Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sincerely Yours, Busy

     Before email, before texting, when only birds tweeted, people wrote letters. Letter writing was a craft, an art form in deft hands, wherein thoughts could be expressed with nuance not limited to 140 character bursts. For some, though, letters were a cudgel to prod the recipient down a certain path. Business letters were often of this type and when it came to writing them, Busy Arnold was all business. -- Ken Quattro
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Dear Bill,

As I told you over the telephone today, Lou has been changing his costumes form month to month especially on The Ray. In the first installment of this feature, he had The Ray wearing a peaked headpiece but in the second installment he left off the peak on this, later it was restored. In some installments The Ray wore slippers and in others he did not have any. Also the stars around the neck of The Ray were omitted in some instances, although Ed Cronin usually added these.

I am enclosing a memorandum with some tear sheets and would appreciate having you tell Lou to make the costumes of both The Ray and The Black Condor the same each month.

 
Everett M. "Busy" Arnold (smiling)
Will Eisner (at drawing board)
circa 1941
[as reprinted in THE ART OF WILL EISNER by cat yronwode]
 
     Arnold was both Will Eisner's business partner (in The Spirit comic section) and client of his comic shop. It was in that role as owner of Comic Favorites, Inc. that Arnold wrote (more accurately, dictated) this October 1, 1940 missive. They would always come typed and on company letterhead. This was a business, after all, and Arnold's concern was for the product he was selling. The elegance of the artwork and the future status of Lou Fine as a Comic Book Legend wasn't even a consideration.

 
The Ray by Lou Fine
SMASH COMICS #15 (Oct. 1940), pg. 4

Try and build up the characters in both of these features so that they are more human and likeable. The Ray is in reality Happy Terrill, a reporter who works on The Morning Telegraph. His boss, the city editor, should have a definite name and other characters might be introduced from time to time.

While Happy Terrill leads a normal life at most times, he has the power to change to The Ray when he goes in a beam of light an then can perform his wonderful deeds. As The Ray he can also bring people to him by means of the ray forces which he has in his hands.

The same sort of build up should be given to The Black Condor and he should be a definite personality who operates as The Black Condor only in times of necessity. Originally you had The Black Condor brought up by birds when his parents (British) were killed by outlaws. I don't believe that he should be British and in any "build up", you should naturally assume that he is an American.

I assume that you will finish the next HIT and NATIONAL covers within the next few days so that Lou can start working on The Ray for the February issue of SMASH COMICS.

Sincerely yours, 
Busy

     Eisner once told interviewer Jim Amash, "Busy Arnold and I had a very interesting relationship. I regarded him as a partner and he thought of me as an employee."  1 When it came to the content of the comic books, it appears there was little doubt as to who was the calling the shots. By the next issue of SMASH, Happy Terrill was in more panels than The Ray and not long after, his boss finally had a first name.

 
The Ray by Lou Fine
  SMASH COMICS #17 (Dec. 1940), pg. 2

 
Panel from page 9 of The Ray
  SMASH COMICS #19 (Feb. 1941)

     For his part, The Black Condor had soon forgotten his rarely mentioned British origins and apparently his name (Dick Grey), becoming instead an American named Tom Wright. A U.S. senator no less.

 
The Black Condor by Lou Fine
  CRACK COMICS #13 (Dec. 1940) splash page

     Within in a few months, the business arrangement of Arnold and Eisner had evolved even further. On January 20, 1941, the pair agreed to a joint publishing venture. On that day they signed contracts specifying their co-ownership of two new properties: UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY and ARMY AND NAVY COMICS, soon to be retitled MILITARY COMICS. While Arnold agreed to pay the artists for their work, Eisner was to receive no money for his editing. Both shared any profits equally.
     Despite the parity suggested by this new arrangement, however, the hierarchy seemingly didn't change.

 Dear Bill,

The issue of MILITARY COMICS which Julian delivered here yesterday was handled in a very sloppy manner. So for the fifteenth time will you please ask your gang to go over things more closely so that we don't have so much work on this end of the line.

The ears which your boys put on page one and page 33 are very sloppy and you should have new ears made for these pages. Also, you should have whoever puts them on do a better job than they have done in the past. Not only are they ears always dirty and partly torn, but whoever drew the originals looks like they had the palsy. They have to be retouched here by Tony and this work could be eliminated if your office didn't do such a careless job.

Sincerely yours, 
Busy

     But he wasn't done yet. As he would many times, Arnold added a postscript in his own handwriting.

P.S.
Please don't supply any more art work for Military by the artists who did Miss America and The Sniper. They are awful so put Jerry Robinson on these two features--he [is] to do everything except the lettering. Sniper is a good idea but this artist is impossible--also [the] Miss America artist.

 
The Sniper by Jerry Robinson
  MILITARY COMICS #7 (Feb. 1942) splash page

     The "ears" referenced by Arnold that needed retouching by in-house artist Tony DiPreta were likely paste-over corrections to the artwork. It's just as likely that poor Julian, Eisner's younger brother, received an earful from Arnold. Arnold got his wish as Robinson briefly filled in on The Sniper. Eisner must have agreed with the assessment of Maurice Kashuba's artwork on Miss America, as she disappeared from the pages of MILITARY soon after Arnold's September 17, 1941 letter.
     Arnold's comments weren't restricted to just the comic books. Just a couple of weeks later, on October 3rd, he had something to say about The Spirit, too.

Dear Bill,

I was able to correct the text on page three of The Spirit in the October 19 issue. It certainly was a good thing this happened on a number 1 issue of the weekly comic book since if it had happened on a number 2 issue, it would have been too late to change it.

I think that the October 19 issue of The Spirit was absolutely the worst you have done to date and I don't think you should run any stories in this groove. This particular episode was altogether too heavy and profound. It is on the philosophical side and will not interest most readers. I think you should make The Spirit more along the usual lines with a good interesting story and plenty of sustained rapid fire action. And the art work could certainly be much better than the October 19 issue which was pretty sad.

I think that you might try and get more close-ups of The Spirit, Ebony, Ellen Commissioner Dolan, etc. and eliminate some of these far shots you have been running.

Sincerely yours, 
Busy

 
"The Oldest Man in the World"
The Spirit by Will Eisner
(Oct. 19, 1941)

     This one probably hurt. It can be supposed that Eisner was used to Arnold's criticisms by now, but they usually were directed at the work of the artists he employed. This hit closer to home. Eisner was the principal artist on The Spirit at this point and probably plotted this story ("The Oldest Man in the World") as well.
     No detail was too small to escape Arnold's notice. On October 31st, he sent a letter to Eisner critiquing the work of a letterer.

Dear Bill,

Will you please get after Sam, your lettering man, and instruct him to make his commas properly in both the weekly comic book and the daily Spirit strips? He uses a straight line with no loop for a comma and this is very bad. Have him use regular commas in the future.

     Not content with this admonition, Arnold demonstrated in his own hand this punctuation that was causing him so much grief.

 
Busy's punctuation lesson for Sam Rosen

     Usually, though, Arnold's concerns were not so trivial. Money was the main subject of his November 6 letter. Along with a few suggestions, of course.

Dear Bill,

I am enclosing [a] check for $730.45 covering the material for issue No. 7 of MILITARY COMICS as per your statement dated October 17. However, there was no Diary of A Draftee in this issue so I deducted the $15 charge for this.

You had four pages of Inferior Man listed whereas this was cut to three pages. However, I imagine the cost of $40 was still the same. You also listed Death Patrol as being six pages whereas it was only five pages but the price of $75 was correct. The Sniper which was done by Jerry Robinson was only five pages in length and I believe you were a bit off on the figure of $104 for this feature. 

I hope you have the material pretty well in hand for the next issue of MILITARY COMICS. If Jerry Robinson isn't going to handle X Of The Underground, you had better get Borth or some other artist started on this right away so we can get out a complete book in another week or 10 days. 

Please have Chuck Cuidera do the next MILITARY cover and also make up a full page of promotion for MILITARY COMICS. In other words, you can make up the page of promotion on everything except the reproduction of the cover and I will have this stripped in by the engraver. I expect to have some covers available next month and will run a promotion on MILITARY COMICS in everything except FEATURE COMICS. 

Sincerely yours,
Busy

And he couldn't help adding a postscript.

P.S.
Is Cuidera getting ahead on Blackhawk? If he only takes about 12 days for each 11 pages of Blackhawk in Military Comics, he should be able to turn out some work for the Quarterly now.

     The first inkling that events in the outside world were affecting their product were mentioned in Arnold's letter of December 12, 1941. After reprimanding Eisner for a continuity mistake in The Spirit daily, Arnold has some thoughts about the direction of the comic books.

In view of present war conditions, don't you think it wold be best to have the Blackhawks get a new base and operate from the Pacific? Also, have the Hero Stamps about Americans rather than Britishers. A good subject for the first American Hero Stamp is Captain Kelly who was killed sinking the Japanese battleship yesterday. 

I think this same applies to the material for UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY No. 3. I don't believer you should let Ed Cronin go through with the original plans on this magazine but should have new up to the minute stories written for the third issue. In UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY No. 3, I think that you should eliminate the four pages of illustrated poetry since this doesn't "ring the bell" with kids.

Sincerely yours,
Busy

     Arnold once again got what he wanted. UNCLE SAM #3 quickly took on a more sobering tone. No longer was the titular character circumspect in his choice of foes. The George Tuska drawn cover depicted a resolute Uncle Sam swatting down readily identifiable Japanese Zeroes. Over in MILITARY, soon gone was the Anglocentric Hero Stamp, replaced by a new United States Hero Stamp, with the first being the Arnold nominated Captain Kelly.

 
United States Hero Stamp #1
  MILITARY COMICS #9 (April 1942)

     It took the Blackhawks a bit longer to follow his orders, as they had to finish up an ongoing continuity in Europe. But eventually they too relocated to the Pacific Theater per Arnold's request.

 
Blackhawk by Chuck Cuidera
  MILITARY COMICS #11 (Aug. 1942), pg. 10

     Not all of Arnold's correspondence was directed at Eisner. One particularly blunt and detailed letter was sent to Eisner's former partner, Jerry Iger on December 26, 1941. And Arnold had plenty to say to him.

Dear Jerry,

The total combined loss on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS for the June 1941 to the November 1941 issues (six issues of each magazine) was $10,704.87. During this period we were operating under our agreement dated January 13, 1941.

Starting with the December issues of HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS, we worked under the terms of a second agreement dated July 21, 1941, The loss on the December issue of HIT COMICS was $1,261.99 and the loss on the December issue of NATIONAL COMICS was $1,506.51 -- a total of $2,768.50. While I haven't as yet any exact figures on the January and February issues of HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS, they will be even worse than the results on the December issues. So for the period from June 1941 to February 1942 we will lose a total of nearly $20,000.00 on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS. You must realize that we cannot operate any longer under the terms of our agreement dated July 21, 1941 and this letter is to officially cancel all past deals on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS effective with the April issues  of each magazine. By then we will probably be in the red for a total of almost $25,000.00  and, if we are going to buy any material from you in the future for these magazines, it must be on an entirely new setup. Incidentally, HIT COMICS is now on a permanent bi-monthly basis and I plan to drop the May and July issues of NATIONAL COMICS so that temporarily this book will also be on a bi-monthly basis.

In the first place, the 20 per cent profit arrangement up to a total of $5,000.00 covered in our agreement of January 13. 1941 and the 30 per cent profit arrangement on HIT COMICS covered in our agreement dated July 21, 1941 are both cancelled by this letter. If we ever recover our losses on these two magazines we will be very lucky. The present features obviously will not sell HIT COMICS or NATIONAL COMICS well enough to enable us to make a profit on either magazine, so in order to try to get "out of the red" in the near future on HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS, I must add the best available material which I can buy independently to each book and kill several of your features which apparently do no sell comic magazines.

     Busy Arnold's methodically precise recounting of his profit and loss statements are a painful reminder that the content of comic books were driven by more than editorial whim. It's likely Iger read the above dense paragraphs with growing anger over the cancellation of his ongoing contracts with Arnold and trepidation at what was to come.

Strictly on a month by month basis, I will buy the following material from you for these two magazines in the future:

NATIONAL COMICS

6 pages  Sally O'Neil  (by Bryant) --------------------------  $90.00
5    "       Prop Powers  (By Williams) ----------------------   75.00
5    "       Wonder Boy  (by Bryant) -------------------------   75.00
5    "       Kid Patrol  (by artist who did April job) -------   75.00
5    "       Kid Dixon  (by Nordling) -------------------------   60.00

HIT COMICS

6 pages  Betty Bates  (by Bryant) --------------------------  $90.00
6     "     The Red Bee  (by Williams) -----------------------  90.00
5     "     The Strange Twins  (by Blum) --------------------  75.00
7     "     Don Glory  (by Peddy) ----------------------------  105.00
5     "     Bob and Swab  (by Nordling)  --------------------   60.00

All of the above features (except those done by Nordling) are at the arte of $15 per page which is a fair price with conditions in the comic magazine field as they are at the present time. You are only paying Nordling $10 per page for his work and since he completes everything and writes his own stories, $12 per page is a fair price for Kid Dixon, and Bob and Swab. If you prefer, I will buy these two features direct from Nordling and pay him per page.

     This last line was surely included to tweak Iger. In no way did he want to lose his $3 per page cut by letting Arnold deal directly with an artist.

I may have Lou Fine or Chuck Cuidera handle Stormy Foster starting with the June issue of HIT COMICS. However, this feature is very second rate and it hasn't any character. So unless Lou or another top notch artist can do a first class job on it right away, I will get another lead feature for HIT COMICS. 

     Once again, Arnold casually tossed in a possibility meant to get Iger's goat. Iger knew very well that both Fine and Cuidera were in the employ of his former partner Eisner and losing work to his shop would be particularly galling.

So much for the material for HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS. I am also losing money at present on SMASH COMICS and POLICE COMICS and I can only afford to pay you the following rates for your material in these two magazines in the future:

SMASH COMICS

6 pages  Rookie Rankin  (by Peddy) ----------------------  $90.00
5     "     The Purple Trio  (by Blum) -----------------------  75.00

POLICE COMICS 

6 pages  Phantom Lady  (by Peddy) ----------------------  $90.00
5     "       Eagle Evans  (by Williams) ---------------------  75.00
5     "       Steele Kerrigan  (by Bryant) -------------------  75.00

Although FEATURE COMICS is still operating at a profit, it has dropped considerably in recent months and we can only afford to pay the following prices for your material in this book in the future:

5 pages  Zoro, Ghost Detective  (by Bryant) -------------  $75.00
5    "      Samar  (by artist who did April Kid Patrol) ---    75.00
5    "     Spin Shaw  (by Williams) --------------------------  75.00

I will continue to pay you $20 per page for Crandall's features on a month by month basis. However, I am not sure whether I will keep The Firebrand in POLICE COMICS much longer as a six page feature after I jump Plastic Man into the lead position in this magazine. Like Stormy Foster, The Firebrand is very second rate even with Reed handling the art work in it.

It is understood that you will supply better and more timely stories for all of the above features in the future and will give first class art work on all of this material.

     Arnold's reconsideration of The Firebrand become a reality as it soon dwindled to a 5-page feature before exiting POLICE within the next year. With the bulk of the financial business completed, Arnold's letter takes a different tone and gets personal.

In closing may I take a crack at the statement in your letter of December 4th where you say "Maybe I'm a fool, but I've turned down considerable business so that I may better serve you in your books. What do I get in return?"  Are you trying to be funny or do you think I am a bit simple? You never turned down any business because of me and grabbed off all of the accounts you could get from such magazines as Pocket Comics, Champ Comics an Speed Comics. And aren't you the same Jerry Iger who started Great Comics and Choice Comics with Fred Fiore even though you were supposed to be concentrating on producing extra good work for E. M. Arnold and Thurman Scott? Don't make me laugh, Jerry.

     Arnold was just getting warmed up. As much as this paragraph probably irked Iger, it was the next one that was pointedly crafted to infuriate.

And please don't tell me again that you personally developed every top-notcher in this business including Bill Eisner. He was largely responsible for the success of Eisner & Iger as you well know. Bill always was a swell artist with a flair for writing interesting plots and nobody helped develop him except Wm. E. Eisner, a lot of natural ability and plenty of good hard work.

     Arnold knew this was the sorest of Iger's sore spots. The split between Iger and Eisner left the older partner with a lingering grudge toward his departing junior. A grudge that lasted his lifetime. Even in his later years, Iger would downplay Eisner's role in the creation of characters and contend that he was no more than a freelancer in his shop who worked on an "as-needed" basis. That Arnold took special glee in writing this paragraph is evident in his handwritten notation at the top of the copy he forwarded to Eisner.

Bill/  Maybe you better send Jerry some smelling salts and flowers. Is paragraph #5 on page 3 okay or did Jerry really develop W. Eisner?

     But he didn't stop there. He made sure to get in a few more jabs as long as he had Iger on the ropes.

As regards the $10,000 you paid Bill for his share of the business, may I remind you that I had nothing to do with this and it was a matter entirely between Wm. E. Eisner and S. M. Iger. We paid you several thousand dollars as a split on the first ten issues of HIT COMICS and NATIONAL COMICS after Bill sold out to you and you got plenty more from Scottie about the same time. So I guess the deal you made with Bill was pretty fair to you both.

     And then back to business.

Don't think there is anything personal in anything I had done, Jerry. It is strictly a matter of good business and you can readily see why I cannot afford to pay $18 and $20 per page for material any longer. And please don't get me together with Sid Klinghofer as I don't care to waste a lot of time talking about something that will have to stand as outlined above.

Incidentally, in addition to dropping the May and July issues of NATIONAL COMICS, I am also dropping the April and June issues of SMASH COMICS and POLICE COMICS. So during the weak selling spring months (March, April, May and June issues), FEATURE COMICS will be our only magazine published on a monthly basis. If business improves by next summer, I will put NATIONAL COMICS, SMASH COMICS and POLICE COMICS back on a monthly basis, otherwise I will leave them all bi-monthly magazines. 

     Business must have improved, as all three titles were back to a monthly schedule by the following summer.

I hate to take so much work away from Nordling and, if you wish me to do so, I will drop a five-page feature from CRACK COMICS and put Pen Miller in this magazine (five pages instead of four pages). But I can't afford to give you an agent's fee of more than $2 per page for Nordling's features so the price for five pages of Pen Miller will be Sixty Dollars ($60).

In closing may I ask you to deliver the balance of the material for issue No. 2 of THE DOLL MAN QUARTERLY just as soon as possible. You are nearly three months late in delivering this book with the result that we have to call issue No. 2 Spring instead of Winter. Follow up with 11 pages of Doll Man for April FEATURE COMICS (we need this just as soon as possible), then have Crandall do six pages of The Firebrand.

Sincerely yours,
Busy

     His business (and evisceration) of Iger completed, Arnold recommenced his correspondence with Eisner on January 5, 1942.

Dear Bill, 

Will you please send me the script for the next eight pages of Secret War News and one page of The Atlantic Patrol. Alden McWilliams is about ready to start working on these pages and I would like to turn over the script to him just as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours, 
Busy

P.S.
For very apparent reasons I would like to get Alden ahead on his comic magazine pages.

   Arnold's handwritten postscript reveals a concern then facing all publishers. The United States entry into the ongoing World War posed the real possibility of losing many of their artists and writers to the mandatory conscription. It made good business sense to stockpile some inventory as a buffer against the lack of artists to provide material for their comics.
   While that eventuality loomed, Arnold still had more to say about the work coming out of Eisner's shop, as in this short letter from January 13, 1942.

Dear Bill, 

Will you please have Nick spend more time on his backgrounds and eliminate the free-hand sloppy type of stuff. On the last set of Lady Luck which we sent to the engraver today, many of the backgrounds had doorways, windows, etc. done in free-hand which were pretty awful.

Sincerely yours,
Busy

P. S. 
Lady Luck for the past couple of months has been awful -- not even comic book quality.

     A similar letter dated January 26th critiqued Eisner's handling of a story-line before launching into yet another scolding about the work of Alex Kotzky.

The six pages of Espionage for SMASH COMICS which I picked up last week weren't completed. We have to do the lettering, heading and general clean up here. This was an awful set of Espionage so try to have Kotzky do a better job next month.

   By February, there was a sense of urgency to Arnold's correspondence. His letter dated February 10th covered a lot of ground. After reminding Eisner to keep Tuska working on UNCLE SAM and to get a script to McWilliams as soon as possible, Arnold once again confronts the inevitable loss of talent.

You now have Cuidera about two episodes ahead on Blackhawk as well as an extra cover for MILITARY COMICS. Better have Cuidera do a couple more covers right away, then start him on another 11 pages of Blackhawk. Try to get him as far ahead on everything as possible.

     Again on February 27, Arnold requests that Nordling get ahead on all of his features. Then, in a paragraph midway through his letter, Arnold indirectly refers to a coming editorial change.

What do you plan to do for issue No. 4 of UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY? Will you figure out the make-up of this book and have Nitkin and Bob Powell write the stories? Or should I plan to handle this? At any rate, you might have George work on the cover for the No. 4 issue (Autumn) now so it is done under your capable supervision.

     In those few lines, Arnold seems to be contemplating taking over the editorial reins from Eisner on UNCLE SAM. But why? His closing comments make the picture a bit clearer.

See you on Thursday. Hope Lou is working them so we can get quite a distance ahead on everything before you leave.

     What both Arnold and Eisner knew, why Lou Fine was apparently overseeing Eisner's comic shop, was that Eisner wasn't going to be around to run it himself.
     Eisner and Arnold had fought vigorously in the summer of 1941 to keep Eisner from being conscripted. Eisner wrote a lengthy affidavit detailing how he was solely responsible for the employment of "sixteen artists, some of whom are married". But even the inclusion of supporting affidavits from several of these artists as well as Arnold and the top executive of The Spirit's newspaper syndicate failed to convince his local draft board. He entered the Army in May, 1942.
     The relationship of Busy Arnold and Will Eisner wasn't easy to explain. They were business partners, though never quite equals. The publisher was the artist's biggest fan, though not really his friend. Arnold was a demanding client who would critically scrutinize the minutest details and a generous patron who funded their joint publishing ventures and shared ownership of various properties. The complexity of their relationship seemingly mystified even Eisner, who simply told Jim Amash, "We had a different view of each other."
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1 Amash, Jim, "I Always Felt Storytelling Was As Important As The Artwork", ALTER EGO, (May 2005), pg. 9.

2  Affidavit of William E. Eisner to Local Board No. 121, Bronx, New York.

3  Amash, op. cit., pg. 9.

11 comments:

  1. Ken this is wonderful! I'm infinitely curious... I assume these come from the collection at Ohio State University: Cartoon Research Library? That's where Andelman sourced the letters that appeared in A Spirited Life. I'm happy to see there was much more! Wish I could have made the visit while writing the Quality Companion!

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  2. Ken,

    The correspondence of Busy Arnold is fascinating and paints a picture of the times. What many fans often forget is that comic books are a business and were run as such. Those investing their money had a lot to say about the product, and while it comes off as harsh in places, I doubt its very different from other exchanges that occured in other companies.

    However harsh Arnold may have been to Eisner, its also apparent that he was aware of his great talent.

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  3. You are correct, Mike!

    These letters are from the amazing Ohio State University collection. It's a fantastic resource.

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  4. That's what struck me about these letters also, Nick. Too often we fans have a jaded view of the Golden Age and forget that it was a business.

    And Arnold was quite aware of Eisner's talent. He was willing to spend money in order to secure talent and Eisner was the prime example.

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  5. Thanks again for sharing so much behind the scenes comics history with us Ken. Wonderful stuff here - I hope there will be more letters in the future.

    Hope your health is good,
    -Yoc

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  6. Ah, I have a few more in waiting! Stay tuned!

    And my health has been pretty good as of late. Thank you for the kind words, Yoc!

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  7. Again, it's really great that you're reweaving the unravelled threads of this history.

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  8. Thank you, Daniel!

    There's much comic history yet to be uncovered and I'm happy to do my part in finding it.

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  9. Wonderful stuff, Ken! Thanks so much for all your efforts in this area.

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    1. And thank you, Mark, for the kind words!

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  10. Pretty darned cool. Busy Arnold was certainly a demanding taskmaster!

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