I've been reading Steve Canyon strips from IDW's Library of American Comics collections, a month every day, for the last few weeks. I started with volume 2, since that's the volume I had. But now I'm flashing back to volume 1, and since there was some interest in a read-along, here goes!

January 1947.

This is a short month, as the strip began on January 13. Short synopsis: Rich vamp Copper "the Copperhead" Calhoun wants to hire Canyon's Horizons Unlimited air-transport business for a mysterious mission. Steve (and his secretary, Feeta-Feeta) are rude to Calhoun's underling, Mr. Dayzee. Calhoun tests Canyon's bravery and prowess b setting thugs on him, and then hires him, impressed. Dayzee plots with Calhoun's bodyguard, blackmailing him, to kill Canyon during the mission.

Elements of note:
I liked how Canyon isn't introduced until a week into the strip. Canniff spends a week with Feeta-Feeta being sassy to Mr. Dayzee as we wonder what the lead character is like. And then, on the first Sunday page, he appears... but not until after several incidental characters react to him while he's only partially on-panel.

Feeta-Feeta's unusual nickname is taken from the soldiers in American Samoa -- Fita is Samoan for soldier, and from what I can find online, the Fita Fita Guard was the Samoan Marine Reserve.

I like Copper Calhoun's hooded wrap -- it suggests cobra more than copperhead, but it definitely gets the idea of a snake across. 

New Characters of Note:
Steve Canyon, Feeta-Feeta, Copper Calhoun, Mr. Dayzee, Kroom

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Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

Incidentally, in one of June's strips someone Steve met in the war calls him "Captain Canyon." So it seems that was his rank in WW2.

"Steve Canyon" was one of my favourite comic strips as a boy, and I have a book about the history of his strip somewhere in the house, that I'd come across all the time.  So, naturally, when I wanted it to-night for reference, I couldn't find it.  Fortunately, I was able to find most of the answers to the matter of Canyon's rank from other sources.

First, let me deal with one of those misconceptions of American history:  the U.S. Army Air Corps was not the precursor to the U.S. Air Force.  In fact, the U.S. Army Air Corps ceased to exist on 20 June 1941, except for a redundant administrative table of organisation that was finally eliminated in March, 1942.

The short form is this:  the existence of both a U.S. Army and a U.S. Army Air Corps created chain-of-command conflicts within the War Department.  In order to correct things, first, the Army Air Corps was down-graded to a separate division within the Army, one called the U.S. Army Air Forces.  On 09 March 1942, the War Department made things official by specifying that the Army was divided into three components:  the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and Services of Supply.

The confusion stems from a misunderstanding of nomenclature.  Under the reörganisation, the "Air Corps" (note:  no "U.S. Army---" in front of it). was the combat arm for those officers and enlisted men who held aviation ratings, just as the Infantry was the combat arm for foot soldiers and the Cavalry was the combat arm composed of tank men and so forth.

To break it down further by example:

The Calvary and the Infantry and the Artillery would be combat arms of the component, the U.S. Army Ground Forces.

The Quartermaster Corps and the Signal Corps would be combat arms of the component, Services of Supply.

The Air Corps would be a combat arm of the component, the U.S. Army Air Forces.  

In all practical terms, after 20 June 1941, an Army airman was in the "Air Corps", a combat arm of the U.S. Army Air Forces, and not in the "U.S. Army Air Corps".

As to the matter of Steve Canyon's rank, Mr. Staeger is correct when he reports Canyon's rank during World War II was "captain".  With the outbreak of the Korean War, Milt Caniff had Canyon rejoin the service, now the U.S. Air Force, in October, 1950, and he was appointed as a major.

In the spring of 1952, Steve was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and in February, 1960, to colonel.

When Milt Caniff died on 03 April 1988, his assistants kept "Steve Canyon" going for a year, until the final strip, on 03 April 1989, when Canyon officially retired from the Air Force.

Still, I had a loose memory of Canyon wearing a star rattling around in my brain, so I did some checking.  On 24 September 2007, the sixtieth anniversary of the début of the strip, The Air Force Times ran a special "Steve Canyon" adventure, written and drawn by retired USAF Master Sergeant Russ Maheras.  The story had Brigadier General Steve Canyon investigating Taliban activity in Afghanistan,

Hope this helps.

Thanks for clarifying this, Commander.

I take this to mean that the Air Corps was separate but technically under the Army, like the Marine Corps is separate but technically under the Navy?

Richard Willis said:

Thanks for clarifying this, Commander.

I take this to mean that the Air Corps was separate but technically under the Army, like the Marine Corps is separate but technically under the Navy?

The U.S. Army Air Corps was along those lines; however, the Army wasn't as good at distinguishing chain of command within the two---lots of contention over which general had the final authority and that sort of thing---as the Navy and the Marine Corps was/is.  That's why the Army Air Corps was "demoted" from virtually being its own branch to being a component under the umbrella of the U.S. Army, with the accompanying name change to "U.S. Army Air Forces".

I omitted a great deal of detail in my description because  most of it involved general officer back-biting.  As a rule of thumb with the U.S. military, when the guys with stars on their shoulders start griping about stuff loud enough, sweeping changes occur.  Among other things, that's why the Navy had to permanently adopt a one-star rank back in 1981.

...My memory for how long the strip ran post-Caniff's death must have been inaccurate, I recalled the strip running only a couple of monotheism after Mild passes and only involving his assistant s finish ing the unpublished story that Milt had not yet finished when he died. I lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin, then and recall telling my father back East by phone about the ship's end and the last Sunday - a parody of a famed Bill Maudlin drawing showing an outsized drawing pen being raised as a memorial to Milton. I meant to send a clipping of that Sunday to my father at that time but didn't get around to it.

Thanks, Commander! I had a feeling you'd be showing up on this thread eventually...and when you did, I knew you'd have the absolute skinny on Steve's military service. Hope you're doing well in all this!

Now that is a truly inspired piece of messing-up from autocorrect!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

I recalled the strip running only a couple of monotheism after Mild passes

I’m really enjoying reading this thread. I’ve never read any Steve Canyon, and it sounds like I’m missing out.



Peter Wrexham said:

Now that is a truly inspired piece of messing-up from autocorrect!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

I recalled the strip running only a couple of monotheism after Mild passes

...Thank you, I did catch that indeed autocorrect function before I posted but I get it ended up going up anyway. Divine intervention?Great gosh'a mighty (as Little Richard phrased it(!

...It's good that someone else noted the tendency of strange usages bring crated by phone's" " corrections " of you. I try to stop them but still they get by. I have said that I have the reincarnation of a Dada poet inside my phone, so do the results come out!!!

I read eight “monotheisms” of Steve canyon over the weekend, taking me up through the end of 1947. I have been supplementing my reading with articles from the KSP run and thought I’d add a little “color comentary.” Milton Caniff was still alive during the KSP run (it was published by Shel Dorf, who was also Caniff’s letterer), and he began contributing a “Sidebar” feature with issue #4.

Happy Easter: He serves the same function as Connie in Terry & the Pirates (comic relief), but Caniff wanted to make him different so he made him rich. He was obviously also inspired by western sidekicks such as Gabby Hayes.

Madame Lynx: Caniff was inspired Ilona Massey (who played Baroness Elsa Frankenstein in Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman as well as opposite the Marx Brothers in Love Happy).

Feeta-Feeta: Described by Caniff as being of Samoan descent in pre-release press coverage, but who has never been off the island of Manhattan.

“First, let me deal with one of those misconceptions of American history…”

Thank you, again, Commander, for attempting to drill this point into my thick head. I say “again” because I know you’ve covered this ground before during a discussion of Terry & the Pirates. I remember because I hard-copied that explanation and put it between the pages of the appropriate volume. I’ll hard-copy this one, too, for inclusion in Steve Canyon volume one. 

“In all practical terms, after 20 June 1941, an Army airman was in the ‘Air Corps’, a combat arm of the U.S. Army Air Forces, and not in the ‘U.S. Army Air Corps’.”

Okay, that makes sense. I remember on All in the Family, whenever Edith would mention Archie’s service in the Army, he would shout, “Air Corps! Air Corps! Air Corps!”

“My memory for how long the strip ran post-Caniff's death must have been inaccurate, I recalled the strip running only a couple of [months] after Milt passes and only involving his assistants finishing the unpublished story that Milt had not yet finished when he died.”

That’s the way I remember it, too. I Have that sequence reprinted in Comics Revue and I remember that, per Caniff’s wishes, he did not want the strip to continue after his death under others’ hands, so his assistants finished off Caniff’s last storyline and called it quits. I’ll try to verify that with exact dates tonight.

“I’m really enjoying reading this thread. I’ve never read any Steve Canyon, and it sounds like I’m missing out.”

Sometimes I feel “guilty” that I’m reading stuff this good and not everyone else is.

Thanks for the extra background, Jeff! Sooner or later I plan to dip back into Will Eisner's interview with Caniff from Shop Talk, and see what gems I find. (Although I might need to find the book itself first!)

I took a day off, but we're back into it!

August 1947.

The intrigue continues! Madame Lynx poses as Lynnette Jones, the French wife of a downed U.S. Airman (presumed dead), and she claims all her papers confirming the marriage were destroyed in a hotel fire. Happy believes her, but Steve's suspicious. At one point Lynx lifts a little vial of oil from Happy (which he sniffs occasionally to remember where his riches came from) and brings it back to her foreign overseers. They take it as confirmation that Happy is looking into Middle Eastern oilfields, and urge her to take more drastic measures. 


That night, Lynx shows up in Happy & Steve's hotel room, claiming to be chased by Gestapo men who were after her in Paris. Steve is still dubious, but when he opens the window, someone throws a knife, so he's willing to play along until the danger is over. He hustles Happy & Lynx out one way while he confronts the attackers (and dispatches them).

Lynx shuffles Happy into a cab driven by a member of her spy agency (as were the attackers, naturally) and directs him to go to a different airfield, not the one Steve's plane is at. (This isn't entirely clear at first -- it comes as a surprise to the reader, just as it does to Happy.) The plane takes off without Steve, and Happy is kidnapped (he thinks with Lynx also as the victim) and interrogated. He's sassy. They threaten to torture Madame Lynx to get him to talk.

Steve rushes to the airfield, where he's supposed to meet them, but they're not there yet. They should be, so Steve conducts a search. Eventually he finds the disused airfield that thy took off from, and from the wheel marks on the runway, he can figure out what model of plane they're in! As the month ends, he's contacting air traffic control to trace their flight path.

Elements of note:
During his search for the plane, Steve comes across a dead end in the flight logs of the disused airfield. Nonetheless, he thanks the Frenchman who showed him the logs, but says "Thanks, pal -- even if the quality of merci is a little strained in this case!" A nice allusion to The Merchant of Venice. You don't see that in Dilbert!

Another great bit: Since Happy trusts Lynx and Steve doesn't, Happy tests his hypothesis by leaving a roll of bills in her apartment. He figures if she's honest, she'll send them back. Happy gets a package back, seemingly confirming his faith in her. But inside is a note: "Monsieur Easter: Your generous present overwhelms me! I am returning herewith the elastic band which encircled the bank notes, as I understand there has been a shortage of such material in the United States. Affectionately, (Mme) Lynnette Jones." 

No significant arrivals or departures this month.

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