Saturday, November 29, 2008


The Beat hipped me to the fact that you can now search the photo archive of LIFE Magazine via Google. I'd link to it right now, but you'd go there and never come back. The archive includes pictures labeled "comic book hearings". Several hearings were held in the 1950s to study the supposed link between juvenile delinquency and the negative effects of comic books. Last year's book by David Hajdu - The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America - explored these attacks on comic books, highlighting the scary consequences of the mob mentality, such as comic book burnings that were held across the country. This comic book fervor caught the attention of civic groups and eventually Congress, who felt something must be done about these comic books for the sake of the children.

Milton Caniff and his fellow artists of the National Cartoonists Society became concerned about the implications of this witchhunt. While they toiled in comic strips, not comic books, there was some crossover of material. Indeed, the first comic books were simply reprints of comic strip dailies, and Caniff's own strips, 'Terry & the Pirates' and 'Steve Canyon' had been adapted into the comic book format. Per Hajdu's book, Caniff testified at hearings in 1950 and 1954. However, these pictures create something of a mystery. They are dated December, 1951. Hajdu wrote that Caniff testified before Senator Estes Kefauver's committee in 1950 and that Kefauver's report was issued November, 1950. In R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, Meanwhile..., Harvey writes that Caniff went to another hearing in New York in December 1951. This was the New York State Joint Legislature Committee to Study the Publication of Comics hearing. New York was at the forefront of the war on comics, with the legislature passing a bill to have comics approved before distribution by the state's board of education. Per Hajdu, the committee was established after the governor vetoed the bill. Per Harvey, Milton Caniff did not testify at this hearing. He was merely accompanying fellow artist Alex Raymond as representatives of the National Cartoonists Society. But in these pictures, Caniff is clearly testifying.

LIFE's full gallery file of pictures from the hearings can be found here. So, I need your help, dear readers. If you can identify other folks in the pictures, please let me know. It will aid in narrowing down the events taking place. I like them because they depict the normally jovial Caniff looking very pissed off.

All photos are by Yale Joel for LIFE Magazine. LIFE Magazine's photo archive on Google can be searched here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


...And here my blogging began

About a year ago I started this blog after I visited Hillsboro, Ohio, the Ohio Historical Society and the Cartoon Research Library. OHS and OSU both had exhibits on Hillsboro-born cartoonist Milton Caniff. Last week I went back to Columbus. OHS still has their Caniff exhibit running and the Cartoon Research Library is home to Caniff's personal collection of letters, papers and artwork.

At the Ohio Historical Society, I talked with Connie Bodner about the Caniff exhibit. Bodner is the Director of Education and Interpretive Services. One of the things that struck me about the OHS exhibit is the lack of artwork, which seems odd for a famous artist. Bodner explained that the museum was more geared toward 3-D objects while the Cartoon Research Library excels at displaying art. Whatever Caniff art they had is now at the Library and the 3-D objects the Library had were transferred to the museum. The OHS exhibit, 'Spotlight on Milton Caniff', is really about the man. Included are furniture, toys and other objects from his childhood, as well props and apparatus used in drawing. Bodner told me that when school groups come through they focus on Caniff as a famous Ohioan. The children relate to the childhood objects (apparently Caniff's mother saved everything) and learn about a little boy who loved to draw and was able to make a career out of it.

Complimenting the Caniff exhibit are new exhibits on Currier & Ives prints and Norman Rockwell's magazine covers. I'll admit that I knew zippity-zoop about Currier & Ives, other than their namecheck in "Sleigh Ride". I knew they made prints, but I didn't know they weren't the artists. I learned that Nathaniel Currier was a lithographer who, in the 1830s, started making making artistic renderings of current events into prints for newspapers and public consumption. Hiring accountant James Ives, the two began a successful partnership of selling decorative art prints to the masses. These hand-colored prints look remarkable for their age. Witness the vibrancy of the print shown here, which is over 150 years old. It's interesting to me that the successful use of photography in newspapers didn't come of age until the 1930s. Papers were still using a staff of artists to depict the news and newsmakers of the day. This is how Milton Caniff got his break. Aside from cartooning, he was also doing spot news illustrations for the Columbus Dispatch and then the Associated Press.

The Norman Rockwell exhibit, Rockwell's America, was a thrill for me because I was nuts about his art back when I was in high school. You might infer, then, that I was one of the popular kids, but you'd be wrong. I read his autobiography, asked for books of his art of Christmas and did my junior history fair project on his work. My Rockwell fervor has abated since then, but was reinvigorated by this exhibit. The Rockwell illustration work that is best known are the 322 covers he painted for the Saturday Evening Post, a weekly magazine founded by Benjamin Franklin. The exhibit uses these iconic images to tell the story of the technological and social changes in America from World War I to JFK (Rockwell's tenure on the Post). Some of the covers are recreated in statuary (see the cover the picture came from here. There are even some live performers, like Rosie the Riveter (below).
There's no original art in the exhibit, but rather the atmosphere of being inside Rockwell's paintings and his vision of American life. The most impressive part to me was the gathering in one room of the 322 Post covers, hung chronologically.

'Spotlight on Milton Caniff', 'Currier & Ives: Illustrating America' and 'Rockwell's America' all run through March 1st. To plan your visit, check out the Ohio Historical Center's website. And if art isn't your thing, they still have the two-headed calf...

Sunday, November 9, 2008


PAUL McCartney was the recipient of the Ultimate Legend Award from MTV Europe, in a ceremony that took place at the Liverpool Echo Arena. This is unlike the time in 2002 when Michael Jackson accepted the Artist of the Millennium award from MTV, only the award didn't exist and they weren't giving it to him.

'ALL Together Now' is a documentary about the Cirque Du Soleil show 'Love', a collaboration with the Beatles. The film had limited release in theaters and is now available on DVD, exclusively from Best Buy. The documentary includes Paul, Ringo, George Martin, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.

Can you hit buttons on simulated musical instruments at the same time the Beatles played notes? You'll get your chance as the video game Rock Band has just licensed the Beatles' music for their video game, due Christmas of 2009.

JOHN Lennon: The Life is a new biography by Philip Norman, author of the 1981 Beatles biography, Shout!. Adding to the pile of a kabillion Beatle bios, this one made headlines with Norman's assertions that Lennon had a thing for his own mum. The book has already been panned by Yoko, Macca and Lennon's sister, Julia, who has her own book, The Private John Lennon", out this year.

MCCARtney has recorded a third album under the name The Fireman, his ambient/electronica side project with Youth. Electric Arguments is out November 25th. I have the two other Fireman albums and I'm warning you - not only is this not for the casual McCartney's barely for the McCartney completist! Sir Paul also guests on the new album from Indian-born pal Nitin Sawhney, 'London Undersound', due in November. Macca sings the vocals on the track "My Soul".

THE Ringo Starr goodwill tour continues. Having recovered from his badmouthing of hometown Liverpool, Starr gave a special message on his website telling his fans to piss off. Well, not that he doesn't want fans, he just doesn't want to hear from them. " more fan mail," says the beleaguered drummer, "It's just going to be tossed." Starr later tempered his statement by saying he was upset by the practice of individuals sending him objects to sign and send back. He did this willingly for his fans, but felt taken advantage of when he later saw the items on Ebay.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


With the presidential election finally happening, it's probably past time to take a look at how the leading presidential candidates are portrayed in the comics. The most obvious place to find them depicted is in the editorial cartoons. I chose cartoonists who are among the recent winners (past ten years) of the Best Editorial Cartoonist Award from the National Cartoonist Society. I find it interesting that no matter the political viewpoint, John McCain is jowly and usually angry; Barack Obama is skinny, usually with big ears. I think the now retired Borgman has the best Obama, so it will be worse for us if Obama wins (though that will be the least of our worries).

Comic strips have long been political, 'Pogo' and 'Doonesbury' being notable examples. Comic books, though, are an atypical venue for politics. Unlike this overt example to the left, I think most writers and publishers fear alienating readers. I personally have dropped a title or stopped buying a writer based on their politics. It's not that I think politics have no place in comic books, I just don't need a primer from the Justice League on why they think the Iraq war is bad. There are a few political biographies that have been released in the past month. This is territory no one's covered since 1968 with LBJ and Barry Goldwater.

IDW released 'Presidential Material' last month, with an issue for Obama and one for McCain, as well as a two-sided flip book with both stories. Each comic is well-researched and portrays the life story of each man. I think both are fairly balanced, though not without bias. Entire speeches by Obama are reprinted, while McCain's story is told almost totally in narrative. Obama, after overcoming childhood adversities, is almost squeaky clean. McCain, however, is rocked by scandal and controversy, with almost as much ink given to the Keating scandal as it is to his POW term.

I guess the election has captured many imaginations. Alex Ross has given us this image, now available on posters and t-shirts. I guess he's fighting the forces of capitalism, or something. "I'm off to spread the wealth...up, up and awaaaaay!!"