The Cartoonist-in-Chief Remembers

Memorial Day is a holiday the government of the United States began to recognize as a federal holiday in 1971. It’s message is a somber one, a request to pay respects those who fell in service of their nation — and given that every U.S. President since FDR has had to commit troops to a military action of greater or lesser duration, there have been no shortage of women and men deserving that remembrance. Cartoonists have tended to treat Memorial Day as another workday in their cycle, a stage on which to showcase a new chapter in their melodramatic continuity or the latest gag in their comedic series. That’s an observation, not a criticism. The message of Memorial Day isn’t the easiest of subject matters (especially in an area of the newspaper that was known for decades as “the funny pages”) and the fact that its actual date of celebration shifts from year to year makes it a minor logistical challenge, to boot.

Memorial Day was not nationally celebrated for much of Milton Caniff’s career, but The Rembrandt of the Comic Strips always honored members of the armed services on one holiday or another. This seemed an appropriate time to feature a handful of examples of Caniff addressing this theme, one for each decade after he established the practice in the 1940s. So we hope you enjoy this lineup:

Terry the Pirates from Christmas Day, 1946, followed by Steve Canyon from —

May 19, 1951 (American Armed Forces Day)

December 25, 1967

July 5, 1976 (note that America’s Bicentennial fell on a Sunday …)

And November 11, 1987 (a Veterans Day dream sequence)

As usual, you can click each thumbnail to view a larger image …

As the years passed, the conditions in which his work appeared grew ever more demanding, and the mood of the audience who read it shifted multiple times as public opinion and societal norms changed. Despite those challenges Caniff’s talents were as constant as his unswerving patriotism, and as comics fans we are privileged to still be able to sample both of those qualities, as these strips help indicate.

We at The Library of American Comics wish you a happy holiday, and a fine launch of the unofficial start of the summertime season!

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