Friday, 24 October 2014




I developed a fondness for comics quite early in childhood through an addiction to Archie Comics. Since then, my interests have broadened to include the newspaper funny pages, superhero comics, graphic novels, and American classics.

Time Magazine Cover with a cartoon drawing of Milton Caniff beside a couple of his cartoon characters.,16641,19470113,00.html

A favourite cartoonist of mine is Milton Caniff (1907-1988). Oddly, my interest in Caniff’s work is not based on his artwork or storylines, but rather stems from the fact that many American soldiers credit him with buoying their spirits during WWII. Caniff drew and authored three extremely successful comic strips in his lifetime; Terry and the Pirates (1934-1946), Male Call (January 1943 until March 1946), and Steve Canyon (1947-1988). Both Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon were daily strips that featured in the top American newspapers. The two comics were family favourite adventure strips that followed main male characters on worldwide escapades where they encountered elegant females and wicked villains.

My interest in Milton Caniff centers around the comic strip Male Call. Caniff created Male Call exclusively and free of charge for the American military during WWII. The comic was a weekly strip that followed the American, female character of Miss Lace who lived near an American G.I. base in China during WWII. The comic provided weekly sexual humour combined with pin-up art, that is mild by today’s standards.

Black and White cartoon of two soldiers walking on either side of dark haired woman in evening dress.

Male Call is innovative in its liminality. Miss Lace is the only true primary character in the comic, all the soldier characters in the strip are nameless, meaning that the soldiers reading the comic became a part of it. The character of Miss Lace almost became real, as the soldiers became the secondary characters in the comic.

You may be asking, what does this have to do with museums? Well this past December, I had the privilege of visiting Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum for research purposes. The library and museum hold a large archival collection of cartooning, including all of Milton Caniff’s records. The top floor of the facility has a small museum, in which original drawings from many cartoonists are on display. The museum continually rotates its display in order to utilize and share with the public their large collection. 

Photo of outside of Billy Ireland Library and Museum

My visit to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum was a fantastic experience for me not only because I am a comic enthusiast but also because I learned more about the role of comics in wartime and the strong affect that they can have. The war activity volunteering of Betty and Veronica in Archie Comics raised volunteer numbers of young women on the home front. The character of Tillie in Tillie the Toiler joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which helped to convince those at home that women’s efforts were necessary and needed abroad. The mild sexuality of Miss Lace in Male Call, is expressed by many who served as bringing light to their difficult days and reminding them of home and the women waiting for their safe return. 

Comic Frame of Miss Lace in suggestive pjs and then on outline of her at the window changing
Copied from Archives.

A selection of fan letters to Milton Caniff from the Billy Ireland archives state:

-Sergeant James Bemy of the 300th Infantry, January 1944:
"The general consensus of opinion among the zebras of this outfit is that Miss Lace is about the slickest chick that ever slid into our comic strips."

-Unknown author, March of 1943:
"I am writing to you for an original of the sigh…Miss Lace. We fellows here at Culver think she’s nothing less than TERRIFIC; and as we are badly in need of femininity here, we enjoy her even more."

Photo of Male Call book- with Miss Lace lying across cover seductively

-Harvey, Robert C. Meanwhile…A Biography of Milton Caniff: Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon.
-March, 1943. Box MAC.P279/Folder 18.1-18.2. General Correspondence, March 1943. Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. The Ohio State University.
-Milton Caniff’s Male Call: The Complete Newspaper Strips: 1942-1946 Starring Miss Lace.
-James Bemy to Milton Caniff. January 15, 1944. Box MAC.P280/Folder 9.1-9.3. General Correspondence, January 1944. Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. The Ohio State University. 

NOTE- It is not the intent of this blog to argue that Milton Caniff’s sexualization of women in his comics was acceptable, but rather to bring attention to historic comics.

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