Tag Archives | Milton Caniff

Highly Recommended: Two by Jules Feiffer

We in the comics world do not devote enough attention to the treasure who is Jules Feiffer.

I first encountered his work in the Sunday newspapers of my boyhood. where his Feiffer feature appeared weekly. I bought his 1979 proto-graphic-novel, Tantrum, and the next year I hied myself to the local cineplex to see Robert Altman’s film Popeye — lovingly written for the screen by Jules Feiffer. His 1993 illustrated novel, The Man in the Ceiling, was one of my memorable late-20th-Century reading experiences; a story about a boy who dreams of creating comic books, it strongly resonated with me, to the point where many friends and family members received copies as Christmas gifts that year. I delighted in his string of early-21st-Century children’s books with titles like I’m Not Bobby! and The House Across the Street. A decade ago I came full circle and bought Fantagraphics’s complete collection of Feiffer’s Village Voice strips that were the precursors to the material I first read as a youngster.

While Feiffer has devoted much of his career to drawing cartoons featuring normal, everyday men, women, and children and has rarely intersected with the adventure comics that remain at the heart of the business even today, it’s always been clear to me that Feiffer is One of Us, a comics geek who embraces the warp and woof of the medium and has absorbed the same “classics” that we have. If we had ever had the chance to share a drink with some of the notable talents with whom Feiffer has rubbed elbows — with Altman or Gay Talese or Mike Nichols — what would we say to them? What would we have in common with them? Ah, but if we had the opportunity to bend an elbow with Jules Feiffer, the conversation would likely flow faster than the bartender could fill our glasses. We’d talk about our favorite Caniff Terry and the Pirates sequences — compare and contrast the work of E.C. Segar and George Herriman — pull out of him the stories from his youngest days, just starting out in the business, when he assisted Will Eisner on The Spirit.

I understand that the odds I’ll ever shake hands with Feiffer are small, but I have been lucky enough to renew my acquaintance with him through his most recent works. I am taking this space to unreservedly recommend them to you. His two interconnected graphic novels, Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, are wonderful accomplishments that remind us anew of their creator’s singular talents.

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Steve Canyon: Still Swinging in the Sixties!

One of the key points I raised in my text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 8 was that Milton Caniff’s picaresque adventure strip was still a hot property as the Sixties began to unfold. The perceived “Communist threat” was a very real part of life during that period, and the nuclear specter hung heavily over citizens of many countries (having spent my single-digit childhood years in the ’60s, I clearly remember the bi-level department store in my hometown, with both ground-level and basement shopping, and how the stairwells leading down to the basement prominently displayed “Fallout Shelter” decals). We too often try to examine the works of the past from a modern-day sensibility, ignoring a simple but accurate truth: It Was a Different World Back Then. (And our society couldn’t have arrived where it is today without our grandparents, parents, and some of us living through the way it was then … but that’s a thought for another day and another forum).

While doing some advance work for Canyon Volume 9 — which will feature more never-before-reprinted stories, this time from the years 1963-64 — the power of the feature to serve as a “draw” was once again brought home to me as I saw the plethora of advertisements and promotions for the series that ran in various client newspapers. Here’s a small cross-section of them, sure to whet the appetite of any Caniffite:

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Episode 004 with special guest Caitlin McGurk

Dean Mullaney and Kurtis Findlay are back with another episode of the Library of American Comics & EuroComics Podcast!

In this episode, Dean and Kurtis discuss Steve Canyon Vol. 8, Star Wars Vol. 2 and Corto Maltese: Golden House of Samarkand. Plus, learn about Edwina Dumm, “Cap” Stubbs and Tippie, with Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum Associate Curator Caitlin McGurk!

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Boys & Their Toys

So I’m busily working away on the text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 8 (a juicy assemblage of material that includes Milton Caniff turning real-life incidents into story fodder!) and I get this e-mail from my dear, long-time friend Doug Thornsjo. If you read the Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim you got a taste of Doug’s writing (and his voluminous knowledge of movie serials) in Volume 2, in which he produced an article about Buster Crabbe’s three chapterplay turns as Flash.

Doug knew that in Canyon we had provided some coverage of the Ideal toy line based on Milton Caniff’s high-flying colonel, items like the Jet Helmet …

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A Frankly Fabulous Follow-Up

Regular visitors to this space may recall that in mid-December I posted the first of two pieces about models Milton Caniff employed as characters for his then-upcoming Steve Canyon storylines. The models posed for photo sessions that filled the dual purposes of offering visual reference to assist the drawing of the sequences while also providing client newspapers an eye-catching way to promote the Canyon strip. You can find that piece archived here: “Model Citizens, Part 1”. It provides some post-Caniff “what happened to …” information concerning model Gen Melia, who married playwright and restaurateur Warner LeRoy and later re-married as “Gen Walton.” Given a lack of information about her under that name, I concluded she was living “a lower-profile lifestyle.”

It was a delight, on March 2nd, to receive an e-mail from Bridget LeRoy that says, in part: “As the one and only child of Warner and Gen LeRoy, I greatly enjoyed your blog … just to let you know, [my mother] has written over a dozen children’s books, co-authored three best-selling cookbooks (“Loaves & Fishes”) along with several plays and TV films, and married Tony Walton, one of the greatest set and costume designers of all time. Yearly trips to the Tony Awards and occasionally to the Oscars are a thing. So ‘a lower profile lifestyle’ — not so much. I can’t thank you enough for this piece of my family history. It means the world to me.”

Bridget is not overstating her step-father’s achievements — Mr. Walton is indeed a master at his craft, with Tony Awards for his work on Pippin, House of Blue Leaves, and the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, as well as a “Best Art Direction” Oscar for Bob Fosse’s ambitious, semi-autobiographical 1980 film, All That Jazz (he was earlier nominated by the Academy for work on his initial motion picture project, Disney’s classic Mary Poppins). From 1959 to 1967 Walton was married to his childhood sweetheart, Dame Julie Andrews.

The initial information about her mother Bridget provided sent me digging deeper, and not only did I find links to the Loaves and Fishes cookbooks Gen co-authored with the late Anna Pump (Loaves and Fishes), I found several of her children’s’ books available at on-line used booksellers and ordered three of them. Earliest of the three is Emma’s Dilemma, from 1975, about a teenage girl who may be forced to give away her beloved sheepdog, Pearl. The cover illustration is also credited to Gen LeRoy:

EMMAS

Lucky Stiff! was a breezy 1981 hardcover picture book about pre-teen Anabel and her adjustment to having a new baby brother named Vaughan (“Sounded like yawn. Everyone would laugh at his name”).  Accompanying Gen’s text are lively illustrations like this one, by J. Winslow Higginbottom:

LUCKY 1

Taxi Cat and Huey is an ambitious 1992 book for young readers, written from the first-person perspective of basset hound Huey (‘short for Hubert”), who lives with his owners, Fred and Maureen Walton, and Taxi, the kitten the Waltons introduce into their household. The illustrations are by Karen Ritz:

TAXI & HUEY

When these books arrived at my home I left them on the table in the living room, planning to take them upstairs to my office the next day and scan the artwork you’ve just seen. My wife picked up Taxi Cat and Huey and read it in a single sitting. About the author, my wife said, “She’s good. That’s a really cute story!” So take it from my wife (someone whose interests do not include comics, Caniff, or Canyon) — Gen has real writing chops.

And if that recommendation doesn’t convince you, consider this excerpt from a long October 27, 1995 article by Hap Erstein, theater writer for the Palm Beach Post, concerning Gen’s first theatrical play, titled Not Waving…:

“Most first-time playwrights have to struggle to create interest in their work. Not Gen LeRoy. Her dramatic comedy Not Waving … does not have its world premiere until 8 tonight at the Pope Theater Company, but it has already generated more high-powered attention than most scripts by veteran writers. Such actresses as Julie Harris and this year’s Tony Award winner Cherry Jones have participated in developmental readings of LeRoy’s play. Prestigious though cash-strapped New York theaters like Circle in the Square and Circle Rep once vied to produce it … And even before the debut of Not Waving …, it has been bought by Robert DiNiro’s Tribeca Films for a future movie.”

Erstein goes on to provide information about Gen’s background for his readers: “Her Pope Theater program biography includes an eclectic list of previous professions. ‘Before beginning a career in writing,’ it states, ‘Ms. LeRoy did work as an IBM programmer, dry goods salesperson, waitress, accounts payable clerk, TV commercials model, Norman Rockwell’s New York model for several of his Saturday Evening Post covers, photographer’s assistant, mother of two children, wife, [and] illustrator …'”

That bio touches upon one topic Bridget LeRoy and I had discussed in our e-mail exchanges. “There was one additional piece that [Gen] was a little upset I forgot to mention,” Bridget informed me. “She went on to be Norman Rockwell’s model in three or four or maybe even five of his Saturday Evening Post covers. You can certainly find that online, including a video where she discusses it.”

Indeed I could, and indeed I did. The video is brief but wonderful, an excellent account by Gen of her experiences modeling for Rockwell. It includes several photographs of Gen taken to support two of those Post covers. You can see the video here: Gen Walton on Rockwell, and Post covers for which Gen modeled are shown below:

NR_Family Tree

“Family Tree” — Gen’s likeness is that of the woman beneath the little boy who tops the tree

NR_Easter Morning

“Easter Morning”

NR_University Club

“University Club” — The older members of this 5th Avenue gentleman’s club gained a reputation for clustering around the windows to criticize “daring” new women’s fashions that included hemlines above the knee or, in this case, a sleeveless blouse. Note Rockwell painted himself into the scene at bottom-left, looking over his shoulder at the earnest conversation between the sailor and the young lady.

There are two ways I can bring this discussion around full circle. The first is obvious to any Caniffite: Norman Rockwell’s nephew, Dick Rockwell, was Milton’s long-time assistant on Steve Canyon. But this second way is one only a very few persons have likely seen — until now. Thanks to Bridget LeRoy, we are pleased to share with you this pencil portrait of Gen Melia (as Caniff knew her). Compare it to the photographs of Gen as Whitey Barker in our Steve Canyon Volume 7, or the shots of Gen posing for Rockwell in the YouTube video, and I think you’ll agree Milt did an outstanding job of capturing the essence of one truly accomplished woman:

Caniff_Gen Portrait

Our thanks to Bridget LeRoy for reaching out to us and providing us with so much additional information (Bridget has an impressive resume of her own, as a Google search shows). And yes, I’ll cop to it — while Gen LeRoy Walton’s name certainly did fall out of nationally-syndicated gossip columns of the type I cited in my original piece, the evidence presented here makes it plain that my December conclusion about her living a “lower-profile lifestyle” was thoroughly unjustified! But this is one of those occasions where I’m perfectly happy to have (like Huey, perhaps?) barked up a wrong tree …

It Takes All Kinds to Make a World …

In the text features for our LOAC titles we often quote from letters received by the cartoonist in question. Sometimes this is professional correspondence related to the business of syndicating or merchandising the strip and its characters, while other times we cite those individual readers who felt the burning urge to pen either high praise or high dudgeon and mail it to the artist.

But some letters are so far “off the beam” they would have no place inside our books. Let me share the highlights — and I use that term loosely — from one of my very favorites with you …

Postmarked from scenic Brooklyn, New York in September of 1955, the item in question arrived in an envelope bearing this address (pardon the extreme blurriness):

100_0943_cropped

Sent to, “Mr. Al Capp, Steve Canyon Cartoonist,” in care of the New York Daily Mirror, we see the first sign that something is amiss. As we know (but the writer apparently did not), Al Capp drew Li’l Abner. It was Milton Caniff who created and produced Steve Canyon!

The enclosed letter was typed all in capitals (before that approach was deemed to represent “shouting”). As you can tell from the envelope excerpt above, the copy of the letter I have is too blurred for good reproduction, but I carefully transcribed the contents of the original when I found it during one of our research trips to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University, so I’m able to replicate the all-caps format and include the various typos and misspellings, as well. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

The author begins:

 

DEAR SIR:

RUSSIAS CLAIMS ON PLANETARY DISCOVERY BY COSMIC SPACE SHIPS IN AN ARTICLE OF AUG. ’55 BY REUTERS NEWS DISPATCH, IS A LITTLE PREVIOUS.  IN AUG. OF ’53, PATIENT Z-125 IN WASHINGTON, D.C. REHEARSED THE STATE DEPARTMENT IN RIGHTS OF THE WORD OF  GOD ON FAR PLANETS.

THE EVOLUTION AND PROPAGATION OF THE THREE PLANETS NEAREST THE SUN-STAR ARE IN THE ICE, STONE AND BIBLE MAKING STAGES.  WIT H EARTH THE FARTHEST ADVANCED OF ORBIT EVOLUTION IN THE SUN-STAR UNIVERSE, THE BROTHER AND SISTER PLANETS HAVE BEEN IN COMMUNION WITH THE EARTH EVOLUTION.

BEING HINDERED IN STATIONING, AND ATMOSPHERIC PLANETARY ACCEPTANCE, W  WOULD BE A HURDLE RUSSIA MAY FIND DIFFICULT TO- OVER COME.

 

The author (who shall go nameless) then shifts to a discussion of the goddesses found in “GREEK FAIRY TALES” and a tale of The Resurrection cited as being revealed by “ST MATTHEW TO THE MULTITUDE IN EPISTLE C22.” In closing, the letter’s writer offers this:

 

POEM OF PROSE

A WEDLOCK BEING WAC, MARRIED AND M.D.,

IN THE 1st CHURCH BEILEVEING 6 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

NOW THERE’S 28 DAYS IN ONE MONTH;

BEING, TOO, WELOCKED IN 2nd CHURCH BELIEVING 22 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

THE LADY OF MONTHS THAT PASS.

THAT BEING NEAR THE PHYSICIAN.

THE LADY KNOWS HER Ps AND Qs.

THAT FAR MATHEMATICIAN KNOWS Y PLUS X = ZERO.

 

Finally, by way of apology, the correspondent concluded: “P.S. SORRY I’M NOT A GOOD ODE-IST, PLEASE FOR-GIVE MY SHORT COMINGS.”

Even a wit as keen as Al Capp seemed flummoxed by what he had just read. Still, because he was a swiftie, he saw in the letter an opportunity to throw a couple gentle jabs at his good friend, Caniff. He forwarded the letter to Milton along with a note dated September 22, 1955. In it, Al wrote:

 

“Dear Milt:

“Judging from the contents of this letter … this is one of your readers. It was sent to me because everyone thinks I do all the comic strips.”

 

That humorous note provided the perfect — errr-r-r — Capper to the original letter writer’s impenetrable attempt at communication. But the missive serves as a reminder that, just as in today’s 21st Century world of high-profile stars and instantaneous contact, where stories of “celebrity stalkers” or bedeviling on-line “trolls” regularly make the news, the classic penmen of the past received plenty of letters from those who fit the description of either cranks or crackpots. Technology changes, but the range of human response does not.

And if this little exchange provided you with a smile, remind me someday to reprint the letter Ernie Bushmiller wrote about one particular piece of fan mail …!

Potpourri

If things recently seemed quiet in this space, that’s because Dean, Lorraine, and I were all hard-traveling heroes — D & L were wandering through Europe just in time to enjoy the furor surrounding the UK’s “Brexit” vote, and I started out spending five days in San Diego on business before the wife flew out to join me for a weekend in Las Vegas, the first such trip for either of us.

Of course, San Diego is home to great Mexican food, and I was steered to a restaurant called El Indio, which I’ll gladly recommend. If you grew up living on chain-food restaurants and only want to enter places with familiar signs and menus and decor no matter what town you happen to be in, El Indio is not for you — but if you like family-run places with unique character, excellent food, and a welcoming, personal atmosphere, be sure to visit El Indio on your next trip to San Diego. It’s an “order at the counter” place, and you pick up your food on a tray and eat using plastic utensils, but the menu is large and varied, the servings are generous, the prices low, and the taste? Excellent! While deciding what to order, a couple told me they have been married for thirty-seven years and first came to El Indio while they were dating. If that’s not a testament to the quality being offered, I dunno what is!

EL INDIO

The El Indio business card. If you like great Mexican food, you won’t regret visiting!

Las Vegas was my wife’s dream destination, not mine, but since I was already “in the neighborhood” (if a six-plus hour drive from San Diego qualifies for that description), we’d never have a better opportunity to see Sin City. And during the visit my wife looked at me and said, “This is a dream come true for me, you know.” Pretty tough to have regrets about making the trip under a condition like that!

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The New York New York hotel and casino, as seen from the MGM Grand Hotel.

Big Shot_During Ride

Mrs. Canwell love amusement rides, but The Stratosphere’s “Big Shot” gave her a little more than she bargained for as it rocketed her upward at top speed, over a hundred stories above the Vegas Strip.

Now all Canwells are back home in New England (and Dean and Lorraine are due back from their own junket today, as I type this), so things are getting back to “normal.” In addition to this little update on our ramblings, these tidbits may be of interest …

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We’re eleven days behind schedule, but we want to wish a mighty happy (if belated) 98th birthday to Bernice Taylor. Ms. Taylor’s niece, Judy Holliday, contacted us on June 20th to remind us of her aunt’s birthday. And who is Bernice Taylor, you might ask — we’ll let Judy supply that answer:

“[Bernice’s] likeness was used by illustrator Milton Caniff in the Terry and the Pirates comic series. Milton saw her in an AP photo that circulated across the US, showing her sitting on a jeep in military fatigues, helmet, and men’s combat boots. He was trying to formulate a character for his comics based on an Army nurse, and he thought she looked like ‘the perfect Nurse Taffy [Tucker].’ She beat out over thirty other nurses who were interviewed. However, her mother didn’t give permission to use Bernice’s service picture for almost three years.”

Q4_Bernice_nurse

Bernice Taylor in uniform during the 1940s

Judy reports her aunt is frail, and has problems with her vision and hearing, but is still sharp of mind and “she can still recount her military assignments during WWII, though she prefers not to; she says, ‘The war was over a long time ago…'” That’s true, of course, but the distance created by Time in no way diminishes the good works Ms. Taylor contributed, both in her real-life work as a nurse in the 73rd Evac Unit and as the inspiration for the tales Milton Caniff weaved around her fictional counterpart, Nurse Taffy Tucker.

TAFFY AGONIZES_1

Taffy, stricken with amnesia, faces grave uncertainty in this dramatic panel from Caniff’s TERRY AND THE PIRATES.

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Our next big push: wrapping up the first volume of Red Barry and getting this hard-hitting police series over to the printer. Series creator Will Gould was a colorful character of the first order; we’ll have more about him in this space later this year, as we get closer to Red‘s on-sale date. For now, suffice it to say that before he went into the comics-continuity game, he was a working newspaperman while still in his teens, producing sports cartoons for major New York metro dailies and national syndication. Here’s a sample of his sports work …

Gould_Brooklyn DAILY EAGLE_Apr 16 1926

… And of course we’ll have lots of other “Gould goodies” in Red Barry, Volume 1!

The Big Time on the Small Screen

Some readers of our sixth Steve Canyon volume, covering strips published in the years 1957-58, had a question about my text feature for that book. Those inquiries can be summed up with one pithy question: “Where’s the write-up about the Canyon TV show?”

A CANYON ad of the sort that ran in newspapers from coast to coast in the late 1950s.

 

True, that series debuted as part of the NBC 1958 television season, starring Dean Fredericks as Light Colonel Stevenson B. It ran for thirty-four episodes broadcast in 1958-59, and then the ABC network put Canyon into its summer rerun schedule during 1960. (Remember when there was a summer rerun schedule? Seems like ancient history in these days of two hundred channels and streaming video, doesn’t it?)

So I pushed discussion of the show into our upcoming 1959-60 volume, scheduled to be on sale before the end of this year. Why make such a call? It was hardly an inappropriate decision — the show aired more episodes during the ’59-60 period than it did in 1958, after all. There is also an awful lot going on, both in the comic strip and in Milton Caniff’s life, during this particular period, and discussion of the show fits better into the overall flow of the material I’ll cover in Volume 7 than if I had shoehorned it into Volume 6.

Whether you’re a fan of Steve’s television persona or a Caniff fan curious to learn more of this “small screen alternate universe” version of Canyon, rest assured you’ll be getting what I like to think is some pretty nifty coverage when you open up “School for Spies,” Steve Canyon Volume 7, coming your way as the leaves litter the ground. Meanwhile, in addition to that newspaper ad for the series I ran up above, here are some publicity photos related to the series not currently expected to appear in the book, just to whet your appetite for what’s to come …

Dean Fredericks as Steve Canyon, with Milton Caniff showing off his rendering of the actor as his flyboy hero.

 

DEAN F_FFA RECRUITMENT 1

Dean Fredericks with Future Farmers of America (FFA), touring Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base as part of an FFA convention held in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

DEAN F_FFA RECRUITMENT 2

Fredericks adjusts the tie of Air Force recruit Larry King (no not THAT Larry King!) prior to the start of the FFA airbase tour.

MILT_DEAN F_RECOGNIZED

Fredericks is recognized for his Air Force recruitment work by Lieutenant General James Briggs while Milton Caniff looks on and smiles. As Al Capp might phrase it, “What’s good for Dean Fredericks is good for STEVE CANYON!”

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