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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I'm trying to edit posts, and for some reason can't do it right now... but on Nov. 30, there's a strip that says that Steve's crew is still recovering from cholera... and I'm not sure if we see any of them again, but the introduction mentions that Caniff realized the strip was getting too crowded, and used the epidemic to write them out. (For the time being, at least.)

December 1947.

I got ahead of myself in that last recap -- Steve and Deen (and Happy) don't leave camp until this month. In front of her plane out, Deen asks Steve for one last kiss before she goes where her job calls her. They spend a good three panels kissing (Canniff with the excellent pacing!)...and then when they stop, Steve boards the plane with her, letting her know he was going all along. 

For whatever reason -- and I can't say I fully understand why -- Deen's life is in danger because she's offering medical aid. This month sees Steve foil attempted abductions and assassinations -- phony med students with blackjacks, poisoned coffee, armed gunmen, exploding trucks. Eventually Steve concocts a plan to draw them out.. and he starts to lay it out at the end of the month -- with Fireball and Happy buying a lot of medical supplies for Deen, in order to make it seem like all systems are go.. but with the secret agenda of making it seem like it's all a fake for show. 

We'll learn why in January!

Elements of Note:
We get a fun Sunday strip, pre-Christmas, of Happy dressing up like Santa. And we get a Christmas message from Caniff on the day, remembering soldiers lost in war. 

Arrivals: 
None of note -- the shady characters and swirly-eyed mastermind opposing Steve and Deen don't seem to have names.

Departures:
None this month.



Commander Benson said:

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.


As noted earlier, Milton Caniff died on April 3, 1988 and the last strip saw print on June 6th of that same year. But I found what you're thinking of, though. On the anniversary of Caniff's death, the Air Force issued an honorable discharge for Steve Canyon, providing official paperwork that includes a real serial number and service record.

I hope that clears the matter up.

MILTON CANIFF ON…

DR. DEEN WILDERNESS: Dr. Deen Wilderness came about because the emancipation of women was becoming more evident. The ERA was on its way, and noisy. But there had always been a strong women’s movement; it just hadn’t been publicized so much after the war. Women doctors were being treated very badly. They weren’t getting the breaks they should have. I had known a capable woman doctor from the time I was five years old. In Hillsboro, there was a very skilled, will-make-housecalls general practitioner, a woman. Nobody thought about it in a little town because she had carved her niche—she was very much a part of the scene. But in the cities, there was an automatic attitude towards women doctors; you couldn’t deny it. My feeling were just that: I’d see a pretty woman doctor and wonder how the hell she got into medicine? It worked pretty well. I had some criticisms about some other things relating to women, but I believe at that moment [1947], an attractive woman doctor served her purpose.

FIREBALL FEENEY: Fireball Feeney was my attempt to catch another Hotshot Charlie. Both of them were little guys who lost every fistfight they ever had, but once they got behind those eight machine guns, they were very tall men. That happened to a lot of guys in World War II. They hated to go back to Sheboygan and take up the bookkeeping jobs because for a while, they were all the great heroes. They were all Rickenbacker thanks to the machine guns. It didn’t work with Feeney because in peacetime, there’s no place for a guy like this to be a hero with eight machine guns. His trademark stuff was that he wore a purple and gold sweatshirt from the University of Washington, a motorman’s hat and had a devilish look. Later on, I used him again, as a salesman for “Kurdzin Whey” cereal. It was a pretty good sequence in March and April of 1973, but he didn’t have the opportunity to make a smash impression on the reader.

Thanks, Jeff...! That's really interesting stuff... great insights into both characters!

Jeff of Earth-J said:



Commander Benson said:

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.


As noted earlier, Milton Caniff died on April 3, 1988 and the last strip saw print on June 6th of that same year. But I found what you're thinking of, though. On the anniversary of Caniff's death, the Air Force issued an honorable discharge for Steve Canyon, providing official paperwork that includes a real serial number and service record.

I hope that clears the matter up.

It does, indeed.  The information I found about "Steve Canyon" continuing for a year after Caniff's death must have been bad gouge, which I should have double-checked.  Thanks for squaring it away, Jeff.

January 1948. 

Steve's plan goes into action! Happy and Fireball are arranging for it to seem like they're putting on a show of being solvent while having supply and money problems. In the meantime, Deen and Steve meet with a local chief, Chief Izm... an Arabic man with British mannerisms ("Cheerio!"). Steve doesn't trust him, but can't put his finger on why. 

Steve, meanwhile has been setting up an airline under the guise of all this busyness -- and called Feeta-Feeta in to help out! She and Deen immediately do NOT get along, each jealous of the other. And as Deen stars drifting away from Steve, Izm moves in on her. 

At one point, Feeta-Feeta fields a distress call while Steve is out (seeing Deen), and she sends a plan out to check it out. But the distress call is a phony, which Steve would have realized. But in a heartbreaking scene, we see the plane get bogus instructions from the enemy, leading it to fly into a mountain, while Steve, Feeta, and a radioman try to get real information to him. They're shouting "PULL UP!" when e radio goes dead. It's a brutal moment.

Elements of Note:
The plane crash is such an emotional sequence. When it happens, we're in the control room. We don't see the crash at all, or even hear it. But a silent panel tells us everything. And then Steve puts on his hat and walks our, saying "Send a search plane." But we're focusing on Feeta's crying face. That strip is a master class.

Arrivals:
Feeta-Feeta's back! And it's interesting -- SHE knows Steve doesn't have eyes for her, but there's no convincing Deen of that. 

Also, we meed Chief Izm. We'll see what that grows into.

Departures:
Poor Dan in the plane. Even though we barely knew him, we'll remember how he went out. 

Yes, Rob, I agree that the scene of the airplane crash was very well done. It just goes to show what can be done when the medium is used to its fullest extent. Speaking of that scene in which Feeta-Feeta and Deen wilderness meet face-to-face: that’s some “old school” coloring there! (Blue figures on a blue background.) Caniff and his team use this technique a lot to convey mood.

MILTON CANIFF ON…

IZM: Izm was a guy like Colonel Khadafy in Libya right now [1983]. He wasn’t specifically Communist. The name came about from tossing all those words of that era into the pot and coming up with one that had not been used before. So often, these Middle Eastern names are so unpronounceable. Idi Amin was easy compared to Shiek Doodley-doodly-doodley, you know. [I hate that Caniff sounds like Herman Cain here.—J.] You need to have that easy identification: “Izm did this or that.” He had thick glasses, a device, like the character Slitz in the late days of Terry.

February 1948. 

The rivalry between Feeta-Feeta and Deen Wilderness takes center stage, with the two women confronting each other. Deen feels inadequate and unfeminine with Feeta-Feeta around (she calls Feeta's low-cut dress a "pneumonia blouse"), and feels like her position as a doctor means beauty has to take a backseat. Feeta, on the other hand, knows Steve doesn't have eyes for her... but Deen will never believe it. In one silent strip, Deen even takes a scissors to one of her dresses, cutting the neckline to something flashier. But then she just slumps in her chair, still feeling outclassed. Meanwhile, Feeta-Feeta's still so broken up about Steve she can't even watch a romantic movie. 

OK, onto the action. On a call to stem an epidemic in the hinterlands, Cheif Izm and Fireball go along with Deen. They're two far for the plane radio to reach the base, and when they get there, the local radio was "stolen by bandits." The opposition actually has a radio, and is sending reassuring messages back home. Fireball takes the plane up and realizes someone is transmitting false messages, and goes to find the transmitter.  He briefly wrests control of it, but then is shot and driven out of the radio shack. 

Meanwhile, Chief Izm is in on this plot, and spreads anti-doctor sentiment about Deen. Some of the local  townspeople try to capture her, and she barely escapes, finding an injured Fireball Feeney lying in the snow.

Elements of Note:
Steve has cottoned on to the fact that Izm might not be on the up and up. He's supposedly Muslim, and Muslims don't drink alcohol! But Steve is cautioned to not jump to conclusions -- plenty of people backslide on their religious beliefs. I found this to be a pretty interesting moment: Muslims, to the 1948 American audience, were probably seen as pretty exotic. And  yet Caniff goes out of his way to portray their religious devotion as a matter of individual choice. In a simpler narrative, that drink clue would be the only clue Steve would need to prove Izm was a liar. As it is, though, Izm is given the chance to be more complex than that. 

Arrivals:
None of note.

Departures:
Is this the end of Fireball Feeney? I doubt it.

“…on Nov. 30, there's a strip that says that Steve's crew is still recovering from cholera... and I'm not sure if we see any of them again, but the introduction mentions that Caniff realized the strip was getting too crowded, and used the epidemic to write them out.”

MILTON CANIFF ON [THAT]…

“But that small space, that stage, gets crowded very quickly. At a given time, three, maybe four at the most, characters are all the reader’s mind can handle in terms of continuity. When you expand beyond that you have to have the focus on just one or two characters and then spotlight the others at a later point. I had too many people on the stage at one time, too much going on, too much talk. It was time to shift gears and push a few off, because if you lose your audience, you’ve lost your point. We continuity strip guys are like Scheherazade. We tell our stories to live just one more day.”

Oh, wow -- I love that comparison to Scheherazade!

*confession: I totally copied and pasted that, rather than figuring out how to type it letter by letter.

“Oh, wow -- I love that comparison to Scheherazade!”

I took that from an essay in which Caniff compares Steve Canyon to a “picaresque” novel.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I plan to crib a bit more of his essay for my Tintin discussion when I get to “Tintin and the Picaros”.

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