Archive | Terry and the Pirates

Rarely-Seen-Its

Amazing, isn’t it, to consider the depth and breadth of material Milton Caniff saved over his long, distinguished career as a newspaperman cartoonist? In my upcoming historical/biographical text for Steve Canyon Volume 4 I note how Milton’s lifetime of collected material formed part of the bedrock for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and contribute to the pleasure readers take away from R.C. Harvey’s jam-packed biography of the artist, as well as the Caniff-based shelves within our own Library of American Comics. No matter how many of those artifacts get unearthed and published, there are always other intriguing tidbits that never make it between two covers. Fortunately, we have this space in which to serve up additional Miltonian treats.

Like these, for instance …

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In Terry and the Pirates Volume 3, we discussed Caniff’s showing at Manhattan’s Julien Levy Gallery, complete with photographs taken during the event. Now we’re pleased to present these two images from the actual invitations sent out by the Gallery …

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As one of his first contributions to the War effort following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Caniff offered to do a special Armed Services version of Terry and the Pirates, which quickly morphed into his fondly-recalled Male Call. Above is the letter from Uncle Sam that cemented that deal …

… And as the nation exhaled at the end of World War II, Caniff provided this drawing for a high school yearbook.

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In Steve Canyon Volume 2, I mentioned Milton filling sketchbook pages of spot-art while attending an arts festival in Ramapo, New York. Some of the art, and the newspaper copy that accompanies it, are shown above.

Meanwhile, in Canyon Volume 3, we discussed a special 1951 Christmas drawing Caniff produced at the request of the foreign edition of Stars & Stripes, as well as his agreeing to serve on the board of directors for the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Society. Below: first, a letter to Caniff from Stars & Stripes singing the praises of his effort, followed by an article about Kill Devil Hills that the artist deemed worthy of preserving.

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Finally, upcoming in our next Steve Canyon release, military readers were invited to crack a code designed to attract the attention of our steadfast hero. Here’s an excerpt from Staff Sergeant Arthur G. Buckley’s guess at a solution.

It’s easy to wish that every cartoonist had followed in Milton Caniff’s footsteps and documented his career with such meticulousness and care, but let’s not be greedy. Let’s just be glad that Caniff left behind such complete records for us to enjoy.

 

 

 

Our Second L.O.A.F.er

Earlier this year, in August, we introduced the title of L.O.A.F.—Library Owes A Favor—for those select individuals who not only support our efforts, but also dip into their storehouses of memories, artwork, correspondence, or memorabilia, sharing those with us in order to make our books as good as they can be. We bestowed our first LOAF citation on the inimitable Bill Peckmann, who still occasionally refers to himself as “LOAFer # 1.”

Today we open up with a pair of Bills, because it’s a pleasure to reveal our second L.O.A.F. recipient: Bill Chadbourne, hereafter referred to as “Chad” (by his own preference, mind!). You’ve briefly been introduced to Chad at the end of the essay in Steve Canyon Volume 1, and you’ll not only encounter him again in future Canyons, he plays a key role in Genius, Illustrated, our concluding chapter examining the life and art of Alex Toth. You’ll have to read the book to learn the hows and whys of Chad’s dealings with Alex, but Tothfans will hardly be surprised to learn Alex’s artistic hero, Noel Sickles, is involved. Meanwhile, here is Chad talking about Chad, in a little autobiography I surreptitiously wormed out of him while we were communicating on other matters:

“Even in the so-called Golden Age of costumed comic book heroes of the 1940s, I was more interested in reading about men in jodhpurs than men in tights,” Chad said about his boyhood comics preferences. “I wanted the booted heroes of Crack Comics, Blackhawks, and Airboy, not the guys wearing masks and capes. I guess that’s why Pat Ryan became my favorite from the first time I discovered him in a comic book reprint of Terry and the Pirates, sometime in the World War II years. There were several comic books repackaging newspaper strips then, with titles likeSparkler, Tip Top, and at least one other. Terry appeared in one of our local newspapers, but my family subscribed to a rival rag. I also had a few Big Little Books of Terry.”

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The artists of his boyhood were as much of an inspiration as the heroes they drew, and Chad developed his own fledgling talents, to the delight of his fellow classmates.

“In grammar school, copying the funnies for my pals was a breeze for me if I stuck to characters like Snuffy Smith. By high school I began stealing from Terry in earnest. I lifted an early sequence of villain [Tony] Sandhurst, tied to a post and being threatened by an Asian pirate with a machete. In my version, it was a daydream of a student torturing a teacher. It didn’t work.”

Chad’s artistic skills served him well in the military – well, eventually, that is. “I enlisted in the Air Force in 1952. After twenty months on Cape Cod, chasing vacationing Boston girls, I was on a troopship headed to the Korean Conflict. With the peace talks about to be resolved, I was diverted to Tokyo and eventually found a job on the base newspaper. My cartoon gag panels won a few awards and I thought I was simply wonderful.” Chad was serving in the same city as Alex Toth during the latter’s enlisted days. Both worked on their outfits’ respective newspapers, but neither encountered the other. As he tells it, Chad left the country, only to eventually return:

“Married to my Japanese sweetheart by then, with one son and another on the way, I returned briefly to civilian life, to work for an award-winning independent newspaper in the Los Angeles area. Being squeezed by major dailies, it became a ‘shopper paper’ and I was out. My future as a reporter seemed bleak, and with our second child born I re-enlisted, returned to Japan and another base newspaper. Immediately I begged to do a weekly comic strip. ‘OK,’ the commander said, ‘but it will be a travelogue,’ with Captain Comet—USAF officer, not a superhero—and his Japanese guide, Goto-san, showing the troops what they were missing by squandering their yen on bar girls instead of exploring a perfectly beautiful country. Yeah, like they were going to listen to the brass lecturing them on morals!”

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This two-shot, featuring Steve Canyon meeting Chad’s Captain Comet, resulted from a Far East meeting between Chad and Milt. Another meeting between the pair, more than a decade later, was a factor in Chad meeting Alex Toth.

Chad eventually mustered out for the final time and—after a memorable Far East encounter with the Rembrandt of the Comic Strips—returned Stateside, this time going to work for the Department of Defense in a civilian capacity, working on a variety of military publications. Not content to work strictly for Uncle Sugar, Chad connected with Woody Gelman and became part of Woody’s Nostalgia Press. The Nostalgia books notably included newspaper strip collections, introducing Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Lee Falk and Phil Davis’sMandrake the Magician, and others to a new generation of fans. Dean has told Chad and others how influential Nostalgia Press was among he and his friends, so it’s hardly a stretch to say that without Woody and Chad’s Nostalgia offerings, the Library of American Comics as we know it might not exist today. Perhaps this taste of Chad’s wry candor gives you a hint at why we believeGenius, Illustrated would be a lesser work without the insights and artwork he is contributing to that book.

After providing his biographical notes, Chad came back to me with a Caniff-related addendum that may make you smile.

“I nearly forgot the big influence provided by the hardbound 1945 volume, Cartoon Cavalcade, edited by Thomas Craven. Pages 422-423 ran an enlarged Terry from 1943 (Terry’s first flying lesson)—it made me want to see lots more. By the time I was in high school, Harvey Publications began reprinting Terry and the Pirates dailies in full color. Later, they began doing Steve Canyon. I still have those issues, but they are in bad shape. So glad you folks are giving the world handsome, hardbound albums!

“The Cavalcade book was published as a premium, either for an encyclopedia or some major magazine that my uncle subscribed to. While I was always allowed to view it, I was never allowed to borrow it. Decades later, I found a copy, complete with its apology about the cheap paper used to print it. After all, there was a war on!”

There was no conflict when it came time to name our second L.O.A.F. recipient. Take a bow, Bill Chadbourne!

A Very Terry Breakfast

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There’s something about pancakes and pure maple syrup for breakfast. Add some fresh-squeezed OJ in a 1976 Terry and the Pirates glass and coffee in an early 1950s Dick Tracymug…ah, it doesn’t get any better.

S’funny how in 1976 the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was still using Milton Caniff promo art when Caniff hadn’t drawn the strip in thirty years. Classics are classics, however, so who can blame them?

It’s a Caniff kind of day: once the breakfast is finished, today’s agenda includes starting design work on Steve Canyon volume 3, featuring Milton”s 1951-1952 strips that find him at the top of his game. The book will be winging its way to you next February.

Until then…what’s for lunch?

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Ooh-la-la

We recently received the second volume of the French edition of the Complete Milton Caniff Terry and the Pirates published by BdArtist(e) in Paris. While we were in France during the summer, we also had the pleasure of meeting Nicolas Forsans, the editor of the series, as well as the publishers (and art gallery owners) Jean-Baptiste Barbier and Antoine Mathon. It was well worth taking the metro to Montmartre to meet them and to attend the gallery’s opening of a new show by the phenomenal artist Floc’h.

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The iconic entry to the Montmartre metro station.

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Laughing with editor Nicolas Forsans.

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In front of BdArtist(e) Gallerie with Jean-Baptiste Barbier and Nicolas

Each volume in the French edition includes a delightful homage section in which artists pay their respects to Milton Caniff and his classic creations. Here are just four of these amazing drawings (if you want to see the rest, you’ll have to buy the books!):

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Serge Clerc

HommageAvril_largerFrançoise Avril

HommageBerberianCharles Berberian

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A Memorial Day Observance

In honor of Memorial Day and all that it stands for, we offer Milton Caniff’s Terry and the PiratesSunday from October 17, 1943, popularly known as “The Pilot’s Creed,” that was read into the Congressional Record the following day. This is Caniff’s hand-watercolored guide for the engravers.

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A TERRY Top Ten

 

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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 info@loacomics.com, we’ll run responses in future installments.

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