Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pop Focus: Milton Caniff and Steve Canyon


Adventure cartoonist Milton Caniff had his first big hit in 1934 with Terry and the Pirates. The strip introduced the classic character the Dragon Lady proved popular enough to spawn a war-time spin-off strip (Male Call), a radio series, movie serial and a variety of merchandising.

But, despite that success, Caniff left the strip in 1946, lured the prospect of creating a character that he, not his newspaper syndicate, would own. The result was Steve Canyon, which detailed the Korean and Cold War adventures of a high-flying American jet pilot.

The strip launched with great publicity in 1947 and ended shortly after Caniff's death in 1988.

Caniff and Canyon became synonymous and, for a time, the cartoonist was a celebrity, appearing on the cover of Time and in magazine ads endorsing Teacher's Scotch Whisky and Thom McCan shoes. His character, meanwhile, appeared on lunchboxes and other merchandise, and even featured in a short-lived TV series.

A large statue of Steve Canyon, erected in 1950, still stands in Idaho Springs, Colo., a product of the town's post-World War II patriotism.

Caniff's strip was also fiercely patriotic and anti-communist, qualities that aroused a fair amount of controversy during the Vietnam era.

From the vantage point of today, however, it's easy to enjoy Caniff's excellent line work and visual storytelling. While he was assisted by other artists on the strip, Caniff drew the main characters throughout its run.

He was a huge influence on two or more generations of comic book artists and you can see elements of his sharp, bold line in the work of Lee Elias, Frank Robbins, Joe Kubert, Jim Aparo and many more.

It's easy to see Caniff's work today. IDW Publishing has collected his complete run on Terry and the Pirates in a sublime series of hardcovers and is in the midst of doing the same with Steve Canyon.

Below is a look at both Caniff and Canyon and their impact on American pop culture.








































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