Friday, August 27, 2010


Steve Canyon, Volume 3 DVD is on the way. While a release date has not been announced, all the news about the third and final installment of the "Steve Canyon" TV series on DVD, including cover art, can be found at the Steve Canyon on DVD blog. Project mastermind John Ellis has been diligently working at making this the last, best statement for what many thought was a TV series lost to the ages. Ellis has been indefatigable in his efforts to include as many documentary and commentary features as possible to complement the set. He has experienced several technological and financial setbacks, but, like Lt. Col. Stevenson B. Canyon, Ellis refuses to quit until the job is done to his satisfaction. You can pre-order Season 3 on his site and, while you're there, order some for your friends to get them hooked on this gem of aviation!

* SPIRIT OF FLIGHT AWARD - The 2010 Milton Caniff "Spirit of Flight" award was presented on July 16th by the National Aviation Hall of Fame. This year's honoree was the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). You can read about the important role of the NBAA here.

The National Cartoonist Society (NCS) held their 64th Annual Reuben Awards on May 29th. This year there were two honorees for the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award - Joe Kubert and George Booth. Kubert was honored for his amazing body of work and for the legacy of his cartooning school. Booth has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine since 1969. An incomplete list of past Caniff winners can be found here. (Kubert photo from Daryl Cagle's website).

Hermes Press has announced two Steve Canyon reprint projects, beginning in 2011. The first will reprint material from the 6-issue 'Steve Canyon' series published by Harvey Comics in 1948. Hopefully it will include 'Steve Canyon's Air Power', a special comic Harvey did in cooperation with the Air Force Association. The second project will reprint "the seven completely original Steve Canyon comic books" that were printed by Dell as part of their Four Color anthology. This is terrific news as these have never been reprinted. Caniff fans take note that he had limited involvement with the comics, choosing to farm the art out to Ray Bailey and William Overgard.

The 2010 Festival of Cartoon Art (FoCA) is this October 14-17th at the Ohio State University, home of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. The event is a mixture of lectures, scholarship, art and celebration of the comics medium. This year's many guests include Simpsons creator Matt Groening, former DC President Paul Levitz and 2010 Reuben award winner Dan Piraro. Activities include a 100th birthday party for the 'Krazy Kat' comic strip, an event with current artist-in-residence Art Spiegelman, and a tribute to Jay Kennedy, who was an underground comix expert as well as editor-in-chief at King Features. For information on all of the programming and how to register for this comic scholar's dream weekend, go here.

Coinciding with the FoCA at Ohio State, but running from September 7th - January 2nd is an exhibition on Billy Ireland. Ireland was a cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper from 1898 until his death in 1935. Most of that was spent as head of the art department and drawing his regular Sunday feature, The Passing Show. He also hired and mentored Milton Caniff and fellow Chillicothe native Noel Sickles. 'Ireland of the Dispatch' is on display at the Thompson Library Gallery. The gallery is open daily. Click here for hours and more information.

ROB HANES ADVENTURES! - Randy Reynaldo has always cited Milton Caniff as the influence behind his series. Now the escapades of his globe-trotting hero are being collected in trade paperback beginning with Volume 0, due out this month. This volume collects issues #1-4 of 'Adventure Strip Digest', Reynaldo's first series to feature Rob Hanes. Check out Randy's own site or the nice write-up he got from Newsarama.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm not watching a lot of TV these days, so I don't have a long list here. Emmy likes the sitcoms I like, so there's not too much to quibble about. We come to differences on dramas, since I haven't seen any of the nominated shows. I can only say that Rescue Me and Men of a Certain Age have been unfailry snubbed. They'd lose to "Mad Men" anyway, but still. I think Jimmy Fallon is a good choice as host, though I would have liked to have seen Neil Patrick Harris again. Hey, Carson did four years in a row, so why not. Plus, you can see Fallon's comedy every weeknight. My comments below assume you know who's nominated. For a complete list of nominees, go to the Emmy site.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM - The best comedy on television deserves a 'Best Comedy' Emmy. Period. Much of my enjoyment of this show comes fromt he kinship I feel with Larry David and the complexity he brings to social interactions. Plus, "Seinfeld" fans got the reunion they always wanted but could never have. What more do you want? My guess is that "Modern Family" will win. I don't watch it, but it's the big buzz show right now, and everyone I know who does watch it raves about it.

STEVE CARELL as Michael Scott on The Office - Here we are again, with Carell up for the 5th time. Carell's Scott is one of TV's all-time great characters for reasons blogger Ken Levine best describes here. Alec Baldwin has two already. Tony Shalhoub has three out of an amazing eight nominations. Larry David is up for the fourth time, but he's basically playing himself. David's character doesn't call for the range of emotion we see from Michael Scott.

AMY POEHLER as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. Lots of folks gave up on this show after what some consider a disappointing first season. That's a shame, because in this season it's equal to its lineup peers "The Office" and "30 Rock". Much of that is due to Poehler's Knope, who evolved from something of a caricature into more of a complete character. Tina Fey is definitely worthy. Like her character Liz Lemon with the fictional "TGS", Fey carries the weight of that series on her shoulders. A win for Julia Louis-Dreyfus would be a little victory for her after the cancellation of her show. But she's won twice out of a stunning twelve nominations, so it's time to pass it on to a fellow SNL alum. Oddsmakers are picking Emmy darling Edie Falco, who won three out of her six nods for "The Sopranos".

THE AMAZING RACE - Seven for seven. Let's keep it going.

THE DAILY SHOW - Emmy loves "The Daily Show", with eight wins out of ten nominations. It's well deserved. The first segment of this show is funnier than any of the monologues in late night. Team Coco is hoping for "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" to win. It would be a big middle finger to NBC, made sweeter because NBC is the Emmys broadcaster.

NICK OFFERMAN as Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation" - With Ron Swanson, Offerman has taken Lou Grant's gruff boss with a heart of gold template to the next level. He gladly lets his eager second, Leslie Knope, handle anything and everything, especially if there's accountability involved. He's so reserved that his looks and sighs are more valuable than dialogue. There always seems to be a seething anger that he's struggling to keep in check, making his moments of contrition all the more meaningful. Like the staff of the fictional Pawnee, Indiana parks department, viewers both love and fear Ron Swanson, a rare feat indeed.

Monday, August 9, 2010


"Too much caffeine, Tom?" That's the line I remember from the Robert Young Sanka commercials in the '80s. I'm not a coffee drinker, so I never understood the appeal of a decaffeinated coffee like Sanka. Coffee has long been a part of American life, particularly as a way to start the morning. Anybody can make it at home with their Mr. Coffee. At restaurants for breakfast, it's assumed you'll want a cup. Most employers provide it for free. Was it that coffee was so woven into our societal fabric that the alternative was a coffee-like drink?

Competing with Sanka was Postum, a coffee substitute made from wheat, and the first product of cereal magnate C.W. Post. As one ad read - "Children brought up on Postum are free from the evil effects of caffeine - the habit-forming drug - in coffee and tea." In the 1930s, the Johnstone and Cushing ad agency created an ad campaign for Postum built around a villainous character named "Mr. Coffee Nerves" in a comic strip format. Each ad involved someone acting like a jerk, egged on by Mr. Coffee Nerves. Those around the jerk suggested the jerky behavior was due to caffeine. Once they switch to Postum, everyone likes them again and their problem is resolved.
In 1936, the agency turned to cartoonists Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff to do their weekly ads, which appeared in the Sunday comics section. The impetus for the deal is not clear(i.e., how were they approached, did one get it and ask the other's help, or was it a package deal). They shared a studio in New York, with their drawing tables facing each other. Caniff had just started his second year of 'Terry & the Pirates'. Sickles was midway through his brief but legendary run on 'Scorchy Smith'. The ads were signed under a joint pseudonym - Paul Arthur - a combination of Sickles' and Caniff's middle names.

As studio mates, the influence they had on each other cannot be understated. Even though each helped the other out from time to time, the 'Mr. Coffee Nerves' strips were thought to be a rare collaboration. The remembrances of who did what on the ads diverge. Comics historian Ron Goulart wrote that Sickles "drew everything except the villain" and that Caniff drew the ghostly Coffee Nerves "and handled the inking."1 Fellow historian and collector Rick Marschall corroborates Goulart's account, citing his videotaped interview with Caniff in which the artist revealed "all was Sickles in the 'Coffee Nerves' ads except Caniff's comic villain himself."2 Since both accounts are from the same book, it's possible that Goulart's source is Marschall's interview.
R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography has a different account. Harvey cites his interview with Sickles in which the artist related that "Milt and I didn't collaborate on them at all. Rather, he and I did them on alternate weeks."3 So, who really did what? With both men being interviewed around 40 years after doing the job, it's no wonder the recollections diverge. With their art styles so similar at the time, Harvey feels it's not possible to tell who did what. Personally, I'm curious as to who has the originals. The Cartoon Research Library database lists a file with clippings, but not the original drawings. Did Johnstone and Cushing keep them? If so, they disbanded in 1962 and it's unclear what happened to their files.

Volume two of 'The Complete Color Terry & the Pirates by Milton Caniff' reprinted all of the 'Mr. Coffee Nerves' strips. The three examples below are from that book. Sadly, this book was the last of a planned 16-volume set. It wouldn't be until the Library of American Comics six-volume set of the last decade that we would see all of Caniff's Sunday 'Terry' strips in color. Paul Arthur surfaced briefly in 1977, trying unsuccessfully to sell a Bruce Lee comic strip written by Caniff with art by Sickles.4

1Marschall, Rick, ed., 'The Complete Color Terry & the Pirates by Milton Caniff, Volume II - 1935-1936', 1990, Remco Worldservice Books, Abington, MA, p.9
2Ibid. p.20
3Harvey, R.C., 'Meanwhile...:A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry & the Pirates and Steve Canyon', 2007, Fantagraphics Books, Seattle, p.276
4Mullaney, Dean, ed., 'Scorchy Smith & the Art of Noel Sickles', 2008, IDW Publishing, San Diego, p.131

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Last month's release of a new Ringo Starr live album inspires the opportunity to explore an overview of his live recordings. Live at the Greek Theatre 2008 is another document of his periodic "All-Starr" tours. It's the sixth such compilation and, surprisingly, Starr's 8th live album.1

The first, 'Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band' (1990, Rykodisc), was my first "solo" Ringo album on CD. This was a big comeback for Starr, after his 1981 comeback album flopped somewhat, and his 1983 follow-up didn't even have U.S. distribution. The All-Starr concept fits him well, giving him the ability to headline and sing his well-known songs, and then act as emcee for the other artists' solo turns. This first album lived up to its name, with Billy Preston, Dr. John, two E-Streeters, two Band members, an Eagle and superstar sideman Jim Keltner. For Starr's selections, he did four of his solo hits and "Honey Don't" from the Beatles.

The second effort came in 1994, documenting the All-Starr's appearance at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. "I've always been known as an old jazz man," Ringo quips at the intro. The lineup has changed, this time with two Eagles, Dave Edmunds, Todd Rundgren, Nils Lofgren and Burton Cummings. This is the lineup I saw live at the Ohio State Fair. There are definite misfires, including Joe Walsh croaking "Desperado" and Rundgren's dull, overwrought "Black Maria". To Starr's credit, there's no overlap in the songs from the first disc. This time it's two solo cuts, three Beatles crowd-pleasers and two new songs form his comeback studio album, 'Time Takes Time'.

Sadly, this is where my personal gap begins and I must fill it in with research. I've taken a pass on most of the live Ringo out there. The third All-Starr outing only found its way to the bargain bin at Blockbuster Music stores (remember those?). It's Mark Farner, Randy Bachman and John Entwistle out with Ringo this time, whose repeats begin here in earnest. Although this volume is hard to find, most of the tracks found their way to the three disc box set 'The Anthology...So Far', which is also the only place you can find an All-Starr rendition of his second hit - "Back off Boogaloo".

Taking a break from the All-Starrs and touring, Ringo appeared on "VH1 Storytellers", promoting his latest studio album 'Vertical Man'. The show, available on CD and DVD, and is a nice mix of his career, with four live versions of songs from my favorite of his modern (post-1990) solo records. It's only surpassed as a career document by the concert he gave for PBS' "Live at Soundstage", also on CD and DVD, which is longer and has seven Beatles songs, four early solo and four modern solo songs.

Back to the All-Starr concept in 2003, he came up with Paul Carrack & Colin Hay and scrounged around for some other 80s leftovers. The highlight is the addition of "Don't Pass Me By" to the set list, while otherwise sticking to the tried and true. Three years later he's back with Rod Argent, Edgar Winter and Billy Squier. That brings us full circle to the Greek Theatre in 2008. Winter, Squier and Hay have returned, joined by Gary "Dream Weaver" Wright and Hamish Stuart. Stuart's inclusion is interesting to me, as he was part of Paul McCartney's studio and touring band from 1989-93 (Macca's own comeback). Starr's froggy "It Don't Come Easy" at the opening made me nervous for what was to come, but his throat clears and it's a nice set from him and particularly the solo spots the band members. It's also the only live appearance of Starr's forgotten 1974 hit "Oh My My" (save for a song from his 'Liverpool 8' album, the rest of Starr's selections are repeats).

What's next for Ringo Starr live recordings? Hopefully we'll get his 70th birthday concert from this year, featuring a slightly altered All-Starr lineup and a surprise appearance by Paul McCartney. Other than that, there aren't many songs he's left behind, other than "Matchbox" (inexplicably) and "Good Night" (waiting for the symphony tour?). He rightfully avoids anything from 1976 - 1983, the creative, critical and popular nadir of his career. I admit a personal fondness for his 1981 album 'Stop and Smell the Roses', but he's right to play his popular stuff with his newest material mixed in. He is, after all, just Ringo, and while rejoice when McCartney does some catalogue dipping, it would be absolute death for Ringo to pull out his disco stuff. So, the new 2008 album's good if you want the All-Starr experience. If you want the most Beatle tunes, it's the Tour 2003 CD. If you want the best all-around live Ringo (and yes, there is such a thing), I recommend Live at Soundstage. All but the latest live Ringo CDs are out of print, but most are downloadable on iTunes.

1Starr's live discography is confused by several releases that seem official, but may not be, or that had such poor distribution so as not to be noticed.