MALE CALL

MILTON CANIFF

Male Call was an American comic strip series created and drawn by Milton Caniff on a volunteer basis, exclusively for US military publications during World War II. The strip began January 24, 1943. Caniff continued Male Call until seven months after V-J Day, bringing it to a conclusion on March 3, 1946.

To contribute to the war effort, Caniff decided to draw a weekly comic strip and make it available at no cost to military camp newspapers. The Camp Newspaper Service was launched to syndicate Caniff's weekly page and contributions from other civilians. For CNS, Caniff created a unique version of his Terry and the Pirates, completely different in content from his regular daily and Sunday strips for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. It premiered October 11, 1942. Minus Terry, the CNSversion focused on beautiful adventuress Burma, and she was seen in single-page situations rather than a continuity storyline. After three months, however, The Miami Herald objected to this competing use of the character and complained to the Tribune Syndicate. The military spin-off version of Terry and the Pirates came to an end on January 10, 1943.

To launch Male Call two weeks later, Caniff introduced a new character, Miss Lace, a sexy, sophisticated, dark-haired woman who mixed with the GIs at an American base somewhere in China. Comics historian Don Markstein described theMale Call characters:

Miss Lace, who replaced Burma, was designed as the opposite of the earlier character — black-haired as opposed to Burma's blonde; innocent as opposed to Burma's world-wisdom; and always soft and sweet, as opposed to Burma's sometimes flinty exterior... The only character to carry over from Burma's run was eager young PFC J. Snafroid McGoolty, a very minor player, but also the only recurring named character besides Lace herself... Her adventures tended to be a bit on the risqué side — never to the point of totally unambiguous sexual romps, but enough to draw an occasional complaint from a blue-nose type. These rare complaints were ignored, however, as the vast bulk of reader response was thoroughly enthusiastic. Along with George Baker's Sad Sack, Bill Mauldin's Willie & Joe and Dr. Seuss' Private Snafu, Lace was among the most celebrated of World War II's military-related cartoon characters. In fact, she may have been the first comic strip character to appear on television — during July 1945, New York City's WNBT interviewed Caniff, during the course of which model Dorothy Partington appeared in the role of Lace.

The strip was a gag-a-week series aimed at boosting the morale of servicemen and was oriented towards mild humor and pin-up art. It was inspired by Norman Pett's comic strip Jane, published in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror from 1932 to 1959. Given its reading demographic, the content was somewhat racier than was permitted in mainstream civilian publications. Nevertheless, the strip still had to pass muster with military censors.

The Camp Newspaper Service distributed the strip to more than 3000 military base newspapers, the largest number of individual papers in which any single comic strip has appeared. Male Call did not appear in any civilian newspapers.

In 1987, Kitchen Sink Press published a complete collection, Male Call: 1942–1946, In 2011, Hermes Press published a complete reprint of the comic strip.