Favorite Female Characters in Literature #8: Burma
Ahh, Burma. In the Terry & the Pirates comic strip she was a bad girl with a streak of kindness, or a good girl with a streak of wildness, and either way a con artist with a penchant for loving money any way she could get it, as long as nobody worth a damn was hurt too bad in the process. She was a love interest for Pat Ryan at first… and then later for Terry, though she was afraid of her feelings either way and would disappear in a flash. You could hear her coming because she was singing St. Louis Blues. You could feel her coming because your heart was beating faster. You could always feel her leaving, because she was doing it all the time. Of all the women who wandered their way through the comic strip, she was the one I always wanted to stay. The Dragon Lady would have been a mad affair, no doubt about it. And Normandie, and April Kane was sweet, and hell… there were SO many fantastic women in the comic strip. Milton Caniff was fantastic for introducing strong / complex female characters into his Terry & the Pirates comic, which is one of the main reasons I love the strip… even past the fact that Caniff is easily one of my favorite artists. Because of that, this post should be considered as not belonging solely to Burma, or even to the other ladies of Terry & the Pirates, but to all of Caniff’s women.
God DAMN it, Pat Ryan! You're hogging all the pretty ladies! And some of them are TERRY's love interests!
Alicia Quiqley posing for a Burma drawing by Milton Caniff. Cartoonists get ALL THE LADIES, yo.
A couple panels showcasing Burma's personal philosophies.
I rather love this strip. That look on Burma's face in the third panel, when she's being told to obey her master. Oh, Kiel. Did you forget who you were talking to? There ain't no leash on this one.
One of the things that I love about Burma and MANY other of Caniff's women is that they rarely were in situations like this. Burma wasn't a hostage. She was a con man, a grifter, and she was sharp as nails and not afraid to use sex as a weapon, and not afraid to show a soft side, either. She was a woman who could make a tough situation, and then fight her way the hell out of it. Caniff did a lot to fill the pages of the comics with smart women, at a time when it was full of frail airheads.
Lots of bad guys thought Burma was only a clever little fly caught in a spider's web, but she was a match for any and all of them.
This is one of the aspects I love about Burma. She has depth. She could be hard as stone, but sometimes she was just a happy little girl, so pleased that she was getting her way, lost in the love of life, and always willing to dance.
Mr. Terry Lee! What the hell you doing, boy? That's BURMA giving you a private dance. You were referred to as a "wide awake American boy," but you're failing here, son. You're failing.
Burma... FOUND OUT! Burma had a lot of different looks. She was a grifter, after all. A con man at heart.
I have to admit, if I was looking for a bit of feminine companionship, a bit of an adventurous affair, then a woman who disguises herself and who has dove off a boat to escape the British police and piracy charges... I'd at least buy the first couple rounds and see how it all turned out.
Dragon Lady break. Here we see one of the very few times that both Terry Lee and Pat Ryan were just plain beaten... overwhelmed. A dinner at the Dragon Lady's. Yikes!
Back to the blonde that can't stay out of trouble. And a look at how Burma sees Terry... as a way of recapturing the innocence she once had, but she couldn't stand if it ever returned. Still... nice to visit with, now and then.
Always willing to pull a con that gets her into trouble, and always pulling a con to get her the hell back out.
Another look at Burma's girlish side. Her moods were consistently inconsistent. Burma did almost everything well. Except waiting. She was never a fount of patience. Here she's seen being irritable, wondering if it's going to take gunfire or an apology and a kiss to get out of her lastest jam.
Caniff drawing Jayne Mansfield. I'm not a big fan of hers (she always looked like a caricature of an actual woman) but I would love to have that drawing!
A couple more posers, this time Esther Parson Caniff as Burma, and Charles Raab standing in for... uh, Yellow Peril, I guess.
A nice shot of Burma... the dangerous dame. Al Barker was one of the writers for the Terry & the Pirates radio show.
One result of my devotion to Burma. This is the pencils for a page from an upcoming, unannounced project with artist Ben Dewey. The cat is arguably the book's main character... and is named Burma.
April Kane. Rich and spoiled, but working her way through it... and willing to get her hands dirty to prove her love for Terry. Or Pat. Or Terry. Yes... definitely Terry.
Caniff working on an illustration of April Kane, using a model. Or... perhaps Caniff just working on an illustration when a beautiful woman suddenly come down through the trap door and threatens him with a gun. I hope his life was that exciting.
Stand back, boys. We're all suddenly way out of our league. It's the Dragon Lady. She the hardest of the hard. The baddest of the bad. The coldest of the cold. Only Pat Ryan could ever hope to win her love and devotion, and she hates him a little, for that.
The Dragon Lady and Raven Sherman, talking about romance, and Pat Ryan, shortly before Raven's ill-fated romance with Dude Hennick. Love the Dragon Lady's final line. "My good woman, you flatter yourself. If the Dragon Lady chooses to take a man from you ... you will never hear the bell at the end of the first round."
To hell with dreaming dreams... let's get to scheming schemes.
A properly vamped up Dragon Lady, here illustrated by Dominique Bertail.
Hard as nails. Soft as silk. Smart as a whip. Deadly with a pistol, and a deadly realist as well.
The Dragon Lady and Burma. We never knew either of their real names. Both women entered the scene as mysteries, and they left the same way. How wonderful.
I'd be remiss if I talked about Caniff's women but didn't mention the Steve Canyon comic strip. And Summer Olson.
Another of the ladies from the Steve Canyon strip. His women really lit up those cigarettes. I suppose it was an indicator of wildness and independence in its day, but now I just think of those poor lungs, and how those wretched cigarettes can ruin the taste of an otherwise perfect kiss.
"Caught in a trap" is an emotion Caniff could draw on all his women.
I'm not so foolish as to talk about Burma and Caniff's women and not mention Miss Lace, a character that Caniff developed for the US armed services papers during World War II, appearing in a strip called Male Call. She was a morale-raiser, and her venue allowed the strips to be a bit more risque than the average newspaper. It was still a product of the times, tame by today's standards, but she still smoldered and occasionally burst into wonderful feminine flame.
A couple examples of Miss Lace in the Male Call strips.
A Male Call tribute strip by Avril, one of my favorite illustrators.
Dammit! I want me a Burma button. All the cool kids have one!
One woman caught between two men, and not right for either of them. I eat this shit up.
Part of the enormous cast of Terry & the Pirates, with pretty ladies here and there, and friends and foes, with the Dragon Lady probably wondering how she can rule them all, and Burma wondering how she can steal all of the money, and a few of the kisses, and then make her getaway.
That's just how Burma rolls. Drop the mic.
THE “FAVORITE” LIST SO FAR…
#25: Scarlet Witch
#24: Chance Falconer
#21: Jean Grey
#20: Kitty Pryde
#19: Janet van Dyne
#18: Mary Jane Watson
#17: Hermione Granger
#15: Modesty Blaise
#14: Black Widow
#13: Sue Storm
#11: Millie (the Model) Collins
#10a: Blonde Phantom
#10b: Betty & Veronica
#10c: Lois Lane
#10: Wonder Woman
#9: Nancy Drew
——- DOWN BELOW IS JUST A REHASH OF WHY I’M DOING THIS LIST ———
I’ve been thinking about women, lately. Women characters in comics. Women creators in comics. Female characters in literature. And pretty girls riding around on bicycles or walking along the sidewalk, etc, etc. Because of this, I’ve decided to make An Entirely Useless List. Why is it entirely useless? Because it’s my top 25 female characters from comics and literature, and such lists change at whim and at a breakneck pace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to quantify favorites… the term favorite is far too malleable. A list of my best friends from high school, for instance, would not include anyone with whom I’m currently in contact. Times change. Still… I’m making the list. Why? I suppose I just like thinking about women.