Sunday, April 25, 2010

SPACE 2010

This year I returned to Columbus, Ohio with pal Ted Haycraft (pictured below) for the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE). I have to say that between the guests, the new venue and the overall atmosphere that this was the best SPACE yet. SPACE has had many homes, from an auditorium at the state fairgrounds, to what seemed to be an abandoned Holiday Inn to a Shriner's building. Though the Shriner's hall they had it in the last few years was big enough, the lighting was miserable. The move to the Ramada Plaza is a very welcome change and I hope they can keep it there. Matt with Ted Haycraft

Another welcome sight was SPACE regular Tom Scioli. I've been following Scioli's creation, 'The Myth of 8-Opus', since it began. He's now following a printing model of the photocopied mini-comic single issues later collected into a slick, professional trade paperback. Now I can get further along in Scioli's cosmic Kirby-inspired epic (though I still don't really understand what's going on).

Tom Scioli

Jim Rugg

One of the great things about SPACE is finding something that grabs you right away. A lot of times you'll walk through and look at different comics and portfolios. Maybe the art will grab you, but the concept doesn't, or the idea is interesting, but the artwork doesn't carry it off. Rarely is there a direct hit, but the rarity this time is 'Afrodisiac' by Jim Rugg. In many ways a tribute to the wacky era of 1970s comics, I was drawn in by the faux comic covers that seemed to come from some twisted bygone era. Rugg is personable and enthusiastic about comics. I highly recommend this book, and I haven't even read it yet!

Lora Innes accepts top SPACE prize

One aspect of the show I try not to miss is the SPACE Prize ceremony, where they give out awards for the best comics of the previous show. The top prize and 1st place for the 'general comics' category went to Lora Innes for The Dreamer. The winner for best mini-comic was Aliens Poop on Your Children. The winner for best webcomic, a new category, was Introspective Comics, though I prefer 2nd place finisher The Book of Biff. You can see all of the winners here. In any event, the best part of the ceremony are the acceptance speeches, because the winners are not used to having their comics work recognized, much less applauded in a public forum.

Jim Main signs the latest 'Comic Fan' for Ted

Above is pal Ted checking out the various fanzines from Jim Main. Their 'Comic Fan' title bills itself as the magazine for comics fans by comics fans. It's a nice package, and the latest ish is geared towards Silver Age collectors.

Matt with Guy Davis

Saving the best for last, the highlight for me was meeting Guy Davis. Davis is the artist for BPRD, an ongoing series from Dark Horse Comics. Davis was the closest thing to a 'big name' guest that SPACE had this year, and I was surprised they didn't tout his appearance, but rather lumped him in with the other guests. Preparing to meet him, I picked up his volume of Modern Masters from TwoMorrows Publishing, which includes rare artwork and a career-spanning interview. For some reason I had always thought that Davis was British, but no, he's just a genial chap from Michigan. He was kind enough to do small sketches for us. For Ted, a Sandman from his long run on 'Sandman Mystery Theatre' in the 90s. For me, a Johann Krauss from BPRD. For the uninitiated, Johann Krauss is a disembodied ectoplasmic spirit who must live inside this containment suit. He can release his ectoplasmic form to reanimate the dead and speak for them. In other words, your average man on the street.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


As part of their curriculum vitae, several cartoonists are listed as having been assistants to Milton Caniff. R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, Meanwhile..., does a good job of fleshing out the true role of these cartoonists and their limited contributions to Caniff's work, too limited to refer to any of them as assistants. There are exceptions, such as our focus this week - Ray Bailey. Caniff was a man who had trouble saying no, Harvey relates. Civic and military groups, as well as fans, flooded Caniff with requests for special art, particularly during wartime. Caniff was doing two strips, the daily and Sunday 'Terry & the Pirates' syndicated strip and the weekly 'Male Call' for Camp Newspaper Services. He hired Bailey to help out with this 'extra-curricular' work. This is important to know, because most bios state that Bailey was an assistant on 'Terry & the Pirates', whereas it's more accurate to say that he assisted Caniff at the same time Caniff was drawing 'Terry & the Pirates'.

Bailey left Caniff to start his own strip - 'Bruce Gentry', another aviator/adventurer, with Bailey's art firmly in the Caniff school. Despite being popular enough to translate to film, 'Gentry' ended in 1951, and Bailey moved to 'Tom Corbett, Space Cadet' (1951-53). These strips are available online courtesy of Ger Appeldorn, who describes 'Corbett' as a sort of 'What if Caniff drew Terry in space?'. There's also more Ray Bailey courtesy of Ron Harris' Words and Pictures blog.

Bailey went on to comic book work, particularly Dell comics of the 1960s. He came full circle with Caniff, drawing the four Steve Canyon adventures that appeared in Dell's venerable 'Four Color' series. Bailey died in his early 60s in 1975. Below was an item recently for sale on Ebay. The seller billed it as an unpublished story for Harvey Comics. Beautiful stuff!

Friday, April 2, 2010


Two weeks ago we highlighted a comics artist of the "Caniff school" - Lee Elias. This time I'd like to briefly review three other artists who were strongly influenced by Caniff -

Caniff's comic strip before 'Terry & the Pirates' was 'Dickie Dare'. 'Dickie' was something of a prototype for 'Terry', wherein a young boy travels with an adult adventurer, meeting villains and beautiful women along the way. After Caniff left, 'Dickie Dare' continued under different artists for 24 years. Fran Matera was one of those, drawing the strip for a few years in the late 1940s. Matera's longest stint was drawing 'Steve Roper and Mike Nomad', taking over the venerable strip in 1985 until its end in 2004. The strip below is an example of 'Mr. Holiday', a strip that only made it a year in the early 50s.
From over five decades later, a 'Steve Roper & Mike Nomad' from its final year.

I've mentioned George Wunder a few times on the blog. To most, Wunder will always be little more than the guy who followed Milton Caniff on 'Terry & the Pirates'. Maybe that's unfair, but I haven't read enough of his work to make an assessment of the quality of his strips. Here are some early George Wunder from Bob Foster's website that shows a Caniff influence. He was offered the 'Terry' gig partly because of his ability to approximate the Caniff style, making it a smooth transition, later morphing into his own style. Lots of folks mistake Wunder's 1950s ad campaign for Canada Dry as Caniff art. Here's original art for a 1951 Terry Sunday by Wunder, followed by a daily from the 60s.

If there was a true 'Caniff school', then Frank Robbins would have graduated with honors. Robbins drew enough like the master to be mistaken for him, though his amped up cartooniness and facial expressions give him a style all his own. He never drew a Caniff-originated strip, but did do four years on 'Scorchy Smith', a feature made famous by Caniff's friend and fellow innovator, Noel Sickles. Robbins left 'Scorchy' to launch his own strip, Johnny Hazard. Hazard, like Smith, was a pilot/troubleshooter, a popular occupation in comics soon to be enjoyed by Steve Canyon. 'Hazard' lasted over 30 more years, ending in '76. The art below is from 2/29/68.

For more Robbins art, check out this action-packed Sunday page from Michael Manley's Draw! blog.