NCS Spotlight On: Milton Caniff

August 5, 2010

Because of the intricacies of the contract process involved with securing a syndicated cartoon strip, author Fred C. Rodewald does not go into much detail about opportunities for illustration jobs in that field. His October 1954 article in American Artist mentions only that, “salaried employment for cartoonist, illustrators, letterers and mechanical men” does exist in the syndicate business. Luckily for us, there has been plenty of documentation about this field, and we have the benefit of friends with expert, first-hand experience.

When Noel Sickles gave up his strip, Scorchy Smith, it was because of a combination of “restlessness, deadlines, boredom and money,” according to biographer Bruce Canwell. In an online excerpt of an interview from The Comics Journal #242, Sickles himself mentions that his salary at the beginning of his three-year stint on the strip was $47.50 per week. In spite of his managing to negotiate it to a respectable $125 a week, Sickles quit the strip in 1936 to pursue a career in magazine illustration.

For Sickles’ life-long friend and admirer, Milton Caniff, sticking with the syndicates proved to be the road to spectacular success. The caption under this 1946 photo of the artist at work in his studio reads in part, “the young cartoonist earns $80,000 a year, and will do even better when he drops Terry [and the Pirates].”

Ten years later, the title of another article, this one actually written by Milton Caniff for Cosmopolitan magazine says it all.

Caniff wrote, “Today, 100,000,000 Americans follow at least one comic strip each day.” Successful syndicated cartoonists like Caniff, Al Capp, Walt Kelly and many others were akin to Hollywood celebrities, earning top dollar for speaking engagements, appearing on newspaper society pages and were much sought-after by advertisers for product endorsements.

No wonder so many cartoonists dreamed of landing a syndicated cartoon strip!

* My thanks to Michael Lark for sharing the Noel Sickles scans at top from his private collection.

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