(Photo by Alan Light, CC BY 2.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5038906 )
Milton Arthur Paul Caniff
(February 28, 1907 – April 3, 1988)
Born in Hillsboro, Ohio, Caniff enjoyed a middle-class upbringing; he was active in Eagle Scouts, and drew cartoons for local newspapers as a kid. He attended Stivers High School (Stivers School for the Arts) and attended Ohio State University, where he illustrated two of Sigma Chi fraternity’s magazines and manuals. In 1930, Caniff landed a job with The Columbus Dispatch; here he learned from two of the great newspaper cartoonists of the early 20th century – Billy Ireland and Dudley Fisher. Sadly, Caniff’s position was lost in the Great Depression.
In 1932, Caniff moved to New York City to work for the Associated Press as an artist with the Feature Service. He worked on a variety of established cartoons – Dickie Dare, The Gay Thirties, and inherited the panel cartoon called Mister Gilfeather, when the great Al Capp quit the strip. At this same time, Caniff worked/mentored with cartoonist Bil Dwyer on his comic strip Dumb Dora. Caniff worked on both the illustrations and script with Dwyer. In 1933, he started a new strip called Dickie Dare, which was a fantasy-driven cartoon.
In 1934, Caniff was offered a position with the New York Daily News to create original content for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. He created the strip Terry and the Pirates, which was an adventure cartoon set in Asia. The title character, Terry Lee, aged each year, and was portrayed as joining the Army Air Force to fight in World War II. Caniff stopped work on Terry and the Pirates in December, 1946.
During World War II, he created a spin-off cartoon from Terry and the Pirates, which was called Male Call. The comic featured a female lead called Miss Lace, a pretty woman that lived near a military base and dated enlisted men. The strip was only published in military newspapers, and Caniff donated all proceeds to the Armed Forces. The strip was noted to feature realistic portrayals of service men, including Miss Lace going on dates with wounded soldiers. The strip ended service in March, 1946.
In 1946, Caniff began work on a new strip called Steve Canyon, which was produced by the Chicago Sun-Times. Frustrated to not have ownership rights of his past strips, this was the first opportunity for Caniff to have legal control of his work and he became one of the first syndicated cartoonist to own their intellectual property. Although Steve Canyon (the character was an Air Force pilot) was never as popular as Terry and the Pirates, the cartoon produced a short-lived television spinoff and was in publication until Caniff’s death in 1988. The last two months were published posthumously.
Caniff was one of the founding members of the National Cartoonists Society, and won its award, Cartoonist of the Year, in 1947 and 1972. Following his death, the Society changed the name of the lifetime award to the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor. Caniff won numerous awards and commendations over his lifetime. His personal collection of papers and original art is found in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, which is located in Columbus, Ohio. His estate hired the special effects artist, John R. Ellis, to restore the original Steve Canyon television series. The thirty-four episodes ran on NBC in 1958-1959.
Called the “Rembrandt of the Comics,” he passed away in New York City on April 3, 1988. He was 81 years old and is buried in Haverstraw, New York.
- Enter the Dragon Lady: From the 1936 classic newspaper adventure strip (The Golden age of the comics) (1975)
- The Complete Terry and the Pirates (2007)
Comic Strips Created by Caniff
- “Male Call”
- “Steve Canyon”
- “Terry and the Pirates”
Comic Strips Worked on by Caniff
- “Dickie Dave”
- “Dumb Dora”
- “The Gay Thirties”
- “Mister Gilfeather”
For More Information
Milt Caniff - Wikipedia
Milt Caniff - Illustration History
Milt Caniff - Obituary New York Times