Wednesday, Dec 21st, 2011

No Man is an Ireland…

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

You know the old gag: "I just flew back from Ohio State University, and boy, are my arms tired…"
I made a commando run to Columbus, Ohio, arriving at 11PM Sunday, December 18th so I could hit the beaches bright and early and make the walk across campus to the Wexler Center.

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There, shortly after 9AM, I was stepping inside the cozy confines of The Ohio State University's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum for an intense day and a half of research work.

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It was a pleasure to see and speak with old friends Susan Liberator and Marilyn Scott of the Library's staff, and to trade a smile and a wave during lunchtime with the very-busy Jenny Robb as she hustled from one appointment to the next. It was also something of a mini-LOAC summit, since the Imperial Grand Poobah himself, Dean Mullaney, was also on site, accompanied by Art Director Lorraine Turner. We were joined by Jared Gardner, who was so instrumental in putting together our upcoming-and-very-cool Cartoon Monarch, spotlighting the wonderful work and career of Otto Soglow. Jared was on hand, working on Skippy; Dean and Lorraine were looking at Sunday proofs and tear sheets on a yet-to-be-announced project.

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Me? I was there to make my way through almost a dozen boxes from the Library's Milton Caniff collection, digging for gold to support of new series of Steve Canyon reprints.

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Were we all successful? Oh yeah, I'd say so! Lorraine found a very cool strip none of us had ever seen before, titled Girls—Dean was laughing and shaking his head in about equal measure as he made his way through the material he had asked to see—Jared was digging deeply, seeking to solve a mystery of Skippy's earliest days—and yes, I managed to find several new tidbits we can use in future Canyon volumes.

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I know, I know—Caniff's life and career have been thoroughly covered, in a nine hundred page biography and our own 2011 Caniff: A Visual Biography. It's easy to ask, "What else is there out there that we haven't seen?"
The answer is—a lot! The Library's Caniff Collection encompasses 696 cubic feet of storage space, and it contains everything from the sublime (wonderful artwork and photos) to the ephemeral (do you want to see every vote readers sent in while choosing the film Reed Kimberly would show "The Crag Hag" in order to best exemplify America? They're all in the Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum—votes cast in typewritten letters, in hand-written notes, in post-cards, in a crayon scrawl written across the bottom of Canyon dailies torn out of newspapers. We'll show you the tiniest cross-section of samples when we run the "Crag Hag" story in Steve Canyon Volume 2—and there will be plenty of other juicy tidbits featured in that and future volumes, as well.

Equally interesting to me were the things that are not germane to Canyon, but still of interest to any comics scholar. Joking notes from Bud Sickles to "Pappy" Caniff (in one missive, the latter is referred to as "Uncle Miltie," because Sickles also attached a newspaper clipping featuring an unflattering snapshot of a horse bearing that name!)—letters to Caniff from his old friend, Al Capp, and from Chester (Dick Tracy) Gould, congratulating his peer on making the leap from Terry to Canyon. Perhaps my favorite find was an hysterical letter from Ernie Bushmiller tinged with profanity and building to a scatological conclusion. I laughed out loud as I read it—who knew Nancy's guiding light knew those kinds of words?

While time spent at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is a comics lover's equivalent of a trip to Disneyworld, it is tense and tiring work sifting through the treasures. I went eight straight hours on Monday the 19th, never pausing for lunch or anything but the shortest of breaks. I was making my way through box after box, each filled with more than two-dozen file folders, each file folder packed with scores of artifacts, seeking to find items of sufficient interest to capture for our Canyon series. Which previously-unseen photos were worthy of use? Was one esoteric piece of artwork better than another? Were there letters or other written documents that should be copied for inclusion in the books, or should I simply summarize from them and make use of their information while writing future text pieces? That's a lot of skullsweat and eyestrain, believe me!

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Of course, when teamed with Dean and Lorraine, it's not all hard work and no play. We were reasonably well behaved in Jared's presence, but while he was tending to his professorial duties at the University, we cut a few capers to make Susan and the Library crew either laugh or shake their heads in bemusement (or sometimes both at the same time). We were even willing to stoop to prop comedy—move over, Carrot Top!—doing our best Maurice Chevalier impersonations, using Lorraine's beret for inspiration.

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Sadly enough for Dean and me, Lorraine topped both of us!

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Monday evening we went to Marcella's—an Italian restaurant located between the university and the Columbus downtown district—for fine eats and to talk of the sweet mysteries of life (at last we've found them). Lorraine especially had a smashing good time, sending a water glass crashing to the floor, where it shattered into a bazillion pieces. Who hasn't done the same, somewhere along the line?

Tuesday the 20th was another full day of work for Dean and Lorraine, but a half-day for me: I had an afternoon flight back home to New England, so as Jared, Dean, and Lorraine broke for a slightly-late lunch, I said my goodbyes and beat feet back across campus. My hotel stands in the shadow of the university's mammoth football stadium and the OSU ROTC center.

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I returned there, went back to my room to collect my luggage, completed my late check-out, and caught a lift out to the Port Columbus Airport, where I began the seven-hour journey back home.

So: a great, invigorating, tiring, fascinating, funny, illuminating trip; I am once again indebted to Susan, Marilyn, and everyone else at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum for being welcoming, helpful, and incredibly good sports. And yes, I just flew back from Ohio State University, and boy, are my arms (and eyes, and back, and shoulders…) tired—but it was worth it!