In 1983, fan Charlie Roberts sent Milton Caniff a request for a sketch of the Dragon Lady character from the Terry and the Pirates comic strip and enclosed a check for it, hoping it would be adequate. On May 11, 1983, Milt did Charlie’s sketch while talking to Shel Dorf and being videotaped by Tom French. He also signed Charlie’s check over to the National Cartoonist Society’s Milt Gross fund for cartoonists in need.
The following video of this informal “chalk talk” is from the Shel Dorf Archives and was kindly made available by Charlie Roberts. The interview was originally videotaped by Tom French, who ran the San Diego Comic-Con dealers room for many years. At the time of this video recording, Shel was the letterer for Caniff’s comic strip Steve Canyon. The interview is divided into five parts and there is a description of the highlights of each part following the video player. (You may also see an eleven-part videotaped interview of Milton Caniff done by Shel Dorf and Tom French in 1982 at http://www.sheldorftribute.com/2010/01/26/shel-dorf-interviews-milt-caniff-in-november-1982-video/.)
(If you click on it and hover your mouse pointer over the video player, you’ll see arrows you can click to move to the next or previous part along with “thumbnail” images at the bottom that you can click on to jump ahead or behind to a particular part. Also, if you are reading this via email or a newsreader, you’ll probably need to visit the site to view the video at http://www.sheldorftribute.com/2010/02/28/video-milton-caniff-draws-the-dragon-lady-while-talking-with-shel-dorf-in-1983/)
Part 1 of 5: This segment’s highlights include the following: Mort Walker’s military service, lays out sketch with pencil and then switches to ink brush, how Caniff felt about art requests from fans, the secret of drawing women, signs Charlie Robert’s check for the drawing over to the National Cartoonist Society’s Milt Gross Fund for cartoonists in need.
Part 2 of 5: This segment’s highlights include the following: left-handed people having trouble with lettering, begins coloring the Dragon Lady, Caniff’s inspirations for the Dragon Lady including an actual Chinese pirate and Joan Crawford, similarity to the queen in Show White, Raiders of the Lost Ark, film High Road to China as “another Terry and the Pirates”, why the Dragon Lady became his most famous character, a real Dragon Lady-type character in Texas named Vashti Silver.
Part 3 of 5: This segment’s highlights include the following: continues coloring the Dragon Lady sketch, on Dragon Lady having cut off Big Stoop’s tongue, on flawed villains and heroes, the only thing the Dragon Lady was afraid of, the Burma character, Somerset Maugham, Midwestern Chinese pidgin, the Beast From the East – a real courtesan character Caniff had wanted to use.
Part 4 of 5: This segment’s highlights include the following: why the Dragon Lady turned good during WWII, Casablanca — the movies and the place, when Ingrid Bergman was his neighbor and was shunned by society, how Joan Crawford felt about being the model for the Dragon Lady.
Part 5 of 5: This segment’s highlights include the following: Noel “Bud” Sickles could do a lot of things that Caniff couldn’t do, never got the hang of mechanical drawing, Caniff on lettering, Charlie Roberts’ letter requesting the drawing, why George Wunder finally quit doing Terry and the Pirates, Shel predicts a complete printed collection of Caniff’s run on Terry and the Pirates will one day be printed as an American treasure, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, when Caniff met Mrs. Arthur Conan Doyle.