Having seen Hotshot Charlie’s B-17 flying over Simmons Corner a few days ago and in celebration of “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, I thought I’d do a blog post on Terry and the Pirates. Don’t worry, I promise not to do it in pirate slang.
Terry and the Pirates was created by Milton Caniff in 1934, appearing in black and white newspaper dailies for the first time on October 22 with color Sunday’s following on December 9th. An adventure comic strip, Terry’s early plot is best summarized by The New Yorker,
“In this ground-breaking adventure serial, a pair of eager Americans, a boy named Terry Lee and a young fortune hunter named Pat Ryan, land in China to search for an abandoned mine and quickly find themselves facing a succession of gangsters, warlords, pirates, and femme fatales up and down the coast. Period colonialism and chinoiserie occasionally combine for some awkwardly overheated depictions, but Caniff visualized his setup—Robert Louis Stevenson by way of the pulps—with a cinematic flair that remains thrilling because it is played straight. Ryan, a two-fisted, often shirtless he-man, exhibits an arrestingly sexual chemistry with various bad girl.”
When the United States went to war in December 1941, Terry and company went to war as well. The war years were some of Caniff’s finest work with current events woven into the stories and authentic planes, ship, uniforms and weapons researched and depicted.
Terry himself joined the Army Air Corps (this was before the Air Force) and he quickly became a fighter pilot. Terry’s entire comic crew joined the fight and many new faces were added, including one Charles C. Charles, aka Hotshot Charlie. The comically flippant Boston pilot became Terry’s best friend in the air force.
Shortly after the war in 1946, Milton Caniff ceased art and story duties on Terry and the Pirates. As was normal in those years (and is the case with Dick Tracy) the comic strip was owned by the parent newspaper and would continue without Caniff who went on to write Steve Canyon comics. Terry’s story was adopted by George Wunder who carried the comic strip forward another 27 years into the 1970’s before it was cancelled. George’s art and story work was not well received by many Pirate fans.
Like Dick Tracy before it, Terry and the Pirates has spun off an 18 episode television series (1953), a cliffhanger serial through Columbia Pictures (1940) and several radio programs from 1937 to 1948. A choice selections of this media are linked below.
- 1940 Serial on Matinee Classics
- 1953 Television Episode – Macao Gold
- Several Radio Broadcasts on My Old Radio
If you are interested in reading Terry and the Pirates, Idea and Design Works, LLC (IDW) has reprinted the entire Milton Caniff collection in a six volume set using the same high quality production used for the Dick Tracy collections. Hermes Press is pitching in to print the follow-up George Wunder years.
Happy Talk like a Pirate Day!
P.S. – Going back to today’s post title did you know that Talk Like a Pirate Day was created by a couple of guys named John, Mark and maybe Brian while playing racquetball in the 90’s? They celebrated the day on their own for years until they emailed humorist Dave Barry (who I find hilarious) and the special day really started to roll.