Steve Canyon, Vol. 1: 1947
& Vol. 2: 1948

by Milton Caniff
(Checker, 2003)

The best flies high again.

From 1947 to 1988, the comic strip Steve Canyon set standards for cartoonists worldwide that have yet to be surpassed. Creator Milton Caniff had already made a giant splash with Terry & the Pirates, a comic strip that had won him acclaim in the '30s, but it would be Canyon that firmly established him as an undisputed, widely influential master. Both strips were world-hopping, reality-based adventures saturated with military and political intrigue and a love of country and aircraft. For those unfamiliar with Canyon, think of Eisner's comic book, Blackhawks. For those unfamiliar with both -- well, shame.

Why were Terry and Steve so influential?

Caniff's reality-based art was technically perfect, stylistically distinctive and widely influential with at least the first and second generations of comic book artists. The interrelated position of objects (people, buildings, landscapes, etc.) was especially effective in making the action within each panel clear, and in focusing a reader's eye on what was important. His use of varying angles, close-ups, medium and long "shots," silhouettes and the balance of blacks and whites in his art -- all in the service of telling his story -- are unsurpassed. To his detriment, his femme fatales are visual clones of each other.

Caniff's words and stories were equally powerful, although there were flaws. His use of dialects, fashionable for their time, is difficult for today's reader to understand. His plots are interchangeable and the characterizations of his leading ladies redundant. In these two books, all are powerful and/or working women who secretly just want to be married.

Still, both Steve Canyon collections are highly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Michael Vance
published 19 June 2004

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Buy Vol. 2 from