Today on the site, R.C. Harvey bring us a slice of Milton Caniff history, namely a time when he ran afoul of his public’s taste.
Caniff included a woman in virtually every story for the obvious storytelling reasons: not only does a damsel in distress give a hero a mission, but relations between the sexes are central to the human condition. A man-woman situation enhances the drama of any high adventure, giving it an added human dimension. Since Terry’s early days, Caniff acknowledged the sexual aspects of his storytelling. His erotic or titillating allusions were undertones, but they were evident enough to those who could recognize them. In such man-woman relationships, Caniff once remarked, there should “always be the feeling of potential rape in the air—legal or otherwise.” Words and pictures usually convey this feeling, but not in tandem.
A mark of Caniff’s sophistication as a cartoonist is that when the dialogue dilates with double entendre, the women in the accompanying pictures are typically demurely dressed, softening the suggestive import of the language. When the women slip into something more comfortable, they talk like choir boys. Adjusting his pictures to temper subtly his suggestive words, Caniff controlled his medium masterfully. The sexual connotations of Delta’s backseat struggles would be intolerable for most readers if she wore skimpy clothing. But Caniff dresses her in a conservative skirt and sweater. Admittedly, she fills them amply, but she keeps her knees out of sight most of the time. Caniff focuses our attention on Delta’s dilemma not on her sexuality. Caniff’s treatment of Madame Lynx illustrates the reverse effect. In the absence of verbal reminders of Lynx’s sexual role, the pictures remind us. In this case, however, Caniff for once misgauged his audience and went too far, upsetting the delicate verbal-visual counter-balance.
And in other parts of the internet…
Jillian Tamaki chronicled the trash on her block for Print magazine and the full piece is online.
Hey, what does Milo George think about the new Batman movie?