Comic Location To Visit: Idaho Springs, CO

By | Tuesday, December 11, 2012 4 comments
I don't intend on making the Comic Location To Visit thing a regular feature, but I happened across a few curiosities lately, so I'm sharing a few of them here.
Founded by prospectors in 1859, Idaho Springs, Colorado the center of the region's mining district throughout the late nineteenth century. In 1947, the town of one square mile (with a current population under 2,000) decided to rename a nearby mountain canyon after one Milton Canniff's comic strip characters, Steve Canyon. I can't seem to find a solid reason why; the only explanation I can find at all is a snarky comment about being "awash in post-WWII patriotism."

Two years later, they paid $12,000 to have a ten-foot tall, limestone statue of the character carved for the center of town. It was officially dedicated on July 8, 1950 and Milton Canniff was in attendance, although he had had nothing to do with the statue's inception and/or creation. Also in attendance were Walter W. Johnson, (Governor, Colorado), L.P. Giles (Mayor, Idaho Springs), William Riley (President, Indiana Limestone Company), and Vernon Clark (U.S. Treasury Deptartment). The plaque mounted on the base reads, in part, "The United States Treasury salutes Steve Canyon and through him, all American cartoon characters who serve the Nation."

Canniff visited the state at least one other time, in 1959, along with Dean Fredericks who portrayed Steve Canyon on the television show of the same name. Presumably, this was done as a marketing push for the show.

The statue appears to be maintained well; however, I can't find any reference to it at all on Idaho Springs' web site. Which suggests that perhaps it's not as significant a point of pride now as it used to be. Which isn't surprising given that the strip ended in 1988 when Canniff died.
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Matt K said...

Yeah, I'm aware of Caniff and Canyon, and yet I don't think I've ever even read any of the material.

What separates them out from better-remembered peers, do you think? No cartoon show? (Or one that no one liked?)

I haven't read a really long, extended run, but I think the strip had two things going for it. First, Canniff was a masterful storyteller. He didn't have quite the raw power of a Jack Kirby or quite as nuanced a touch as a Will Eisner, but he was extremely talented. Great brushwork, fantastic sense of panel composition, plus he was just darned good at telling stories. Canniff had a pretty strong reputation in that respect from Terry & the Pirates (1934-46) and people knew he was talented when he started Steve Canyon in '47. Second, and I think this is why he was more highly regarded that Kirby or Eisner in his day, is that Steve Canyon tapped very much into the post-WWII emotional zeitgeist. It was JUST the right amount of patriotism and "rah-rah-America! We kicked Nazi butt!" without quite veering into the blatant jingoism territory that you find in strips like Buz Sawyer or Captain Easy. Canyon, as a character, was just like so many GIs who had come home after serving and looked to start a hopeful and prosperous life. But Canniff added just enough adventure -- without the looming threat of actual war -- that he was able to tap into a popular sentiment of the time. Canniff was able to keep the character in lockstep with the American public at least through the Korean War. I think he started to falter a bit in that regard by the time of the Vietnam War (not that he was completely out of step, just not perfectly in with all of America) but by that point, the character was so well-entrenched in the newspaper, and Canniff still maintained such strong storytelling abilities, that he was basically able to keep it going until his death in 1988.

Matt K said...

Ah, sounds like a body of work much more of its time than, e.g., Kirby's or Eisner's. Appreciate the additional thoughts.

That's MY impression but, as I said, I haven't read a long, extended run to see first-hand if that actually holds for the entire strip.