Wednesday, December 26, 2012


This year marks the beginning of an amazing undertaking, the complete reprinting of the "Steve Canyon" comic strip by the Library of American Comics.  Following up on the stellar format they pioneered with "The Complete Terry & the Pirates," Dean Mullaney and company stunned the comics world with Volume 1 (1947-1948) and Volume 2 (1949-1950).  Each volume contains two complete years of strips, with the Sundays reprinted in color for the first time.  Providing background and historical context is Bruce Canwell with his well-researched introductory pieces in each book.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum held an exhibit at the beginning of the year called "Columbus Cartoonists."  It featured artwork from Milton Caniff and other artists who plied their trade in the state capital, including the library's namesake.  The library staff also started a blog this year, giving them an online ability to highlight work from their collection comic strip art, which is the largest in the world.  The library started in 1977 when Caniff began donating his art and papers to the Ohio State University.

The "Dick Tracy" comic strip had a tribute to Caniff by including some of his characters in a recent storyline.  You can see all the strips and read comments from the creators here.

Last but not least was a significant exhibit that shook the comic strip literati.  "Milton Caniff: An Introduction," curated by Matt Tauber, took over the display case in the lobby of the Green Township branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  The display included tear sheets, photos and memorabilia related to Caniff and his comic strips.  The Green Township library has the third highest circulation in the 41-branch system.  When asked about the success of the exhibit, one librarian said, "Um, well...I do see people looking at it."


All in all, a good year for Caniffites!  I'm looking forward to 2013 for Volume 3 of the Complete "Steve Canyon" TV series on DVD, two new volumes of "Steve Canyon" from the Library of American Comics, as well as the exciting expansion of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in the Fall.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Here are what I think were the best comics of 2012.  As usual, my criteria is kind of loosey-goosey, but as long as it came out in 2012 it's eligible!

DAREDEVIL, VOL. 1 [Marvel] - The most fun I've had reading a comic book this year. Set apart from the heaviness of the Avengers/X-Men books, this is a throwback to when comics could just be comics. Once upon a time, before crossovers and "event" comics, a writer could tell a new story every month, establishing a continuity along the way. It's a thrill to rediscover why I started reading Marvel comics in the first place 30 years ago.

ED BRUBAKER (CAPTAIN AMERICA # /WINTER SOLDIER # ) [Marvel] - Ed Brubaker has earned his place in the pantheon of great Cap writers. On my Cap Rushmore is Brubaker, Mark Waid, J.M. DeMatteis and Stan Lee. So no hard feelings with him ending his eight year run, having rescued Cap from the doldrums and reestablishing him as one of the Marvel greats. Brubaker's also the one who brought Bucky from the dead, establishing him as the Winter Soldier, then the new Captain America. Back into his Cold War guise, Brubaker created a compelling spy series for the solo book. As with Daredevil above, free from entanglements in crossovers, Brubaker was able to run with it.

ANIMAL MAN # [DC] - This series has a lot of things I don't like, as I'm repulsed by gross-out stuff (like bodies being ultra-deformed or inverted).  That said, Jeff Lemire's story of a hero trying to both protect his family and save life itself is a compelling read.  Buddy Baker may be able to adopt the powers of animals, but we still join him as an everyman facing a journey and challenges beyond normal comprehension.

COMICS REVUE #309-318 [Manuscript Press] - Each issue (two issues are combined in each book) is a treasure trove of comic strip reprints.  I started buying this because they reprint "Steve Canyon" every issue (currently from the early '70s).  The rest of each book is well worth it, concentrating on continuity strips from the 1930s to the 80s.  There is a special color section reprinting "Tarzan" by Russ Manning and "Flash Gordon" by Mac Raboy.  Another era of "Tarzan" appears in black and white, drawn by the underrated Bob Lubbers.  The scratchiness of Romero's art in "Modesty Blaise" has grown on me, though I still prefer the illustration work of Al Williamson on "Secret Agent Corrigan," another regular feature.  A surprise favorite of mine has been "The Phantom" by Lee Falk.  Though I find the art at times crude, it has a straight-ahead adventure escapism that's sorely missing from some modern comics.

MIKE MIGNOLA (HELLBOY: THE STORM AND THE FURY/WITCHFINDER: LOST AND GONE FOREVER) [Dark Horse] - Mike Mignola has built a varied universe around Hellboy.  While they all deal with the supernatural, he has slowly built a great fantasy epic out of the main title.  In "The Storm and the Fury", Mignola again hands off the art chores of his signature character to Duncan Fegredo, but Fegredo is the ideal partner who doesn't make us wish for Mignola to return to the art (though he will next year).  Hellboy must save England from an apocalyptic army created by the mad witch Nimue.  Hellboy, despite his appearance, grounds us to the story with his humanity and no b.s. outlook.  

In "Lost and Gone Forever," we follow 19th century occult investigator Sir Edward Grey to the American Wild West.  Co-written with John Arcudi, Grey faces Native American shaman magic as well as the undead.  I mention it mainly because it was the final work of comics legend John Severin.  Severin, a veteran of many Western comics, had a craft that was undiminished at age 90.  It was a perfect fit for this solid story, and kudos to Dark Horse for hiring him for this assignment.

SAGA #1-8 [Image] - What is this thing?  I don't really know.  A mix of alien races and technology and magic.  Two people in love from different worlds journey through the galaxy with their newborn daughter and ghostly nanny.  The big hitch is that multiple forces would like to see them all dead.  Writer Brian K. Vaughan had me for five years with his last opus, "Y: The Last Man."  I plan on being with this one for the duration.

STEVE CANYON VOLUME 1: 1947-1948/STEVE CANYON VOLUME 2: 1949-1950 [Library of American Comics] - What more can I say about Milton Caniff?  Plenty, but for this I'll just say, "The master at his peak."  'Nuff said.  P.S. He had a about a decade long "peak."

glamourpuss #24 - 26 [Aardvark-Vanaheim] - And so the bizarre experiment comes to an end.  Dave Sim enlivened the final issues with the inclusion of Zootanapuss, a Zatanna lookalike, making a mockery of elite fashion.  The other half of the book was spent concluding his saga of the strange death of cartoonist Alex Raymond.  This was the meat of the book for me, combining historical fact with Sim's sometimes bizarre speculation.  Having spent what seemed like a year building up to it, Raymond and Stan Drake finally got in the damn car to take the joyride that would end Raymond's life.  I hope that his plans to collect this storyline and expand on it someday come to fruition, though there is a sad lack of interest in Sim's work.  Sim chronicles the end of this series and his ongoing financial woes here

SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE LOSERS [DC] - This is a long-awaited collection, as I've been trying to collect the "Losers" stories by artist John Severin over the last few years.  This book has all of them, as well as their earlier adventures, collecting the Losers stories from "Our Fighting Forces" #123-150, and their first appearance from "G.I. Combat" #138.  While the Kanigher/Severin run deserves the DC Archives treatment (in color on better paper), this will thrill for now.

 JOE KUBERT'S TARZAN OF THE APES ARTIST'S EDITION [IDW] - Tarzan was where I first fell in love with Kubert's work and recognized it for what it was - genius.  Kubert's art has been ubiquitous in comics for 70 years, but I passed it by from being a kid through adulthood.  It's only in the last 15 years or so where I've come to appreciate the craftsmanship of the great illustrators and cartoonists (e.g., Milton Caniff) that I had an "A-ha!" moment while reading an earlier reprint.  Now we have this amazing artifact, which showcases what is still for me some of Kubert's best work.  The Artist's Edition series reproduces the original art at it's original size, getting you as close to the creation process as possible.  Joe Kubert died this year, and this book is a fitting visual epitaph.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


At Christmastime, Caniff always thought of the military men and women, such as those getting by at the local VA hospital, those standing guard while we enjoyed the comforts of home, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Below is his Christmas poem from December 25, 1983.