Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE COMICS - TOP 10 OF 2007

numbered, but in no particular order...

1) CHUCK DIXON: 2007 was Chuck Dixon’s triumphant return to the Batman Universe, becoming the go-to guy for Batman and the Outsiders after a sudden writer change, as well as the announced return to Robin in 2008. Maybe it was the action-packed intensity of Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood that made this veteran too hard for DC editors to ignore.

Dixon also got the comic blogs roiling when he took on the Grifter and Midnighter mini-series for Wildstorm. After all, the buzzers buzzed, how could the conservative Dixon possibly portray a gay character (Midnighter) fairly?!? Dixon was also at the helm when DC teamed with Pontiac for Rush City, a high-octane mini in which a freelance finder-of-lost-persons screams through panels in his tricked-out Solstice. Tack on a run of horror in Nightmare on Elm Street and forays of humor in various Simpsons comics, the resume for this master of genre spills out of the filing cabinet.


2) CAPTAIN AMERICA: This year was the media-blitzed Death of Captain America which made Captain America #25 the best-selling comic of the year. Ignored in all of the hype was how well writer Ed Brubaker set up the murder in the preceding months to make it less of an “event” and more of a logical story climax. It is also Brubaker, with the one-two art punch of Steve Epting and Mike Perkins, who has made the Cap-less ‘Captain America’ one of the best regular reads for eight months, built on his own storycraft and his strengthening of Cap’s supporting cast.


) JOE KUBERT: This comics master’s major project of last year, Sgt. Rock: the Prophecy made it to softcover this year. Writing as well as drawing his most lasting creation, Kubert creates a Jewish fable, as he has in much of his recent work. His art seems effortless, not softened at all by advanced age, carrying an intangible wisdom.

Also released this year was Showcase Presents: The War That Time Forgot, 560 pages of American Joes fighting dinosaurs in WWII, coming upon them in heretofore uncharted Pacific islands. Kubert got the T-Rex egg rolling with the initial stories, but the bulk of them are by an underrated Ross Andru. Robert Kanigher supplies all of the writing, though the stories soon get repetitive, with the same types of dinosaurs appearing in nearly every story, and one case of back-to-back stories that have the exact same plot.

Kubert shined moreso on another reprint collection, howcase Presents: Hawkman vol.1, which presents the early stories of the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. While the bulk of the stories are also by another artist (in this case Murphy Anderson), it was Kubert who laid the foundation for the look of the series and it’s continual cast of bizarre villains. Other than Rock, Kubert is probably most associated with his Hawkman work.

4) CONAN: Dark Horse made a smart move with the departure of fan-favorite writer Kurt Busiek by keeping series artist Cary Nord. I thought about jumping ship when writer Tim Truman came on board (nothing against Truman, but sometimes it’s cheaper to not know what you’re missing), but Nord kept a certain continuity. Truman, also, served the series by making no radical changes, with the transition being somewhat seamless. Busiek wasn’t totally gone, either, finishing his tales of a younger Conan later in the year. If you enjoy well-told adventure stories, this is still a solid read. This continues to be a high-quality series that is not tied to trends, events or other books. But it’s not stunt-free. Next year when this series hits issue 50, Dark Horse is going to restart it with issue #1.


5) ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #18: If I didn’t know who Chris Ware was, after reading this I’d think he was a one-legged woman in her ‘30s with low self-esteem and a bludgeoned personal and professional life. That is a testament to how Ware captures his protagonist and introduces ideas and thoughts so personal, you’d swear they must be autobiographical. Her internal handicaps run so deep, I sometimes forgot she was missing a leg. It makes me want to keep my internal monologue quiet, for fear that Ware, or one like him, would capture it and put it in book form.


6) COMPLETE PEANUTS 1963-1966: The Book Description on Amazon lays it out as well as anybody. The 1963-64 book has 150 never-before reprinted strips, which is monumental when you consider that ‘Peanuts’ is the most reprinted comic strip ever. The 1965-66 book pits Snoopy against the Red Baron, launches Snoopy’s continually rejected writing career and introduces Peppermint Patty. The entire series is essential, but don’t miss out on the era that was a career high for Charles Schulz.


7) HELLBOY: DARKNESS CALLS Hellboy finds himself the pawn of witches who want to make him their king. At the same time, his old enemy Baba Yaga has unleashed a warrior who cannot be killed to bring her the head of Hellboy. At the same time, a talking hog and his cronies endeavor to dig up a long-buried crate which houses the remains of the Queen of Witches. A lot to chew on, as always, with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola writing the script, but handing over the art chores to a well-equipped Duncan Fegredo. This caused a critical stir, but didn’t bother me a whit.



8) BETTIE PAGE RULES!: Well, it's not really a comic, but I did get it in a comics shop, and the rules here on the list are pretty lax. Plus, it's got some beautiful illustrations by Jim Silke, so it's an art book in any event. Silke not only celebrates '50s uber pin-up Bettie Page here, he gives us a fascinating pictorial play-by-play of the proliferation of men's magazines after WWII. He also delves into the changing movie scene of the time, with Europe introducing more nudity. This is adults-only fare, but with a historical bent. Like Playboy, it's a thinking man's nudity (yeah, the wife might buy into that).

9) TRAPDANCING: THE AYM GERONIMO COLLECTION: Ok, truth time. I've read the individual stories but not the collection as I just got it from my pal, artist Todd Fox, this past weekend. TRAPDANCING collects the short stories that appeared in various anthologies and one-shots by creators Fox and writer J. Morgan Neal. Geronimo and her squad of "Post-Modern Pioneers" are all-purpose adventurers of the world-saving variety. It's not just making the list because Todd's a friend and I know having his work collected is a long-time dream of his comics career. This is solid stuff by guys whose love of comics is evident in what they bring to the reader. This book is not available in stores but can be ordered via the link.

10) MEANWHILE...:A BIOGRAPHY OF MILTON CANIFFWhat can I say that I didn’t already say here?

Monday, December 24, 2007

merry christmas

Every year I sing "The Christmas Ham" on ICN6, a local origination station for Insight Cable subscribers in Northern Kentucky. This was my 6th or 7th time doing it. The host is well-known Cincinnati TV personality Nancy James.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 2007

Raising Sand - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss



       The pairing of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant immediately seemed like a cool idea to me. Throw producer T-Bone Burnett into the mix, and you've got a must-have album. I originally picked this up for my wife, Jill, who's a big Alison Krauss fan, but later commandeered it for my own evil review purposes.  
Krauss and Plant make a convincing duet couple, whether the music is ethereal or a bouncing honky-tonk.  Their harmonizing on "Killing the Blues" is the closest I've come to a religious musical experience in awhile.  This is solid ground for Krauss, with some of the music echoing her work with Burnett on the 'Cold Mountain' soundtrack.  Plant is the one off the reservation, but sounds right at home in this world that has a roots country flavor.  Of course, he proved himself an adaptable singer long ago.  Krauss is not without surprises herself, channeling Dolly Parton on "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson" and playing the male role on that song as well as "Through the Morning".
T-Bone Burnett can do no wrong.  High off a decade of successes like 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?', 'Cold Mountain', and 'Walk the Line', he evokes memories of those earlier projects through his production and inventive instrumentation.  But it's Krauss and Plant who are center stage here, carrying the listener with them on their vocal journey.

Memory Almost Full - Paul McCartney


To make this list I just looked at the new stuff I bought in 2007 and thought, "What 5 do I want to hear?" 'Memory Almost Full' falls short of 2005's 'Chaos & Creation', but it's still a well-crafted album with plenty to enjoy. Few do symphonic-tinged pop like Macca, and "Feet in the Clouds" is the highlight of the set. Other choice nuggets are the powerful thrum of "House of Wax" and the story of the determinedly suicidal "Mr. Bellamy". The rest is a solid listen, except for the indulgent screecher, "Nod Your Head", that closes the album.

Not many of us get to write our own epitaph, but McCartney does in "The End Of The End". It's his message to those who'll mourn him after he's gone - don't be sad when I die because this life was great. It's no career coda, though, as it's clear that this music legend, even at 65, has more music coming our way.

The Distant Future EP - Flight of the Conchords


The best show on TV in 2007 is one of the best albums of 2007, well, ok, it's a 5-song EP. But, you can download plenty of Flight of the Conchords other stuff off of the web and make your own albums. "Business Time" stars a clueless boyfriend in a groove reminiscent of Beck circa 'Midnite Vultures'. "What Your Into" is another boyfriend, this time a guy who rides the dichotomy of being sexually tentative and overly forward. "I'm Not Crying" is a parody of an overwrought '70s ballad, with choice lines like "How come we've reached this fork in the road yet it cuts like a knife." Then we meet "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room", who's so hot she "could be a part-time model". "Robots" is their tour-de-force, an epic tale told from the point of view of the robots in the distant future after they've killed all of the humans - "We used poisonous gases and we poisoned their asses." I have seen the future of novelty music, and it's name is Flight of the Conchords...if the robots don't kill us all.

Bruce Springsteen - Magic

I wrote a review that I was somewhat proud of for this disc, but my computer ate it somehow.  I was pretty depressed about losing it, actually. So, here's a link to the Rolling Stone review. The reviewer said some of what I wanted to get across, but I had less sermonizing. It's tough to be a Republican and like Bruce Springsteen. Rolling Stone doesn't have to worry about that.


Strange Weirdos: songs from and inspired by the film 'Knocked Up' - Loudon Wainwright III


I lost this one, too. Here's a review from the BBC. This reviewer had a different take on the album because he hasn't seen the movie. I think if you juxtapose it with the movie, you have a better understanding of it thematically. We both agree it's another great collection from this aged but unbowed singer-songwriter.

Hey! Matt wants to know your Top 5. Leave a comment below!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

BEATLE NEWS ROUNDUP

BEATLE NEWS...BEATLE NEW...BEATLES NEWS...

A LOCK of John’s hair was the highlight of a recent UK auction. The hair was given to hairdresser Betty Glasgow in 1965, who worked with the moptops on ‘Help!’. Given by Lennon with a copy of his book, he inscribed it “To Betty – lots of love and hair”


TIME Magazine has 10 questions for Ringo Starr

A JOHN Lennon charity Christmas card for Oxfam from 1965 is available again

RINGO'S new studio album, Liverpool 8, is due out January 15th. Ringo will promote the album on the CBS Early Show on January 11th, which will broadcast live from Liverpool.

MACCA will tour Australia in 2008. He's also going to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Phonographic Industry.

WU TANG Clan's latest album, 8 Diagrams features George's son Dhani on "The Heart Gently Weeps", which is based on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".

RECENT DVDs

The McCartney Years
HELP!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CANIFF OHIO STATE EXHIBITS



The Cartoon Research Library at the Ohio State University is hosting RARITIES: Unusual Works from the Caniff Collection through January 19th. I visited this exhibit in October, along with 'Milton Caniff: American Master + School of Caniff', which was shown in OSU's Hopkins Hall Gallery + Corridor from October 8-28th. A generous amount of pictures from the Hopkins Hall show can be seen here. I regret now that I didn't take any notes or pictures (which I don't think are allowed) for the Rarities exhibit. The items that stick out in my mind are the watercolor (shown on the link), illustrated letters that Caniff wrote to his wife, Bunny, and a cartoon by Jules Feiffer.

The Feiffer cartoon is interesting because it's a direct response to a Vietnam-era 'Steve Canyon' strip in which Canyon is trying to corral a large group of war protesters at his military base. Canyon espouses the belief that it's every Americans right to protest, just so long as he can prove U.S. citizenship! Feiffer, although an admirer, lampoons the idea. The inclusion of the Feiffer cartoon tied the two shows together, with the 'Canyon' Sunday in question being part of the Hopkins Hall show.

Of course the thrill for me was seeing all of the original art...more Caniff originals than I'd ever seen before at one time. I lost track of how long I spent walking around the exhibit, leaving it, and then walking back in again. It was a real treat to see how Caniff made a correction, or drew webbing around Happy and Steve.



The "School of Caniff" exhibit was a nice idea, showcasing Caniff's many artistic artistic progeny, such as one time assistant Ray Bailey and Johnny Hazard's Frank Robbins.

Another treat at the show were the showcases full of mint condition Steve Canyon toys. When the Canyon TV show debuted in the late '50s, there was plenty of merchandising to kids. Here's something I've lusted for in my heart, a complete, unused edition of the board game.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

CANIFF OHS EXHIBIT


The Ohio Historical Society has an exhibit on Milton Caniff at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus. Spotlight on Milton Caniff runs through March 2nd. I was able to see it as part of my "Caniff Day" back in October.

The exhibit does not concentrate on his art, but rather on artifacts from his life and some of his tools of the trade, displayed in a series of showcases. I found this collection of weapons, which Caniff used for reference, to be of particular interest. He was a stickler for detail, and so were his devoted readers. Weapons, uniforms, and military equipment all had to be right because part of the realism of the strip hinged on Caniff's accuracy.

Center stage at the exhibit is a continuous slideshow that uses blow-up panels, along with limited animation, from a biographical strip by Caniff to tell his story as he did, in brief. To coincide with the exhibit, a Caniff cover story highlights their quarterly magazine, TIMELINE. The magazine article is by Lucy Shelton Caswell, friend of Caniff and curator of the Cartoon Research Library, which I'll write about next time.

If Caniff's not your thing, you can always visit the other museum exhibits, such as the mammoth skeleton or the two-headed calf.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

MID-OHIO CON REPORT

While many folks post-Thanksgiving tradition is going shopping, mine is Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus, Ohio. It was the second year for this long-running comics convention to be held at the convention center. Last year it appeared near-desolate, a far cry from the cramped but bustling environs of the Hilton at Easton Town Centre, it’s location before the move downtown. This year seemed slightly busier, but the relaxed vibe may be great for the attendee like me and not so great for the exhibitors and dealers. The weekend and the location may contribute, but I think what the show lacks is a superstar comics guest.

One of the benefits of low attendance was not having to wait behind more than one person anytime I wanted to get an autograph from one of the creative guests. In attendance were several of Marvel’s creators from the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Ron (The Thing) Wilson, Keith (Captain America) Pollard, Rich (Astonishing Tales) Buckler and Michael (The ‘Nam) Golden. Of the group, none but Golden have worked in comics for a long time and he not without controversy. All were nice to me, and Golden was particularly gracious, but Buckler does nothing to dispel his long-ago reputation as a swipe artist by selling Jim Lee-esque prints of Wolverine and Punisher (possibly trying to seem relevant to the comics audience of 12 years ago).

A highlight for me was seeing Sergio Aragon├ęs again. He’s one of those greats where if he draws it I’ll buy it. His upcoming projects include a return to his Western hero, Bat Lash. I think it’s interesting that Sergio, so long associated with MAD Magazine, is writing it and the artist is John Severin, who drew for decades for MAD’s rival, Cracked Magazine.

It’s also always good to see Dave Aikins. Dave has drawn numerous Dora books and every time I see him I get something for my nephews. This year I bought a book for Noah as well.

Then there’s that general show ambience – seeing the same dealers every year, being surrounded by old comics, fans in their homemade costumes, the denizens of Artists’ Alley with their small press and big dreams. I was glad to see my old employer Comic Book World setting up at the convention (and having a good deal on some recent comics).

The lowlight of the show was lack of a coat check, a service they’d had in earlier years. I think last year it was warmer, but this year it was freezing. It was a huge pain to carry around my bulky coat, which led to me stopping and looking at dealer booths less and spending less money. I complained to show owner Roger Price and he said they didn’t have a side room to put a coat check. I think it would be pretty simple to create your own coat check room in the convention space, just like exhibitors create their own booths.

The worst part of the show was that I shouldn’t have gone at all. My wife, Jill, was sick, so I stayed home Saturday, but I should have skipped Sunday as well. But I had convinced myself she could get by without me. So I’d like to apologize to her (and not just because she’s one of my few subscribers) and give a big thanks to her family who filled-in for me so I could fondle some funnybooks. In the future I’ll do what I can to not be such a selfish yutz.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

MEANWHILE...a review emerges from the shadows


My wife was skeptical when I showed her the book I was about to read. Though an avid comics reader, I had become notoriously slow at reading books where the words weren't in balloons matched with pictures. My excitement at cracking open this 900+ page treasure trove was tempered by Jill's fear that I would take this tome to the tomb. Luckily my goal of reading it in one month merely doubled.


Biographer R.C. Harvey gives the Caniff fan what he always wanted - a long overdue detailed story of the amazing life of one of America's greatest cartoonists. A man who enriched the lives of millions, at home and abroad, as well as the devotion, respect and admiration of his peers. A man who lived at a time when cartoonists could be celebrities. A man who capitalized on every entertainer's dream, from public recognition to mass appeal ascending into phenomenon. Even as the popularity of Caniff's work descends, his reputation as the elder statesman of comics soars. For all of this, Harvey puts us in the studio with Caniff, not only a fly on the wall, but an eye in the inkwell.

Harvey's narrative doesn't stutter and spurt on names and dates, though there are plenty of those. He passes them through on the flow of the narrative, making Caniff's workaholic, repetitive schedule anything but mundane. Harvey's brilliance in this book lies in his ability to provide context. To know Caniff as a boy we learn about Hillsboro, Ohio in the early 20th century. When Caniff is getting drawings published we learn the history of the comic strip, illuminated to this comics historians eyes in a new light. For a Caniff trying to get a job, we learn about the newspaper business. Throughout, we see Caniff's place in history. But through the changes of history, we are presented with a constant - the unending effort, over some six decades, needed to produce an illustrative strip every day of the year and, not just that, to promote it at every opportunity. The illustrations, Caniff's lifeblood, are generously supplied at the end of each chapter, or within the chapter to illustrate a point.


It's hard to recommend this book to a general audience. Being such a Caniff fanatic may enjoin me from proper perspective. Other than Caniff fans, I can only recommend this to those interested in the history of comics, but then those folks are no doubt already Caniffites of a stripe, thin to wide. It's a shame there's no inexpensive Caniff primer. The current reprinting of 'Terry' may be too expensive for the novice. I enjoy the 'Steve Canyon' reprints from Checker, though they have been criticized for the small size of the reproduction. You may want to check with your library (the system in my county has the first couple of volumes).

It will be strange not to be toting this book around the house. As my spine straightens back out I have to go start that new Charles Schulz biography.

Friday, November 9, 2007

WHO IS/WAS MILTON CANIFF?


Milton Caniff was the greatest adventure comic strip artist of all time. Before radio and television, most people got their news from newspapers. A strong selling point of the paper was the comics section, and a big part of that was a daily dose of adventure from comic strips that told adventure stories in a daily continuity. Strips were printed at a much larger size, and one comic strip on Sunday might take up the whole page. Caniff, with his eye-catching artwork, clever plotlines, snappy dialogue and attention to realism, is regarded as the master of the adventure strip. He's best known for his two titanic triumphs, Terry & the Pirates and Steve Canyon. Caniff achieved his greatest notoriety during WWII, where his strips and newspapers flourished in tandem with radio (there was even a 'Terry' radio drama). 'Canyon', initiated with a big media splash in 1949, continued into the 1980s, surviving declining newspaper readership and the shrinking of the comics page until Caniff's death in 1988.
Caniff is was born in Hillsboro, Ohio, raised in Dayton, and cut his art teeth in Columbus, working for the Dispatch while attending OSU. Caniff's art, letters and papers were the foundation for OSU's Cartoon Research Library.

I write all this by way of introduction because I have more to post about Caniff. Born in 1907, this is the Caniff centennial, marked by events at OSU and the long-awaited release of Caniff's biography by R.C. Harvey, a 900+ page epic that I'm about 8/9 of the way through.

So, all I can say is 'more to come', though likely haphazardly. That's why I encourage you to subscribe. Checking back for posts will just frustrate you.

WHO IS(N'T) MATT TAUBER?

I used to be able to Google myself and find myself. Maybe it was a post on a message board or some extraneous mention of me by a friend on the web. Sometimes I would find other Matt Taubers, which I thought was cool. It's like when I was a kid and when we went on vacation, I'd always check the phone book for our last name (yes, I was a fun kid!). A couple of years ago I started seeing my name more often, but attached to another me who was directing a film. Uh oh.

Now it's happened. I Google myself and all I get is Matt Tauber the director (of 2006's 'The Architect', which reminds me I need to rent that). But, hey, I'm also Matt Tauber, right? I may not make movies, but I have my own voice. I used to be on unrated local cable television, for Pete's sake. And not just for Pete, but all his friends as well.

So, I'm not too clear on how this web thing works, but I figure having my name in the title gets me back on Google, maybe at or near the top of page two of the search. But don't kid yourselves that this is a vanity project. I have ideas for posts that may interest a half dozen people or so. I'm doing it for them.

MILTON CANIFF'S HILLSBORO



Milton Caniff was born in Hillsboro, Ohio. Last month I made a sort of pilgrimage there to see the Caniff sights, many of which are described in Harvey's biography, Meanwhile. It's also where the Ohio Historical Society placed a marker to honor Caniff -



The marker was placed in 2003 and is in front of a library. I asked the librarian if she knew why this site was chosen. Even though she'd been with the library at the time, she wasn't sure (and that was that). I had many addresses for the Caniff sites, but one I didn't was the Western Union office where Caniff had worked as a boy. I asked the librarian if they had a city directory for Hillsboro around 1920. She said if they did it would be in the Genealogy section, which she gestured towards (and that was that).

My next stop was the Caniff home, on 149 E North Street. Here is the home as it was then and today -



I then went to Webster School, where Caniff attended some elementary grades. It looked to have been completely redone since he'd been there, with only the tall part of the building looking original. Today, the school has been replaced and sits empty.


Next stop was the Episcopal Church where the Caniff's attended, for which, according to Harvey, Caniff's grandfather laid the cornerstone (I couldn't find the cornerstone, perhaps owing to to the greenery around the base of the church). Milton attended kindergarten at the Parish School here.



It was edifying to see some of the sights that were still there from Caniff's youth: the courthouse, the war monument, and the opera house. What he could not enjoy was a Frisch's Big Boy, which I ordered to go as I exited the small town charm of Hillsboro, Ohio, which hasn't forgotten its most famous son.