Wednesday, August 31, 2011


DC Comics is relaunching their line in September, starting over with 52 new #1 issues. It's a bid to attract new readers and invigorate older ones. To publicize this event, many retailers across the country were open at midnight for the release of Justice League #1.

My local comic store - Up Up and Away in Cheviot - kicked things off at 11:08PM last night with a 52 minute sale. It was better attended than I thought it would be, but then, maybe most of these folks didn't have their alarms set for 6AM. Oh well, what's a little lost sleep where funnybooks are involved?

Matt with Up Up and Away owner Kendall Swafford.

A pretty good crowd for midnight at a comic book store.

You can't sleep here...go home, Matt!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon: The Complete Series, Volume: One (Hermes Press)

Steve Canyon appeared annually from 1953 to 1959 as one-shots that were part of Dell Comics anthology series known as Four Color. Wouldn't it be great, I once wondered, if somebody collected these in one book? My thought was not alone in the ether. Hermes Press has just released a beautiful reprinting of these comics in hardcover.

John Ellis of the Milton Caniff Estate writes the introductory essay that gives a nice overview of Steve Canyon's history in the comic book field. The first Canyon comics were reformatted strips published by Harvey in the late 1940s. This lasted only six issues, not faring as well as 'Terry & the Pirates', which ran 11 years in the anthology title Popular Comics, as well as 28 issues of its own title.
The Four Color comics were not strip reprints, but original stories which introduced new characters. For six issues, Steve is aided by Tuck, a young sidekick similar to the strip's Reed Kimberly. In two of the three issues that center on the Civil Air Patrol, a young Civil Air Patrol officer named Janice becomes Tuck's love interest. The main gist of the stories typically involves Steve's role as an Air Force troubleshooter trying to protect U.S. interests from the Commies.
Each issue, save the last, has a painted cover. It's interesting to me that Four Color issues featuring humor strip characters (e.g., Beetle Bailey, Little King) have cartoon line art, but the ones with adventure strip heroes (Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim) have stunning painted covers. Each cover artist is different, but they continue to remain anonymous. They each reflect a scene from the story, except for issue #939, which happens to be the best of the bunch and was used as the stunning cover for this collection. The seventh issue has a photo cover, which was a tie-in to the "Steve Canyon" TV series. Ellis is 2/3 of the way through releasing crisp, remastered episodes of the complete series on DVD.
Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon comics are, for the most part, not by Caniff. The art chores were handled by William Overgard and Ray Bailey, two veteran strip artists of the "Caniff school" who could do a pretty good impersonation of the master. Overgard did the first issue and Bailey the other six. According to Ellis, Caniff did the inking of the Steve Canyon faces to provide continuity between the books and the strip (and likely to keep his own stamp/brand on the character). The stories are by the prolific Paul S. Newman, though Ellis suspects Caniff had a hand in the first. All are Caniffesque adventures stories, though admittedly they lack the snap of Caniff's dialogue.

All in all, a dream project made true by the folks at Hermes, who deliver a first rate, faithful reproduction of the comics. A great example of both restoration and preservation of comics no longer scattered and forgotten.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


DRAWING TABLET - You're not likely to find many 50 year old drawing tablets lying around unused. This "Newspaper Comic Strip Stars" Drawing Tablet was released in 1959 by HyTone, a trademark of the Western Tablet & Stationery Corporation. Western Tablet was headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, where Caniff grew up and did his first professional art. Sharing the cover with Steve Canyon is Li'l Abner, drawn by Caniff's longtime pal Al Capp. The other "stars" are Harry Haenigsen's somewhat forgotten "Penny" and Harry Hanan's "Louie", a pantomime strip so obscure that I'm surprised Dean Mullaney hasn't done a collection yet.

The inner cover had "how to" instructions for drawing the comic stars. How to go from an oval and square to a perfect 'Steve Canyon' face in two steps? I think we're missing something! This went unused and unbid at $19.95.

Unable to satisfy the demand for original drawings, Caniff had prints made of his best-known characters. He would then personalize them and often hand-colored them. They pop up on eBay quite frequently, but mostly of Steve Canyon, Burma, Terry, Dragon Lady and Flip Corkin. I've never seen the April Kane print before. The seller didn't know who know who she was, titling her "grouchy young lady." This made it onto somebody's wall for $203.50.

I wrote last month about a rare child's Steve Canyon flight suit up for auction and going unsold. I no sooner mentioned that I'd never seen one before when this one comes up - the same product, only brand new and still in the box! It may be one of a kind, but it didn't move on the minimum price of $565.

Even before Terry Lee got in a cockpit, Milton Caniff was a booster for the US military. Here's one of the many (no doubt gratis) jobs he did for Uncle Sam. It's a recruitment sign for the Women's Air Force Reserve. It's not dated, but the art looks like '60s, maybe early '70s Caniff. A rarity, to be sure, but at $40 it found no recruits!