Terry and the Pirates launched in October 1934, and written by Milton Caniff (1907-1988), was a serial action-adventure strip set in China and its environs. Once World War II began, the action took place within the context of that conflict. Over time, the strip became one of the most widely read in U.S. history. It also appeared in overseas newspapers. Caniff created a large cast of characters who moved in and out of the strip over time. The main characters were the eponymous Terry Lee (above as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Forces after World War II) and Pat Ryan, who initially go to China searching for a lost mine and then get caught up in a series of adventures and misadventures. Terry and Pat are ably assisted by two Chinese, Connie and Big Stoop, who, while instrumental in the success and survival of the heroes, also provide comic relief. Perhaps the most famous supporting character is the Dragon Lady. Depicted as a glamorous but ruthless pirate leader before World War II, during the war she becomes a resistance leader, only to revert to her old habits once “peace” returns to China. Given the worldwide popularity of the strip, in February 1945, the Office of War Information (OWI), the U.S. World War II-era propaganda agency, asked Caniff to record a general talk for broadcast in Australia. An earlier recorded interview with Caniff broadcast there had been well received. Caniff agreed and recorded his comments on March 17, 1945. During World War II, Caniff also produced a somewhat risqué non-serial strip called “Male Call” for use in U. S. military camp newspapers.
Milton Caniff was a giant of the U.S. cartoonist world. He served as a founder and president of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and in 1947 won the Society’s first Cartoonist of the Year Award. He is an inductee into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. In 1995, when the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the American comic strip, it chose Milton Caniff and “Terry and Pirates” as one of the classic strips to be honored.