CAPTAIN EASYMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Newspaper Enterprise Association
First Appeared: 1929
Creator: Roy Crane
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Captain Easy is another of those characters like Nancy, Snuffy Smith and Popeye — he started out as a supporting player, and wound up taking over the strip.
The daily Wash Tubbs strip
had been running five years before Easy made the scene — in fact, it was the very first successful straight adventure strip in American newspapers. During that time, it had become well established that Wash was an adventurous little guy, but not much good in a fight. Cartoonist Roy Crane, Wash's creator, tried out a couple of bigger guys as Wash's sidekicks, but they didn't quite click. On May 6, 1929, he introduced Captain Easy — and before long, Easy was the hero and Wash was the sidekick.
Taciturn and tough, Easy was a vagabond adventurer with a mysterious background. For his first three years, all that was known about him was that he hailed from the South — and that, mainly by his habit of addressing others as "Suh". In 1932, Wash tailed him on his first visit home, and got to meet his family — and his fiance. With Easy apparently on the verge of marrying and settling down, Wash took to the road. But Easy caught up months later, and rejoined him. All Easy would ever say about the incident was that there was not going to be any marriage.
In 1933, Easy got a series of his own. Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune, started Sunday, June 11, 1933, and dealt with Easy's adventures from before he hooked up with Wash. Like Winsor McCay, whose Little Nemo in Slumberland featured dazzlingly innovative design work, Crane reveled in crafting stunning layouts for his Sunday page. He treated the entire page as a work of art in itself rather than just a collection of panels.
But in 1937, his syndicate, Newspaper Enterprise Association (which also handled Alley Oop, Our Boarding House and other venerable strips), demanded that all Sunday strips be laid out according to strict guidelines, so they could be cut up and rearranged into different formats. This modular construction of Sunday comics has been the norm ever since, only one cartoonist, Bill Watterson of Calvin & Hobbes, having succeeded in breaking free of it. Crane turned the Easy strip over to his assistant and long-time friend, Les Turner, and concentrated on the dailies. (He later said it had been a mistake for him to take on the work of doing both a daily and a Sunday.)
Meanwhile, over in the daily strip, Easy was quickly becoming the star, a process that was pretty much complete by the beginning of World War II. Easy enlisted in the U.S. Army, while Wash got married and settled down. After the war, Easy became a private detective, and had only occasional adventures with Wash.
By that time, Crane was no longer doing the strip — he'd passed the daily, as well, on to Turner in 1943, while he went over to King Features and created Buz Sawyer. The reason was ownership of his creation — NEA was the legal owner of the Tubbs/Easy strip, but King would allow him equity in his work. (A few years later, Milton Caniff would make the same career move, leaving Terry & the Pirates to create Steve Canyon.)
During the 1940s, the daily and Sunday strips merged, continuing to tell separate stories but both set in the present and both featuring Easy as the star and Wash as an inconstant sidekick. In 1949, both were retitled simply Captain Easy, although for years, many papers continued to use Wash Tubbs as the title of the daily.
Walt Scott (The Little People, Disney animation) drew Easy on Sundays, as Turner's assistant, during the 1940s and '50s. Mel Graff (Adventures of Patsy, Secret Agent X-9) began ghosting the Sunday strip in 1960. Turner retired in 1969, turning the operation over to his assistant, Bill Crooks. The strip ended in 1988.
During its six-plus decades, the Tubbs/Easy strip rarely got off the newspaper page, appearing in only a handful of Big Little Books and comic books. But even as it was ending its days in newspapers, it was picked up in reprint form by Flying Buttress Press, an imprint of NBM, which put out an 18-volume edition of the strip's Crane years. Several of those volumes are still in print, giving a new generation the chance to enjoy one of adventure comics' rip-snortin'est classics.