Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Complete Terry and the Pirates (Volume 1): 1934-1936

Milton Caniff

Terry and the Pirates is a fantastic comic strip and really, a must-have for any serious comic collector. This complete version of Milton Caniff’s classic action/adventure strip, from IDW, is a huge book full of Caniff’s lush drawings, including many colored Sunday strips. The strip follows young Terry and his pal, the handsome lady’s man Pat Ryan, as they face pirates, kidnappers and conspirators alike through their many adventures among exotic locales. This collection begins with the colored Sunday pages, as the plots of the strips were kept separate between the Sundays and the dailies at first, the reasoning being that some newspaper subscribers only received the Sunday paper. Black and white dailies follow the Sundays in the middle of this book, making up the bulk of the volume. The volume ends with the converged strip when the story ran all the way through the week. Howard Chaykin does an excellent introduction that gives a lot of perspective to the classic strip, preparing readers for the coming awesomeness that is Terry and the Pirates. Dames and good-natured old men drift in and out of the stories, and a Chinese cook named Connie joins the pair in their misfortunes at the very beginning, often serving as interpreter and as comic relief. One of the funnest characters of the strip is the recurring villain, the treacherous femme fatale The Dragon Lady, who always seems to survive any ill fate, and who has an interesting love-hate relationship with Pat Ryan. While the book begins amid really beautiful illustrations, it does seem to get better as the book goes along, which is saying something since at the get-go, I was in awe of Caniff’s beautiful detailed environments. I often caught myself stopping to merely stare at the pages after I’d read through the panels. And some offensive racial stereotypes aside, I’d say that the melodrama and action were a good balance amid characters that were about as developed as you would want them to be in a strip such as this. It was inevitable that Pat would find a new woman in a new locale, and that he’d have his shirt off for some reason or another, and Connie would get another crazy idea that would earn a good laugh from his friends - but it’s all a lot of fun. Even the scene where Terry is taking a bath and toweling off in front of Pat Ryan as his friend reclines in a nearby chair, was amusing in a Batman-Robin sort of way which, as I think of it, kind of sums up their whole relationship pretty well: Terry is very much the sidekick of Pat Ryan, who gets the ladies and is deemed the threat by the villains of the tales. Pat is the bad rugged guy who smokes a pipe and can’t be tied down by a woman, who must have adventure to feel alive. It’s great. You can kind of see why the women in the stories find him so magnetic. But Terry isn't anything to sneeze at either. He can hold his own and often gets Pat Ryan out of a jam with his quick wit and limited resources. Something else I really enjoyed about this strip is how the story flowed as it proceeded. In the action strip Dick Tracy (also being collected in complete editions by IDW), I notice a lot of repeating and backpedaling to catch readers up and recap what’s happened. In Terry and the Pirates, it seems like it could have been made for this format all along, it flows that seamlessly from one day’s strip to the next. Toward the end of the book, when the Sundays and dailies merge, it seems to fall more into the recap trap (probably still trying to find that balance between Sunday-only subscribers versus readers who get the daily papers), but overall, it was still pretty fluid, as least compared to Dick Tracy. In the end, this is a book that deserves a spot in everybody’s personal library. It boasts beautiful art, compelling stories, great characters and all of the elements necessary for a lasting impression.

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