Thursday, March 26, 2009


Until a few years ago, Noel Sickles was just a name you heard now and then, usually in relation to Milton Caniff. Artists would cite him as an influence in their interviews, but little was known or seen of Sickles and his work. His comic strip, 'Scorchy Smith', was forgotten by all but the more ardent adventure strip enthusiasts. Reprints, such as a couple books from the '70s, were scarce, though Big Fun Comics made a nice run at in the past few years. So when Scorchy Smith & the Art of Noel Sickles was released last year, it was received with enthusiasm and absorbed with wonderment.

The Sickles/Caniff relationship was well-detailed, like everything else, in R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, Meanwhile.... This new Sickles book, written by Bruce Canwell, explored the artist's life and work in a depth that had never been attempted. The part of the biography that stuck out for me was his native years in Chillicothe, Ohio. Having been to Caniff's native Hillsboro, the prospect of making the trek to nearby Chillicothe was irresistible.

Chillicothe, Ohio is not only the birthplace of Sickles, but also of Billy Ireland, a longtime cartoonist at the Columbus Dispatch and a mentor to both Sickles and Caniff. To the general public, though, Chillicothe is known as the original capital of Ohio and the home of Mead Paper. Sickles worked for Mead, providing cartoons for the company newsletter. I didn't take a picture of the paper mill, now significantly changed from when he would have worked there. I did visit the Carnegie Library. (pictured) The library, built in 1907, was where Sickles would spend many hours in the art stacks, studying the great masters. What must it have been like for a young man with artistic ambition in a small town? Here was this brand new resource, with books full of art to fuel his obsession with improving his style and technique. It’s interesting to think about now, with the Carnegie a century-old relic in a time where we take libraries for granted. It’s hard to say how much of an impact his time at this library had on his artistic pursuits. Perhaps if not for a Carnegie grant, Noel Sickles might have ended up staying at Mead Paper, drawing the occasional cartoon for a laugh.

This is the Sickles home in Chillicothe, or, rather, the house at that address. I don't have a picture of the original and didn't check the city real estate records. Needless to say a lot has probably changed in 100 years. The nearby railroad tracks that still exist and the railroad yards of yesteryear were Sickles stomping ground of youthful exploration.

The final stop for me was Sickles' as well. Grandview Cemetery is best known as the final resting place of four Ohio governors, including the first, Edward Tiffin. It is also home to the remains of two cartoonists - Billy Ireland and Noel Sickles. Sickles grave is part of the larger family plot, along with his parents, some siblings and spouses. Sickles grave marker is interesting in the amount of information it conveys beyond name and dates alive. But is this the only physical reminder of Noel Sickles in Chillicothe? Find out next week as I attempt to track down this painting that was done as a cover for LIFE Magazine.

click here for Part Two!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I've decided to start over with my numbering system. I originally was numbering them as I posted from haphazard dates. Now I'll try to do it chronologically. That makes this, then, the 2nd Cincinnati Post editorial cartoon by Bill Watterson.

This cartoon is from June 19, 1980, before there was cable TV in Cincinnati. Six different cable companies were vying to be the provider. They would have plenty of time to lobby, as Cincinnati City Council would not vote to award the franchise until October 1st (to Time Warner). A Citizens Community Cable Board was established, and among their concerns -
  • who in the community gets a piece of the cable revenue
  • availability of local origination/community programming
  • family fights created by too many choices of what to watch
  • degradation of the family and our morals by what sex & violence might be broadcast

I wonder what they would have thought of 'The Sopranos', Skinemax and the Womanizer video[NSFW]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Last week I attended a screening of an episode of 'Steve Canyon', the TV show based on Milton Caniff's popular comic strip. The showing was part of the Reel Stuff Film Festival, a four day weekend of aviation films sponsored by the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Presenting the film was FotB (Friend of this Blog) John Ellis of the Milton Caniff Estate. Ellis is the man behind bringing the Steve Canyon TV series to DVD, after having not being seen since it's original broadcasts in 1958 and 1959. Even though it lasted only one season, that season was 34 episodes long. The DVD release has been broken up into three sets. Volume One came out last year and Volume Two is on the way. They can be ordered here. The episode we saw, "Operation: Intercept", came late in the series and won't be seen on DVD until Volume Three later this year. It's a harrowing half hour, with Steve pursuing an errant B-47 headed out to see with a crew that can't respond.

photo copyright ©1963, 2009 The Milton Caniff Estate.
A real treat that Ellis played before the episode was a long lost promo film of Milton Caniff. In it, he talks to an unseen and silent interviewer. The film and interview scripts were sent to TV stations for their own local talent to talk to Caniff like they were doing their own version of Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person". In the film, which Ellis acquired on Ebay, the cartoonist chats, draws and, oddly enough, cooks! Here's one of his recipes -

1 can cheddar cheese soup
1 can tomato soup
1/4 cup of milk
Heat, stir and pour over toast

Caniff then cooked another bachelor-type dish, joking that "every boy should learn a couple of gourmet dishes before he leaves home."

Ellis followed the screening with a Q&A. He shared some great information, such as the fact that "Steve Canyon" was the most expensive show on the air in 1958. He also gave us some insight behind the scenes. Apparently the network, NBC, was unhappy that Caniff wasn't more involved with the show and that it wasn't more like the comic strip. Caniff, who had enough on his plate with the strip itself, was happy with the show and decided to leave TV to the TV professionals. He didn't want it to be like the strip, and neither did series producer David Haft. In addition to the network, Haft had the U.S. Air Force to contend with. The show relied on the USAF's cooperation because they could kill an episode idea or even an episode in progress by not approving the military footage. It's amazing that the show not only got made, but that it overcame a lot of obstacles to be a show that was as entertaining now as half a century ago.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Yesterday I took Noah to the Cincinnati Tea Party, held downtown on Fountain Square. It was a beautiful day and a great crowd. While there was a smattering of fringe crazies (I saw a "Nazi Pelosi" sign), the majority of the crowd was just there to express their frustration over fiscal malfeasance perpetrated by government, from federal to local. If a person or family spent money with a view to their grandkids paying the bill, people would call it irresponsible. When government does it, it's "economic stimulus". I think that's why Noah made the sign.

Noah had a great time, because there was a lot to see and do. He loves to clap along with applause and there were a lot of dogs to pet. Since it was a day of firsts (the first political rally for both of us), we took his first trip to the observation deck of the Carew Tower and got this shot of the crowd...

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Originally uploaded by denmont01
[click to enlarge, sorry for the bad reproduction quality]

Not much to say here. Just got a laugh from this comic strip panel from 1910. Not something we'd see today!

The panel is from the strip 'Sweet Violet' by Jimmy Swinnerton, 27 February 1910. More examples of Swinnerton's work can be found here.

Monday, March 2, 2009


"Uncle Al" Lewis, who passed away last month, hosted a children's TV show in my hometown of Cincinnati from 1950 until 1985, the longest local TV show in history. I was born in '72, so it was an integral part of my childhood. Uncle Al packed the studio with local kids, who jumped and danced to his singing and accordion playing. When his show ended, it had been years after I had watched it, but it was sad that new little kids wouldn't get to participate in what had long been a part of Cincinnati life. Another titan of local TV, "The Bob Braun Show", had ended the year before, as the rise of cable led to the demise of much local network programming across the country.

So, it was time to ask my mother the burning question...why was I never on "The Uncle Al Show"? I called her today and asked her. She wasn't sure. She remembered at some point trying to go with a neighbor to take my older brother, John, but something happened and they ended up not going. She couldn't remember what happened, but I'm guessing it was troublesome enough to kill the idea for the rest of us. Or, it could be that I never bugged her about it.

There have always been rumors about Uncle Al. The big one when I was young was, 'You know, Uncle Al hates kids.' It wasn't true, of course, but the irony was just enticing enough to give the rumor some staying power. The other rumor was 'Uncle Al the ladies' man', which my mom knew about. "He had a terrible reputation, you know," she said, "with the, uh, mothers." This one's corroborated by a co-worker of mine who loves to tell the story of when she took her son to be on the show. She claims Al propositioned her after the show and asked her if she could 'get rid of the kid' that afternoon. I'm not here to sully a beloved Cincinnatian. I'm just adding an angle that wasn't mentioned in all the loving tributes.

"Uncle Al" Lewis died February 28th at age 84. It was such big news here that Channel 9 broke into programming with the story, leading to an outpouring of memories and affection from across the region. I can only hope my memorial service is this much fun. His memorial service and burial were in his adopted hometown of Hillsboro, Ohio, better known as the birthplace of Milton Caniff.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

KELLY GROUCUTT - 1945 - 2009

A tip of the hat and a hearty thanks to Kelly Groucutt, who passed away February 19th at age 63. Groucutt was a bassist and singer in my #2 all-time favorite band, Electric Light Orchestra (second only to their progenitor, the Beatles). Groucutt was there for most of it, from 1975-82, which were the key, hit-making years where they hit their peak. Jeff Lynne - as producer, songwriter and lead singer - was the mastermind of ELO. The other members of ELO have never got much credit or accolade, perhaps unfairly. We may never know how much bandmates like Groucutt contributed to how the songs turned out. His vocals and harmonizing with Lynne certainly played an essential role, but I get the impression as a bassist he was treated more as a studio sideman under Lynne's direction. The place for the rest of the band to shine seems to be on tour, a marketing/revenue chore that Lynne hated, where their participation was indispensable.

Groucutt left the band in 1982, following a lawsuit he filed against Lynne for royalty payments. My knowledge of this won me a radio trivia contest as a teenager (though I can't remember what I won, and, yes, I was super cool even back then). With the help of other ELO bandmates, he released his lone solo album, 'Kelly', but didn't gain much of a following. ELO itself continued as a trio, but disbanded after 1986's 'Balance of Power' album. In the early '90s, ELO drummer & co-founder Bev Bevan formed Electric Light Orchestra Part II, blocked by Lynne from reforming with an unaltered name. Bevan began recruiting former bandmates. Groucutt was among them, later becoming something of the leader after Bevan left in '99. Lynne took back the ELO name for his 2001 album, Zoom, and a tour that was cancelled due to low interest. Groucutt and his 'Part II' compadres were not in this revamped ELO, so they carried on as The Orchestra. I saw them live in '01 after seeing their names on a roadside advert that read something like - The Orchestra, former members of ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA. Even though I'm a Jeff Lynne diehard, I think they sounded great, and I never objected to them carrying on a great musical legacy. So again, a big thanks to the late Kelly Groucutt for being part of the music that has meant so much to my life.

Here's a promo video for ELO's best song, "Mr. Blue Sky". Groucutt is to the left of Jeff Lynne.