Tag Archives | Milton Caniff

It Takes All Kinds to Make a World …

In the text features for our LOAC titles we often quote from letters received by the cartoonist in question. Sometimes this is professional correspondence related to the business of syndicating or merchandising the strip and its characters, while other times we cite those individual readers who felt the burning urge to pen either high praise or high dudgeon and mail it to the artist.

But some letters are so far “off the beam” they would have no place inside our books. Let me share the highlights — and I use that term loosely — from one of my very favorites with you …

Postmarked from scenic Brooklyn, New York in September of 1955, the item in question arrived in an envelope bearing this address (pardon the extreme blurriness):

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Sent to, “Mr. Al Capp, Steve Canyon Cartoonist,” in care of the New York Daily Mirror, we see the first sign that something is amiss. As we know (but the writer apparently did not), Al Capp drew Li’l Abner. It was Milton Caniff who created and produced Steve Canyon!

The enclosed letter was typed all in capitals (before that approach was deemed to represent “shouting”). As you can tell from the envelope excerpt above, the copy of the letter I have is too blurred for good reproduction, but I carefully transcribed the contents of the original when I found it during one of our research trips to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University, so I’m able to replicate the all-caps format and include the various typos and misspellings, as well. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

The author begins:

 

DEAR SIR:

RUSSIAS CLAIMS ON PLANETARY DISCOVERY BY COSMIC SPACE SHIPS IN AN ARTICLE OF AUG. ’55 BY REUTERS NEWS DISPATCH, IS A LITTLE PREVIOUS.  IN AUG. OF ’53, PATIENT Z-125 IN WASHINGTON, D.C. REHEARSED THE STATE DEPARTMENT IN RIGHTS OF THE WORD OF  GOD ON FAR PLANETS.

THE EVOLUTION AND PROPAGATION OF THE THREE PLANETS NEAREST THE SUN-STAR ARE IN THE ICE, STONE AND BIBLE MAKING STAGES.  WIT H EARTH THE FARTHEST ADVANCED OF ORBIT EVOLUTION IN THE SUN-STAR UNIVERSE, THE BROTHER AND SISTER PLANETS HAVE BEEN IN COMMUNION WITH THE EARTH EVOLUTION.

BEING HINDERED IN STATIONING, AND ATMOSPHERIC PLANETARY ACCEPTANCE, W  WOULD BE A HURDLE RUSSIA MAY FIND DIFFICULT TO- OVER COME.

 

The author (who shall go nameless) then shifts to a discussion of the goddesses found in “GREEK FAIRY TALES” and a tale of The Resurrection cited as being revealed by “ST MATTHEW TO THE MULTITUDE IN EPISTLE C22.” In closing, the letter’s writer offers this:

 

POEM OF PROSE

A WEDLOCK BEING WAC, MARRIED AND M.D.,

IN THE 1st CHURCH BEILEVEING 6 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

NOW THERE’S 28 DAYS IN ONE MONTH;

BEING, TOO, WELOCKED IN 2nd CHURCH BELIEVING 22 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

THE LADY OF MONTHS THAT PASS.

THAT BEING NEAR THE PHYSICIAN.

THE LADY KNOWS HER Ps AND Qs.

THAT FAR MATHEMATICIAN KNOWS Y PLUS X = ZERO.

 

Finally, by way of apology, the correspondent concluded: “P.S. SORRY I’M NOT A GOOD ODE-IST, PLEASE FOR-GIVE MY SHORT COMINGS.”

Even a wit as keen as Al Capp seemed flummoxed by what he had just read. Still, because he was a swiftie, he saw in the letter an opportunity to throw a couple gentle jabs at his good friend, Caniff. He forwarded the letter to Milton along with a note dated September 22, 1955. In it, Al wrote:

 

“Dear Milt:

“Judging from the contents of this letter … this is one of your readers. It was sent to me because everyone thinks I do all the comic strips.”

 

That humorous note provided the perfect — errr-r-r — Capper to the original letter writer’s impenetrable attempt at communication. But the missive serves as a reminder that, just as in today’s 21st Century world of high-profile stars and instantaneous contact, where stories of “celebrity stalkers” or bedeviling on-line “trolls” regularly make the news, the classic penmen of the past received plenty of letters from those who fit the description of either cranks or crackpots. Technology changes, but the range of human response does not.

And if this little exchange provided you with a smile, remind me someday to reprint the letter Ernie Bushmiller wrote about one particular piece of fan mail …!

Potpourri

If things recently seemed quiet in this space, that’s because Dean, Lorraine, and I were all hard-traveling heroes — D & L were wandering through Europe just in time to enjoy the furor surrounding the UK’s “Brexit” vote, and I started out spending five days in San Diego on business before the wife flew out to join me for a weekend in Las Vegas, the first such trip for either of us.

Of course, San Diego is home to great Mexican food, and I was steered to a restaurant called El Indio, which I’ll gladly recommend. If you grew up living on chain-food restaurants and only want to enter places with familiar signs and menus and decor no matter what town you happen to be in, El Indio is not for you — but if you like family-run places with unique character, excellent food, and a welcoming, personal atmosphere, be sure to visit El Indio on your next trip to San Diego. It’s an “order at the counter” place, and you pick up your food on a tray and eat using plastic utensils, but the menu is large and varied, the servings are generous, the prices low, and the taste? Excellent! While deciding what to order, a couple told me they have been married for thirty-seven years and first came to El Indio while they were dating. If that’s not a testament to the quality being offered, I dunno what is!

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The El Indio business card. If you like great Mexican food, you won’t regret visiting!

Las Vegas was my wife’s dream destination, not mine, but since I was already “in the neighborhood” (if a six-plus hour drive from San Diego qualifies for that description), we’d never have a better opportunity to see Sin City. And during the visit my wife looked at me and said, “This is a dream come true for me, you know.” Pretty tough to have regrets about making the trip under a condition like that!

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The New York New York hotel and casino, as seen from the MGM Grand Hotel.

Big Shot_During Ride

Mrs. Canwell love amusement rides, but The Stratosphere’s “Big Shot” gave her a little more than she bargained for as it rocketed her upward at top speed, over a hundred stories above the Vegas Strip.

Now all Canwells are back home in New England (and Dean and Lorraine are due back from their own junket today, as I type this), so things are getting back to “normal.” In addition to this little update on our ramblings, these tidbits may be of interest …

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We’re eleven days behind schedule, but we want to wish a mighty happy (if belated) 98th birthday to Bernice Taylor. Ms. Taylor’s niece, Judy Holliday, contacted us on June 20th to remind us of her aunt’s birthday. And who is Bernice Taylor, you might ask — we’ll let Judy supply that answer:

“[Bernice’s] likeness was used by illustrator Milton Caniff in the Terry and the Pirates comic series. Milton saw her in an AP photo that circulated across the US, showing her sitting on a jeep in military fatigues, helmet, and men’s combat boots. He was trying to formulate a character for his comics based on an Army nurse, and he thought she looked like ‘the perfect Nurse Taffy [Tucker].’ She beat out over thirty other nurses who were interviewed. However, her mother didn’t give permission to use Bernice’s service picture for almost three years.”

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Bernice Taylor in uniform during the 1940s

Judy reports her aunt is frail, and has problems with her vision and hearing, but is still sharp of mind and “she can still recount her military assignments during WWII, though she prefers not to; she says, ‘The war was over a long time ago…'” That’s true, of course, but the distance created by Time in no way diminishes the good works Ms. Taylor contributed, both in her real-life work as a nurse in the 73rd Evac Unit and as the inspiration for the tales Milton Caniff weaved around her fictional counterpart, Nurse Taffy Tucker.

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Taffy, stricken with amnesia, faces grave uncertainty in this dramatic panel from Caniff’s TERRY AND THE PIRATES.

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Our next big push: wrapping up the first volume of Red Barry and getting this hard-hitting police series over to the printer. Series creator Will Gould was a colorful character of the first order; we’ll have more about him in this space later this year, as we get closer to Red‘s on-sale date. For now, suffice it to say that before he went into the comics-continuity game, he was a working newspaperman while still in his teens, producing sports cartoons for major New York metro dailies and national syndication. Here’s a sample of his sports work …

Gould_Brooklyn DAILY EAGLE_Apr 16 1926

… And of course we’ll have lots of other “Gould goodies” in Red Barry, Volume 1!

The Big Time on the Small Screen

Some readers of our sixth Steve Canyon volume, covering strips published in the years 1957-58, had a question about my text feature for that book. Those inquiries can be summed up with one pithy question: “Where’s the write-up about the Canyon TV show?”

A CANYON ad of the sort that ran in newspapers from coast to coast in the late 1950s.

 

True, that series debuted as part of the NBC 1958 television season, starring Dean Fredericks as Light Colonel Stevenson B. It ran for thirty-four episodes broadcast in 1958-59, and then the ABC network put Canyon into its summer rerun schedule during 1960. (Remember when there was a summer rerun schedule? Seems like ancient history in these days of two hundred channels and streaming video, doesn’t it?)

So I pushed discussion of the show into our upcoming 1959-60 volume, scheduled to be on sale before the end of this year. Why make such a call? It was hardly an inappropriate decision — the show aired more episodes during the ’59-60 period than it did in 1958, after all. There is also an awful lot going on, both in the comic strip and in Milton Caniff’s life, during this particular period, and discussion of the show fits better into the overall flow of the material I’ll cover in Volume 7 than if I had shoehorned it into Volume 6.

Whether you’re a fan of Steve’s television persona or a Caniff fan curious to learn more of this “small screen alternate universe” version of Canyon, rest assured you’ll be getting what I like to think is some pretty nifty coverage when you open up “School for Spies,” Steve Canyon Volume 7, coming your way as the leaves litter the ground. Meanwhile, in addition to that newspaper ad for the series I ran up above, here are some publicity photos related to the series not currently expected to appear in the book, just to whet your appetite for what’s to come …

Dean Fredericks as Steve Canyon, with Milton Caniff showing off his rendering of the actor as his flyboy hero.

 

DEAN F_FFA RECRUITMENT 1

Dean Fredericks with Future Farmers of America (FFA), touring Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base as part of an FFA convention held in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

DEAN F_FFA RECRUITMENT 2

Fredericks adjusts the tie of Air Force recruit Larry King (no not THAT Larry King!) prior to the start of the FFA airbase tour.

MILT_DEAN F_RECOGNIZED

Fredericks is recognized for his Air Force recruitment work by Lieutenant General James Briggs while Milton Caniff looks on and smiles. As Al Capp might phrase it, “What’s good for Dean Fredericks is good for STEVE CANYON!”

Must-See Viewing

What did we chance upon while doing a little on-line research related to our last, Syndicate-centric entry in this space, but this absolutely dee-lightful film of Milton Caniff at work – with Phil Cochran on hand to do a little mugging for the camera, too! Follow this link, scroll to the bottom of the page, then click “Steve Canyon, Terry and the Pirates Cartoonist” for your chance to see the Rembrandt of the Comic Strips wielding his brush …

Also of interest, from three years before Caniff launched Terry, “Newspaper Cartoonists ‘From Trees to Tribunes’.” This 1931 film showcases the folks behind the Chicago Tribune. At roughly the five-minute mark of the feature, you’ll see footage of influential cartoonist John T. McCutcheon, then at around 7:00 you’ll see cartoonists like Sid Smith (The Gumps), Frank (Gasoline Alley) King, and even Harold Gray drawing Little Orphan Annie.

We hope you enjoy these flicker-pictures as much as we did!

 

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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N4G_RAMAPO_SPOT_ART

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.

 

 

 

Just a month away

Canyon_ads

Next month we celebrate Steve Canyon’s 65th anniversary by releasing the first volume in our new series. Just a few more weeks, folks…

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!):

HommageClerc

Serge Clerc

HommageAvril_largerFrançoise Avril

HommageBerberianCharles Berberian

HommageFlochFloc’h

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