And now for something completely different…
I thought it would be fun to compile a Top 10 of my favorite Terry and the Pirates characters. No small task, that, given the large cast Milton Caniff assembled and the many memorable moments he crafted during the first dozen years of the strip’s existence. I’m exempting Terry, Pat Ryan, and Connie from consideration. Our three heroes, who were on stage from that very first pair of October, 1934 dailies, get an automatic pass into the Hall of Fame. Beyond that, any character is fair game. I calls ’em as I sees ’em, and here’s how I sees ’em:
10) Pop Scott: He brought an early dash of color to the narrative, and was the strip’s first sacrificial lamb, proof that Caniff was willing to use death to amp up the drama.
9) Nasthalia “Nasty” Smythe-Heatherstone: Her dad is a mensch; she’s proof that even the most upright tree can bear rotten fruit. I enjoy the way Caniff made her a thorn in Terry’s side both as a child and, later, as a conniving young woman.
8) Singh-Singh: A great visual: hulking form, bald head, enormous jet-black moustache. A great bit of comedic relief, too.
7) Captain Blaze: The Sundays first come alive when he battles the Dragon Lady, with Terry, Pat, and Connie caught in the middle. A true “pirate,” in every sense of the word.
6) Dude Hennick: Bless Bess, he’s a more devil-may-care leading man than stolid Pat, making him the perfect character to play male lead in Caniff’s his most dramatic storyline. Based on Frank Higgs, Dude is the first character to be based on one of Caniff’s true-life pals – but he’s far from the last.
5) April Kane: From spunky Southern belle to cold-blooded opportunist, no character in Caniff’s vast tapestry undergoes more radical change than darlin’ li’l ol’ April.
4) Captain Judas: His heinous act of 10/05/41 makes him one of comics’ all-time grand villains. I hope Burma put a slug straight through his inky-black heart.
3) The Dragon Lady: Beautiful, complex, calculating. Look at all the myriad ways Caniff used Lai Choi San throughout his Terry tenure and it’s clear what a spectacular creation she is.
2) Big Stoop: I’m a sucker for misunderstood brutes. I’m a sucker for tough guys with unsullied hearts of gold. I’m a sucker for the skillful use of pantomime. Stooper successfully turned the Terrific Three into a Fabulous Foursome.
Annnnnn-n-n-nd, my Number One favorite Terry and the Pirates character…
1) Burma: She hits the strip like a sassy blonde meteor, heating up the comics page as it had never been heated before in the sequence from 03/17/36 – 03/21/36. And ask yourselves this: Who was the star of the prototype Male Call series? And when Caniff spun his final Terry storyline, whose note and newspaper clipping sets up the final week of strips? Burma, both times. For those reasons and more, she’s tops in my book.
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I’m certainly not arrogant enough to claim my list is the be-all and end-all: your mileage may (and almost certainly will) vary. If you’d care to submit your own Terry Top 10 to firstname.lastname@example.org, we’ll run responses in future installments.