Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins on Stage

With so many classic comic strips being reprinted these days, it’s tough to know which ones to try. I’d never heard of this one before, but how could I not sample a theatrical soap opera?

Mary Perkins on Stage began in February 1957 and ended in 1979. The publisher has plans to reprint in 15 volumes the entire run, completing the project in 2013.

Mary Perkins on Stage Volume 1 cover
Mary Perkins on Stage Volume 1
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This particular strip is not well-known or historically important, but it’s got quite a fan following, especially among other artists. To the modern eye, it may seem busy in all its detail and shading. It’s a classic example of the “photorealistic” school, with well-delineated faces (often with hands raised to them in shock or pain or delight). Apparently, it’s considered one of the best of that style, and that I can believe, although it requires some education and attention to fully appreciate its charms.

The panels are crowded, full of slick detail establishing the characters and their world, showing the rooms and the clothes and the hairstyles and above all, plenty of people. Mary is a pretty small-town girl who heads to New York to make it big on Broadway. Her first connection is a producer who exploits starstruck girls to take their savings with bogus lessons and makeovers.

Her pluck and talent warm even the hardest of hearts, though, and soon she’s been discovered, picked from unknown anonymity by a star-making, controlling director. Unfortunately, her debut doesn’t work out as intended, and she winds up working as a hat-check girl at a seedy nightclub. Additional ups and downs follow, with TV walk-ons and screen tests and her being selected as a cover girl randomly. (Yes, she’s the kind of wonderful, good-hearted girl whom everyone loves, so opportunities like that fall right in her lap.) Just in case trying to make it as an actress didn’t provide enough drama, there’s also insanity, a suicide attempt, a flirtation with a pianist and aspiring composer, and an engagement.

One thing that sets this volume apart from some other comic reprint books is how well it reads in collected form. Starr is frequently praised for how elegant his transitions were; often, in only three panels of the strip, he manages to remind the reader what was going on, advance it in some fashion, and then leave a hook to bring the reader back the next day. In many other cases, this results in repetition when the strips are read in great chunks, but not here.

It is also interesting to note how the strip was the way it was going to be from the beginning. There’s no ramping-up period, no finding its feet, and the soap opera quickly becomes addictive. (The second volume even more so, with a jealous has-been, a vicious critic, a criminal ingenue, the neglected actor son of an old star, being discovered by Hollywood, and a British theater ghost.) The comics are reprinted in black-and-white, with the Sunday strips getting a single page and the dailies printed three to a page. This volume also has an introduction by Walt Simonson; a short piece on Starr; and some archival promotional material. There are six volumes out so far. Classic Comics Press is also reprinting Stan Drake’s The Heart of Juliet Jones, another soap opera strip from the same period.

3 Responses to “Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins on Stage”

  1. Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins on Stage Book 5 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] kept reading this series after my earlier comments, and I’m just astounded by how engrossing I found the soap opera. […]

  2. Barbara Says:

    Wow, you’re showing your youth! I’m 59 and read “On Stage” regularly in the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Great comic and beautifully drawn.

  3. Interview With John Wells, Comic Historian, Part 2 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] has me in a state of bliss. There are too many greats to name ‘em all, but the collections of Mary Perkins: On Stage and Dick Moores’ Gasoline Alley are my […]




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