In 1932, Caniff moved to New York City to accept an artist position in the Features Service of the Associated Press. He did general assignment art for several months, then inherited a panel cartoon called "Mister Gilfeather" in September 1932 when Al Capp left the feature. Caniff continued "Gilfeather" until the spring of 1933, when it was retired in favor of a generic comedy in a panel cartoon called "The Gay Thirties," which he produced until he left AP in the fall of 1934. In July 1933, Caniff began an adventure fantasy strip, "Dickie Dare," about a youth who dreamed himself into adventures with such literary and legendary persons as Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe and King Arthur. In the spring of 1934, Caniff changed the strip from fantasy to "reality" when Dickie no longer dreamed his adventures but experienced them as he traveled the world with a freelance writer, Dickie's adult mentor, "Dynamite Dan" Flynn.
In 1934, Caniff was hired by the New York Daily News to produce a new strip, Terry and the Pirates, the strip which made Caniff famous. Like Dickie Dare, Terry began the strip as a boy who is traveling in China with an adult mentor and freelance writer, Pat Ryan. But over the years the title character aged and by World War II he was old enough to serve in the Army Air Force. During the twelve years that Caniff produced the strip, he introduced many fascinating characters, most of whom were "pirates" of one kind or another--Burma, a blonde with a mysterious possibly criminal past; Chopstick Joe, a Chinese petty criminal; Singh Singh, a warlord in the mountains of China; Judas, a smuggler; Sanjak, a lesbian; and then boon companions such as Hotshot Charlie, Terry's wing man during the War years; Connie and Big Stoop, a Chinese Jeff and Mutt (in stature) who followed Terry and Pat Ryan around the country; and April Kane, a young woman who was Terry's first love. But Caniff's most memorable creation was the Dragon Lady, a pirate queen; she was seemingly ruthless and calculating, but Caniff encouraged his readers to think she had romantic yearnings for Pat Ryan.
During the war, Caniff began a second strip, a special version of Terry and the Pirates without Terry but featuring the blonde bombshell, Burma. Caniff donated all of his work on this strip to the armed forces -- the strip was only available in military newspapers. After complaints from the Miami Herald about the military version of the strip being published by military newspapers in the Herald's circulation territory, the strip was renamed Male Call and given a new star, Miss Lace, a beautiful woman who lived near every military base on the planet and enjoyed the company of enlisted men, but not officers. Her function, Caniff often said, was to remind service men what they were fighting for, and while the situations in the strip brimmed with double entendre, Miss Lace was not, as far as she appeared in the strip, a loose woman, but she "knew the score." Caniff ended Male Call in 1946.
The year 1946 also saw the end of Caniff's association with Terry and the Pirates. While the strip was a major success, it was not owned by its creator but by its distributing syndicate, the Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News, a common practice with syndicated comics at the time. And when Caniff was offered the chance to own his own strip by Marshall Field, publisher of the Chicago Sun, the cartoonist left Terry to produce a strip for Field Enterprises. Caniff produced his last strip of Terry and the Pirates in December 1946 and introduced his new strip Steve Canyon in the Chicago Sun-Times the following month. At the time, Caniff was one of only two or three syndicated cartoonists who owned their creations, and he attracted considerable publicity as a result of this circumstance.
Like his previous strip, Steve Canyon was an action strip with a pilot as its main character. Canyon was originally portrayed as a civilian pilot with his own one-airplane cargo airline, but he re-enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War and remained in the Air Force for the remainder of the strip's run.
Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon, although not gaining the popularity of Terry and the Pirates, nevertheless enjoyed greater longevity.
While "Steve Canyon" never achieved the popularity that "Terry and the Pirates" had at its height as a World War II military adventure or the cult fame "Terry" generated over the years, it was a successful comic strip with a greater circulation than "Terry" ever had. A short-lived "Steve Canyon" television series was produced in 1958, marking the height of the strip's fame. The title character's dedication to the military (Steve Canyon was often termed the "unofficial spokesman" for the Air Force) produced a negative reaction among readers during the Vietnam War, and the strip dropped in circulation as a result. Caniff nonetheless continued to enjoy enormous regard in the profession and in newspapering, and he produced the strip until his death in 1988. The strip was continued for a couple months after he died, but it soon expired, too, in June 1988.
Caniff was one of the founders of the National Cartoonist Society and served two terms as its President, 1948 and 1949. He also received the Society's first Cartoonist of the Year Award in 1947, nominally for his new comic strip, "Steve Canyon," but since the award covered work published in 1946, it embraced "Terry and the Pirates" as well. Caniff would be named Cartoonist of the Year again, receiving the accompanying trophy, the Reuben, in 1972 for 1971, again for "Steve Canyon." He was also named to the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1988. He received the National Cartoonist Society Elzie Segar Award in 1971, the Award for Story Comic Strip in 1979 for Steve Canyon, the Gold Key Award (the Society's Hall of Fame) in 1981, and NCS has since named the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor.
Caniff died in New York City.
Date of Birth:
February 28th, 1907
Hillsboro, Ohio, USA
Date of death:
May 3rd, 1988 Favorite Creators:
Milton Caniff is a favorite creator of 8 usersAwards:
- 1988 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards - Winner - Hall of Fame