The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Volume I: 1934-1936
By Milton Caniff
(IDW Publishing, $50)

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In the modern, high-speed Internet age, it's difficult, if not impossible, to really understand the impact that the daily comic strip had on American culture in the early part of the twentieth century. And certainly no one had more influence on comics, particularly during those fledgling years, than Milton Caniff, creator of the swashbuckling adventure strip Terry and the Pirates. To inaugurate its new imprint, the Library of American Comics, IDW Publishing is presenting the first volume of a projected six-volume complete hardcover collection of Caniff's work, which follows the globe-trotting experiences of wide-eyed all-American boy Terry Lee; his two-fisted journalist pal, Pat Ryan; and their femme fatale nemesis, the Dragon Lady. As fellow comic artist and writer Howard Chaykin notes in his incisive introductory essay, Caniff was "the man who invented the visual and textual language that defines the very vocabulary of all adventure and character-based comic art" - and when poring over these pages, you'll feel like you're watching the medium develop right before your eyes. Still, volume one, which covers Terry's first two years, is perhaps more interesting for its historical value than for its actual content. It took Caniff some time to really find his feet and flesh out his characters, but once he did, his work reveled in risqué scenarios and showed an unusually developed sense of female characters. After World War II, Caniff abandoned Terry and the Pirates to begin writing the rather more prosaic (and politically and aesthetically conservative) strip Steve Canyon, yet his pioneering work here shows why he occupies a place in the pantheon of comic art.
- Bob Mehr