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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

notes on The Complete Peanuts, 1971-1972

The Complete Peanuts volumes have been coming out like clockwork - two a year with two years of strips in each volume. I can't believe that next year they'll be halfway through. 1971 and 1972 introduced the character of Marcie, which allowed for the expansion of Peppermint Patty's role, including a two week story where she fights the school dress code. Having read Peanuts strip paperbacks since I could read anything at all, one of my favorite aspects of these new collections is that they reprint strips that have never been reprinted before. So, some strips are like old friends, some strips feel new to me and some really are new to me. Below are some strips that I found odd/interesting:

Charlie Brown turns the tables on Lucy - 1/21/71

A strip with dates that reveals Charlie Brown's age - 4/3/71
I always thought Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown were the same age, but here she's 7 to Chuck's 8. Tho' this is nit-picking hindsight and Schulz probably never gave it a thought. - 1/6/72

A couple of music references that caught me by surprise. First Dylan (5/12/71)...

and Don McLean (7/7/72)

A highlight from a story sequence in which Linus asks Snoopy to hold his blanket so he can break the blanket habit. Snoopy then turns the blanket into a sportcoat! - 11/12/71

The recent revival of "Star Trek" in syndication was enough of a phenomenon to capture Snoopy's imagination - 2/7/72.

A prescient comment about today's disastrous reforms - 11/18/71

Charlie Brown tells the story of how he got Snoopy - 1/30/72

All the strips are available at