Thursday, December 31, 2009


Here is my annual list of TV friends we lost in 2009. There's no way I could have included everyone, so I only wrote up those who I've seen (but don't worry, I've watched A LOT of TV in 37 years).

If the document doesn't load, or for a larger view, click the 'TV 2009' link below...

TV 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Milton Caniff - As reported in our Year in Caniff review, there was lots of material to be excited about in 2009. The Library of American Comics released The Complete Terry & the Pirates: Volume 6, reprinting Caniff's last two years on the strip (1945-46). Checker BPG continued their reprints of Steve Canyon with a 1955 volume, changing the format to make the strips larger. Bleeding reported last week that the company is alive and well. Though a date for the 1956 volume remains elusive. Comics Revue magazine, which also reprints 'Steve Canyon' strips, also changed formats from a standard magazine to a squarebound journal on better paper with the Sundays printed in color. They're currently reprinting the early 1970s strips.

Chuck Dixon - If I gave Chuck separate entries, he's dominate the list, so I have to condense him to one. His ongoing run of G.I. Joe is his highest profile gig. I've enjoyed all his Joe work this year, especially the way it doesn't exclude a newbie like myself who was not a Joe fan in the 1980s. His stories for Simpsons Comics continue to be laugh-out-loud and episode-worthy, maybe even moreso for me since I stopped watching the show. Storming Paradise, pictured at left, relates the events of an alternate history in which the scientists of the Manhattan Project are blown up testing the Bomb, protracting the bloody war with Japan. More blood is spilled in Civil War Adventures, an ambitious self-publishing project with artist Gary Kwapisz ideal for history buffs and for educational purposes. Just making it under the wire is the collecting of Dixon's mid-'80s series Winterworld in a special hardcover with it's never before seen sequel, Wintersea. Of all of his work this past quarter century, this is near the top of my list.

CAPTAIN AMERICA/CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN - This is still the most consistently enjoyable monthly title in terms of story and art. I have been enjoying the Steve Rogers-less 'Captain America' for over two years. It's almost with disappointment that they bring him back, but I guess it's time. His former partner, Bucky Barnes, has been filling in and earned the right to call himself Captain America. I'm still interested to see how they resolve that in the next month or so. In 27 years of reading comics, my favorite character has always been Captain America. I've lived through the murky valleys when this comic has been awful, and I'm thankful for the peaks. I hope Ed Brubaker's tenure as writer continues. It's just a shame that the scheduling snafus (the 'Reborn' series is running late) had to somewhat spoil this momentous occasion.

BLAZING COMBAT - Blazing Combat was a black and white magazine from Warren Publishing, the company that found success with horror magazines 'Creepy' and 'Eerie'. It featured war stories from a brilliant array of artists, most of them veterans of the fabled EC Comics line. Often showing the futility and brutality of war, it came too far ahead of widespread protest of the Vietnam War. Their was a mild backlash against the book that affected it's distribution to newsstands and the book was cancelled after four issues. Those issues became legendary and highly sought after, with good reason. Collected now in this book, the masses can enjoy some exemplary work from art masters John Severin, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Al Williamson and others.

DAVE SIM - Sim is currently self-publishing two titles - 'Glamourpuss' and 'Cerebus Archives'. 'Glamourpuss' continues to chronicle the history of photorealism in comic strips, exemplified by Alex Raymond's 'Rip Kirby' and Stan Drake's 'The Heart of Juliet Jones'. This close inspection of comic strips and the men behind them is right in my wheelhouse. Sim's recreations of photographs and art styles is scary impressive, both in terms of his skill and the dedication it takes. 'Cerebus Archives' is a new series chronicling his work and career before 'Cerebus', his 300 issue masterpiece. In 'Archives', he not only reprints his early published work, but his correspondence and rejection letters of the time. Unfortunately, 'Archives' was cancelled by the main comics distributor, Diamond, and is now only available through ComiXpress.

The Complete Rip Kirby Volume 1 - Speaking of Raymond, Dean Mullaney at IDW must have been listening to Sim's pleas for a decent reprinting of Rip Kirby. 'Kirby' was always one of those strips you heard about, but never saw. It was the last strip for Alex Raymond, one of the 'Big Three' cartoonists (Milton Caniff and Hal Foster being the other two). Kirby is a detective/scientist who is something of an archetype with his fedora, pipe and horn-rimmed glasses. I'm glad we get to finally see these, if only to see the much lusted after Honey Dorian in action.

TOR: A Pre-Historic Odyssey - After a 15 year absence, Joe Kubert revived his "caveman Tarzan" character for a mini-series in 2008, collected in hardcover this year. But no knowledge of this character or his history is necessary to enjoy this story. Kubert establishes anything you need to know about Tor early on. In this tale, Tor suffers the consequences of being guided by morality, a nascent character trait of this world of 1,000,000 years ago. Kubert continues to prove, though he doesn't need to, why he's our greatest living comic book artist.

Forever Nuts Presents George McManus's Bringing Up Father - This collection reprints the early years of this classic comic strip that debuted almost a century ago. Humor never goes out of style, and I found myself chuckling at this book more than any other. It features the exploits of Jiggs, a blue collar roughhouser turned rich who misses the common life, and his wife, Maggie, who wants to climb the social ladder but is is continually foiled by Jiggs' lack of decorum with society folk. The foreword to the book is by Bill Blackbeard, who edited the 'Terry & the Pirates' reprint series for NBM in the 1980s. R.C. Harvey, author of the Caniff biography, wrote the introduction.

Charles Schulz - The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972/1973-1974 - Available separately or combined in a slipcase, we're still in what many consider to be Schulz's peak years. I find them all essential, and my thoughts on the earlier volume can be found here.

REYNOLD BROWN: A Life in Pictures by Daniel Zimmer and David J. Hornung - Ok, so this is more of an art book than a comic book, but there is a comic connection. Brown is a contemporary of Noel Sickles. Both cut their comic teeth on aviation strips in the wake of Lindbergh's historic flight ("Scorchy Smith" for Sickles, "Tailspin Tommy" for Brown). Each went on to magazine illustration, but Brown went the next step to the major portion of his career - movie poster illustration. His striking images ran the gamut, from B-horror movies ('Attack of the Puppet People') to cinematic grandeur ('Spartacus') Brown's realism and amazing likenesses make this book a lush feast. I can't comment too much on the text, as I didn't read it all, but this is a thorough retrospective on a deserving illustrator.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Just in case you're not tired of it, here's the video from my recent appearance on "Northern Kentucky Magazine" on ICN6. It's the 9th year in a row for my "Christmas Ham" song. This year I got in some plugs for the blog. Thanks again to Sandy, Pat, Dennis, Dan and Joe and the rest of the gang at ICN6 who put on a good show.

Last weekend my family journey to fabled Santa Claus, Indiana. Our first stop was Santa's Candy Castle, where this display of Obama Jingle Buddies caught my eye. They're not quite as majestic as the Chia Obama.

One of our traditions is going to Holiday in Lights and seeing Santa Claus afterwards. As you can see, the kids are wild about Santa...

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Far - Regina Spektor. This was the most anticipated release of the year for me, owing to five songs by my fave producer, Jeff Lynne. The nice surprise was loving the rest of the album, owing to the infectious music of these piano-based songs and the endearing charm of Spektor's vocals. She has a deliver all her own, whether she's singing, speaking, whispering or doing dolphin imitations. Those who criticize Lynne for 'over-producing' can normally take a flying leap, but in this case they can strap on some heavy stones for effect. His work here, while instantly recognizable, is perhaps the most understated of his career. Even when he breaks out the strings, drums, electric guitar and backing harmonies, he never really goes all 'Jeff Lynne' on us. The bonus is that the rest of the album is equally strong. I'm reluctant to delve too far into the songs individually. In my amateur analysis to divine their meanings I fear they may lose their power over me. I do want to highlight "Laughing With", the song Spektor played most often on the talk shows she was on which she appeared. It's sentiments jibe with my thoughts on religion -
god could be funny
when told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
and when presented like a Genie who does magic like Houdini
or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket or Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

iTunes as an exclusive live EP, 'Live from SoHo' that makes a nice companion to this album.

More Help For Your Nerves - Roger Klug. Roger Klug is a Cincinnati-based artist known for his Beatles-influenced power pop. When my friend Jeff told me he pursued and hired Klug to play at his wedding reception, Klug was as skeptical as I was. Jeff's prodding, however, not only led to a great performance, I think it helped Klug emerge out of something of a career exile as he was finishing up this album. Picking up musically where 2000's 'Toxic' left off, Klug tunes his guitar with all the colors of the pop spectrum. At the forefront his whimsy, bouncy drive, and reverence for 'Revolver'. "Dump Me Hard", for example, is a direct heir to "And Your Bird Can Sing". The song itself is for every guy who always things there's a chance the girl who broke his heart will change her mind (she won't) and advises against stalking her (Don't beat around the bush. Don't sneak around the shrub). "Bi-Curious", an infomercial for the sexually confused, has my favorite couplet - Dial the number/you lazy cucumber. Klug is a man of many influences. "The Day I Had My Brain Removed" shows he's a one-man version of the Knack. On the a capella "My Life Is Sweet", he multi-tracks his vocals, managing to sound like the original Beach Boys harmonizing together. The album closer, "Your Diary", is very solo McCartney by way of 'Abbey Road'. He's innovative as well, using what sound like barber scissors as percussion on "Bogeyman". Having followed Klug for ten years, I think this is his best album yet.

Hills and Valleys - the Flatlanders. After their 2002 revival, 'Now Again', the Flatlanders found their masterwork hard to live up to with '04's 'Wheels of Fortune'. 'Fortune' was a musical misstep that found each playing solo with the other two as their backing band. It's not until 'Hills and Valleys' that we find a worthy follow-up in the Flatlanders legend. There's a certain magic that happens when they're writing together, singing together and trading lead vocals. The enjoyment they get from the experience draws the listener in. Each member's individuality still shines through. In "After the Storm", Jimmie Dale Gilmore shares his love bygone eras - "The paddlewheels are turning/the steamboat whistles cry." In "Wishing for a Rainbow", Butch Hancock carries on his theme of an unrequited existence - "Love letters in my heart go undelivered." In "There's Never Been", Joe Ely bares his Texas heart -
there's never been a season yet/that never had an end
there's never been a reason yet/for lovers to pretend

In these songs of life, love and loss, four decades of friendship and musical intuition is on display. Regrettably, the Flatlanders have only existed for a unit for about a quarter of that. Here's to making up for lost time.

Together Through Life - Bob Dylan. If you've ever heard Dylan's satellite radio show - 'Theme Time Radio Hour' - you know that he has an engrossing affection for old blues 78s. So it comes as no surprise that he'd make an album trying to emulate that style. The result is a laid-back, swampy roll. Dylanologists can put their decoder rings down, as this may be his most lyrically simple work to date. At its core is Dylan the romantic, to whom sincerity is king and obscurity doesn't have a place. For example, from "Life is Hard" - "I pass the old schoolyard/admitting life is hard/without you near me". "If You Ever Go to Houston" reflects Dylan's sense of humor - "Well I know these streets/I been here before/I nearly got killed here/during the Mexican war." and "Mr. Policeman, can you help me find my gal?/Last time I saw her was at the Magnolia Motel." That's not to say simple words lack their own meaningful poetry. On "Forgetful Heart" he sings - "The door has closed forever more/if indeed there ever was a door." Even on this collection of 10 sparely produced, accordion-laced songs, Dylan's power to surprise and confound is not diminished.

Ready for the Flood - Mark Olson and Gary Louris. Louris is the only one making a repeat appearance from last year's list. When it comes to these former Jayhawks and producer Chris Robinson, I have enthusiasm for the work, but lack erudition. I'm also lacking inspiration for something to say, and I don't want to force it. So, it's a bit of a cheat, but since I forgot to con my pal Jim Bates into writing a review, I'll link to the one at

Monday, December 7, 2009


2009 was a great time to be a fan of Milton Caniff, the man best known for his comic strips Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. New books, DVDs and an ongoing web presence are an amazing feat for an artist who departed this plane over 20 years ago. The name, spirit and life's work of Milton Caniff are alive and well. While I think we'll never top Caniff centennial of 2007, this was still a huge year for Caniffites -


The Complete Terry & the Pirates: Volume 6 was released early in the year, ending the reprinting of Milton Caniff's run of 'Terry' in its entirety. Aviation buffs take note - the 1945 strips focus primarily on air actions involving Terry, Hotshot Charlie and Flip Corkin. Then in 1946, the war ends for the world, but there are plenty of new intrigues for Terry Lee and Hotshot in postwar China. Just a reader's note: if you're new to these stories and want to be surprised, save the detailed text pieces that appear in the front of the book at the end.

Steve Canyon: 1955 came out from Checker BPG, and it's an exciting change. They switched from the standard trade paperback format to a new square format. The big knock against the Checker reprints thus far (1947-54) has been the reprint size of the strips - 6" x 1 5/8". Now they have a little more breathing room at 8" x 2 3/8". The 1956 volume was due out in September, but has yet to be released. I'm actually concerned about Checker as their website is down and I haven't noticed any recent releases. Anybody with a line on Checker's status, please let me know. [12/22/09 update - Checker is alive and well. Thanks to Bleeding Cool for tracking them down.]

Volume 2 of Steve Canyon on DVD The 1958-59 TV series is being painstakingly restored and converted to digital by John Ellis and his loyal minions from the original films. The show is being released in three sets. Volume 2 includes episodes 13 - 24 of the TV series, as well as guest commentary tracks from aviation experts and guest stars from the show (like Richard Anderson). They are now taking pre-orders for Volume 3, due in 2010. I can't stress enough what a labor of love this has been for Ellis and his desire to put together the most comprehensive, quality product possible. Visit him today at the Steve Canyon DVD website.


Daily reprints of Steve Canyon and weekly reprints of Male Call are hosted by Dan Thompson at

Doug Drexler continues his reprinting of the "Eel Island" story from 'Steve Canyon' over at Drex Files.


The National Aviation Hall of Fame inducted its class of 2009 at an Enshrinement Ceremony on July 18th in Dayton, Ohio. The Milton Caniff Spirit of Flight Award was presented to the Apollo astronaut crews at the NAHF President's Reception and Dinner. Twelve of the surviving Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernanand Gene Lovell, were there to accept the award. July 20th was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Spirit of Flight has been awarded every year since 1981. Many of the Apollo astronauts are already enshrinees of the Hall as individuals.

The Cartoon Research Library at the Ohio State University went through many changes. First, they received the contents of the International Museum of Cartoon Art (IMCA). The IMCA had been created by Mort Walker of Beetle Bailey fame and the collection had been rendered homeless after losing financial backing in 2002, with the contents stuck in storage ever since. Second, they received a $1 million donation from Jean Schulz, widow of Charles Schulz, as well the challenge of a matching gift of $2.5 million. Third, they received a $7 million gift from the elizabeth Ireland Graves Foundation in memory of Billy Ireland. Ireland was a cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch and a mentor/boss to Milton Caniff. The Library is using these gifts for a major expansion. The name has also expanded to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Research Library and Museum. Not bad for a library that started when the contents from Caniff's childhood home were donated and stored in two classrooms in the journalism building!

We recently reported on the death of Shel Dorf. Dorf was letterer of the 'Steve Canyon' comic strip from 1975 until the strip's end (shortly after Caniff's death) in 1988. Dorf was key to the production of 'Canyon', as lettering came before the pictures in Caniff's strips. Caniff would write it in Palm Springs (later New York) and then dictate the strips over the phone to Dorf in San Diego, who would letter them and then mail them off to Dick Rockwell. Rockwell would do the rough pencilling and then send it off to Caniff for changes and finishes. I wrote more about Dorf and Caniff here.

Billy Ireland drawing by Milton Caniff
Shel Dorf photo by Alan Light

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Recent Releases of Note

  • Beatles - entire catalogue*

  • Adrian Belew Power Trio - e (available at Belew's website

  • Johnny Cash - A Heartbeat and a Guitar [book]

  • Johnny Cash - I See a Darkness [graphic novel]

  • Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane

  • Elvis Costello - Live at the El Mocambo [reissue]

  • Elvis Costello - Spectacle [TV DVD set]

  • Crosby, Stills & Nash - Demos

  • Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart

  • Jay Farrar/Ben Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I’m Gone

  • Flight of the Conchords - I Told You I Was Freaky

  • Genesis - The Movie Box 1981-2007 [5 DVD]

  • Nanci Griffith - The Loving Kind

  • George Harrison - Let It Roll [compilation]

  • Jayhawks - Music from the North Country

  • Paul McCartney - Good Evening, New York City [CD/DVD]

  • Willie Nelson - American Classic

  • Willie Nelson - Lost Highway

  • Willie Nelson - Special w/Ray Charles [DVD]

  • Randy Newman - The Princess and the Frog [sndtrk]

  • Tom Petty - Live Anthology [4 CD set]

  • Frank Sinatra - New York [4 CD/1 DVD box set]

  • Son Volt - American Central Dust

  • Regina Spektor - Far**

  • Bruce Springsteen - “Wrecking Ball” [iTunes single]

  • They Might Be Giants - Here Comes Science!

  • Loudon Wainwright III - High Wide & Handsome: the Charlie Poole Project [2-disc]

  • Wilco - Wilco (the album)

  • “Weird Al” Yankovic - Internet Leaks [iTunes EP]

  • “Weird Al” Yankovic - Essential [2-disc compilation]

  • Neil Young - Neil Young Archives,Vol.1***

    • *The complete original UK Beatles catalogue has been remastered for CD. The remasters are in stereo and each album will be available individually, with the previously separate ‘Past Masters’ discs (which collected the non-LP tracks) combined as one set. The stereo albums (16 discs) are also available as a box set. The albums that were originally mixed for mono (‘Please Please Me’ through ‘The White Album’) will make up a remastered mono box, are not available individually.

      ** Includes 5 tracks produced by Jeff Lynne.

      ***The archives project, announced about 15 years ago, is finally here! It’s available in multiple formats: 10-discs on Blu-Ray with Book, 10-discs on DVD with Book, 8-discs on CD with booklet. The advantage of the Blu-Ray ($300) and DVD ($200) sets is that they will have both audio and video content. Also, with Blu-Ray you will be able to download new content as it becomes available. The CD ($100) set just has the music and no book, which is just fine with me. All the discs, and the book, can be purchased separately of the box sets.

      Upcoming Releases

      • Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back [2/15]

      • Ringo Starr - Y Not [1/12]

      • Watson Twins - Talking to You, Talking to Me [2/9]

        On Tour in the Tri-State

      • Abbey Road on the River - Louisville – 5/27 – 5/31

      • Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart - Columbus, IN – 2/27; Kent - 3/6

      • Jim Gaffigan - Columbus – 2/27

      • Magnetic Fields - Bloomington – 3/5

      • Manhattan Transfer - Vincennes – 3/6

      • Poco - Cincinnati – 2/27

      • Star Wars: in Concert - Cincinnati – 12/11; Indianapolis – 12/12


      Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart (Columbia) - If you like Bob Dylan's voice (and who doesn't), but wished he would make a straightforward, Andy Williams-style Christmas album, then this CD is for you! Crooning his way through a set of Christmas standards, this is Dylan as you've never heard him before. Personally, I really like it. The songs start in earnest with slick production and Welk-esque backing singers, then Bob croaks his way in. It brings a smile to my face every time.

      Flight of the Conchords - I Told You I Was Freaky (Sub Pop) - As with it's predecessor, this song collection from Season 2 of their HBO series mostly falters without the visuals and the context of the show. The packaging, however, is a thing of beauty that recalls the LPs of long ago. A die-cut tri-fold with a 70s-ish illustration as the cover. Inside, the CD has it's own inner sleeve and it comes with a fold-out poster of the album cover art. Alas, the interior picture, a live shot of the duo in concert, only makes you wish you had more of their live debut EP, a form where they excel.

      Willie Nelson - Lost Highway (Lost Highway) - If you were a 76-year old living legend, the last thing folks expect you to do is tour 2/3 of the year and release four albums...unless you're Willie Nelson. Only two of this year's releases are new material, the Texas swing of 'Willie & the Wheel' and the songbook-mining of 'American Classic'. 'Naked Willie' took This collection is a compilation of his past six years on the Lost Highway label, with plenty of goodies to entice completists to buy the songs again. Like Willie's albums, the collection is a mixed bag of mainstream country,, Western swing, live cuts and even reggae. As for the goodies, there's three previously unreleased songs and his duet hit with Toby Keith - "Beer for My Horses".

      They Might Be Giants - Here Comes Science! (Disney Sound) - Continuing their lucrative association with Disney, TMBG brings us the latest in goofy but educational albums and their fourth bona fide children's record. They once explored children's music as a goof, a la 1994's "Why Does the Sun Shine?", a remake from a 1959 album of science-based children's songs. Fifteen years later they go all the way with their own science record, paying homage to their earlier foray with a faster version, but following it up with "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?", drawing on a half-century of expanded knowledge. The rest runs the gamut of astronomy, biology, physics, paleontology and chemistry. This is aimed at older kids than the previous two Disney Sound releases. Yours truly, still a kid, after all, can't stop dancing along to "Electric Car". Like 'Here Come the ABCs' and 'the 123s', 'Science' includes a DVD with videos of the songs.

      Wednesday, November 25, 2009


      The second anniversary of this blog on November 9th almost passed unnoticed. Strange that I would pass up an opportunity to pat myself on the back. I've really enjoyed blogging this past year and even though I don't have many readers, I enjoy the creative outlet and I'm proud of the work that goes into these posts (i.e., I try not to half-ass it). Here are some personal highlights -

      The posts I'm happiest about are the ones dealing with Milton Caniff. He's the reason I started the blog in the first place. There's not enough Caniff to blog about every week, but I've managed to do about a fourth of my posts about his work. Two of my coups last year were interviews. Dean Mullaney was the editor of The Complete Terry & the Pirates series which ended this year. In addition to Dick Tracy, he's taken on Rip Kirby by Caniff pal Alex Raymond. Lucy Shelton Caswell is the curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Research Library and Museum. Since our interview, the library has gone through many changes, the most recent of which is the addition of Ireland's name. The estate for Ireland, who was Caniff's mentor, has made a generous donation of $7 million, and plans are apace to expand the library on campus.

      My favorite post of the year was detailing my adventures in Chillicothe tracking down Noel Sickles' sites with my son Noah in tow. It's the most satisfying, personally, and the one I've had the most compliments on. Even folks who normally have no idea what I'm talking about liked it. I hope to get back there sometime. Here are part one and part two.

      I don't like to get political on the blog as there are plenty of other forums for that. Using historical inaccuracy to advance an agenda does draw my ire. I think I'm the only one to expose the Obama inaugural train hoax in which the press went overboard trying to compare the new president to Abraham Lincoln.

      Another project I've really enjoyed is presenting, strip by strip, a complete Sunday comics section from May 29, 1966. The 1/3 and 1/2 page sizes of the strips make the Sunday funnies of today dinky and miserable. I'd like to think, even in their reduced state, that the comics are still a big selling point for newspapers. I'm only about a third of the way through as they used to print 8 pages of funnies!

      My most-read post this year was my overview of George Harrison compilation albums. Thanks to a link from a Dylan fan site (which I've forgotten), I received hundreds of hits. Sadly, a big chunk of my traffic is courtesy of Google Images and not the actual content of the blog (people love Julie Bowen!). Thanks to everyone who subscribes, follows and checks in on a regular basis. I'm gratified by those of you who found it and stuck with me. My only wish is that more of you leave comments so I know that you're out there!

      Thursday, November 19, 2009


      This week, Paul McCartney released 'Good Evening, New York City', a 2 CD/1 DVD live package from his concerts at Citi Field in New York this past July. It interested me that in his 40 year solo career, he had one live album in the first 20 years, and this is his fourth live album in the latter 20. For the purpose of this review, I'm only including albums made from his live tours, as opposed to one-off projects like MTV's "Unplugged", the 'Live in Red Square' DVD or last year's Grammy-nominated 'Amoeba's Secret' EP.

      Since the 1989-90 world tour, McCartney has made a habit of releasing a document of his tours, either via album or video or both. 'Tripping the Live Fantastic', the 3-LP or 2-CD set, was a big deal in 1990. McCartney hadn't released any live album since 'Wings Over America' in 1976, and while that live album consciously avoided Beatles material, by this time McCartney was comfortable with performing material from his entire career. In fact, the set list would set the tone for his future tours, with the song choices going heavier on the Beatle material than the solo work. 'Tripping' is about 60/40, with the solo material comprised generously of songs from his latest album, 'Flowers in the Dirt', which was seen as a comeback from his mid-'80s nadir, 'Press to Play' and the flop film 'Give My Regards to Broad Street'. The tour band included Hamish Stuart (guitar/bass), Robbie McIntosh (lead guitar), Wix Wickens (keyboards), Chris Whitten (drums) and Linda McCartney (keyboards). There was also a concert film, 'Get Back', the last film directed by Richard Lester of A Hard Day's Night.

      Paul is Live was released just three years later after Paul went back on the road in a couple of years to support his album, 'Off the Ground'. The band lineup was the same, except for Blair Cunningham replacing Whitten on drums. The Beatles/solo ratio is about even, with half the solo selection from the new record. It works as a great companion to 'Tripping', as there is only one repeat songs - "Live and Let Die", a McCartney concert staple that has appeared on every live album he's done. The 'Paul is Live' cover itself is a cheeky doctored duplicate of the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' cover that fueled the "Paul is dead" rumors of the 60s/70s.

      Back in the U.S.: Live 2002 finds Paul on his first major tour following the death of his wife Linda. He's assembled a new band of Rusty Anderson (guitar), Brian Ray (guitar) and Abe Laboriel, Jr. (drums). Wickens was back with his keyboard wizardry, replicating and standing in for the multitude of backing instruments for which the Beatles became known. The Beatles vs. solo ratio reverts to 60/40, with only three songs from his latest album, 'Driving Rain', presented together in a lump near the top of the show.

      There was no album for his '05 'US' tour, played with the same band lineup, but there was a DVD release - The Space Within US. 2/3 of the show was different from 'Back in the U.S.', including four songs from his latest album, 'Chaos & Creation in the Backyard'.

      Good Evening New York City. So, is this new collection different enough? I think so. While half the tracks match its '02 predecessor, the balance is an interesting mix of tracks worth the price of admission. For those who need to hear the concert staples, there's "Band on the Run", "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", etc. For those tired of the staples, there's a lot to like, including "Mrs. Vandebilt" (an album cut from 'Band on the Run'), two songs from 1997's 'Flaming Pie', and Beatle masterpiece "A Day in the Life". As a nod to the present, there are two strong songs apiece from his recent albums 'Memory Almost Full' and 'Electric Arguments'. The lesser known material makes up the bulk of disc one, while disc two is all Beatles, save for "Live and Let Die", which has made it onto every live disc yet.

      I think I'm in the minority, but personally I'd like to see more of the solo stuff. His prolific output from 1976-96 is only represented by one song. Some of his major hits haven't been touched on any of the above albums - "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", "With a Little Luck" and "Goodnight Tonight" to name a few. Maybe we'll hear them on future tours and future live albums. He's only 67, after all.

      Friday, November 13, 2009

      SHEL DORF, 1933 - 2009

      Shel Dorf presenting the Inkpot Award to Milton Caniff, San Diego, 1982 (photo by Alan Light)

      News spread quickly in the past two weeks about the death of Shel Dorf on November 3rd after a long illness. There have been several obituaries on Dorf, some remembrances from friends like Mark Evanier and R.C. Harvey, and a special tribute site. The press obits all focus on Dorf's role as a founder of San Diego Comic-Con, the largest comics convention in the world. I'd like to spotlight Dorf's relationship with Milton Caniff.

      Masthead of Dorf's editorial column from 'Steve Canyon Magazine'

      Shel Dorf lived every fan's dream. Growing up, he read, clipped, collected and marveled at comic strips. "Why are you clipping out comic strips?" asked his concerned mother, "You don't see other people doing that." He went further by sending fan mail to cartoonists and establishing friendships with his heroes. One of those he admired most was Milton Caniff, who corresponded by mail and later invited Dorf to his studio in 1964. Caniff honored Dorf by making him a character in 'Steve Canyon' - a football player named "Thud Shelley" who appeared in two different storylines. Dorf later became an integral part of the strip's ongoing creation when Caniff hired him as his letterer in 1975. Dorf replaced the retiring Frank Engli, who had been Caniff's letterer since the early years of 'Terry & the Pirates' Caniff didn't like to letter himself. "[M]y lettering is terrible," he told interviewer (and fellow comics legend) Will Eisner in 1982. Dorf worked on the strip with Caniff and Dick Rockwell until its end in 1988.

      While he was Caniff's friend and employee, Dorf never gave up being a fan. He did several interviews with Caniff about his craft, two of which appear in Milton Caniff: Conversations, an indispensable Caniff reader. Dorf was also the editor for the first three issues of 'Steve Canyon Magazine', a quarterly publication from Kitchen Sink that reprinted the 'Canyon' strip from its 1947 beginning. The magazine, begun in 1983, benefited from the participation of both Dorf and Caniff. Dorf also edited a Caniff book - 'Milton Caniff's America: Reflections of a Drawingboard Patriot', which collects much of Caniff's patriotic-oriented material, including his special Christmas Day strips in which he would break continuity to highlight, as Dorf wrote, "the sacrifices made by out military to protect freedom and the importance of keeping our guard up."'Steve Canyon', 12/25/1981, lettered by Shel Dorf, as reprinted in 'Milton Caniff's America', 1987, Eclipse Books

      'Steve Canyon', three strips from 1984 lettered by Shel Dorf, as reprinted in 'Comics Review' #4, 1984, Manuscript Press

      Monday, November 9, 2009


      There was a comic book/anime show this past weekend at the Radisson in Covington, Kentucky (right across the bridge from downtown Cincinnati). It has been many many years, maybe ten or more, since anyone put on a show in the Cincinnati area. The last two attempts to put on a show called Pop Culture Con failed before the shows could even go on. So I was skeptical when this new show was announced by Comic City, a comic dealer out of Nashville. I was doubtful that he could make a Cincinnati show a success, especially since his Evansville show earlier this year drew all of 35 people. Unlike the Evansville show, however, this show had a more impressive guest list, most notably Tony Moore (of 'Walking Dead' fame), Kabuki creator David Mack (who lives locally), Gary Friedrich. Friedrich was a writer for Marvel Comics in the 1970s where he co-created Ghost Rider. That Friedrich's name was misspelled on the flyers for the show and their website was not encouraging. Two guests that puzzled me were voice actresses from the 1985-88 "Jem" cartoon series. I was curious because I know boys did not watch this show and the girls who watched it have moved on with their lives. I don't think women cling to their childhood nostalgia the way that men do.

      I was surprised to see that there is a "Jem" fanbase out there, with several Jem sites. Regardless, Jem herself was sick and didn't make the show. Gary Friedrich was also a no-show. Perhaps he's trying to reignite his copyright lawsuit against Marvel and Sony. Even lacking some of their guests, like "Heroes" writer R.D. Hall, the show wasn't pathetically lame like I expected it to be. It was a small convention, set inside a hotel banquet room, but it didn't feel cramped. There were a couple dozen dealers, with comics, toys, DVDs, t-shirts, and various anime stuff for sale. It was a good show for bargain hunters. At larger conventions, it's not uncommon to see dealers try to blow out their cheaper stuff at 50 and 25 cents. This was the first time I saw 10 cent boxes, and lots of them. Granted, it's generally overstock from the '90s that nobody wants at any price (junk is junk), but there may have been decent stuff that's new to some people.

      The highlight of the show was meeting the couple at left. Ferdinand and Sandra Tan are enthusiastic collectors who specialize in Disney comics and memorabilia. This was only the second show they've ever done, and their passion for Disney is infectious. They're very friendly and personable and it was nice to see other folks who are dealing comics for the fun of it.

      I don't know that this show was a success, but it made me believe a Cincinnati show is doable, and it shouldn't take a promoter from Nashville to get it done. While the area is ably served by some great comic book shops, I think there is room for future events like this, only with better guests who actually appear.