Two days ago, I wrote that there’s no greater thrill than when the first box arrives from the printer with the latest book. A close second is discovering rare artwork or photographs and uncovering new biographical information about a cartoonist. In the case of Polly and Her Pals by Cliff Sterrett, our extensive research culminated in an 8,000-word introduction by Jeet Heer that alters the generally accepted view of Sterrett’s life.
On our recent foray to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University (how’s that for a mouthful o’ monicker?!), we were primarily looking through the extensive Milton Caniff archives for original artwork and rarely seen items. If you want Caniff, you go to Ohio State; the justly-famous cartoon library was formed on the basis of Caniff depositing his lifetime of artwork and files to his dear alma mater (class of 1930).
We’re working on the first-ever Milton Caniff artbook, to be published next June. “First ever?” you may ask, with a tinge of doubt. It seems impossible that in a career as well-documented as Milton Caniff’s, there has not been a coffee table artbook dedicated to his work. But there hasn’t. There’s our definitive six-volume Terry and the Pirates, editions of Steve Canyon, Male Call, andDickie Dare, and R.C. Harvey’s phonebook-sized biography—but no artbook.
Original logo color comps for “Buckeye Boys Ranch.”
We think of this new project—simply titled Caniff—as not merely an artbook, but a visual biography that will include many examples of original artworks, promotional pieces, background material, and photographs. Some will be familiar to readers (such the “Pilot’s Creed” TerrySunday that was read into the Congressional Record), but presented in a new version (Caniff’s original watercolor of that famous page, which I saw for the first time on this trip!). Other graphics have never or rarely been collected or reprinted.
And that’s why we were in Columbus, Ohio—to find undiscovered and unreprinted gems by the most influential cartoonist of all time. And find them we did…with a little help from our friends. Last week Lorraine Turner told you about Matt Tauber donning the white gloves in the research room.
Matt Tauber looking through Caniff original artwork
This week, we meet one of the unsung heroes in the field of comics research—OSU’s own Susan Liberator, the Keeper of the White Gloves, the Guardian of the Great Works. Along with Lucy Caswell, Jenny Robb, and Marilyn Scott, the indefatigable Susan has been a tremendous help in all of our research at the Cartoon Library—wading through the Noel Sickles papers, the Shel Dorf, Toni Mendez, and Harold Bell collections, and the wide-ranging Caniff archives. Our much-laudedScorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles, as well as Bruce Canwell’s introductions to the Eisner Award-winning Terry series, would have been much poorer without her assistance. And so, a tip of the archivist’s hat to Susan Liberator.
Who said librarian’s don’t smile?
As we were cataloguing artwork, in walked Jared Gardner, Associate Professor of English at Ohio State, who was looking up something for the history of comics course he teaches. We’re big fans of Jared’s writings about comics on guttergeek and elsewhere; it was a pleasure to meet him and talk a bit about comics criticism, Otto Soglow, and how his 21st-century students respond to such 1920s strips as The Gumps. Here we are admiring the original artwork for one of Caniff’s early drawings for the Columbus Dispatch.
In the months ahead, we’ll share additional rarities from Caniff, like this one from Harry Guyton, Milton Caniff’s nephew: an original watercolor from the 1940s that Caniff did on a standard number 10 envelope. The “bunny” is Milton’s wife, Esther, and the great dane is Capt. Blaze, named after the red-headed rascal in Terry and the Pirates.
For now, though, I’ve got a date with the Dragon Lady…