THE COMPLEAT CANNON Wallace Wood
Introduction by Jeff Gelb
I’ll say right at the top that this title is a must-have for Wallace Wood fans in particular and comics fans in general. Beautifully produced by Fantogrphics this book collects all of Wood’s CANNON strips in one volume. Jeff Gelb provides a breezy introduction that is a fact packed survey of the 1960s “Super Spy” genre in books, movies, TV shows and comics, which brings us to CANNON, Wally Wood’s super spy.
Although I’d read several of Wood’s other ’60s and ’70s strips (“Sally Forth”, “The Misfits” and “Dragonella” found in his wonderful fanzine WITZEND) I was unfamiliar with CANNON. The strip was done for the Overseas Weekly, a newspaper produced for exclusive distribution to U.S. military bases. Printed in black and white and published in weekly installments CANNON was written, penciled and inked by Wood (with assistance from Nick Cuti).
For readers unfamiliar with Wally Wood, he was a giant of 1950s comicdom. Wood was a graduate of the School of the Visual Arts in New York City where he studied with Burne Hogarth (illustrator of the vintage TARZAN strip). He worked with the legendary Will Eisner on THE SPIRIT in the late 1940s and came into his own when he went to work for William M. Gaines’ E.C. Comics in 1950.
Wood’s reputation dates from his work at E.C. where he did strips for that company’s science fiction titles WEIRD SCIENCE and WEIRD FANTASY (he drew the famous “Sqa Tront” strip). Based on the work he did for these books he was considered the premiere science fiction comic artist of the era. Wood also did several memorable strips for MAD when it was published in comic book form. With the introduction of the Comics Code Authority and the subsequent demise of E.C. in the mid-’50s Wood turned to advertising and paperback illustration, and by the early ’60s he was working in comics again at Marvel, DC and Tower.
CANNON dates from the beginning of the last decade of Wood’s career (he died in 1981) and in the years following this strip his worked noticeably declined. But the CANNON strip shows off his talent at its finest. The stories are little more than workman-like but the art shines. Every panel is full of rich detail, the many supporting characters are individuated and the compositions are always dynamic. Wood deploys his penciling and inking marvelously when he renders facial expressions and action figures, and of course he uses Zip-A-Tone to great effect.
Also of note is that on every page of CANNON there are several panels of female nudes. In fact they occur which such frequency and in such outlandish situations that whatever prurient effect intended is rendered moot. More problematical is Cannon’s adversary Madame Toy, a Dragon Lady of the old school. To be fair, she’s not drawn as an Asian caricature but her character is little changed from the days of “Terry and the Pirates.” All the women are big breasted, but relative to contemporary renderings of female comic book characters these women don’t look like they’ve had implants, and since Wood was classically trained in artistic anatomy their breasts sag and flatten when they’re in motion or supine (which is often). That said, comic art fans can’t afford to pass this up.