Milton Caniff

Biographical notes:

Milton Arthur Paul Caniff was an American cartoonist whose prolific career spanned more than 65 years. Born February 28, 1907 in Hillsboro, Ohio, Caniff showed an early talent for drawing, and was the cartoonist for the newspaper of his local Boy Scouts of America chapter. He attended Stivers High School in Dayton and was an outgoing and popular boy, two characteristics that remained with him throughout his lifetime. Caniff continued to cartoon, and he created the strip Chic and Noodles for the student newspaper. It was at Stivers High School that he met Esther Parsons, his future wife. He worked at the Miami Daily News between high school and his freshman year of college. Caniff studied fine art at The Ohio State University where he was very active in student affairs, including Sigma Chi fraternity, dramatic and musical productions, and the student newspaper. During his college career and shortly thereafter, he cartooned at the Columbus Dispatch where he was mentored by Billy Ireland. In 1932, Caniff moved to New York City where he worked as a cartoonist for the Associated Press and did Puffy the Pig, Mister Gilfeather, The Gay Thirties, and Dickie Dare .

Dickie Dare, the story of a young boy who travels with with a two-fisted adventurer to exotic locales featured in classic literature, inspired Captain Joseph M. Patterson to hire him for the Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News Syndicate in 1934. Terry and the Pirates debuted October 22, 1934 and was a masterpiece of art and storytelling. Terry and the Pirates captured the attention of millions of readers who enjoyed Caniff's careful research and lush environments, full of danger, mystery, and femmes fatales. During World War II, Caniff used his fame to create an alternate Terry and the Pirates for the Camp Newspaper Service. Quickly renamed Male Call due to copyright restrictions, this strip was loved by enlisted men. Caniff received no salary for his work on Male Call and considered it his contribution to the war effort.

Although Terry and the Pirates was an international sensation, Caniff did not own the rights to the strip. In 1946, Marshall Field of the Chicago Sun-Times offered Caniff the opportunity to create his own strip to which Caniff would retain the rights. Steve Canyon debuted on January 13, 1947. Steve was an ex-Air Force pilot-for-hire who reenlisted during the Korean War, and spent the next 30 years in the military. Steve Canyon had a greater circulation and longevity, including a television series in the 1950s, than Terry and the Pirates .

Throughout his career, Caniff donated much of his time and work to supporting organizations that had affected his life in some way including Sigma Chi Fraternity, the Boy Scouts of America, and The Ohio State University. The Milton Caniff Collection was the founding collection of Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. He was a founding member of the National Cartoonists Society, and received their highest award, the Cartoonist of the Year (or Reuben Award), twice. Both Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon were very influential upon future generations of cartoonists, and Caniffis still regarded as the Rembrandt of the Comic Strip, a testament to his skill and devotion to cartooning. Milton Caniff died in New York City on April 3, 1988.

From the guide to the Milton Caniff Collection, 1805-2007, 1910-1988, (The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)


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  • Cartoonists Society


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