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Steve Canyon was a long-running American adventure comic strip by writer-artist Milton Caniff. Launched shortly after Caniff retired from his previous strip, Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon ran from January 13, 1947 until June 4, 1988, shortly after Caniff’s death. Caniff won the Reuben Award for the strip in 1971.

By 1946, Caniff had developed a worldwide reputation for his syndicated Terry and the Pirates. However, the rights for the strip he had created, written and drawn (for Chicago Tribune newspaper syndicate editor Captain Joseph Patterson), were entirely owned by the syndicate. Seeking creative control, Caniff negotiated with Field Enterprises for a new strip on which he could retain ownership. The last Caniff episode of Terry and the Pirates appeared in December 1946, and then George Wunder took over the strip. Caniff’s new strip, Steve Canyon, debuted in 168 newspapers.  steve04

Many strip creators before and since employ uncredited assistants or ghost artists, and Caniff was no exception. In 1952, he hired comic book artist Dick Rockwell (nephew of famed illustrator Norman Rockwell) as his assistant. While Caniff scripted and drew the main characters, Rockwell penciled and inked secondary characters and backgrounds. Rockwell continued on Canyon until Caniff’s death on May 3, 1988.

The last syndicated Steve Canyon strip was a tribute to Caniff in two panels, one drawn by cartoonist Bill Mauldin, the other containing the signatures of 78 fellow cartoonists.

On June 23, 1997, an authorized 50th anniversary Steve Canyon strip was published by the Air Force Times, a civilian weekly newspaper covering the United States Air Force. Steve Canyon and the U.S. Air Force having been created the same year, the shared anniversary was celebrated with Steve Canyon appearing as part of a 96-page insert, The First Fifty Years: U.S. Air Force 1947-1997. Drawn in the style of a Sunday strip, the story and art for this commemorative were provided by Air Force Master Sergeant Russ Maheras, with coloring by Carl Gafford. On Monday, September 24, 2007, Air Force Times published a 60th anniversary Steve Canyon strip by Maheras. The color, Sunday-style strip depicts Brigadier General Steve Canyon in Afghanistan, investigating Taliban activity.

Steve Canyon was an easygoing adventurer with a soft heart. Originally a veteran running his own air-transport business, the character returned to the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and stayed in the military for the remainder of the strip’s run.

Initially, his buddies were fellow veterans, and romantic interest was provided by Copper Calhoon, a kind of capitalist version of the popular Dragon Lady character Caniff had created for Terry and the Pirates. Eventually, Canyon developed a sometime-sidekick in crotchety millionaire adventurer Happy Easter, along with a permanent love interest in Summer Olson, Calhoon’s private secretary (Canyon and Olson were pronounced “man and wife” in the first panel of the April 25, 1970 daily strip). General Philerie was based on legendary World War II hero Phil Cochran, who came from Erie, as noted in the character’s name (Phil-Erie). Cochran had been the model for Flip Corkin from Terry and the Pirates and Canyon included a Terry-like major character called Reed Kimberley.

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Caniff was intensely patriotic, and with Canyon’s return to the military, the story began to revolve around Cold War intrigue and the responsibilities of American citizens. Despite this shift in tone, Caniff was able to maintain the picaresque quality of his globally set stories. In Steve Canyon, as he did in Terry, Caniff made a special effort to remind readers of servicemen’s sacrifices at Christmas.

57 strips Sundays 1947

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59 strips 1949

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57 strips 1950

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Collected newspaper strips 1947,1948

Chapter 1 Copperhead
Chapter 2 Delta
Chapter 3 Easter’s oil
Chapter 4 Jewel’s of Africa
Chapter 5 Medical sabotage
Chapter 6 The nine maid
Chapter 7 Operation convoy
Chapter 8 Plantation sabotage

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2 responses »

  1. David Husher (USAF Retired) says:

    unable to find info on newspaper strip of Steve Canyon in panama probably in 1963-64. I was in the AF unit portrayed in it at the time. Would like to find a copy

    Like

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