Sunday, February 28, 2010

Milton Caniff - Adventure Comics Strip Shakespeare and Picasso rolled into one!

Born this day in 1907, Milton Caniff would be 103 years old today!

With the amount of work he left behind for us to read, re-read, enjoy, re-enjoy, learn from and learn from again, you'd almost think he was still around, cranking out genius on a daily basis.

Caniff began his career in 1932, doing generic assignments on different strips for the syndicate, then in 1933 the adventure began!

Caniff began a strip called "Dickie Dare", a fantasy-adventure strip about a young boy who loved to read adventure stories. He'd read about Robin Hood and the like and then drift off into a fantasy in which he was swashbuckling right alongside his literary heroes. The strip lasted just over a year, and before the run was over, fantasizing about adventure wasn't enough. Dickie found himself traveling 'round the world with dashing soldier-of-fortune/adventurer/family friend, "Dynamite Dan" Flynn.

America's youth was just not experiencing fantasy alongside the fantasy of their fantasy hero...they were experiencing real life adventure alongside their fantasy friend. Caniff cut away two layers in one fell swoop. Genius!

In 1934, Caniff was hired away to do a new strip for the Chicago Tribune. He kept the adventure, he kept the young hero the readers could identify with, he kept the dashing adventurer whom he fought alongside...he changed were the it was young Terry Lee adventuring alongside dashing Pat Ryan and their adventures were set in the exotic orient.

"Terry and the Pirates" may be the most elaborate, well executed, best drawn, most layered in character or story, adventure strip ever done. Caniff had listened to his muse and followed suit.

It's topics like this I hope you take what's inside my head for what it's worth.

Milton Caniff was not only one of the most prolific and longest producing writer/artist in the adventure comic strip field, he was also one of the most celebrated in his own time.

What I can tell you about this amazing persons storytelling and art pales in comparison with what else is out there.

Caniff went on to do a strip for "Stars and Stripes" magazine during WWII. A humor strip with a gorgeous pin-up idol name Miss Lace who kept the troops morale up, if by only reminding them what they were fighting for.

In 1947 Caniff began probably his most famous strip, "Steve Canyon". "Canyon" was another adventure strip, but this time in a post-war world. "Canyon" went from military action to civilian action to cold-war espionage action, with a soap opera type way of keeping all the characters intertwined as the story developed. Caniff had grown into an even denser storyteller and "Steve Canyon" ran from 1947 until Caniff's death in 1988. It remains a rich tapestry of character and art that's still being unravelled, marveled at and studied to this day, over 20 years later.

Please take my advice. Do some googling around for Milton Caniff and read the volumes written by scholars for decades about his man. Read as many strips as you can and wrap yourselves in the complexity of story...complexity that belies this strips limited space to tell that story.

And just lose yourselves in the art of one of this mediums true masters. My God, you could drown in the blacks that his brush laid out.

Thanks Milton! For never underestimating your readers want for more. We should all learn from that alone...then we'll get to your other scores of talents!

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