Echoing Caniff

Other media were ahead of comics when it came to putting rampant hormones in front of their audiences. In the movies, ribald blonde bombshell Mae West cast the handsome but essentially unknown Cary Grant in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong, a box-office smash and Oscar nominee. West and Grant teamed again (regrettably, for the last time) the very next year in I’m No Angel, while in publishing, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller was released in France and James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice in the States. The steamy sexuality in both books created sensations and scandals — Cancer was banned in the U.S., while Boston took the same action with regard to Postman.

The comics, by contrast, kept most of their romantic relationships at the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald level — that is, until Milton Caniff devoted a week of 1936 Terry and the Pirates dailies to pushing gallant he-man Pat Ryan and the alluring-but-frustrated Burma into each others arms.

The climax of Caniff’s famous TERRY sequence occurs in these two strips, from March 19 and 20, 1936

While reading the strips that comprise our thirteenth LOAC Essential volume, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the creator of Charlie Chan’s newspaper adventures, Alfred Andriola, had “refried” Caniff’s sequence in this pair of Chan entries from August 17 and 18, 1939:

Alfred Andriola depicts Chan associate Kirk Barrow and Latina spitfire Carla Jura verbally sparring before they lock lips

Modern-day readers might find it easy to cry, “Swipe!”, but in doing so they would ignore a few pertinent facts. First, at the time these Charlie Chan strips were created, Al Andriola was still very much a newcomer to the cartooning ranks — he had been on the job just over nine months, in fact. Second, Andriola got his first toehold in the business by working as a secretary and “go-fer” for two cartoonists sharing a studio, Noel Sickles and … Milton Caniff. Al remained part of Caniff’s social circle for many years, and none of us were there with them, so none of us can know for sure, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Milton suggested Andriola use the Terry bit of business in his Chan story. Of course, that doesn’t explain what I stumbled upon while working on our Chan collection.

Each day, I try to spend at least a little time reading collections by our (friendly) competitors. Admittedly, there’s usually a gap of several weeks between my buying each of their books and sitting down to read it, but books are patient things, they wait for us to get to them. With Andriola’s work still in front of me as I wrote the text feature for Charlie Chan, I was reading the first volume of Warren Tufts’s Western saga, Casey Ruggles, produced by our pal Charles Pelto at Classic Comics Press — and my jaw dropped anew when I saw this December 3, 1949 Ruggles installment:

Wild West schemer Lilli LaFitte goes for the unshaven look — at least, when it’s worn by Casey Ruggles

There is no evidence I know of that indicates Warren Tufts knew or communicated with either Milton Caniff or Alfred Andriola, but the odds favor him having read either the Pat/Burma or Kirk/Carla clinches sometime before he started Casey or shortly after its launch. It seems Tufts knew a good thing when he saw it, and any of his peers who may have made this connection in 1949 would have thought nothing of it. Producing a newspaper comic strip has always been a demanding job, and having solid ideas that will help propel a storyline can be a lifesaver when keeping a series on schedule. Having a solid idea that had not been seen on newspaper pages in ten years must have also seemed like solid footing — after all, no one in the late ’40s could envision the day when so many comic strips would be collected and preserved in durable hardcover editions, making it easy to compare, contrast, and trace the evolution of this American art form.

Look for this cover if you’d like to read more of Casey Ruggles’s adventures on the frontier:

While our first-ever LOAC volume, 2007’s Terry and the Pirates Volume 1, features not only Pat and Terry’s first encounter with Burma, but also with the nefarious Captain Judas:

And, of course, our recently-released LOAC Essentials Volume 13 features the first year-plus of Alfred Andriola’s captivating Charlie Chan comics —

And after you’ve enjoyed these three fine series, you may decide it’s time to watch She Done Him Wrong or read The Postman Always Rings Twice!

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