Monday, November 29, 2010


Last time I blogged about Ireland of the Dispatch, the current exhibit by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at OSU's Thompson Library Gallery. One aspect of the exhibit I left out were three display cases dedicated to artists for whom Ireland was a friend and mentor. The first, and most famous, is Milton Caniff. Caniff went to Ireland and applied for a job at the Columbus Dispatch his first day of classes as a freshman at 18, and hired the next day. These were the days before photojournalism became economical, so papers and magazines had artists depict the news. Caniff was hired on full time after college, but let go in 1932 due to the Depression. Caniff got his attitude about his work from Ireland, who considered himself first and foremost a newspaperman who drew, not an artist who worked at a newspaper. Selling papers, which carried his features, was always part of what drove Caniff. Decades later in dedicating a drawing to Ireland he signed it, "still his pupil."

There are examples of Caniff's art on display, including his "tryout" piece for Ireland. The strip they have is an original 'Terry'. I've included this original early 'Steve Canyon' just as an example.

Noel "Bud" Sickles never worked for Ireland, but knew him well. Both were from Chillicothe, and Sickles caddied for Ireland as a youth. Sickles would travel to Columbus to visit Ireland and seek advice and critique on his art. He would take the train or hitchhike from Chillicothe, showing up dishevelled and barefoot. Sickles eventually found work in newspapers, such as a stint at the Columbus Citizen. Of Ireland, Sickles said,"...he was gifted with great dignity, which complemented his always jolly nature."

The above sketch by Sickles is part of the exhibit. Two of his paintings are also on display.

Caniff and Sickles met in the offices of the Dispatch and formed a mutual admiration society. They were fast friends, setting up a studio together when both worked in New York, even living together for a time. Their friendship is keenly felt in the exhibit examples above - Caniff's tribute strip for the death of Sickles, Sickles' caricature of Caniff on a napkin.

The big surprise of the exhibit was a third case devoted to Ireland mentee Art Poinier. I had never heard Poinier's name before the exhibit. Poinier worked as a sports cartoonist at the Columbus Dispatch from 1929-1931, so he was there at the same time as Caniff. I don't know if he and Caniff had much interaction. Poinier's name is not mentioned in R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography. From 1940 to 1976, he an editorial cartoonist in Detroit. Poinier also had his own comic strip in the late '30s. It was a pantomime strip about a mischievous called "Jitter". He left the strip when he was called up by Uncle Sam and did not return to it. An original "Jitter" strip is part of the exhibit, and some other examples can be found here. The above picture is a 1959 portait of American poet Edgar Guest.

"Ireland of the Dispatch" runs until January 2, 2011. It is a free exhibit in the Thompson Library Gallery on the OSU campus. The library does have weekend hours, but times may vary over the December break. Check with the library for hours at (614) 292-OSUL.

Caswell, Lucy Shelton, 'Billy Ireland', 2007, Ohio State University Libraries, Columbus, Ohio.

Harvey, Robert C., Meanwhile, 2007, Fantagraphics, Seattle.

Ireland of the Dispatch, an Exhibition at the Ohio State University, 2010.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Last year the Cartoon Research Library & Museum at OSU changed its name to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum after a $7 million gift from a foundation run by Ireland's granddaughter. It is fitting, then, and timely, that they put on an exhibit of his work. To comic strip fans, he is known as the mentor of two of the great adventure strip artists, Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff. In Columbus, he was a beloved icon, best remembered for his full-page Sunday feature, "The Passing Show." Ireland was a cartoonist at the Columbus Dispatch from 1898 until 1935. When he died, it was the banner headline of the newspaper (also on display). The exhibit includes a generous helping (twenty or so) of "Passing Show" pages, as well as editorial cartoons and other artwork. Below are some panels that stood out for me:

Each week, "The Passing Show" was a multi-panel smorgasbord of Ireland's musings on life and the news of the day.

I just liked this old guys face. It reminds me of that type of turn-of-the-century (ca. 1900, not 2000) illustration popularized by Flagg and Gibson, or something you would see in Punch.

I like the way Ireland took the Great Seal of the State of Ohio and created a three-dimensional, active tableau, modified for the needs of the War.

Buckeye fans should appreciate this, the horseshoe-shaped Ohio Stadium being forged by a blacksmith. Ireland was an obvious booster for funding the stadium construction in the early '20s.

Ireland gives us some comics history by depicting the origin of the word balloon. Scott McCloud take note!

According to the placard displayed next to this page, Ireland's continual ridiculing of the KKK weakened them in Columbus.

To anyone who thinks cartoons cannot be works of art, I give you this panel as a rebuttal.

I've only scratched the surface here, so check it out for yourself! "Ireland of the Dispatch" runs until January 2, 2011. It is a free exhibit in the Thompson Library Gallery on the OSU campus. The library does have weekend hours. Read more about the exhibit here. See these guys below? Maybe let them into your art exhibit, but don't let them into your house!

Monday, November 8, 2010


This past weekend I attended Mid-Ohio Con at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. I've gone for a dozen or so years, and this was one of the better ones I attended and the first time I went for both days of the show. I came with a wantlist of about 45 comics. Thought I managed to find only six, I picked them all up for $2-3 apiece, finding a few other esoteric nuggets along the way. There were definitely a lot of bargains to be had on both old and new material. But, as Grandpa once advised me, "Don't go broke saving money."
The absolute highlight for me was getting a sketch by Chris Sprouse. Sprouse is a Columbus resident and Mid-Ohio regular. I asked if he would try his hand at drawing Steve Canyon. Since I brought Caniff reference art, he was more than game.
I stood with amazement as he sketched out Canyon's head in pencil, detailing the form and structure of the face like something out of an anatomy textbook. Sprouse's amazing craftsmanship is what makes him a solid artist.

Here's the finished piece. I'm proud to say it's Sprouse's first and only drawing of Steve Canyon.

My buddy Ted asked him to do Big Barda. I was tasked on going in search of reference, returning with a Jack Kirby 'Mister Miracle' comic. Sprouse spent a long time on this sketch, challenged by trying to find what makes Barda "work". After capturing every intricacy, filling in every black, Sprouse said, "Sorry, I kind of got carried away." Um, no apologies necessary, Chris. Seriously.
Sorry about using the cellphone photo. I forgot to scan these when we got back to home base. To Barda's right is a Cap sketch that Sprouse did for my pal Bill Wiist.

Another highlight was seeing Sergio Aragones again. MAD Magazine recently celebrated 50 years of Sergios' work in their magazine with a hardcover retrospective.
I have a varied, yet incomplete, collection of the 18 paperbacks Sergio did for Warner Books. Here he is signing three different editions of the same book for me.
The next day, Sergio sat on a dais and made a large Groo drawing on posterboard for a charity auction. I stood for awhile and watched him work. It's fascinating to me how he seems to have the whole thing in his head, and he's just filling it in. Or how he will draw in smooth, seemingly effortless strokes, unafraid to be working in indelible Sharpie.
Sergio would draw a bit, sit back, assess the work in progress, and then move on. More often than not, he was adding little detail flourishes that no one else would miss but he knew must be there. Truly a master cartoonist at work.

Not much grabbed me in the way of programming, but the con moved so fast I don't how I would have spared the time. I did attend the Kurt Busiek panel moderated by the always dependable Beau Smith. Both were letter column hacks who turned pro, so they had an interesting connection. I'll admit I haven't read any Busiek since he left 'Conan' in 2007, but it was an interesting talk from a writer who loves comics. I took particular note on his theory of when comics declined in popularity. Most say it was in the 1980s, when newsstand distribution was dropped in favor of specialty comic shops. Busiek takes it all the way back to 1946, when Superman was outselling Time Magazine and both were 10 cents. Time raised their price to 15-cents to cover increased costs. Comic book publishers reduced the number of pages instead of raising prices. Newsstands and stores in turn gave less rack space to comics because they made less from them. The comic spinner rack, Busiek said, which we view with nostalgia, was actually a bad sign of comics being marginalized. He's interested in where technology, such as the iPad, is taking us. And while he's glad 40-year old men like reading about Superman, he sees the fact that kids aren't reading about Superman as a significant problem. Amen, brother.

Like most cons, there were plenty of costumed characters to go around, particularly on Saturday when they had a costume contest. I'm not sure who won, but the movie camera-ready Chewbacca up top gets my vote. However, it's the scantily clad and/or buxom costume wearers who get the most attention. I've no idea why.

All photos by Matt Tauber, except -
Photos with Matt in them by Ted Haycraft
Barda/Cap sketch photo and Busiek/Smith photo by Bill Wiist