Saturday, January 31, 2009
Lucy Caswell is one of the most prominent women in comics. It's a male-dominated field, maybe more so than any other creative industry, on both the creative side and the fan side. Sadly for us comic geeks, there aren't that many women in comics. So, what's a, uh, girl doing with every fanboy's dream job? "I’ve always been a consumer and a historian. Editorial cartoons are actually one of the things I’m most interested in because I see them as historical documents. At the time that I started, there weren’t really the kinds of resources to teach and learn about comics that we have now. So I basically had to make it up as we went along. There just wasn’t anything else out there. As a good librarian and scholar I started writing around to other places that said they had cartoon collections to see how they did things, because you don’t want to reinvent the wheel if somebody’s already figured it out. It turned out that nobody had the kind of thing that we had in the Caniff collection, i.e. so extensive, and the combination of art and manuscript materials. And nobody else was trying to grow it the way we were."
Growing the collection beyond the work of Caniff was difficult early on, having to fight skepticism in the comics field: "I think it’s important for me to say that one of the things that I am most grateful for is that Caniff lived until 1988 and served as our advocate. Because when you’re trying to start something from nothing, people say, [dismissively] “Oh, yeah.” And we were additionally handicapped by the fact that another university had, in the ‘60s, built a very fine collection of cartoon art. It’s a fabulous collection, and basically they had locked it up when the person interested in that left [the university]. So, there was a really sour taste in the mouths of many cartoonists about universities saying they were going to build a cartoon collection. So, for somebody like Milton Caniff to say, ‘My university won’t do that’, really made a huge difference. He convinced Selby Kelly to put Walt Kelly’s papers here; and we got the NCS archives...and Will Eisner’s papers; so those three giant things that happened during his lifetime."
Caniff passed away in 1988, but not before seeing the library expand and flourish, and not before building a lasting friendship with the custodian of his legacy: "I will say I miss him still. He was a wonderful storyteller. He had a wonderful sense of humor, a great laugh, and twinkling, naughty blue eyes. You just to had to smile when he smiled. It was a real privilege to know him. That’s the best fringe benefit of my job, of course, is knowing cartoonists. I sort of started out at the top with one of what everybody would tell you was one of the nicest human beings, on a personal level. He did have an Irish temper, but he controlled it very well. He would talk about being angry. I never saw him angry. It was a real privilege to know him."
Evidence of the value of the Library as a research facility is evident in the recent series of 'Terry & the Pirates' reprint volumes, which wouldn't be possible without the Caniff archives: "We work rather closely with them. Dean [Mullaney] and Bruce [Canwell] have come here a number of times doing research, not only for that series but for their Sickles book. They’re just beautiful books and I wish that Milton could see how lovingly they are being put together because it’s the kind of presentation of his work that I think it merits. It really does what it ought to do to celebrate what he created. I think it’s nice to have the work packaged this way for a variety of reasons. Somebody called me last week to talk about graphic novels and when could we say they started. How do we define them? I was arguing with him that when you see ‘Terry & the Pirates’ like this, in these reprint books, that’s an exciting graphic novel if you want to think about it that way. The fact that Milton always conceived his comic strips as features for grown-up people gives some additional weight to the argument that they can be read in that way. They just weren’t presented that way the first time around. This makes that work accessible to a new generation of readers who like to see this format. I think if they really think about when it was written and what it does, they should enjoy it. It’s still a page turner.
Friday, January 30, 2009
One of my annual haunts is a visit to the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University. Recently renamed the Cartoon Research Library and Museum, it has been guided for its entire existence by its curator, Lucy Shelton Caswell. Caswell is a visionary and pioneer in cartoon research, having taken a collection of boxes and formed a modern, massive, workable archive of cartoon history. The foundation of the library is the Milton Caniff collection, the papers and art of an Ohio State grad and the greatest adventure comic strip artist of all. I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Caswell recently. She told me how it all began: "I know that, in the ‘70s, the Library of Congress had approached Caniff for his papers. I don’t know if he came to Novice Fawcett [OSU President, 1956-72] or if Novice Fawcett got wind of that and talked to Caniff. I don’t know which way it went. But, it is accurate to say that Caniff loved his university very much and truly believed that without the education he got here he would not have achieved the things that he did. So, his sense of gratitude to the university was palpable."
The Caniff collection arrived over a period of several years, and the library itself had humble beginnings. It was decided that the collection fell under the purview of the School of Journalism, which was headed by Caswell: "Somebody had to be responsible to make sure it was all there and all the boxes had my name on it. When funding was made available to work on Caniff, I was offered a six month appointment. I’ve been here ever since. The original collection was housed in the Journalism building. When I started working with it, we were in two classrooms that had been converted, a door cut between them, so that one was a reading room and one was a storage area. At that point, the collection consisted of the materials that had been stored in Dayton at his mother’s home. When she died, all that came here. So, it was mainly ‘Terry & the Pirates’ stuff, because the other materials were in California at his studio in Palm Springs and in New York City in that studio. We got things gradually. When they closed the studio in Palm Springs we got a big shipment and then after Caniff’s death. It wasn’t the final shipment because another batch of stuff had been stored with Willie Tuck, his longtime assistant. So, I had to go up to upstate New York and get that one. So it was really very dispersed and that’s one of the challenges in processing this kind of collection."
Even though the bulk of her collection has been in her hands over twenty years, keeping the catalog accessible at the pace of modern technology has been a challenge: "It’s very difficult if you don’t know that you have everything related to something when you’re trying to get it organized. We are delighted that finally as of this year to have the EAD online searchable finding aid through OhioLINK, which means it’s available worldwide. This is a major accomplishment for us because it’s such a huge collection...The technology is finally making it possible for us to do some things that a few years ago couldn’t have been done. When we started, we were typing cards on manual typewriters. To think that we know have the virtual capability that we have is marvelously exciting."
Check back in a week for Part 2 of my interview with Lucy Caswell!
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The 6th and final volume of 'Terry & the Pirates' is being released this week from the Library of American Comics. I figured it was time to get the inside scoop from series editor Dean Mullaney while the series was still fresh in our minds and hearts. I thought we should go back to the beginning and find out where the idea of reprinting 'Terry' began. "I originally planned to reprint ‘Terry’ in the ‘80s not long after I started Eclipse Comics," Mullaney explains. "So the format we’re using now, which is the color Sundays followed by three dailies, three dailies and the color Sunday again, that was a format I came up with more than 25 years ago. I was going to do it then, but then NBM came out with the black and white books. We were all grateful at the time that NBM did them because that was the first time the entire Caniff series had been reprinted. Luckily I’ve lived long enough that I’ve got the chance to do it the way I’ve always wanted it to be. ‘Terry’ has always been my favorite strip, so for me to do it now is just a thrill."
Before the NBM reprints in the 1980s, no one under 50 had ever seen anything close to a complete run of 'Terry & the Pirates'. It was hard to be a Caniff & 'Terry' fan, but dogged comics lovers, like Dean Mullaney, somehow found a way: "Growing up in New York, I was fortunate that we had conventions earlier than many parts of the country. Phil Seuling ran these monthly marketplaces, which were basically these little mini-conventions. It was a great place to buy old comics. You’re looking around through all the dealer tables and people would have clipped strips. I knew about ‘Terry & the Pirates’, but I had never read an extended run because it wasn’t available. Then in the ‘70s there were those Nostalgia Press books, those three or four books that Nostalgia published. Those are the introduction...that for most people my age, I’m 54, was the first time that we really saw it in an extended strip."
With this week's release, a complete run of 'Terry & the Pirates' can be enjoyed again by a new and wider audience. The strips are beautifully reprinted, with extra attention paid to faithfully reproducing the color Sunday strips. Most of the Sunday strips are from Mullaney's own collection, while the source of the dailies is the Cartoon Research Library and Museum (the Library and its staff are thanked in each volume). A smart addition to each volume is several articles of introductory material. For Mullaney, this was imperative: "Bruce Canwell, who’s been writing them, he’s my associate editor, and I put at least an equal amount of thought and time into researching and preparing the introductory material as we do the strips because I think it’s important, especially for new readers...to give the historical perspective and tell Milton Caniff’s story as the story of the strip. I think it adds a lot to it. Especially since the majority of the readers, the people buying the books, have never read the strips before. The feedback we're getting, it seems as though the vast majority, is from people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We get a fair amount of handwritten letters, which are obviously from older collectors. But to me it’s fantastic to introduce Caniff to a whole new generation or two of new people."
Like the younger generations, the 'Terry' books came out at a fast pace, falling quarterly since late 2007. I wondered why he didn't go with two a year, like the Complete Peanuts series. Mullaney was emphatic:"I wanted to get them done. I’ve been waiting 25 years to do it. I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to do one a year or two a year. They came out on roughly a quarterly schedule. I wanted to get them done for myself and I wanted to get them done for all the readers. Since these are the first books that I’ve done after being away from comics for 12 years, I thought it was important to get the series out on an aggressive schedule to show people that the books in the imprint were going to be coming out on time."
Dean Mullaney's life has now become one of too many great strips and not enough time to do them all. His schedule is set until 2011, currently continuing the reprints of Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy, and getting ready to launch Alex Raymond's 'Rip Kirby' in November. Mullaney admits, closing the book on his favorite strip, the greatest of all adventure strips, is going to be tough: "As soon as I sent that sixth book to the printer, I already missed working on them. I was hoping I could do another one. In the meantime I’ll enjoy reading and re-reading them, which is what I’ve done for the last 25 years. I’ve probably read the entire Milton Caniff run once ever year or two years. It gets better every time I read it."
photo (top): Matt with Dean Mullaney (taken by Ted Haycraft)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I don't like to get political here on the ol' blog. That's for my blogging pal Jeff (though he recently encroached on my territory). Back to the comic books next time out.
You may have heard that President Obama traveled to his inauguration about a train, taking the route that fellow Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln took in 1861. I read it myself from these news sources -
Barack Obama arrived in Washington at the end of a whistle-stop train trip along the frigid mid-Atlantic seaboard that tracked Abraham Lincoln's historic route and brought the president-elect a step closer to inauguration.
Crowds are expected to gather at numerous spots, including overpasses, parking lots and commuter train stations, as Obama retraces the journey of Abraham Lincoln, who also rode to his inauguration on a train from Philadelphia.
Jan. 17: Tracing the train route Abraham Lincoln took nearly a century and a half ago, President-elect Barack Obama embarked on the final leg of his inaugural journey to the nation's capital.
Tracking Lincoln's historic path to Washington by riding a vintage railcar on his whistle-stop trip...
I was intrigued by the initial mentions because I knew he wasn't coming to my city of Cincinnati (as Lincoln had). Then I thought maybe he was taking the route of Lincoln's funeral train, which retraced the inaugural route, but bypassed Cincinnati (much to our umbrage, though we did send a delegation to Columbus). Upon further reading I learned that Obama was not doing the whole route. Then I realized he wasn't really doing the route at all.
Obama started in Philadelphia, which was the 21st of 24 stops for Lincoln [click map to enlarge]. Obama's train then went to Wilmington, Delaware to pick up Joe Biden before proceeding to Baltimore. Lincoln also went to Baltimore, but only after stopping in Harrisburg. Both Obama and Lincoln went from Baltimore to Washington. So, to say that Obama traced or tracked Lincoln's route is true in that both men went by train from Baltimore directly to Washington, having come previously from Philadelphia. Why not just as well compare him to Woodrow Wilson? I don't know the exact route, but I'm sure Wilson didn't walk from Princeton.
Maybe it's splitting hairs, but that's history, right? What draws my ire is the frenzy to compare Obama and Lincoln, sort of 'The Next Lincoln' or 'Liked Lincoln? You'll Love Obama!' The attempt to join his image in the public mind with that of the most revered and honored president in history is to further raise Obama beyond expectations that no human could hope to fill. To do so through obfuscation and omission is a fraud and a hoax.
The Wall Street Journal has a nice overview of the tradition of presidents, from Tippecanoe to Ike, traveling to their inauguration by train. But the Journal also chooses to focus on the Lincoln angle, while only touching on the better comparison, historically - FDR. FDR's train route, while starting in New York, actually did stop in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, in that order, ending in DC. A country in an economic crisis kicks out the blamed political party overwhelmingly in favor of the man who would save them all.
But FDR is out for the media because he connotes 'Big Government' for many, and while Obama believes government is a fixer of social ills, he doesn't want you to think he's in favor of 'Big Government'. What he calls having government "work smarter" or "better", others call government expansion. What he calls the government giving help, others might call government intrusion. Lincoln's politics, however, are amorphous. He's a uniter of a divided country, a releaser of sufferers from bondage...more than a man, an intangible.
Friday, January 9, 2009
* John Ellis has announced the latest release of the Steve Canyon on DVD project. Volume Two is available now for pre-order (box art above is for Volume One, which is currently available on the same site).
* The National Aviation Hall of Fame has announced the 2009 honorees. Every year they award the Milton Caniff Spirit of Flight Award. The award is given every year to a group or entity that has contributed to aviation heritage. This year's honorees are the Apollo astronauts.
* The Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University is home to the Milton Caniff Collection of papers and original art. Last year, the International Museum of Cartoon Art went bankrupt and had to close. What to do with 200,000 pieces of original art? They've been acquired by the Cartoon Research Library, which this month has announced a name change to the Cartoon Library and Museum. While their current gallery space (pictured above) is not very big, hopefully they will be able to find larger permanent display space in the near future. Learn more about the Library when I interview it's chief, Lucy Shelton Caswell, later this month.
* The LA Times' Geoff Boucher has a new profile of Hugh Hefner. Part of the profile covers Hefner's love and failed ambition for cartooning, which is the reason Playboy has always been a showcase for magazine cartoonists and now, along with the New Yorker, the last haven for them. Boucher writes -
I asked him what illustrators he admired the most. "Milton Caniff first and foremost. I actually got got Caniff for Playboy. During World War II, Caniff did a comic strip called Male Call with a very sexy lady named Miss Lace; it was in ‘Stars & Stripes' and ‘Yank’, and it was for the service guys. I knew that some of them had been rejected for being too sexy. So when I started Playboy in summer of 1953, I wrote to Caniff and asked if I could reprint some of the strips, and I asked whether he would supply me with the ones that had been censored and not printed. Those appear in the second issue of Playboy. So my idol, for no particular reason, said yes to a kid that had this impossible dream and was puttering together the first issue of Playboy with literally just $8,000 and no hope."
Hefner reprinted five of the 'Male Call' strips, as well as the art for strips never printed. Caniff sent a letter of thanks to Hef, which was printed in the March issue -
In R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, which has a generous reprinting of 'Male Call' strips, Harvey told of how the 'Male Call' strips were scrutinized by a Col. Forsberg, the head of Camp Newspaper Services, who sometimes had to say "No" to strip -
"Many of Forsberg's victims saw print in one forum or another in the years after the War. In June 1953, a young man named Hugh Hefner wrote to Caniff for permission to reproduce some of the 'Male Call' strips in an early issue of a magazine he was planning to call 'Stag Party':"We think a lot of ex-G.I.s have a warm spot in their hearts for Miss L (we admit to one ourselves) and would enjoy seeing her again." Hefner also asked if there were any rejected strips available. By then, Caniff had lost track of the original art, but he mailed some photostatic prints that had been used in connection with an exhibit." (click to enlarge)
This, as far as I can tell, is Bill Watterson's first editorial cartoon for the Cincinnati Post. It is from June 18, 1980. The cartoon is based on an event from two days earlier when local phone monopoly Cincinnati Bell had a phone system breakdown caused an upgrade to computer instructions. While only 2 1/2% of customers were affected, most of the 25,000 phones that went down for over three hours included major downtown businesses, making it a bigger story than it might have been.
Friday, January 2, 2009
This is a list of TV actors and creators who passed in 2008. I only list those who worked on shows that I've watched. It's not a comprehensive list, but I've watched a lot of TV.