topics ranging from well-known to quite obscure (even to today's readers), it's obvious Robbins and Fletcher went beyond superficial research. Of course, a weekly comic of only 5 or 6 panels can't be expected to go much beyond simplified, broad-brush text.

The image source was strips cut from original newspaper copy, but surviving artwork color and clarity is rather surprisingly good in quality, with Suhs's apology for his image reproduction of sixty-plus year old newsprint largely unnecessary. It actually looks rather good (see example at right). Suhs also created a nine-page index for the book. A labor of love, Suhs's volume represents a wonderful print preservation of the Centennial-period comic series.

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