Classic American newspaper comic strip, created by Milton Caniff in 1934. Caniff, who had created a previous strip called "Dickie Dare," was asked by Chicago Tribune editor Captain Joseph Medill Patterson to come up with an adventure strip for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Patterson suggested the strip's title and locale, and Caniff took care of the rest.

In the first appearance of the strip, young Terry Lee and his adult sidekick, Pat Ryan, arrived in China to look for a mine that had belonged to Terry's grandfather. They soon hired a guide and interpreter named George Webster "Connie" Confucius. After the trio of adventurers gave the heave-ho to a squatter named Poppy Joe who'd stolen the mine, they went on to have a bunch of other adventures in the Far East.

Among the large supporting cast were quite a few beautiful and interesting women who assisted -- and sometimes opposed -- Terry and his friends. Among the good guys were Normandie Drake, April Kane, and Burma; among the bad guys was possibly the greatest female villain ever: the Dragon Lady. Far from being a one-dimensional stereotype, the Dragon Lady was one of the strip's most complex characters, sometimes trying to kill the heroes, sometimes merely humiliating them, sometimes helping them for her own purposes, but always unpredictable. In fact, in one story, the Dragon Lady taught Terry how to dance.

"Terry and the Pirates" quickly became one of the most popular comic strips in the United States, turning Caniff into a bona fide celebrity and earning him the very first Reuben Award. The strip was turned into a radio drama in 1937; it was made into a movie serial in 1940, with William Tracy as Terry and Sheila Darcy as the Dragon Lady; it became a television series starring John Baer in 1952; it was reprinted in comic books and in Big Little Books.

However, Caniff earned very little money from the strip. He didn't own the strip himself and wasn't able to negotiate for a better contract. So in 1946, after getting a better deal with another syndicate, Caniff quit "Terry and the Pirates" and started working on "Steve Canyon." George Wunder took over "TatP" and handled the art and writing chores for several decades. The strip was finally cancelled in 1973.

In the mid-1990s, long after Caniff's death in 1988, an attempt was made to revive and modernize the strip. It failed pretty miserably, mostly because -- well, as the saying goes, you can't go home again. What worked like gangbusters in the '30s and '40s just wasn't going to fly in the '90s. China and the rest of Asia no longer made good locales for pulp-style action and adventure. Oriental pulp villains were no longer believable. Anything bearing the name "Terry and the Pirates" was going to have to labor under the very large and influential shadow of Milton Caniff. It never had a chance. Maybe that's for the best.

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