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Milton Caniff Collection

An inventory of the Collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MD
Date: 21 Nov 2008

Biographical History

Milton Arthur Caniff (1907-1988) was an American cartoonist. An important figure in the development of the newspaper comic strip, Caniff created the long-running and highly successful comic strips Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon.

Originally from southern Ohio, Caniff grew up in the Dayton area, the home and headquarters of the aviation pioneers the Wright Brothers (and later on, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). Caniff studied fine arts at Ohio State University, graduating in 1930. While still in college, Caniff began working in the art department at the local Columbus Dispatch where he would encounter two of the major influences on his career—the legendary editorial cartoonist Billy Ireland, who would serve as his professional mentor, and Noel Sickles, an aspiring young artist who would later play an influential role in Caniff's stylistic development.

Caniff made the trek to New York City in 1932, signing on as a staff artist with the Associated Press. After working on a variety of comic strips—Puffy the Pig, Mister Gilfeather, The Gay Thirties—he got his big break with the adventure strip Dickie Dare in 1933. The strip soon caught the attention of the influential newspaper publisher, Joseph Medill Patterson, who quickly hired Caniff to do a new adventure strip for his Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. The resulting creation, Terry and the Pirates, made its newspaper debut October 2, 1934 and was an immediate success. The strip featured some compelling characters and Caniff had an innate flair for story-lines, but initially the strip didn't have the signature "look" that would ultimately distinguish it. As many scholars have detailed, it was the influence of Caniff's then studio-mate, Noel Sickles, that made the definitive difference. As Caniff himself tells it:

It was he [Sickles] who developed the use of heavy black-and-white, light-and-shade style (which I gratefully followed) using a brush first for all shadows, then a quill pen for the light edges. [...] The important thing here is that the elaborate illustrative style could be applied to six strips and a Sunday page by one man during a normal (seven days and nights) working week. [...] Noel Sickles contributed more to the success of the Terry drawings than any single person. (Harvey, Robert C. ed., Milton Caniff: Conversations, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. p. 92-93).

In 1947, after years of success with Terry and the Pirates, Caniff left the strip to fellow AP staff artist George Wunder (who continued it until 1973), and moved on to his new creation, Steve Canyon. This strip, centered on the archetypal cold warrior and Air Force pilot, would run forty-some years and would come to typify the signature elements of Caniff's art. As with his earlier feature, the beautifully rendered, cinematic panels of Steve Canyon, visually compelling in their own right, were always subordinate to the narrative sweep of the stories. In fact, it may be Caniff's ultimate dedication to story-telling that defines his greatest artistic achievement. As his friend, the writer Pete Hamill relates: Milton Caniff was one of the greatest creators of popular fiction of the twentieth century (Hamill, Pete. "Milton Caniff" in Masters of American Comics, Yale University Press, 2005. p. 229). Steve Canyon ended its run with Milton Caniff's death in 1988.

Milton Caniff has received many awards and recognitions over the course of his long career, including the Nation al Cartoonist Society's prestigious Reuben Award in 1946 and 1971, and the Air Force Exceptional Service Award. He has received honorary doctorates from the Atlanta Law School, the University of Dayton and The Ohio State University. His work has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries, and is part of the permanent collections of the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His papers were the founding gift for the Cartoon Research Library and Museum at The Ohio State University.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Milton Caniff Collection is comprised of a Cartoons series, which contains 415 daily and Sunday strips from the Steve Canyon newspaper comic strip (1949-1956). Mostly representing the years 1950-1951, the strips are in various formats. The vast majority are on daily proof sheets. There are 60 such sheets, each one containing 6 daily strips (Mon.-Sat.) (each sheet approx. 11 x 18 ½ in.). The collection also includes 52 Sunday proofs (each approx. 10 ½ x 15 ¾ in.), 1 Sunday color proof (approx. 13 ¾ x 16 ¾ in.), 2 daily tear sheets (image approx. 3 x 10 in.) and 3 Sunday tear sheets (image approx. 9 ½ x 13 in.).

Arrangement of the Collection

Proofs are grouped by type and arranged in chronological order. Newspaper tear sheets can be found in a folder at the front of the arrangement.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

In addition to several reprint volumes of Milton Caniff's comic strips, the Library has many related holdings, including a taped interview with Caniff available through the Belfer Audio Laboratory & Archive (see: "National Cartoonist Society Interviews, 1959-1962").

For original Terry and the Pirates cartoons, see the George Wunder Cartoons collection. Please consult the Classic Catalog for additional information on these materials.

Subject Headings


Caniff, Milton Arthur, 1907-1988.

Associated Titles

Steve Canyon (comic strip)


Adventure stories -- Comic books, strips, etc.
American wit and humor, Pictorial.
Caricatures and cartoons -- United States.
Cartoonists -- United States.
Cold War -- Comic books, strips, etc.
Comic books, strips, etc. -- United States.
War -- Comic books, strips, etc.

Genres and Forms

Cartoons (humorous images)
Proofs (printed matter)
Tear sheets.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Milton Caniff Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

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