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.