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!


austinspace said...

I'm curious if that Carnegie Library is still in use as a library? We have four Carnegies in my town (I photographed one of them just this last Sunday) but all four are used for other purposes now. The one you photographed looks to be in good shape!

Matt Tauber said...

austinspace -
Yes, the Carnegie is still in use as a library. In fact, it's the main library of the Chillicothe/Ross County system.