Tuesday, Sep 9th, 2014
Woo-Woo to Mizzou
posted by Bruce Canwell
Dean and I have developed a mantra during our seven-plus years launching and growing The Library of American Comics: "The more you know, there more there is to know." This is true for no cartoonist more than Milton Caniff. A Brobdingagian biographical tome was published in 2007, while I've added close to seventy thousand words to the examination of Milton's life and career in LOAC's complete reprinting of his Terry and the Pirates, our Caniff: A Visual Biography artbook, and the four volumes of Steve Canyon we have released so far.
Inevitably, there is a degree of overlap between the previous extensive biography and the text features in LOAC's books - after all, events such as the death of Raven Sherman or the War-year existence of the Male Call series are too big to be ignored by anyone who delves into Caniffite territory - yet I believe we have done a respectable job of putting a different (and, we hope, complimentary) emphasis on those common topics while also finding and shining the spotlight on many events in Milton's life that the biography did not have room to cover.
Now a new and notable player has entered the field with a fascinating new entry that focuses on just one of the hundreds of characters Milt created, illuminating a previously-neglected slice of his singular career. I'm speaking of J.B. Winter's Miss Missou: A Life Beyond Comics.
Thanks to some impeccable research, this little volume packs a big punch. Winter examines the effect both Milt and his trench-coated creation had on the town of Columbia, Missouri (the home of the University of Missouri, from which the nickname "Mizzou" originates), and the results of his examination are interesting and entertaining. A variety of newspaper clippings, original artwork, and maps - as well as photos of Caniff, the delightful Bek Steiner, and other models Milt employed as post-Bek Mizzous - keeps readers eager to turn the pages.
Mr. Winter provided me an advance copy and asked if I'd share my reactions for possible publication - his work is such a pleasure, I was glad to comply with his wishes. I came away from A Life Beyond Comics freshly amazed at the sheer reach his unique combination of talent and personality gave to Caniff. He really did spent much of his career as either a pop culture star.
Very reasonably priced and available now at Amazon.com, J.B. Winter's fine publication belongs on every Caniff devotee's bookshelves. Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics is a David that can proudly stand next to the twin Goliaths that are the Caniff biography and our own LOAC hardcover releases.
Wednesday, Sep 3rd, 2014
Mining the Data
posted by Bruce Canwell
Sometimes an idea yanks you in a completely different direction than you expected when you first started playing with it. The graphic presented below is a prime example of this "yanked sideways" scenario—my original idea was to do a grouped-by-syndicate diagram featuring some of our favorite cartoonists, something roughly similar to the Caniffian chart I ran in this space some time ago.
In order to figure out how I'd want such a chart to look I listed a handful of creators, identifying them by name/strip/syndicate. I then decided I should include the start-/end-dates for each of the strips listed. By the time I had compiled all of that I decided to rough it out, timeline-fashion…and after I completed that exercise, several interesting tidbits jumped out at me, leading me to decide, "The heck with that other chart, this was what I need to run on the LOAC website!"
Two quick notes on formatting:
 To eliminate any possible confusion, let me mention that the vertical gridline to the left of each date represents the year shown. For example, the vertical gridline to the right of each strip's name represents the year 1910, even though the label "1910" appears after that vertical line. The next vertical gridline after the "1910" label represents 1915, the next 1920, and so on. Simple, once you get the hang of it, true?
 The color coding is pretty simple: Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate strips are represented by red bars, King Features strips by blue bars, NEA strips by yellow bars, AP strips by black bars, and United Feature strips by green bars. Also pretty simple, I think you'll agree!
Click on the image for a larger view.
Here are five key items that popped at me. Some of it is common knowledge, but seeing it depicted visually helped give me a fresh perspective on it ...
ITEM! The sheer longevity of some of the careers represented is, frankly, astounding. Look at the length of Bil Keane's and Mort Walker's involvement with the creation of a single strip! Almost as impressive are the runs of talents like McManus (Bringing Up Father), Schulz (Peanuts), Gould (Dick Tracy), Capp (Li'l Abner), and Gray (Little Orphan Annie), all mining a single strip for fresf material decade after decade. Remarkable, just remarkable.
ITEM! Some talents who migrated from one strip to another had equally-impressive careers in terms of length, though one has to look at the "step-function" of their careers across multiple rows to fully appreciate the sweep of a talent like Roy Crane (Tarzan, Buz Sawyer) or Hal Foster (Tarzan, Prince Valiant). Note also the length and the dynamism of Caniff's career, as he gets established at the AP (Dickie Dare), migrates to CTNYN with Terry and the Pirates, then settles in at Field Enterprises (administered by King Features) with Steve Canyon. Also note how short a run, when expressed on a timescale like this, Milt had with Terry, and think of the prodigious effect that dozen years of work had on the comics medium. One's head starts to spin when one factors in the idea of quality on top of quantity!
ITEM! Speaking of quality, think how influential Bud Sickles's Scorchy Smith work was, and look at how brief a period it covers! The end of Sickles's and Sidney Smith's time in the comic strip trenches is grouped closely together, though two very different reasons spur their respective departures ...
ITEM! Check out the three rows allocated to Alex Raymond (for X-9, Flash Gordon, and Rip Kirby)- the gap between the end of Flash and the start of Rip reflects Alex's time in the military during World War II. The all-blue nature of the periods shown also indicate King Features knew a good thing when they saw it—they found the right way to keep Raymond in their stable until his untimely death.
A similar gap occurs in the two Dick Moores rows. The period between the demise of Jim Hardy (aka Windy and Padles) and his assuming the chores on Gasoline Alley represents his time spent at Disney and his uncredited work as Frank King's assistant.
ITEM! Is there a better year for comic strip debuts than 1934? Look at how they line up: Terry, Li'l Abner, Secret Agent X-9, Flash Gordon, and Soglow's Little King all bowed that year (and those are just the strips shown here—Mandrake the Magician, Radio Patrol, and others also bowed in '34).
Perhaps you'll find your own tidbits of information from this exhibit - and we'll give you a few days to do so. Then I'll come back with a different view of this same information, plus a few extra observations…