Apr 2, 2016

Techniques and Tricks: That Terry and the Pirates Strip

So this made the rounds on social media recently. Karl Kesel, a big fan of Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates, posted Caniff's last installment of the strip.

His corresponding caption was:

CANIFF'S LAST TERRY AND THE PIRATES, 12-29-46. If I could only own one Caniff original, it would be this— for my money, the single best self-contained comic ever produced. EVER. Two people with a long, affectionate relationship are about to part; one leaving to pursue their true love, with no guarantee on what they'll find. A last, passionate embrace and the two part, sadly, but not looking back. It describes both Jane AND Caniff's relationship with Terry, as Caniff was leaving the strip to start his creator-owned STEVE CANYON. Just beginning my own creator-owned project, I know exactly how Caiff felt, and can see how it infuses every figure and shadow on this piece. The last 8 panels are flawless. The kiss is stunning in its intensity. The last panel— "Ring Out The Old, Ring In the New"— heartbreakingly bittersweet. I actually prefer this in black and white— the white jackets don't work for me—and was hoping to post a scan of the original art, but couldn't find it on the web. Wonder where it is...

I've never read Terry and the Pirates, and it's unlikely I'll ever read more than whatever installment comes my way at any time. But I thought this strip was beautiful. For a comic made at a time when writers felt the need to describe everything or add dialogue, this mostly silent strip is a revelation. And for me, who has never read any of the strip, to feel the separation between Terry and Jane, is a testament to the craftsmanship of the strip.

A few days later, I saw this making the rounds:

See, newspaper strips didn't afford much in the way of experimentation in layouts. They had to be crafted in such a way that the newspapers could cut them up and rearrange them tro fit the paper's layout. So they worked mostly in grids and let the publishers cut them up and rearrange them.

Except, sometimes, if not most times, an artist takes the entire page into account when laying it out, so you can enjoy it as a singular piece of art. And in this case, Caniff almost certainly did. The middle two panels in the middle row being Terry and Jane looking at each other with the pain of a final goodbye makes the page for me.

However, I've also seen people say, of the second version, that the middle of the page being Jane running back is what makes the page for them.

It's an interesting piece about the nature of composition and what appeals to the eye, and the subjectivity of it all.

Still, all that just gave me an excuse to post about this, the final installment of a run on a comic strip that I've never read anything of, but which touched me anyway, and which I found beautiful.

Does the composition of the page make a difference to you? Which one do you prefer?


Anonymous said...

I recommend, from the old NBM reprinting of Terry, Terry and the Pirates: Raven - No. 14 (see https://www.amazon.com/Terry-Pirates-Raven-No-14/dp/0918348773/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468315848&sr=1-1&keywords=terry+and+the+pirates+raven for several copies for sale). The dailies for 16th and 17th October 1941 will break your heart, and the Sunday page that follows gets my vote for best comics page ever.

David Simpson

Katherine Collins said...

I cannot believe that you have never read Terry and the Pirates. I have no idea who you are, but I gather you are into comics. But you're just a dilettante and flimsy amateur if you ignore Caniff. That is like saying you like English literature, but can't be bothered with that Shakespeare guy. I strongly suggest that you push aside all the spandex underwear comic books that you normally read, and sit down with Caniff. You may never return to HormoneMan. No one else could create characters that were so three-dimensional, nor worlds that were so vast, nor situations that were so tear-inducing, besides Milton Caniff. Don't claim that you know anything about comics if you have not read him.

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