Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One: 02/10/1957 to 01/11/1958

Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One cover

Through special arrangement with Tribune Media Services, Classic Comics Press is pleased to present Volume One of the complete Mary Perkins On Stage by Leonard Starr! Plans are to reprint this classic comic strip’s 22-year run! Each volume will contain 2 to 4 complete storylines, original art, articles on the history of the strip and its artist, and more! Volume One includes 4-Color Front & Back Covers. The first three ‘On Stage’ Storylines: February 10, 1957, to January 11, 1958. Introduction by Walter Simonson.

Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 1
Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 2
Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 3

This was plucked from my shelf and read with no idea at all what to expect from the strip or the creator. Based on the title I always assumed it was a romance strip, and after completing this volume I’m not sure what it is. Comparing it to television, I’d call Mary Perkins on stage a drama. However you choose to label it, be assured it’s entertaining.

Volume One presents four stories, all flowing well from one to the next. Mary arrives in New York from small-town America to become a star of the stage, lured to the big city by an unscrupulous talent agent who bilks young women out of their savings before sending them home. Mary has something and manages to win over someone to get herself out of the scam and pick up training along the way. A clear delineation of heroine and villain is presented, but Starr manages to blur those lines and give us rounded characters and an engaging cast early on.

While at a party Mary is spotted at a party by a famous director and her contract is bought out as she is pushed into the starring role of a play’s revival. This time it’s Mary working for the mysterious Kermit Arno, who appears to be a benefactor with a rather dark secret. While developing her craft Mary is also trying to care for a sick roommate’s medical bills. Starr creates tension and stress even though Mary is on her way to becoming a star.

After everything falls apart Mary is pursuing any part through daily auditions and becomes a coat check to pay the bills. For the second time, Mary is befriended by an older woman who helps her and shows her the ropes: this time a singer at the club she’s working at. We’re given a failed romance by way of the piano player and he takes the lead of the story and gets a career break. Mary maintains her integrity in the face of financial temptations and proves her worth as a friend.

The final story gives us a genuine love affair between Mary and photographer Pete Fletcher. Starr presents two opposites and lets it unfold as small-town Mary is swept up by world roamer Pete and a whirlwind romance leads to engagement and the eventual realities every couple must face. Like all the stories here, it’s a very serious look at the life of someone trying to break into New York show business and the trials that life presents. Mary is the straight man and center point of the strip but the entertainment comes from everyone else in her life.

Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 4
Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 5
Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 6

The strip is drawn extremely well. Being a drama without a lot of physical action the reader relies on the excellent facial and body expressions so well drawn by Starr. Backgrounds and scenes are quite detailed unless the dialogue takes over the panel. The clothing is wonderful in its detail and as a historical reference for readers looking at 1950s fashion. You can tell the Sundays were meant for colour as they lack the textures or blacks employed in the dailies.

On Stage ran seven days a week, six dailies and one Sunday. The structure Starr used was quite rigid, with the dailies made of three panels and the Sunday made of three rows with some latitude as to the number of panels per row. This collection is entirely in black and white, yet oddly the back cover presents a Sunday in full colour.

Pelto notes most of the strips come from production proofs and it shows: the strips are clean and present very well. There is the occasional dark strip but those are also noted by Pelto. An excellent overall presentation.

The design is straightforward and no-frills. The colophon page also contains the table of contents and a note from the publisher. No interior colour. Pages present the strips or Sunday and the page number; no dates or strips. This is a softcover using a glued binding of thinner matte paper stock. There is bleed-through but it doesn’t detract from the reading experience. The book lays mostly flat because of its horizontal orientation: with a glued binding I wouldn’t “crack” the spine and thankfully there’s no need to.

The ancillary material provides some context to the strips but doesn’t get bogged down in too many details. Simonson’s introduction and Pelto’s foreword each shine a light on Starr with a slightly different approach. The book closes out with some syndication advertising for the strip.

Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 7
Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 8
Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins On Stage Volume One interior 9

I used the book’s title from the colophon and not from the cover, where the dates are written out and the colophon uses only numbers.

This has multiple printings but all are sold out. If you’re lucky you’ll locate this volume in stock somewhere, but eBay may be your best bet.

I completed an emergency IT call at my local comic shop and was wrapping up when the manager asked if I would like any of the books left over from their sidewalk sale for free. Going through the box of heavily discounted books I found most of them were comic strips, including twelve volumes of Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins On Stage and most of the Fantagraphics Krazy Kat softcover run. At the time I was new to comic strips and wasn’t familiar with much of the material but who can pass up free books? I was impressed they carried these comic strips but also saddened to see no interest at all, even when discounted to $5 each.