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:
These 1963 promos ran in the Davenport, Iowa Quad-City Times, the Beckley, West Virginia Register; and the Great Falls, Montana Tribune. The two 1964 ads that follow appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Pittsburgh Press:
If you read my Canyon Volume 8 essay, you may remember how in late 1962 Caniff and his network of supporters unsuccessfully tried to rally support and keep the series in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the editor decided to drop Steve from his paper’s comics page. We’ll use some Volume 9 real estate to follow this story to its ending, including the ways in which Caniff lavished extra attention on the city. Today, one may wonder, “What was so special about Pittsburgh, that Milton would pay it such close attention?” Again, we benefit from a bit of historical perspective: during the 1960s Pittsburgh was a giant manufacturing area with an emphasis on steel (mighty US Steel was headquartered in the city). Its output had played such a crucial role in military matters since the War years, the city was sometimes known as “the arsenal of democracy.” The demographics would indicate this was an audience that should be well-stocked with Steve Canyon readers.
Major metropolitan areas were important to Caniff, but small-town America was not to be dismissed. Steve Canyon helped lend the “big fish in a small pond” air to some newspapers in rural or lightly-populated areas. Here, the Sikeston, Missouri Daily Standard uses Steve and one of his recurring — errr-r-r — themes to help sell vacationing subscribers on the idea of having their local paper forwarded to them while on vacation:
As you can see, Steve Canyon was still a pop culture force as the early ’60s ended, and Milton Caniff’s name and talents still attracted the public eye. We think your eyes — public or otherwise — will like what they see when Steve Canyon Volume 9 goes on sale later this year.