NINETEEN

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RETURN TO DAMMA

STEVE CANYON

RIGHT: Caniff drawing the November 2, 1952 Sunday in his New City studio.

1953–1954

MILTON CANIFF

IDW PUBLISHING

San Diego

THE COMPLETE STEVE CANYON
VOLUME 4: 1953–1954
STORIES AND ART BY Milton
LETTERING BY

Caniff

Frank Engli INTRODUCTION BY Bruce Canwell

THE LIBRARY OF AMERICAN COMICS
EDITED AND DESIGNED BY Dean Mullaney

Canwell ART DIRECTOR Lorraine Turner MARKETING DIRECTOR Beau Smith
SPECIAL THANKS TO: Harry Guyton, John Ellis, and Russ Maheras; and for supplying the material used in this volume, thanks to Jenny Robb, Susan Liberator, Marilyn Scott, and the staff of the Milton Caniff Collection at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Additional thanks to Jackson Glassey for scanning, Joseph Ketels and Valarie Jones for production assistance, and to Ajit Shenoy, Justin Eisinger and Alonzo Simon.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR Bruce

Published by: IDW Publishing a Division of Idea and Design Works, LLC 5080 Santa Fe Street San Diego, CA 92109 www.idwpublishing.com Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors 1-410-560-7100 ISBN: 978-1-61377-855-5 First Printing, February 2014
IDW Publishing Ted Adams, Chief Executive Officer/Publisher Greg Goldstein, Chief Operating Officer/President Robbie Robbins, EVP/Sr. Graphic Artist Chris Ryall, Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief Matthew Ruzicka, CPA, Chief Financial Officer Alan Payne, VP of Sales Dirk Wood, VP of Marketing Lorelei Bunjes, VP of Digital Services Photograph at left: Delivery vehicle for Marshall Field’s Chicago Sun, the Field Syndicate’s flagship newspaper, announcing the start of Steve Canyon, 1947.

Steve Canyon ® and © 2014 The Estate of Esther Parsons Caniff, Harry Guyton, Executor. All rights reserved. The IDW logo is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All rights reserved. The Library of American Comics is a trademark of The Library of American Comics, LLC. All rights reserved. “Stage Dressing” © 2014 Bruce Canwell. With the exception of artwork used for review purposes, none of the comic strips in this publication may be reprinted without the permission of The Estate of Esther Parsons Caniff. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Library of American Comics. Printed in Korea. The strips reprinted in this volume were produced in a time when racial caricatures played a larger role in society and popular culture. They are reprinted without alteration for historical reference.

STAGE DRESSING

“Old Wrinkles on Some New Clothes”
by BRUCE CANWELL
Milton Caniff never gave two hoots about the 21st Century. First and foremost Caniff was a newspaperman; his focus was on selling the current edition and enticing readers to come back for more the next day. Surely it never occurred to him that his work would endure, to be collected and read into the next millennium, or that almost three decades after his passing his life would be of such intense interest that the memorabilia he bequeathed to The Ohio State University—art and artifacts that helped the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum flourish—would be pored over by comics scholars, editors, and writers to form the basis of the visual retrospective Caniff, the exhaustive prose biography, Meanwhile…, and shorter treatises like this one. Though Milton never gave two hoots about it, the 21st Century has arrived and his work is still entertaining an audience ranging from original Caniffites to readers one, two, or even three generations removed. His modern fans are more likely than their 1950s counterparts to recognize instances in this particular crop of Steve Canyon adventures where Caniff refried certain elements of his prior work. For those discovering the Rembrandt of the Comic Strips through Library of American Comics collections, less than four years separate the grand parade announcing Hotshot Charlie’s return to Asia (see page 241 of Terry and the Pirates , Volume Six) and the similar procession heralding the introduction of Steve Canyon’s Pipper the Piper on page 21 of this volume. These relative newcomers may also quickly realize that teen-queen Holly Hall is a blonde echo of Terry’s dark-haired Southern belle, April Kane (first introduced in January of 1939; see Terry and the Pirates Volume 3). Later, the outbreak of smallpox in Cobra Johnny’s village (see page 160) recalls Caniff’s three prior “heroes facing a cholera epidemic” storylines produced in 1936 (Terry Volume One), 1940 (Terry Volume Three), and 1947 (Canyon Volume One). Once this recycling is noted, those living in the 21st Century may accuse the artist of lazily repeating himself, thereby jumping to a false conclusion. Reconsider that hasty idea from a 1950s perspective. For Milton, seven years divided Hotshot and Peter Pipper, with double that gap between April Kane and Holly Hall. In a “disposable” medium like the newspaper, the odds were overwhelmingly in the cartoonist’s favor that refrying bits of business or character types across such a gulf would pass undetected; Caniff knew some folks religiously clipped his strips from their daily local paper, but those dedicated fans comprised an infinitesimal percentage of his readership. Even the “epidemic” plotline could be reused every few years without undue fear of the public recognizing it, since the artist always freshened the idea of a disease outbreak by spotlighting a different villain and weaving clever twists and turns into his newest narrative. Real-life news reports from across the globe about widespread disease were not uncommon, further blurring memories and aiding Milt's cause. An additional factor that made these refries a prudent course of action for Caniff: he switched syndicates when he moved from Terry and the Pirates to Steve Canyon, and Field Enterprises had a very different marketing strategy than did the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. The latter protected the hegemony of their keystone papers by refusing to sell features to suburban outlets in smaller cities and towns within the broad geographical span of New

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FAR LEFT: Introductory page from the first “Steve Canyon” comic book (Four Color #519). Art by William Overgard, except the Canyon head by Caniff. Seven comic books featuring the flyboy were published between 1953 and 1959. NEAR LEFT: Drawing for a 1949 King Features promotional book. BELOW: A non-canonical specialty daily prepared for Canadian newspapers, June 12, 1954. OPPOSITE: Caniff with syndicate owner Marshall Field Jr, the man who convinced Caniff to quit Terry and the Pirates and start his own strip.

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York or Chicago; Field was eager to service both metropolitan and suburban populations. So for Milton Caniff, in the early 1950s, his Steve Canyon was appearing in many locations where Terry and the Pirates had never been seen at all. Transforming a character like April into Holly, or getting extra mileage from shtick like the “parade on arrival” gag, made perfect sense, because a sizable portion of Caniff’s readership had never seen those first appearances and those around for both the original and the reworked versions likely had long forgotten the earlier incarnations. Audiences in the 21st Century, experiencing the work over a shorter timeframe via a more focused presentation, may be aware of the refries—but Milton Caniff never gave two hoots about the 21st Century, anyway.
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One thing Milton Caniff did care about was his reputation and professional standing. After decades of hard work on projects ranging from The Gay ’30s to Dickie Dare to Terry and the Pirates and, finally, to Steve Canyon—with careful attention to all facets of the cartooning business being paid throughout—Milton Caniff had found success and security in equal measure. A “Commission Account” statement provided to the artist by Field Enterprises/King Features shows the market for Steve Canyon reached from Bangor, Maine to San Diego, California and included international clients such as the Mexico City News and Rome’s Societa Editrice Atlantide . A single month’s payment to Caniff totaled more than sixteen thousand early-1950s dollars (today, accounting for inflation, the monthly pay-out would be more than five times that amount). Holding the cards for a financially-stable hand, Caniff began to alter the way he worked, relying on assistants more heavily than ever before. He discussed those changes in a “Sidebar” piece published only seven months before his death, in issue number eighteen of Kitchen Sink Press’s Steve Canyon magazine, beginning by saying: Sharp-eyed readers might note that some backgrounds and some secondary figures were not drawn by me in [the “Indian Cape” story]. Dick Rockwell…started doing bits and pieces for me in 1953. He was doing comic books at the time, and he needed extra work in addition to what he was doing…

Richard Waring Rockwell would work on Steve Canyon for the next thirtyfive years, until the strip ended in 1988. Rockwell broke in through the comic book market, with stories appearing in Lev Gleason’s notorious Crime Does Not Pay and various other titles. Reportedly he applied for membership in the National Cartoonists Society in 1952, submitting samples of his work along with his application. As one of the NCS members reviewing applications, Milton Caniff is said to have spotted the quality of the work, called Rockwell and told him his membership was approved, while also asking if he would be available to help on Canyon. Their partnership began with that phone call. Caniff may have also learned that Dick Rockwell was the nephew of superstar artist Norman Rockwell, and the lure of that connection could have factored into his thinking in a minor way. If so, Norman was not as impressed as Caniff may have been. Dick said, “One day, when I met [my uncle] at the Illustrator's Club, he said, ‘Are you still drawing that guy's pictures for him?’” There was more to Dick Rockwell’s career than either his famous relative or

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RIGHT: Milton with Adelaide Gilchrest, his office manager and secretary since 1939.

his ghost work on Steve Canyon. He continued to dabble in comic books— in the 1950s producing artwork for Quality, Dell, and the pre-Marvel Atlas Comics; creating a fistful of work in the 1980s for DC Comics, primarily on their aviation-adventure strip, Blackhawk. He also taught at various times at New York University, the Parsons School of Design, and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Many artists have followed those paths for a time, but few have intermittently worked, as Rockwell did, as a courtroom sketch artist. Dick first tried his hand at such work in the 1950s—sketching Senate hearings on labor union corruption brought him into an uneasy encounter with Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa—and returned to this line of work in 1983, remaining with it for the next two decades, into his early eighties. Rockwell credited his Canyon work with helping his courtroom assignments. “The training I got for thirty-five years of drawing comic strips enabled me to do things like look at the front of the jury and draw them from the back,” Rockwell said in a 2003 article in the Bridgeport, Connecticut Fairfield County Weekly. “It allows you to see things from a different angle.” He also observed how skills that came easily to him seemed difficult for his students to master. “I noticed they don't see as well. I think that's because of television. The TV people have gone to such rapid cuts that there's no arrested movement.” Rockwell said modern students seemed to struggle to mentally “hold onto” an image long enough to draw it. While multi-talented Dick Rockwell quickly became the mainstay within Caniff’s stable of assistants, he was not the only artist brought in to help with Steve Canyon. Although he neglected to mention artists who were approached yet never contributed (men like John Romita Sr. and Alex Toth), Milton continued to discuss other assistants in his “Sidebar” piece for Kitchen Sink: Around the time of [the “Indian Cape”] sequence, my wife Bunny and I tried to take a month off each year during the summer. We would travel to places like Greece, Japan, Casablanca during that vacation. I would plan out the whole year to get one month ahead if I could. I’d outline it, then I’d write the sequence to be ghosted. I’d then rough out the strips and ink the Canyon figure and any other prominent figures, like Summer Olson. I’d call Sylvan Byck at King Features for the name of somebody who needed work ... I’d send the whole sequence to whichever artist [Byck recommended]. Meanwhile, Dick and I worked on the regular deadline. The stuff would come back and I’d bank it. Then, when the syndicate deadline approached, [office staffers]

Willie Tuck or Adelaide Gilchrest or my letterer, Frank Engli, would feed it to them. It wasn’t sent en masse to avoid it being misfiled or lost at the syndicate ... [I] had Fred Kida [Airboy ], Howard Nostrand [Bat Masterson], Alex Kotzky, Don Heck, and Doug Wildey [Jonny Quest] helping me out for a month to six weeks at a time. What these men did on Steve Canyon was good…. We all got along well together, even though I’m sure they thought they weren’t paid enough for what they did. It’s always that way; I felt I was grossly underpaid when I was ghosting Dumb Dora in 1932. Caniff not only paid his ghosts for their efforts, he did something extra for the women in his office during this period: the physical appearance of Holly Hall was modeled on that of secretary Adelaide Gilchrest’s daughter, while Milt and Bunny’s Jane of all trades, Willie Tuck, served as the basis for Meena, the nanny for Summer Olson’s young son. One installment featured Meena serving up a folksy saying that inspired jazz trumpeter and band leader Dizzy Gillespie to call, asking Milton how he came up with that particular bit of dialogue. After attributing Meena’s words to Willie, a delighted Gillespie told the artist, “I haven’t heard that since I was a kid.”
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Patriotism and a good relationship with the military (and with the Air Force in particular) was also held dear by the Rembrandt of the Comic Strips. Milton was not an ardent supporter of the Korean conflict; nevertheless, throughout the years of fighting on the Peninsula he went back to providing combat insignias “for countless armed-service outfits,” as a King Features press release said, noting that one request for an insignia design per day crossed Caniff’s desk and quoting him as saying, “I think this at least proves that we have a lot of fighting men under arms, and they’re engaged in a real war, where little things like insignia mean a lot to them.” The article failed to add that Caniff took no remuneration while fulfilling these requests, though it did note another artist in the King Features stable, George McManus of Bringing Up Father fame, produced one of the earliest insignias, with his World War I-vintage “Jiggs carrying a bomb under one arm” design.

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ABOVE: Two illustrations for the Air Force’s Air Training magazine, 1954.

The Korean War made storytelling easier for Caniff. He liked having his hero back in uniform—it solved the problem of explaining how Canyon made a living, since Steve was operating on Uncle Sugar’s payroll—and he was comfortable using and expanding his own “spy network” of contacts throughout the armed services, people instrumental in helping him make the work ring true enough so an unnamed airman first class flying combat in Korea could observe, “We like Steve because …he’s up-to-date, right now, and not drawn with a peppermint stick.” The “Indian Cape” storyline that encompasses much of the first half of 1953 is a perfect example of the authenticity Caniff layered into his strip. The idea of conflict between a small town and the air force base it hosts seemed an excellent story springboard. “The problems of small towns around the bases were very real,” Caniff wrote in 1987, when looking back at this continuity. “There were sonic booms…. There were flights in the small hours of the morning, with people losing sleep. Cows stopped giving milk because of the noise. There

were people who were taking advantage of this on a real estate level, telling residents who lived near a new base that the noise drove the property values down, and they’d better sell cheap to the agent.” The artist experienced some of these disruptions first hand when he visited a friend, a general commanding a base in Missouri; the sound of jets roaring away on regularly-scheduled overnight patrols threw a monkey wrench into his own sleep patterns. As a result of his creator’s research, ruminations, and experience, Steve Canyon became commander of the 1420th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, stationed at Indian Cape; Caniff then addressed an actual situation within a fictional framework. Knowing his plot tapestry would need additional threads, he wove in another true-to-life difficulty—overcoming public apathy and recruiting volunteers for the national Ground Observer Corps (GOC)—plus a pair of reliable stand-bys: good-looking gals in the persons of Slippery Elm and her fellow school teacher, Georgia (as well as Steve’s constant heartthrob, Summer Olson), plus a dash of romance that inevitably comes when mixing charismatic heroes with beautiful women. The result is one of Steve Canyon’s most memorable storylines. “Indian Cape” became the focus for a piece in the March 1954 issue of the Air Force’s Air Training magazine. Lieutenant Robert A. Hatch, the article’s author, had this to say about the positive effects of the story: Within that [Indian Cape] sequence Caniff pounded home the need for a strong GOC and a workable community-relations scheme between military and civilians. Information on various…community relations programs was cited in the strip to show how people in uniform and mufti could get along side by side. The response was tremendous—letters, editorials, and quotations from the Caniff sequence brought attention to the problems and helped the Air Force and civil defense people sell their points. Hatch’s piece was titled “The Air Force’s Super-Salesman” and it referenced the gratitude the Air Force felt toward Caniff and his flyboy heroes. One spokesman was quoted in the piece as saying, “We couldn’t

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buy the space to tell our story, and we couldn’t tell it nearly as well as Milton Caniff does.” Caniff’s receipt of the Air Force’s 1953 Arts and Letters Award was also noted. One of the cartoonist’s boyhood heroes, General Jimmy Doolittle, bestowed the honor, which read in part, “…translation [of the Air Force’s position in modern life] into story form capable of holding a mass audience requires genius. Milton Caniff has this genius. Through the medium of the daily comic strip he presents the air power requirement to millions of avid readers with great artistic skill, technical accuracy, and dramatic impact.” The article concluded with a heartwarming story that hammered home the magnetic pull Canyon exerted on its most ardent followers: A prime example of some of the strange requests [Caniff ] gets came from a mother who wrote…that her fifteen-year-old boy, a Steve Canyon addict, had run away from home. The mother didn’t know whether the boy would try to join the Air Force, or what—but she did know he’d be reading Steve wherever he was. Could Caniff help her? He re-drew one of his daily strips, put in an orderly room scene, and on the bulletin board pinned a note to the boy to call home, collect. A few days after the strip appeared another note came from the mother. The boy had gotten in touch with his folks. The message from Canyon had turned the trick. The strip in question, the January 2, 1953 daily, can be seen on page 20 of this volume. The cartoonist placed other “secret” messages on that board. One is addressed to his nephew: “Harry Guyton, do you know anyone from Boston?” When asked about it for this book, Harry said, “Milt always put us in his strips. Neil Corbitt is my brother-in-law and Phyllis was my sister,” referring to another message on the board. The final name on the board is that of cartoonist Frank Springer, who may have assisted Caniff on some strips.
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One hopes young Butch Fogarty was on his way home by the time Pipper the Piper debuts, two days later. Many Caniff students have remarked on Pipper’s physical resemblance to charismatic war hero (PT109), then-freshly-minted U.S. Senator, and eventual U.S. President John F. Kennedy; less widely discussed is the

friend whose personality served as the template for Pipper’s brash, devil-may-care attitude. David McCallister Jr. met Milton Caniff in the 1940s, during World War II, and while not as publicly-celebrated a contact as Frank Higgs or Phil Cochran, McCallister’s colorful career and larger-than-life presence made a deep impression on both Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. McCallister began his aviation career for his country by instructing gunnery personnel in Florida before becoming a fighter pilot and shipping overseas into the European theater, where he flew as part of the fighter escort in America’s first daytime bombing run on Berlin. Based at Kings Cliffe in the United Kingdom, “Davey Mac” used both his skill with the stick and his glib tongue to draw the assignment to test fly Gloster Meteor, the Allies’ sole operational jet fighter at that time. McCallister and Caniff began a correspondence during the Second World War that led to a memorable face-to-face meeting, one that helped Caniff coalesce in his mind’s eye a character soon to be introduced to the Terry and the Pirates continuity—Hotshot Charlie. After the war McCallister served in the Delaware Air National Guard and, like Steve Canyon, was called back to active duty in 1951 as part of the mobilization for Korean combat. Four years later, with the country back on a peacetime footing, he participated in the Earl T. Ricks Memorial jet fighter crosscountry race, winning it during his second run, in 1956, aboard the Cindee Lind, a jet he personally modified and named after his two daughters. The colorful flyboy appealed to Caniff not only because of his skill in the cockpit, but also his talent at the typewriter: McCallister wrote numerous nonfiction articles throughout the 1950s. Working with writer Linda Boyes, he authored the novel Sabres over Brandywine , with Caniff producing artwork for the book’s cover. McCallister unfortunately did not live to see the publication of that story—he died at age forty-one, bringing down a crippled jet in an unpopulated area. An advance copy of Sabres over Brandywine was buried with him in 1961. Both Pipper the Piper and Steve Canyon directly benefited from Caniff’s relationship with Light Colonel McCallister: Peter Pipper inherited Davey Mac’s pilot’s instincts and his insouciant approach to life. And Canyon? He took command of the 1420th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron only months after McCallister became top kick of the 142nd Fighter Squadron. Art imitates Life, even if by necessity it sometimes carries an extra digit…
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Life also has a way of affecting Art in surprising ways. Milton Caniff learned this lesson in 1941-42, while his Terry and the Pirates cast was embroiled in an escapade set in Hong Kong when, in real life, the Japanese invader had overrun and seized control of the real Hong Kong on Christmas of ’41. With his story written and drawn weeks in advance, Caniff could do nothing but let the tale play out as planned, asking forbearance (which his devoted fans overwhelmingly granted) because the fiction was at odds with the “new normal” in that Far Eastern locale. From the beginning of the “Indian Cape” story, Milt’s original intent for the strip’s next adventure was to transfer Steve and his squadron to Korea; the Air Force reportedly went so far as to draw up traveling orders for the 1420th. Newspapers of the day, however, were filled with headlines about peace talks and a possible cessation of hostilities. Those talks had dragged on for two years of protracted diplomatic wrangling, first being held in Kaesong before moving to Panmunjom. Early in ’53 reports of significant movement began to appear, causing Caniff to scuttle his plans to ship out the 1420th. Doing this avoided a repeat of the Terry/Hong Kong glitch—the formal armistice ending the Korean situation was signed on July 27, 1953, and there seems little doubt had the artist stayed with his initial vision Steve Canyon, Peter Pipper, Murky Murphy, and their cohorts would have been depicted still fighting the Korean War long after their flesh-and-blood brethren had obeyed orders and stood down. Caniff instead embarked on a course correction that allowed Canyon to serve as a one-man military troubleshooter. His crossing paths with the Halls and Cobra Johnny in the final four months of 1953 introduced new faces into the mix, but otherwise Steve renewed a string of old acquaintances. He spent 1954 trying to pin a dope smuggling charge on the villainous Herself Muldoon (Caniff’s treatment of the drug trade and heroin addiction was provocative for its time, yet as the artist later remarked, “…my audience went along with it in great style. I never got into any sort of trouble” for depicting drug addiction) before getting into a heartsand-flowers triangle with Summer Olson and the mysterious Clarke Netherland, then once more spending time in the North Woods with the irrepressible Miss Mizzou, ending the year reuniting with the 1420th, Colonel Sam Index, and his conniving wife, Delta. Before that string of escapades, Steve’s immediate jumping-off point following his departure from Indian Cape was the pocket nation of Damma and renewed contact with anti-Communist rebel leader Princess Snowflower; her chief advisor,

the disgruntled American, Doagie Hogan; and old friend and instant comedy relief Happy Easter. The lead-in to this 1953 saga also allowed Caniff to insert another quick contest within the body of his story. Beginning inside the May 17th Sunday page, a message in code is revealed that is directed at Steve Canyon. Those serving in the armed forces were invited to take a shot at cracking the code, with a one hundred dollar Savings Bond awarded to both the first correct domestic and foreign-based response (Canyon ran on a delayed basis overseas, leaving those stationed abroad at a disadvantage, hence their separate prize). This stunt received far fewer responses than 1949’s “Pick the Movie…” contest, but Caniff was perfectly all right with that. “I wasn’t trying for a general readership in this instance,” he later reminisced, “because most of the clues were from manuals that would be almost impossible for a civilian to get. The puzzle wasn’t for the fifth grade reader; it was for the military reader.” A brisk amount of mail nevertheless flowed in from those in service as well as from retired cryptologists who kept up with the science for pleasure. John F. Connors, also known as “KOHOP,” president of the Albany, New York Code and Cipher Club and a member of the American Cryptogram Association, was an example of the latter. Connors, a Navy cryptologist honorably discharged at the end of 1944, admitted having never read the series before spotting the May 20th entry, but enthused, “If you will continue to give us this kind of delightful fare in your Steve Canyon strip, I shall be a regular reader of it.” Lacking any knowledge of Steve’s history, KOHOP’s guess is wide of the mark—“The nose indicates possibly [that four presumed landing fields] are Russian fields (long nose) or in the north (cold nose). The hut, on a guess, means Chinese village, or possibly means the airfields are camouflaged”—but he cannot resist tweaking the cartoonist in his last paragraph: “Incidentally, it seems to me your characters say contradictory things. In one panel they call [the mysterious message] a simple substitution, in another it is referred to as code. How can it be both? Code and cipher are mutually exclusive terms, if it is one, it can’t be the other. Can it?” While he undoubtedly won points for anal retentiveness, Mr. Connors did not come away with the prize. Neither did Camp Lejeune Staff Sergeant Arthur Buckley, who interpreted the code’s “RLS” to mean “Red Landing Strip,” the flower to stand for “camouflage,” and the nose to mean “odar [sic] or smell.”
PAGES 13-15: Six pages from a May 1953 feature in Coronet magazine.

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By the start of July the winners had been chosen, the prizes had been awarded, and a personal letter from Milton Caniff complimented the winners. Lt. John C. Harralson of the Marine Corps’s 790th Quartermaster Reclamation and Maintenance Company received this message, postmarked from New York: It gives me great pleasure to inform you that your correct solution to the cryptogram recently published in my Steve Canyon contained the earliest postmark of all the mail received from overseas personnel and you are the winner of the $100 U.S. Savings Bond mentioned in the Sunday page of May 24th. I am grateful, indeed, for your interest in my work and I am happy to enclose herewith your award. All good wishes… The full solution originally ran in both the May 31, 1953 Sunday and again, in compressed fashion, in the June 1st daily, and appears here on page 84.
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though this one also featured the striking of a few sparks between the series star and that quintessential Caniff dame, Miss Mizzou. The mysterious case Steve was sent north to crack was the backbone of the story, but what kept women reading—and doubtlessly writing letters of condemnation or approval, depending on their individual preference—were the scenes involving clinches and lines like the one where Steve tells Mizzou, “She [Summer] dearjohned me the last time I saw her.” From the outset Caniff had said Steve Canyon was the sort of guy who could have girls at every port of call; the artist certainly capitalized on that during 1953-54, building feminine interest every time he placed a new potential romantic partner in Steve’s path. Paying attention to the distaff segment may have also been a case of “fair is fair,” since Caniff had ample opportunity to cater to his male fans, including a feature aimed squarely at men everywhere that began with an extended correspondence between the cartoonist and a newcomer to the publishing game. On June 8, 1953, writing from “6052 S. Harper; Chicago 37, Illinois,” Mr. Hugh M. Hefner wrote to Caniff saying: We would like to do a feature on your fabulous Miss Lace and would appreciate permission to reproduce five or six of the original Male Call strips in an early issue of Stag Party —a new men’s magazine beginning publication this fall. We think alot [sic] of ex-G.I.s have a warm spot in their hearts for Miss L. (we admit to one ourselves) and would enjoy seeing her again. The letter goes on to inquire about the availability of pin-up drawings, any anecdotal material, and the “few strips the army never got around to okaying that have never appeared in print.” Three days later, Caniff penned a letter to one of his contacts at King Features asking that the syndicate check out Hefner and “the type of publication they are planning to put out.” Also of passing interest is Caniff’s mention of an “exhibit in Chicago in 1947” that featured many examples of the slightlysalacious Male Call strip the cartoonist had produced free of charge for military newspapers during World War II.

Milt truly did have nothing but good wishes for the men and women in uniform who formed such a loyal segment of his fan-base, but he knew he could not appeal strictly to the military readership. Caniff’s office staff carefully tracked the incoming mail and he was aware of how people responded to Steve’s romantic entanglements, especially with Summer Olson. Three decades later, the artist observed that during the 1950s he averaged roughly twenty-five pieces of mail each day, but when Steve and Summer were in the midst of a soap opera crisis, the flow jumped to a thousand letters daily. Little wonder, then, that the summer of 1954 was also the summer of Summer, with Steve’s blonde heartthrob torn between her longtime beau and a wealthy playboy newcomer, with the action set against the backdrop of a fancy resort hotel. It was a total departure from any Canyon story previously told, but it not only resonated with Dizzy Gillespie, it sharpened the focus of female readers, who could not be neglected if one was to keep one’s strip among the upper echelon of popular newspaper features. The Steve-Summer-Clarke triangle gave way to a more traditional Canyon adventure, 16

RIGHT: A page from the 1954 calendar distributed to potential advertisers in Sunday comics sections by the Metropolitan Sunday Comics Group, a consortium of newspapers that banded together to offer a nationwide audience to advertisers. In 1953 Metropolitan boasted forty-two Sunday newspapers that had a total reach of eighteen million homes.

By the time of the next letter, on July 20th, Hefner had had “Stag Party : The New Magazine for Men” stationery printed, and he used a sheet of it to repeat his Male Call inquiry to Caniff, adding that he had a convivial telephone conversation with the syndicate representative, and ending, “Thanks in advance for your every consideration from a fan of long standing.” Before the end of the month Caniff sent Hefner a package of Miss Lace pin-up art, adding that “the clip sheet showing the final strip is my only copy and I will be grateful if you will arrange to return it to me when it has served your purpose.” Encouraged by this show of support from one of his cartooning idols, Hefner was emboldened in his August 8th letter. In addition to promising to return the tear sheet of the final Male Call installment and provide copies of the completed feature (“It has been tentatively scheduled for our February issue”), Hefner went on to ask: Have you ever given any thought to doing magazine pin-up work? Your strip and other activities may keep you much too busy and perhaps it’s nothing that would interest you. I’m thinking of the girlie-gag-type thing that Esquire used to run a lot of [Editor’s Note: Hefner started in publishing as a copywriter at Esquire ]— though in your case, something [rendered] in line, with just spots of color. We could supply the gag material, so it would be just an art problem. I just toss the thought out as something that might interest you. We couldn’t pay very much for anything during the first few issues (short shoestring operation here—financially speaking), but if you’re interested, we could delay it a few months until we can. Caniff needed exactly zero time to consider Hefner’s offer. His August 10th response says, in part, “the pressure of my daily schedule precludes the possibility of my taking on such a pleasant task.” Four months passed before the next communication between the two men. For Hefner it was a busy four months—the already-extant men’s adventure magazine Stag had heard about his proposed launch and threatened to sue for

copyright infringement if Hefner hit the stands with the name Stag Party . Brainstorming with family and friends generated several alternate titles such as Gentleman, Satyr, Top Hat, Pan, and Bachelor before Playboy was ultimately settled upon. It was under this heading (though new letterhead had yet to arrive, apparently) that Hefner returned the Male Call material to Caniff in a brief message dated December 3rd, along with advance copies of “the new men’s entertainment magazine Playboy with the feature on your fabulous Lace.” Hefner goes on to say, “I’ve been a Caniff fan since the days when Terry was just a little shaver traveling under the guidance of Pat Ryan and Pat was a mighty unhappy boy because his one true love was hitched up with that old SOB Sandhurst.” In the early 21st Century, with Playboy and Milton Caniff continuing to attract attention, it is intriguing to look back at the middle of the 20th Century, when Caniff was far more of a household name than was Hugh Hefner. It would hardly surprise Caniff that the emphasis on female sex appeal was a crucial element in allowing both Hefner and him to continue to be relevant deep into The Communication Age. After all, Milton Caniff never gave two hoots about the 21st Century, but he knew that a pretty girl could always attract an audience.

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Steve & Summer

Peter Pipper

“Slippery” Elm

Dr. Louis Shu

Are they on…or are they off? These star-crossed lovers don’t know themselves, and if the Copperhead has any say…

Pipper the Piper is a real hotshot pilot who literally rushes into a burning building for his C.O.

The patriotism of this wellmeaning small town schoolmarm and her mechanic beau far exceeds their common sense.

A gutsy medic who makes both Snowflower’s and Doagie Hogan’s hearts beat faster…for two very different reasons.

Gil Hall

Hollister Hall

Herself Muldoon

Clarke Netherland

Though without her vision, Gil is both perceptive and far-seeing—handy qualities for a diplomat’s wife.

Gil’s teenaged belle of a daughter springs Steve out of jail, then tries to sentence him to matrimonial prison.

Is she running an independent airline or a heroin-smuggling operation? Steve suspects the leopard doesn’t change its spots…

His carefree ways and sunny disposition brighten Summer’s days and darken Steve’s nights. Does he hide a troubling secret?

Meena

Miss Mizzou

Delta

Copper Calhoon

The nanny of Summer’s young son, she encourages her employer to stand by her man—both of them!

This blonde-bombshell chanteuse is still in the North Woods, still hanging with Steve—and still wearing that trenchcoat!

Steve hits the nail squarely: Colonel Sam Index’s wife is “still playing the angles,” to the misfortune of many.

The Copperhead keeps toying with Summer and Steve—but this time she may have finally gone too far…

January 1-3, 1953

20

January 4, 1953

21

January 5-7, 1953

22

January 8-10, 1953

23

24

January 11, 1953

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