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March 19, 2023

Scenes From an Appearance by Pioneering Comics Artist Milton Caniff in 1947

The name of Milton Caniff may not be as familiar to comic fans as that of Jack Kirby, Bob Kane or other artists whose superhero creations still entertain millions. But Caniff, who rose to fame drawing adventure strips in the 1930s and 1940s, was a major influence on the look of action comics—so much so that he earned the nickname ““the Rembrandt of comic strips.” He was so big in his day that when he decided to abandon his hugely popular syndicated adventure strip Terry and the Pirates and start a new one, Steve Canyon, he landed on the cover of Time magazine.

In the Feb. 3, 1947 issue of LIFE, Caniff was one of ten cartoonists challenged to draw their signature characters (in his case, Steve Canyon) while blindfolded. Others participating in the challenge included Dick Tracy‘s Chester Gould and Blondie’s Chic Young.

In 1947, LIFE assigned staff photographer Wallace Kirkland to take some shots of Milton Caniff from an appearance. It is likely that the event Kirkland photographed was meant to celebrate the launch of Steve Canyon. One thing from Kirkland’s photos is plain: how excited his fans were to be in the presence of this artist at work. Look at their outstretched arms and the excitement in their eyes, and you can see the seeds of today’s culture, in which fans flock to comic conventions by the millions for up-close experiences like this one.

(Photos by Wallace Kirkland/Life Picture Collection)


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