Saturday, June 24th proved to be a red-letter day in my household, because I received a copy of an important new book devoted to the greatest adventure comic strip of all time, Terry and the Pirates, and its creator, Milton Caniff.
Its title? Milton y los Piratas.
Yes, this is published in Spanish, so those (like me) who don’t speak that language will have the task of putting the text through a translator program in order to read the observations inside. That seems a worthwhile pursuit, for at least three reasons:
- It is further evidence that, almost ninety years after its debut, Terry remains a vital milestone in comics history, a storytelling masterclass that continues to attract both devoted readers and scholarly attention.
- Despite Terry’s Chinese setting, Caniff was a patriotic American, telling his stories during a period that included the Great Depression and the entirety of World War II. Milton y los Piratas examines this most American of comics from a European sensibility.
- The author knows whereof he speaks: the impeccable credits of Francisco Saez de Adana — director of the ECC-UAH chair of comic book research and culture at Spain’s University of Alcalá — includes presenting a seminar on Milton Caniff and American culture at the University of Salerno and publication of treatises such as 2018’s “The Reception of the Image of China Through Terry and the Pirates” and “The Reflection of Americanism in Milton Caniff’s Work.” He also edits Ediciones Marmotilla, a publisher specializing in theoretical comic studies. Those who are interested in Milton Caniff or Terry or both should want to read what this man has to say.
Certainly I found his perspectives compelling: while researching in preparation for writing Volume 13 for our current Terry and the Pirates: The Master Collection series, I found a copy of Dr. Saez de Adana’s “Reflection of Americanism” essay and included brief excerpts of his cogent observations in my text. While it will be a long-term project, I look forward to exploring his thoughts and conclusions at book length.
Even if you don’t plan to embark on an ambitious translation project, you may find Milton y los Piratas a worthwhile addition to your Terry/Caniff library for the excellent full-color images that grace page after page. There are abundant examples from the comic strip and other artwork from its “Pappy,” but there are other additional fascinating artifacts on display. Among my favorites is this “Terryscope,” shown assembled and with its instruction sheet on how it could be used to transmit secret messages:
That said, it’s impossible to pick a single favorite from a selection that includes letters and telegrams sent to Caniff by a range of notable figures: John Steinbeck, Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks, Orson Welles, and two American Presidents, with Ronald Reagan’s 1988 note being penned mere weeks before Caniff’s passing. These pages include examples of the sympathy notes readers mailed in the wake of Raven Sherman’s death, a number of newspaper and magazine articles, and visuals from both the Terry movie serial and (seen below) the early-1950s TV show:
This book also contains an introduction by Ivan Pintor Iranzo, an Audiovisual Communication lecturer at Pompeu Fabra University (though not Terry/Caniff-related, you can read essays by Ivan here and here). Full and fair disclosure: it was my great pleasure to contribute a brief foreword, “A Unique Mix of Art and Industry,” that focuses on Caniff as a cartoonist who was keenly aware of the business aspects of his art.
It’s also worth a word of appreciation for the book’s publisher, Diabolo Ediciones, which is responsible for a wide-ranging, eclectic selection of releases, several devoted to American comic strips. Dr. Saez de Adana is editing their Spanish editions of Walt and Skeezix/Gasoline Alley and Polly and Her Pals, as well as a new Spanish-edition series reprinting Li’l Abner. It’s pleasantly reassuring that publishers like Diabolo exist in these warp-speed, electronic-centric 21st Century days; you can see the full range of their titles at Amazon.es.
Though my translation project is in its earliest stages, Milton y los Piratas has already influenced me. This image from the 1935 “Pop Up” Terry and the Pirates book …
… convinced me to seek out a copy for my own. I found one in good condition at a decent price on one of the popular on-line auction sites, and it’s even now en route to my home!