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Cartoonist Milton Caniff:Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon cartoon

Updated on September 2, 2014

Terry and the Pirates cartoonn

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Cartoonist Milton Caniff

Milton Caniff, who was born February 28, 1907 and died April 3, 1988, was an American cartoon artist famous for his action adventure comic strips “Terry and the Pirates ” and “Steve Canyon .”

Early years

He was born in Hillsboro, Ohio and his early years he was active in the Boy Scouts of America. He became an Eagle Scout and received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. He started cartooning early and drew cartoons for the local newspapers while still in high school. In college at Ohio State University, Caniff joined Sigma Chi Fraternity and illustrated for The Magazine of Sigma Chi and the Norman Shield, a pledgeship/reference manual. After graduating in 1930 he began cartooning at the Columbus Dispatch and worked with the cartoonist Billy Ireland. During the depression Caniff’s position was eliminated. He considered trying an acting career but decided that cartooning was more secure.

Comic strip artist


He got a position with Features service of the associated Press in 1932 and moved to New York City. He started out for several months doing general assignment artwork. He worked on the comic strips Dickie Dare and The Gay Thirties. When Al Capp left the panel cartoon Mister Gilfeather , Caniff inherited it. He continued it for about a year and a half when the cartoon was retired in favor of a panel cartoon called the Gay Thirties. Caniff produced that until he left the Associated Press in the fall of 1934.July of 1933 Caniff began an adventure fantasy strip called Dickie Dare , which was influenced, by such strips as Flash Gordon . The central character was a boy who dreamed himself into adventure with literary and fantasy characters like Robin Hood and King Arthur. In 1934 Caniff had Dickie experience the adventures rather than dream them.

The Pirates

The New York Daily News hired Caniff in 1934 to do a comic strip for the Chicago Tribune/Daily News Syndicate. Publisher Joseph Medill Patterson wanted an adventure strip set in the Orient, which at that time was thought of, as mysterious and adventurous.

Although Caniff knew little about China, he researched the countries history and learned about pirate families that passed down piracy as a way of life from generation to generation. As a result he created Terry and the Pirates, which would make him famous. Following the pattern of his Dickie Dare comic strip he started the hero, Terry Lee, as a boy traveling in China accompanied by an adult mentor, who was adventurer Pat Ryan. Over the years the title character aged and was old enough to join the Army Air Force by the time of World War II.

Caniff produced the comic strip for 12 years and introduced fascinating characters that might be called pirates.

  • Dragon Lady the pirate queen who seemed ruthless and calculating.
  • Connie- Terry and Pat’s interpreter.
  • Big Stoop –a mute Chinese giant who with Connie provided most of the comic relief.
  • Additionally there was Burma a mysterious blond, Chopstick Joe, a petty Chinese criminal, Singh Singh, a warlord of the mountains of China; Judas, a smuggler; ;Sanjak, a lesbian.
  • There was also Hotshot Charlie, Terry’s wingman in the War and April Kane, Terry’s first love.

A daily strip began in October of 1934 and in December the Sunday color pages began. The story lines were different at first but in 1936 they merged into a single story line.

Caniff Parts With the Pirates

Although Terry and the Pirates made him famous Caniff left the strip because the syndicate owned it and he wanted creative control of his work.

Marshall Field, the publisher of the Chicago Sun offered him the opportunity to do his own strip. He did his last drawing of Terry and the Pirates in December 1946 and a month later started his new strip Steve Canyon.

The new strip was also an action strip. Canyon was originally portrayed as a civilian pilot with his own one plane cargo line. He reenlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War and remained in the Air Force for the remainder of the strip.

Steve Canyon was never as popular as Terry and the Pirates was during the Second World War as a military adventure or the cult fame of Terry. It was still a successful comic strip with a greater circulation. Steve Canyon also had a TV series for a short time in 1958. Unfortunately the anti military attitude during the Vietnam War caused the strip to lose circulation.

Caniff himself continued to be highly regarded professionally and he did the strip until his death in 1988.

World War II


Caniff was concerned about the Second Sino-Japanese War but the publishing syndicate would not allow him to identify the Japanese directly. He simply referred to them as the “invaders” and they became part of the story line.

When America got involved with World War II Terry became part of the United States Army Air Forces. After that the series became mostly about World War Two and action centered on a U.S. Army base in China. This change of tone is considered by some to be the end of the strips prime. However, it was still highly acclaimed.

Congressional record

On October 17, 1943 the Sunday page has terry’s new mentor give a speech about the responsibilities of a fighter pilot. It included the need to consider all who contributed to the development of the plane, for those who were killed in fighting and respect for the military bureaucracy-for better or worse-kept the American army going for so long. The episode was read aloud in the U.S. Congress and added to the Congressional Record.

Caniff won the first Cartoonist of the Year Award in 1946 for Terry and the Pirates.

 

Milton Caniff

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Recognition for Caniff


Caniff was a founder of the National cartoonists Society and served as its president for two terms. He also received the first Cartoonist of the Year Award in 1947 from the society. Again in 1972 he would be named cartoonist of the Year again and also got the Reuben trophy with it.

Among his other honors, in1988 he was inducted into the comic book industries Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Caniff’s style would have a continuing influence on artists who drew American adventure strips in the mid-20th Century.

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    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Bob, It has been some time since writing this article but I have been searching for your reference. I am having trouble finding the part you are referencing about Burma dying. I thank you for the additional information though.

    • profile image

      Bob 5 years ago

      @Hector Robledo: Are you sure you're not thinking of Raven Sherman? Raven died in the October 16th, 1941 "Terry." Burma never died, as far as I know. At least she was still around when Milton Caniff turned the strip over to George Wunder in 1946.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I am glad you liked it.My father was a cartoonist as well but back in the 1920's.Your cartoons look good.

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      Ryan 6 years ago

      great information provided. i am a cartoonist my self and you can have a look at my work at.

      http://bluedogcartoons.com/home.html

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I did a bit of searching but couldn't find it. You might try Ask.com.

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      HECTOR ROBLEDO 6 years ago

      I WAS TRYING TO PIN DOWN THE YEAR THAT 'BURMA' DIED IN THE 'TERRY AND THE PIRATES'COMIC STRIP. I KNOW IT HAD TO BE I THE EARLY FORTIES.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      When I actually read Terry and the Pirates I was probably too young and naïve to think about such things.It was a good adventure strip.Thanks for commenting.

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      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      Terry and the pirates must have been ahead of it's time. It had a lesbeon character? interesting. I'm sure many of the stories and charactors would be considered politically incorrect today. I wonder did steve canyon influence Johonny Hazzard? anyway an interesting hub.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      FCEtier

      Yes, many of us grew up with these comics, not just in the papers but comic books and other media.Thanks for your comment.

      Rod Marsden

      I can't remember when I last read these comic strips but it must date back to college years.Thanks for commenting.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      Good hub. Back in the '60s Steve Canyon reprints were in Frew (Australian) comic books.

      In any event, I do miss the great adventure strips of the Sunday newspapers.

    • FCEtier profile image

      Chip 6 years ago from Cold Mountain

      I grew up with Steve Canyon and Dick Tracy. My, my, how I miss them both!

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading it and commenting.I'm glad you liked it.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 6 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Steve Canyon was Da Man! Excellent Hub my friend.

      The Frog

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      It was through Steve Canyon, as I recall, that I became aware of the Air Force being established as a separate service.My vision wasn't good enough to pass the Air Force physical.Thanks for commenting.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Steve Canyon was one of my boyhood favorites, and I remember Milton Caniff very well.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I personally liked Steve Canyon but never quiet knew what was going on in Terry.But I was pretty young back then.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      A talented man. His comic strips aren't among my favorites but they were fun.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading.I think his cartoons, especially Steve Canyon might have been an influence on a lot of guys my age wanting to join the Air force.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Interesting history about Milton Caniff. I was unfamiliar with the cartoons he created. Thanks!