Monday, June 28, 2010


May 29, 1966

I was sad when 'Cappy Dick's Young Hobby Club' disappeared from the Sunday funnies, sometime in the late '80s, and I'm not sure why. 'Cappy' gave a weekly dose of tips for making your own fun. Take peanuts and twigs and make your own mini-tomahawks, for example. Paint pasta and make a necklace. Take an egg carton and buttons and make your own tiddly-wink-style game. I have no childhood memory of ever trying anything I read in 'Cappy Dick', but I remember when it was suddenly gone one Sunday, feeling the disappointment you feel when a piece of your childhood fades out.

Unlike some strips, the web is no fount of information when it comes to 'Cappy Dick'. This page has a great overview, as well as a nostalgic dream of a kid wiling away his Sunday with the craft ideas learned from the strip. I did find an obituary for the Cappy's creator, Robert Cleveland. He died in 1985, at which time the strip was being carried in 64 newspapers. Cleveland was no longer drawing the strip at his death, as it had been taken over in the '60s by 'Buck Rogers' artist Rick Yager. The strip ended in 1987, with cartoonist Bob Weber, Jr. transitioning from 'Cappy Dick' to his own Slylock Fox, which focuses on rudimentary drawing tips and "spot the difference" exercises. I think the only way a hobby strip like 'Cappy Dick' would make it today is if it was renamed 'Cappy Dick's Cheats for Nintendo DS'.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I was surprised yesterday to learn about the Cincinnati Comic Expo, a one day comic book show coming up on September 18th. Cincinnati has historically not been a comic show town. Columbus has two well-known shows - Mid-Ohio Con and S.P.A.C.E. Further out, Chicago now has two large shows - Wizard World and C2E2. For some reason, Cincinnati hasn't supported a show, even small ones like they have in nearby Dayton and Indianapolis. That changed last year with the Comic City show in November, which I wrote about here. While it was a small show, it was quickly purchased by convention powerhouse Wizard and renamed Wizard World Cincinnati.

How come Cincinnati doesn't have its own show? Before last year, no one seems to remember one after 1999. I talked with Cincinnati Comic Expo co-founder Andrew Satterfield. He was stumped, as well, given the size of the city and its centralized position amid other cities. Perhaps it's that other cons have been announced and never happened. Twice now, something called Pop Culture Con has been promoted, only to be cancelled. But its presence and then failure may have scared off others from doing a show. Wizard World Cincinnati has a website, but no date, and it's unlikely they'll have a show in 2010 with the year half over. "I'm not waiting anymore," said Satterfield, who wants to start with a quality one day show, with ambitions to expand it in future years. What about dealers, exhibitors and fans who have made plans before, only to have the show disappear? Satterfield wants to reassure them. "It will happen," he says.

Satterfield also wanted to stress that the guest list won't be rife with aging sitcom actors or wrestling stars. "We're focusing on comics," he said evidenced by the show's name and the current guest lineup. The featured guest is Michael Uslan, executive producer of 14 Batman movies, live action and animated. Uslan is also a comics historian and author of several comics histories. In a Caniff connection, Uslan wrote the 1995 revival of the 'Terry & the Pirates' comic strip. It will be interesting to meet another guest, Allen Bellman, a Golden Age artist I'm not familiar with at all. According to his bio, he worked in the early '40s on my all-time favorite character - Captain America. I'm most looking forward to seeing Russ Heath again. Heath, still spry at 84, is a heck of a nice guy I've met a few times at Chicago shows. Heath started working comics in 1948, drawing westerns for Timely/Atlas. His most celebrated work are the war stories he drew for DC Comics from the '50s to the '70s, part of the pantheon of legendary war artists John Severin, Ross Andru, and Joe Kubert. As I said, he's still at it, most recently drawing covers for Dave Sim's Glamourpuss.

The Cincinnati Comic Expo will be held from 10AM - 5PM on September 18th at the Cintas Center, located at on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Children under 10 are free with a paying adult.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Is there much more reliable in our lives than Beetle Bailey? The venerable comic strip is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, a fixture of the funny pages for most of our lives. What's comforting about Beetle Bailey is the endless repetition of running gags performed by the wacky cast of characters based in the Army's mythical Camp Swampy. Some may try to ascribe higher meaning to this...a metaphor perhaps for the dullness of military life or even the sameness of life in general. I think it's more that these are jokes that have always elicited a chuckle, and it ain't broke, keep drawing. Even after 60 years, there's still comedy to mined in new twists or nuances on old gags -

The guiding hand of strip creator Mort Walker is also what makes 'Bailey' special. Though he now relies on a team of five to create Bailey gags and art, Walker is right in there at 87 with writing and drawing and having final say on whatever his collaborators, which include his sons Greg, Neal and Brian, produce. There's a great sampling of strips on Readers can vote for their favorite to be reprinted in the two weeks surrounding Beetle's anniversary. The strip will also be honored next month with its own postage stamp. The 'Sunday Funnies' stamps will honor five comic strips. The dedication ceremony will take place on July 16 at Ohio State, and guests include Walker, Garfield's Jim Davis and museum curator Lucy Shelton Caswell. More details on the dedication can be found here. While at Ohio State, Walker will no doubt visit the Billy Ireland Cartoon Research Library and Museum, and with good reason.

Few have done more for the preservation of comic strips than Mort Walker. Believing in the medium as an art form equal to others, he founded the Museum of Cartoon Art in 1974, later adding "International" to the front of the name. The museum had several lives, starting in Connecticut and ultimately locating in Florida, where lack of funds forced closure in 2002. The collection has since merged with the Cartoon Research Library's collection, prompting them to add "and Museum" to the title. The recognition and preservation of Walker's own work is currently on display at a different museum, the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.
There are several 'Beetle Bailey' books out there. The strip was well-represented in the comic strip reprint paperback heyday of the '60s and '70s, with over 100 titles to its credit. Currently, there is a book reprinting the earliest years of the strip, 1950-52. This is from Checker Book Publishing, the same folks who bring us the 'Steve Canyon' reprints, albeit infrequently. I'm not sure if they were planning further volumes, but Titan Books is skipping ahead and reprinting all of the 1965 strips in a book due in October. There's no special 60th anniversary book, but the 50th anniversary book can still be found around, though avoid this guy who wants $185! What you shouldn't avoid, but rather seek out, is the Mort Walker interview in the Comics Journal from last year. Interesting stuff for Bailey fans and fans of comics history in general, conducted by Caniff biographer R.C. Harvey.

At the top is the Sunday strip from May 29, 1966. The Cincinnati Enquirer gave 'Beetle Bailey' a full half page, a testament to its popularity. It's ironic that a strip ideal for the way comics would shrink in the '60s and '70s, with its simple figures and backgrounds, was given so much space. How much space? 13" x 9.5"...almost a full square foot! Contrast that with today's 10 1/8" x 3 3/8", less than a quarter of a square foot. It's the same issue I talked about last year with Blondie. I'm just glad it hasn't gotten any worse.

Friday, June 4, 2010


I grew up watching Gary Coleman. From age 6 to 14, I was there for every show. My 10-year old Saturday nights were all set, with "Diff'rent Strokes", "Silver Spoons" and then the "Love Boat"/"Fantasy Island" combo. So, I saw it all - the rabies epidsode, the appendicitis episode, the two-parter where they were hostages in a bank, guest shots by Mr. T, Muhammed Ali and Nancy Reagan, and that one with Gordon Jump as a creepy pedophile. Yes, I even stuck around for the last two seasons when Mr. Drummond remarried a woman (played by Dixie Carter, also recently deceased) with a cute moppet of a son, replacing college bound Willis (who appeared intermittently) and Kimberly (a pregnant Dana Plato, who had been fired).

I followed Coleman's intermittent exploits after the show. I watched the "Diff'rent Strokes" reunion on Geraldo in 1993, in which Coleman admitted to having attempted suicide. Geraldo asked Coleman if he was working on any projects. Coleman responded that he and a friend were working on a hybrid sitcom/movie review show and then asked the audience what they thought of the idea. He received some slight sympathy applause. Just recently he took his marriage woes public with an appearance on Divorce Court. Apparently he forgot to ask, "If I'm bleeding to death, will you help me or run upstairs because you don't like blood?"

I also watched Rue McClanahan in her many incarnations. While I don't really remember her from "Maude", I'm sure I saw episodes somewhere in childhood. Before her major success in "Golden Girls", I knew her best as Aunt Fran, Thelma Harper's sister on "Mama's Family". In that series' pilot, homebody Fran is the most resentful at having Thelma's son and his family move into Mama's house and disrupting her quiet routine. Though revived later in syndication, the network demise of "Mama" after two seasons was a career boon for McClanahan, as well as Betty White, who had a recurring role as Thelma's daughter, Ellen. Both moved to the sunny skies of Miami with Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty. There McClanahan had her best-remembered role, as bed-hopping cougar Blanche Devereaux. "Golden Girls" was a big hit, and continues to run a whopping 12 times a day on cable (4 on the We Network, 8 on the Hallmark Channel).
What impresses me most about McClanahan is her range. Skittish, dowdy spinster Aunt Fran is the opposite of the oversexed, confident Blanche, both of whom she played convincingly. Somewhere in the middle is Vivian Cavender, the best friend role she played on "Maude". Perhaps the name Vivian was a nod to Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball's perpetual pal. Except Maude wasn't goading her Vivian into zany schemes, and Ethel never gave Lucy advice on having an abortion.

While their paths of both Coleman and McClanahan only crossed in TV land (literally, at the 2008 TV Land Awards), both did share a series co-star, Conrad Bain ("Maude", "Diff'rent Strokes"). Also, Coleman guest-starred on two episodes of "Good Times", which was a spinoff of "Maude". McClanahan also co-starred with Dabney Coleman in a short-lived series called "Apple Pie". To my knowledge, Gary and Dabney Coleman are not related. Yes, it's a sickness I have.