Monday, April 25, 2011


The news that Bill Blackbeard passed away on March 10th led to an outpouring of accolades and remembrances on several comic sites, some from those who knew him. I didn't know Blackbeard. To me, he was a legendary figure, his name appearing as author, editor or contributor to almost anything I read involving reprinted comic strips. Like his pirate namesake, Blackbeard transformed from a man into a mythical figure. Indeed, his contribution to comics reflects a supernatural dedication.

I had written my own pithy backstory of Blackbeard, but this uncredited writer did it so well I thought I'd run it instead1 -

Here was a man whose obsession for collecting provided a great boon for the rest of us. Researchers and publishers plumbed this most complete collection of comic strips. Strips that would be lost or forgotten, or mere footnotes, are known or collected because of Blackbeard. Yes, to some it may seem strange, that he had comics piled from floor to ceiling, in almost every room of his home, so that the world would remember Krazy Kat and his ilk. His contribution to the preservation of the comics medium is unmatched. Dean Mullaney is editor of the Library of American Comics, the premiere publisher of comic strip reprints. He put it the most succinctly on his heartfelt blog entry - "We owe it all to Bill."

For anyone interested in the life and work of Bill Blackbeard, I recommend this article by Jenny Robb, curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (click on the .pdf file).

Meanwhile, here's what Blackbeard wrote of our favorite subject, Milton Caniff2 -

1 Caniff, Milton, 'Steve Canyon Meets Happy Easter', 1977, Comic Art Publishing Co., Concord, CA, p.3
2 Ibid.
Top Photo - Blackbeard at his home, undated/San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection/Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Monday, April 18, 2011


A recent 'Terry & the Pirates' original art auction on eBay had a unique twist. Offered for sale was the strip that was published on January 14, 1942, as well as a heretofore unseen unpublished version! [click to enlarge pictures]
Above is the published version.

Above is the unpublished version. This was drawn first. Apparently there was some objection to the fourth panel and Caniff was asked to redo it. I'm sure Caniff being asked to redraw a panel was a rarity in itself, particularly at the peak of his career. It's not really a key strip and it has none of the main characters. It only has Sammy the Tapper, a minor villain who was getting his kicks blackmailing Terry's love interest, April Kane.

This was written at the bottom of the unpublished version. My best guess is "Kill this out for Herman", and then initialed EM. Perhaps some other Caniff scholars can give me a hand here? Another big curiosity is the date - 1/6/42. Was Caniff asked to make the change just eight days before press time?!? It seems like an unbelievable turnaround.

Now come the two biggest questions. What was wrong with the fourth panel. The auction seller speculated that it looked 'too official'. A collector friend of mine thinks they were worried the type would get muddied up in reduction. But wouldn't Caniff have foreseen that? Also, why draw an entirely new strip over just replacing the offending panel? The first three panels have minor changes, but it's the fourth that's completely different. A dealer friend of mine wondered if they couldn't get the original back to Caniff, or even a stat, and he redrew it from memory. I don't think that's the case, as we have both originals in hand today. I think Caniff was in a constant battle between deadlines and perfectionism. Perhaps he was always thinking of ways he could have done something better, and here he saw an opportunity to improve upon an already finished strip. See what differences you can spot in the panel comparisons.

Of the first three panels, I think this one is improved by the contrast of white paper against the waiter's suit.

Kudos to Caniff for obtaining what was likely an authentic New York rap sheet of its day. The real improvements in the new panel are (1) the use of Sam's mugshot in favor of all that type and (2) the cigarette now falling out of his mouth in shock.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I've been intrigued lately by original Caniff strip art and those who collect it. When fellow Caniff fan Ron M. posted about art he was selling through Heritage Auctions, I decided to ask him about how he got into collecting. His experience is very similar to my own. "Like most of us," Ron told me, "I read the Sunday funnies each week as a kid. But I have to admit I read only the humor strips. I didn't care for the other genres, of course this was the '80s and most the classic strips were already gone.

Terry & the Pirates - 1/12/43

In the early '90s, I bought a lot of the various reprint books and, in a lot of the introductions, they would typically mention the all-time greats, and Milton Caniff's name always came up(along with Al Capp). Regarding Caniff, once I read some of the strips in various book collections, I quickly found I enjoyed both 'Terry & the Pirates' and 'Steve Canyon'. The storytelling ability was the main enjoyment for me, the historical appreciation for Caniff's artistic abilities came a few years later. I really love his pacing and how it made you want to read the next strip, also his various locations, and his expertise with shading."

Terry & the Pirates - 7/15/43

Ron began collecting original art in 2004, buying them at auction via Heritage, eBay and Russ Cochran. What does he look for in a strip? "I personally use how much I like the art as a barometer of whether I want to buy the page (assuming I have the funds). I dont like to buy pages with too much text or word balloons, so almost all my dailies I have bought I felt the art was really cool. I decided to only buy dailies , and avoid pages that have alot of whiteout. Of course, I love all original art, it's all one of a kind; I just narrowed my criteria so I wouldn't spend more than i can afford."

Steve Canyon 7/12/48

With the boom of reprint collections collecting classic strips, Ron has been getting more enjoyment out of reading than collecting. 'Terry & the Pirates', his favorite, has been reprinted by the Library of American Comics/IDW and is still available. New collections of 'Li'l Abner', another favorite, start this month. Also topping his list are Pogo (collections begin in October from Fantagraphics, Blondie (currently being done by IDW), and Krazy Kat (currently being done by Fantagraphics). This plethora of material led Ron to the decision to sell some of his collection.

Terry & the Pirates 4/23/49

I was intrigued that his collection includes 'Terry & the Pirates' pages by George Wunder. Wunder had the thankless task of not only following Caniff on 'Terry', but competing with Caniff's new creation 'Steve Canyon'. Wunder has been judged by some as little more than a serviceable practitioner of the Caniff school. Ron gave me his perspective: "I really enjoy George Wunder art, as the first Terry Pirates pages I read in the '90s were by Wunder, not Caniff. I've always liked his art, nice crisp lines, so I'm not sure why a lot of people feel the need to constantly say he's just not as good as Caniff. I certainly would not call him an also-ran. To me, Wunder was one of the top talents in cartooning. Put me in the camp that feels he is underrated. Theres a good percentage of people who's only recollection of 'Terry' is probably the Wunder version. I enjoy both artists' work equally, and have never been one to partake in the 'who's better' arguments. Caniff is one of the elites, and to me Wunder is right up there in the next tier as well."

Terry & the Pirates 10/23/67

I asked Ron if he wanted me to provide specific links to his auctions. He responded that I should promote the entire auction of comic book art, which can be found here.

Friday, April 1, 2011


The solicitation for 'Caniff', the art book from the Library of American Comics, was in the latest edition of Previews and is also on Amazon. This is the book where I made a contribution to the research done by Lorraine Turner and the book's editor, Dean Mullaney. Dean wrote about that experience here. I asked him what happened to the earlier title, "The Art of Caniff"? "I decided on "Caniff"," said Dean, "because only in comics are art books called "The Art of…." You don't see "The Art of Van Gogh" or "The Art of Rembrandt!"

Also from the Library of American Comics are the volumes of The Complete Terry & the Pirates that have been out of stock. The rarest volumes (4 and 5) have been commanding $100 and up prices in the aftermarket. It's great to see this American classic remain in print. Ask your local comics dealer!

The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art - Jerry Robinson - This revised edition of Robinson's 1974 tome was released last month. I don't have a copy, so I can't confirm the Caniff content. But, not having Caniff would be like doing a Revolutionary War history without George Washington. Robinson, best known in the comic book world as co-creator of Robin and the Joker, was president of the National Cartoonist Society from 1967-69.

Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising - Fantagraphics will release this in July. According to publisher Gary Groth, some Caniff work is slated to be part of the book. I suspect it's the work he did with Noel Sickles under the pseudonym "Paul Arthur", primarily Mr. Coffee Nerves (which I wrote about here). The co-editor of the book is Rick Marschall, who reprinted the Coffee Nerves strips in 1990 in a Terry & the Pirates book.

Leif Peng - Peng is a Canadian cartoonist and illustrator who also has a blog called "Today's Inspiration", which celebrates the work of cartoonists and illustrators through high quality scans of their work. In doing so, he has built up and shared what is likely the best online resource of Noel Sickles art. If you love the work of Caniff's pal Sickles as much as we do, Peng's site will amaze and delight. Today's Inspiration

Cartoon Limbo - The Prallsville Mills, an historic site in Stockton, NJ, is hosting an art exhibit called Cartoon Limbo. The theme of the exhibit is rejected drawings of famous cartoonists. According to the press material, there is a Caniff item, though I don't know what. Other artists represented include Carl Barks, Charles Schulz and Crockett Johnson.