Monday, October 13, 2008


Terry and the Pirates was the best comic strip ever. And I'll fight anyone--all at once or one at a time--who dares disagree with me.
The strip was created in 1934 by Milt Caniff, who continued as writer/artist through 1946. After this, he left the strip and created Steve Canyon. Terry continued on until the early 1970s, but it was never as good as it had been during the Caniff years.

Caniff was a superb storyteller, using both dialogue and visuals to build exciting adventure stories infused with realistic, memorable characters. The main character was a young orphan named Terry Lee, who comes to China with his guardian (Pat Ryan--an aspiring writer who is quick with both his fists and his wits). In their initial adventure, Terry & Pat are looking for a gold mine willed to Terry by his grandfather.

This doesn't work out too well and Terry and Pat spend most of the 1930s bouncing around the Orient, battling bandits, thieves, con artists and invading Japanese soldiers. Reoccuring characters (most notably those of the drop-dead gorgeous female variety) come and go throughout the strip.

Terry aged normally through the years, so he was old enough to enlist after Pearl Harbor. He ended up flying fighter planes, but got himself dropped into the middle of an occassional espionage plot as well. The feel of the strip during the war years is inevitably different than it had been during the free-wheeling 1930s. But the quality of the stories and the artwork remain just as high.

Currently, a company called IDW is in the middle of publishing a 6-volume set containing all the Caniff Terry and the Pirates strips. Volume 4, which includes a very emotional storyline involving the death of a key character, has just become available. The individual volumes are priced a little high, but they are worth it. If you can't afford them--understandable in these times--at least request that your public library acquire them. In any case, Terry and the Pirates is must reading.

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