American cartoonist and comic strip artist, Milton Arthur Paul Caniff was born in Hillsboro, Ohio on February 28, 1907. He became famous for two particular comic strips: Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon and perhaps more infamously with Male Call, during the WW2 action years.
Whilst studying art at the Stivers High School Milton began cartoon drawing. Later on at Ohio State University, Caniff joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity and later illustrated for The Magazine of Sigma Chi and The Norman Shield. Graduating in 1930, Milton began work at the Columbus Dispatch where he worked with the noted cartoonist Billy Ireland. In his early years of his cartoon strip career Milton’s work included:
- A position with the Features Service of the Associated Press, commencing in New York City in 1932;
- Cartoon strips Dickie Dare and The Gay Thirties for the AP;
- He inherited a panel cartoon called Mister Gilfeather in September 1932 when Al Capp left the feature and continued with this until the Spring of 1933, when it was retired.
- This culminated with the introduction of a new strip The Gay Thirties, until the latter months of 1934.
- July 1933, saw the introduction of an adventure-fantasy strip, Dickie Dare, influenced by series such as Flash Gordon and Brick Bradford.
- By 1934, Milton left the AP for the New York Daily News to produce a new strip for the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate – Daily News which resulted with Terry and the Pirates, which would make Milton famous.
During WW2, Milton Caniff began a second strip, a special version of Terry and the Pirates without Terry but featuring the blonde bombshell, “Burma”. He donated all of his work on this strip to the U.S. Armed Forces and it was only available in military newspapers. The strip was later renamed Male Call and given a new star, “Miss Lace.”
“Miss Lace” was a beautiful woman who lived near every military base and enjoyed the company of enlisted men, whom she addressed as “Generals”. Her function was to remind service men what they were fighting for; and while the situations in the strip brimmed with ‘double entendre’, Miss Lace was not, as far as she appeared in the strip, a loose woman, but she “knew the score.”
- In one stip, “Miss Lace” was dating a soldier on leave who had lost an arm (and lost her temper when a civilian insulted him for that disability).
- In another strip she was dancing with a man in civilian clothes; when a disgruntled G.I. gave him a hard shove; mocking him for being on easy street, but it turned out that “Miss Lace’s” partner was in fact an ex-G.I. blinded in battle. Male Call continued until seven months after V-J Day, closing in March, 1946.
Post War, Milton Caniff worked for the publisher of the Chicago Sun and by December, 1946 had commenced a new strip – Steve Canyon for the Chicago Sun-Times. Milton Caniff died on 3rd April, 1988. Cartoon strips continue to be published in newspapers and syndicate papers around the world – to help entertain the masses and provide a laugh or at least, a little light relief….
…but I can’t help wonder what Dickie Dare would have made of Milton’s Male Call mischief with “Miss Lace”?
“Is It Art?”