Saturday, March 27, 2010


The strips shown here are examples of the comic strip "Dan Flagg". The Ebay listing for this original art stated that "Don Sherwood started his career assisting Milton Caniff on 'Terry & the Pirates'." I thought about all I had read on Milton Caniff, and one question naturally leapt to mind...who in the hell is Don Sherwood?
As I began to research Sherwood, I was startled to find that he passed away a few weeks on March 6th at age 79. I think the timing of the Ebay auctions was coincidental as the seller didn't mention it. The obituary from Sherwood's local paper repeated the notion that he drew for Milton Caniff's 'Terry & the Pirates'. Well, Sherwood did assist on 'Terry', but for George Wunder, who took over the strip after Caniff left in 1946. Sherwood's stint was very brief, around 1961-62, when it hadn't been Caniff's 'Terry & the Pirates' for 15 years.
Sherwood, left 'Terry' because he had sold 'Dan Flagg', a military strip about the Marines, of which he was a veteran. Obit writer Jim Kevlin goes overboard when he describes 'Flagg' as "running in virtually every daily newspaper in the country in the 1960s." If that was so, you'd know the name 'Dan Flagg' like you know 'Blondie' and 'Peanuts', or at least 'The Lockhorns'. But you've likely never heard of it, though that isn't a comment on the strip's quality, as I can only judge by these four examples. A comic strip about a Marine during the Vietnam War was a tough sell. As the war escalated, Marine Dan Flagg, like Caniff's Air Force pilot 'Steve Canyon', lost papers. The strip was gone by 1967, only four years after it had begun. Sherwood went on to draw a couple of other features, as well as a stint in comic books drawing The Partridge Family.
I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but the Don Sherwood story goes a little further. EC Comics legend George Evans spoke of Sherwood in his interview for The Warren Companion. Evans followed Sherwood as George Wunder's assistant/ghost artist for the 'Terry & the Pirates' dailies. It must have been a good gig for Evans, since he did it for 13 years. According to Evans, much of the work of 'Dan Flagg' was done uncredited by writer Archie Goodwin, artists Angelo Torres, Al Williamson and others. Apparently, hard feelings developed among Sherwood's freelancers, resulting in their employer being lampooned in the horror tale below.1 "The Success Story", by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, first appeared in Creepy #1 (1964). It was reprinted in 2008 in The Creepy Archives, vol.1 from Dark Horse.

[1] Roach, David A. and Cooke, Jon B., editors, The Warren Companion, 2001, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, N.C.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Milton Caniff was a major influence on both the artists of his day and those who came after. Those who adopted his innovations and techniques are said to be of the "Caniff school" of artists. I'd like to spotlight one of those artists - Lee Elias. Elias made a name for himself in comic books in the 1940s and early '50s, most doing work for DC, Harvey and Fiction House. During the comic book sales decline in the mid-1950s, he turned to comic strips for work.

Several sources state that Lee Elias was Milton Caniff's assistant, from the normally reliable Toonopedia to the sometimes unreliable 'Wikipedia'. He was one of the many assistants used by George Wunder, who took 'Terry & the Pirates' over in 1946. Elias also did work on the 'Terry & the Pirates' comic book for Harvey Comics. Though the comic began in 1946 after Caniff had left, it was mostly Caniff reprint material with a handful of 3-page stories by Elias. This is probably where the confusion comes from, added with the similarity of Elias' style on his own 1950s adventure strip - 'Beyond Mars'. Elias also worked for two years on 'Li'l Abner', assisting its creator, Al Capp, who was a close friend of Caniff's.

Elias returned to comic books in the 1960s, and later taught at the Joe Kubert School. A 1970 interview with Elias was printed in Alter Ego #14. He passed in 1998.
The items below are examples of his original art that I find to be remarkably Caniff-esque. Some beautiful damsels, and that guy on the bike might as well be Steve Canyon. [click pictures for glorious enlargement]

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The paste two weeks saw a spate of interesting Milton Caniff and Caniff-related items for auction on Ebay. First up is the most interesting of all, an oil painting Caniff did as a wedding present for his assistant, Willie Tuck. According to the seller, who tells me he is Tuck's nephew, it was completed in 1964 and measures 10"x12". Tuck later gave it to the seller's grandmother (presumably her sister) and then later it became the grandson's. An amazing piece of history that was just hanging on the wall.

This 1923 yearbook is a treasure trove of early Caniff artwork. "Could this be some of his earliest published work?" asks the Item Description. It's definitely among his earliest work. Stivers High School sophomore Caniff was a busy student, as part of the newspaper and yearbook staffs, as well as Hi-Y (a YMCA affiliated youth group) and something called the Jeffersonian. Along with his art for the school newspaper, which included a comic strip, he had an after school job helping out in the art department of the Dayton Daily News. Caniff's yearbook work would continue into college when he worked on the Makio at Ohio State. The high school, originally called Stivers Manual Training, is still in existence as the Stivers School for the Arts.

I have some doubts about this next one. The seller claims that this item "is original pen, ink and hand colored by Shel Dorf". I don't doubt that Dorf hand-colored or even inked it. But it is a duplicate of a Caniff 'Miss Lace' strip that was later used as promotional art. Caniff made prints that he could personalize Dorf, Caniff's letterer on 'Steve Canyon' from 1975 to '88, was an artist in his own right, but he didn't draw like Caniff. I'm guessing the 'Tom Fagan' this was given to is the same Fagan who passed away in 2008. As recalled by Mark Evanier, Tom Fagan was a comics fan whose public efforts to promote comics led to him being featured in several comic books as himself. All in all, a nice piece considering Dorf's role in Caniff's career, but not enough to garner the $175 starting bid.

This last one is part of a group of fraudulent Ebay listings. This is just one of over 40 caricatures posted by the same seller. He claims these were caricatures drawn by Milton Caniff for the Brown Derby restaurant. They look nothing like Caniff art, unless it was from an heretofore forgotten shitty caricature period in which he decided not to draw like himself. They don't even look like they are all by the same artist. Some have a signature (though blurry) and some don't. The seller has been nice in answering my questions, and he seems sincere, though not credible. He told me that these drawings were part of a promotion when the Brown Derby started taking the American Express card. He further told me that he set up the commission with Caniff and spoke to him several times. There's no record of any work done for American Express in the archives at the Cartoon Research Library, in neither Caniff's records nor his agent's. I asked the seller for a sharper picture or a picture of Milton Caniff's signature on one of the pictures. He declined, which is a definite 'BUYER BEWARE' red flag.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Like the Donald Duck strip we posted here, the 'Yogi Bear' strip was not done by the credited creators. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were running their animation empire, not sitting down at the drawing board each week to create gags.

Given the ghost-written/drawn nature of the strip, it's unclear who contributed to the strip. Most credit Gene Hazelton as the main writer and artist, but according to this post by Hanna-Barbera expert Mark Evanier, Hazelton primarily supervised the creation of this strip and 'The Flintstones'. Others credit Harvey Eisenberg, who did some strips as well as many of the Yogi comic books as part of his legendary work for Western Publishing.

The strip debuted in 1961 along and were part of Yogi's biggest decade. He had his own syndicated cartoon show, a long-running comic book, worked as a pitchman for Kellogg's Corn Flakes and even had his own movie ('Hey There, It's Yogi Bear'). The strip above from May 29, 1966 kind of bugs me. It's a nice sight gag in the last panel, but the idea that Ranger Smith wouldn't go to a dentist for a tooth extraction is kind of odd. Another strange thing is the massive crowd in the stands for a Cub Scout track meet. Maybe one of them could have officiated...or the guy with the starter pistol. OK, maybe I'm overthinking it.

More examples of the strip can be found on Ger Appeldorn's website and from

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


A review of Douglas Wolk's 'Reading Comics'

Way back in this post I maligned the title of Reading Comics by Douglas Wolk, without having read it. Actually, I was critical of the subtitle - 'How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.' It's overly pretentious. Who was this guy to tell me what how to read comics? My pal Ted Haycraft responded to the post by getting me a copy of the book. I finally got around to putting some thoughts together.

Wolk's book is divided into two parts: 'Theory and History' followed by 'Reviews and Commentary'. I haven't read the second part, as it's mostly 10-30 pages reviews of things I haven't read, or have read and forgotten. I'm sure I'll pick at it later, like a salad bar, but for now the first part is what holds my interest.

Comics have grown up, Wolk tells us, but had an "awkward childhood and difficult adolescence." I'm not sure of his meaning here, unless "awkward" means a fast-growing mass media that was enjoyed by millions, which is what comics were in the 1930s and '40s (nostalgically referred to as comics' 'Golden Age'), and "difficult" refers to an resurgence of creativity in the 1960s (the 'Silver Age'). I also thinks he overstates the importance of DC Comics' 'Showcase' #4, considered the first comic book of the Silver Age. I really think it was Marvel Comics that brought the industry back to life in the 1960s, along with the popularity of the DC characters in their 1960s incarnations had fans working backwards to find the starting point of this new era. At the same time he maligns 'Showcase' #4 by saying "[t]he cover's text and art reveal fumbling confusion over what exactly it is advertising." Fumbling confusion from artist Carmine Infantino and logo pioneer Ira Schnapp? Hardly. Fumbling confusion from the reader, then? Only if you never saw a comic rack or were unfamiliar with a medium that had been around twenty years by then.

These quibbles aside, my main issue is with the crux of the book, which is based Wolk's assertion that "the big, awkward question hanging in the air is how to read and discuss comics now that they're very different from what they used to be." In this era of comic book news websites, message boards and blogs, comics are being discussed more now than they ever were. There is no question of how to do it, unless you think from a purely academic perspective that people are doing it wrong. Anyone can read a comic, then go on the web and become immersed, to the point of obsession, in the world of that comic, sometimes including interaction with the creators of that comic.

Ironically, Wolk himself criticizes the snobbery of the literati who deign to come down from on high to review comic books, but feel they must give them lofty titles, like "graphic narrative" so as not to sully their mindset as to what represents art and what doesn't. He's dead-on in this assessment, rightly assailing those who don't recognize that 'comics' or 'comic books' are a medium to tell any kind of story, like movies or novels. It's not a great name for acceptance by the New York Times Book Review, but we're kind of stuck with it and should embrace it. It's like those who now refer to monthly comics, something they purport to love, with disdainful names like "floppies" or "pamphlets", as if to say they are lesser versions of a greater form.

Wold paints things with a broad brush. He derides comic adaptations of movies ("pointless cash-ins") and novels ("uniformly terrible"). While I agree with his opinion on movie tie-ins to some degree, some of this work is respected and beloved, such as the first 'Star Wars' trilogy adaptation, which is still in print. As for novel adaptations, such as the long-running 'Classics Illustrated', these were meant to introduce children to classic works, not supplant them. He also knocks CrossGen as "terrible" across the board, leading me to believe he didn't read any CrossGen, or missed excellent reads like 'Way of the Rat' and 'El Cazador'.

OK, now to the good stuff. Wold hits home when he criticizes comics' fans thrill and excitement when comics are mentioned in the mainstream press. I'm guilty of it; comic fans, blogs, news sites and message boards are guilty of it. 'Did you see that piece on R. Crumb in USA Today? We've been legitimized!', or as Wold aptly puts it, fans feel "they have to prove their favorite leisure activity worthy of respect-to show the world that they were right all along."

Most importantly, Wolk's book got me thinking about comics. It has challenged me to think about why I like comics. I don't think I ever really thought about it. I know I like comics as a medium. I know what I like and don't like. I just never thought why I like what I do like, beyond that I liked the art and the story. I'm still not sure I have well thought out answer. But as a supposed writer, being able to articulate my points and think more deeply about the subject of comics, now firmly embedded in my DNA, would be a valuable tool. So, on that basis I can recommend the book. However, on the basis of his description of some superhero comics fans as "pathetic" and "desperate", and his overall Groth-esque elitism, I cannot recommend it for the general comics reader. It turns out my instincts about the subtitle were correct.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I haven't posted much about Milton Caniff lately, so to correct that here's a nifty color Sunday strip from July 21, 1968. I'm really interested in how this montage was put together, so please share your thoughts (especially R.C. Harvey, if you're out there). It looks like a cut and paste job of old strips, but what was the source material? I assume they were photostats from his own files. But how did he get them the size he wanted, assemble it altogether, etc. Because in a pre-Photoshop world, this must have been a meticulous exercise. My only other question - we see plenty of Steve's supporting cast from over the years, but where is Happy Easter?

As a bonus, this was on the other side of the 'Canyon' strip. It's another Caniff creation, 'Terry & the Pirates', which had been written and drawn by George Wunder since 1947. Wunder's 'Terry' suffers from some anonymity, owing to near complete lack of reprint collections. I'm not a big Wunder fan, but his color Terrys are hard to come by.