Dickie is about to embark on an adventure with Captain Kidd. Artist: Milton Caniff.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Associated Press
First Appeared: 1933
Creator: Milton Caniff
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Milton Caniff was an up-and-coming young illustrator, working on several minor Associated Press features, when he heard they were looking for a …

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… new daily strip to fill a hole in their comics page. He spent a weekend working up samples, and sold the strip to AP on Monday. Dickie Dare's newspaper run began July 31, 1933, and Caniff was off and running. He spent the rest of his life working on adventure comic strips.

Dickie was an imaginative 12-year-old who loved to read historical adventure stories. When he finished a story, he'd replay it in his head, with himself in it. For months, he fought with General Custer, served as Sir Lancelot's squire, was captured by Captain Kidd, and met many other familiar adventurers of the past.

But it was difficult to interest readers in stories they already knew, even with a representative of the 20th century added to the cast, so in 1934, Caniff started giving Dickie some adventures of his own. On May 11 of that year, Dickie met Dan Flynn, a writer of the stuff Dickie liked reading, who happened to be an old friend of his dad. Flynn took Dickie on an educational trip around the world, and turned out to be quite an adventurer himself. For the next couple of decades, Dan and Flynn had one hair-raising escapade after another.

But Caniff didn't stick with Dickie that long. The feature came to the attention of Captain Joe Patterson, editor of The Chicago Tribune Syndicate, who had a title and a locale for an adventure strip he wanted to publish. Caniff was given an opportunity to create the actual strip. The cartoonist took the set-up (kid hero with two-fisted adult sidekick) right out of the strip he was already doing, and used it in the new one. It was the new one, Terry & the Pirates, that rocketed Caniff to fame.

Meanwhile, AP assigned Dickie Dare to Coulton Waugh, who is probably best remembered for his 1947 book, The Comics, one of the first attempts to document the history of newspaper comic strips in America. Waugh took over with the episode for Monday, December 3, 1934 — right in the middle of a story, and with no idea where it had been intended to go. He managed to get it satisfactorily finished, then started doing stories of his own, and continued for almost a decade.

In 1944, Waugh set Dickie aside to work a creation of his own, Hank, for the New York tabloid PM, where Barnaby got its start. But the earlier strip didn't completely go out of his life, as it was taken over by his assistant, Odin Burvik, who was also his wife. There was a brief stint by Fran Matera (whose credits also include Kerry Drake, Little Annie Rooney and Steve Roper), but Waugh returned after finishing his book and remained with the strip until it ended.

The post-Caniff Dickie concentrated mostly on sea adventures, as was Waugh's inclination. When, in the early 1950s, Waugh finally aged the 12-year-old hero into a young man, he became a cadet in the U.S. Navy. The now-grown Dickie Dare sailed off into the sunset for the last time in October, 1957.

Dickie Dare was reprinted in comic book form by Eastern Color Printing (which had published the first modern-style comic book, Famous Funnies, in 1934), but the series lasted only four issues (1941-42). The strip was never popular enough to be spun off into radio shows, big little books and the like. It did have an imitator, Dick's Adventures in Dreamland, which King Features distributed from 1947-56, but that was a minor comic, scarcely remembered today. Fantagraphics Books reprinted the Caniff run (plus Waugh's completion of Caniff's last story) in 1986, but that was the least-noted of the several Caniff reprint projects of the 1980s and '90s.

The most notable thing about Dickie Dare is its role in launching Milton Caniff's career. But that is quite sufficient to guarantee it a permanent place in the history of American comics.


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Text ©2001-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Associated Press.