Terry and the Pirates

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When IDW decided in 2007 to launch its Library of American Comics imprint featuring collected editions of classic newspaper strips, its first choice of material was obvious. Terry and the Pirates, under the pen of Milton Caniff, ran in newspapers from 1934 through 1946 and was read by 31 million newspaper subscribers. Howard Chaykin considers Terry and the Pirates “the greatest adventure comic strip ever done.” He’s not alone in his estimation.

You can read the rest of my appreciation of Terry and the Pirates at The Comics Alternative, which you may want to read before proceeding further. I recently finished reading the fourth volume, which I briefly discuss below.

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In The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Volume 4: 1941-1942, Terry is in the process of maturing and Caniff gives him plenty of opportunities to do so, both as a young man and as a fighter in WWII. We don’t see much of Terry’s mentor Pat Ryan and even less of friends Connie and Big Stoop, but the essence of the title – adventure, romance, and fighting against the bad guys – remains firmly in place.

What distinguishes this volume from the previous ones – aside from Terry’s maturity – is the death of one of the characters in the series. Understand that this was a death that affected millions of readers deeply. For the remainder of his lifetime, Caniff received letters of both praise and harsh criticism for killing off this character. (You’ll have to read the volume to find out who dies. Of course, you could just Google it, but I’d rather you read the books.) Unlike many of today’s comic book character deaths, this character remained dead. Death meant something, especially in World War II, even if it was the death of a comic strip character.

As you can read from the 2007 announcement from IDW that it would begin reprinting the title, Terry and the Pirates was enormously influential to a large number of later storytellers and artists. It’s also a whole lot of fun. If you love adventure comics, I urge you to try the first volume. If you do, I suspect you’ll want to read all six volumes.

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