Saturday, April 4, 2015
The Chan Clan!
"Charlie Chan" was created in 1925 by Earl Derr Biggers and debuted in the novel The House Without a Key. It was quite a success and the first film adaptation was made the very next year as a silent serial. More novels came and even more movies as Charlie Chan became one of the most successful fictional characters of the early twentieth century in both film and radio, a mild antidote of sorts to the classic "Yellow Peril" infamy of Fu Manchu and other Asian stereotypes. Of course Charlie was a stereotype himself, but a kindly and highly intelligent one which made the pill go down a bit more smoothly.
Charlie debuted in comic strips a in 1938 with artwork by Alfred Andriola.
Prize Comics (an imprint of Crestwood Publishing) came out with a Charlie Chan comic book a decade later in 1948 and got the go-to team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to do the covers. The interiors to the Prize run were drawn by Carmine Infantino and Dick Briefer among others. To read these great comics go here.
Here is a look at the wonderful covers Simon and Kirby cooked up for the illustrious Charlie and his "Number One Son".
Then it ended in less than a year's time after a mere five issues. Some years later in 1955 Charlton Comics came into possession of the unused material and continued the series with the sixth issue, which too sported an energetic Simon and Kirby cover.
The series lasted three more issues, all looking a bit more humdrum than the last until it ended in early 1956. To get a closer look go here.
DC Comics stepped in with The New Adventures of Charlie Chan in 1958 which ran for six issues featuring art by Sid Greene and stories by John Broome.
And then that too ended. (By the way, I adore the mummy-with-a-gun cover for the second issue - fantastic image.)
Then in 1965 Dell Comics, fresh from their break with Western Publishing came out with a pair of Charlie Chan comics featuring the work of Frank Springer.
Charlie would disappear then from the comic stands for another eight years until sparked by a Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the same name we got The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan from Gold Key Comics.
Showcasing the artwork of Warren Tufts and at least some stories by Mark Evanier, these four issues capture rather accurately the weird vibe of the show which was an oddball blend of classic Biggers and The Brady Bunch.
Since then, no Charlie Chan save in reprints. Doubtless in these more enlightened times, such characters are not deemed sufficiently subtle to stand public scrutiny, and truth told that's probably right. I enjoy Charlie Chan mysteries, but there's no doubt that despite Charlie often being the smartest guy in the room, his presentation (not dissimilar to Peter Falk's magnificent Columbo) is meant to disarm his opponents, it does leave a raw spot.
I have only ever read one Charlie Chan mystery, the first one. I need to read more; perhaps this summer.