Terry and the Pirates was an action-adventure comic strip created by cartoonist Milton Caniff. The daily strip began October 22, 1934, with the Sunday color pages beginning December 9, 1934. Initially, the storylines of the daily strips and Sunday pages were different, but on August 26, 1936 they merged into a single storyline.
Although Terry and the Pirates had made Caniff famous, the strip was owned by the syndicate, which was not uncommon at the time. Seeking creative control of his own work, Caniff left the strip in 1946, his last Terry strip being published on December 29. After Caniff's departure, Terry and the Pirates was assigned to Associated Press artist George Wunder. Wunder drew highly detailed panels, but some critics, notably Maurice Horn, claimed that it was sometimes difficult to tell one character from another and that his work lacked Caniff's essential humor. Nevertheless, he kept the strip going for 27 years until its discontinuation on February 25, 1973, by which time Terry had become a full-grown man and reached the rank of Colonel.
The adventure begins with young Terry Lee, "a wide-awake American boy," arriving in contemporary China with his friend, two-fisted journalist Pat Ryan. Seeking a lost gold mine they meet George Webster "Connie" Confucius, interpreter and local guide. Initially, crudely drawn backgrounds and stereotypical characters surrounded Terry as he matched wits with pirates and various other villains. He developed an ever larger circle of friends and enemies, including Big Stoop, Captain Judas, Cheery Blaze, Chopstick Joe, Cue Ball and Dude Hennick.
Most notable of all was the famed femme fatale, the Dragon Lady, who started as an enemy and later, during the war, became an ally. Caniff included a number of non-American women who fought the heroes and had the funny habit of referring to themselves in the third person. These included the Dragon Lady herself and crooks and spies like Sanjak and Rouge. In a rather bold move for a 1940s comic strip, Sanjak was hinted at being a lesbian and cross-dresser with designs on Terry's girlfriend April Kane.
Adaptations include a radio drama that ran from 1937 to 1948, a 1940 film serial, and a 1953 TV miniseries.
Terry and the Pirates contains examples of:
- Ace Pilot: Dude Hennick, an old friend of Pat's who is an ace pilot and helps them out of several scrapes; pulling maneuvers like the Wronski Feint.
- Affably Evil: Cap'n Blaze. He may be a warlord, but he is a jolly old soul who enjoys a game of checkers with his captives.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Implied to be a major factor in the Dragon Lady's desire for Pat Ryan.
- Always Know a Pilot: Dude is a frat brother of Pat Ryan's and Pat happens to run into him at the airport in Hong Kong at the exact point when he needs a pilot.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Baron de Plexus is a sinister, fork-bearded, cobra-eyed cadaverous smuggler who eventually matches wits to a draw with the Dragon Lady.
- Arranged Marriage: Normandie Drake is an heiress and Pat's true love. They grew close when he worked for her father. Her high society aunt refused to see her marry a "commoner" and forced her into an arranged marriage to the weak-willed Tony Sandhurst. When She and Pat meet again, she is pregnant with Tony's child and is committed to the marriage. When they meet again during the War, Normandie's child Merilly is four years old. When she discovers that Tony is working with the Axis Powers, Normandie still refuses to divorce him.
- Artifact Title: Although pirates continue to appear throughout the run of the strip, the title "Terry AND the Pirates" doesn't really apply after the first arc.
- Audience Surrogate: Terry Lee started out as an Unfazed Everyboy, which made him a fairly Flat Character. He eventually graduated to Kid Hero.
- Bad Habits: Cap'n Blaze and his gang set up an opium farm in a monastery and disguise themselves as monks.
- Bald of Awesome: Dude Hennick; some of Cap'n Blaze's disguises.
- Bedsheet Ladder: Nasty (with some help from Burma) uses to one to escape from Hunter Yurk's compound.
- Cat Fight: The only arc to feature both Burma and Dragon Lady naturally featured a cat fight between the two of them. It wasn't about Pat Ryan (he was Out of Focus at the time): they just couldn't stand each other.
- The Chanteuse: This was Burma's original career.
- Les Collaborateurs: Several villains were only too willing to collaborate with the Japanese invaders; most notably Warlord Klang.
- Creepy Crossdresser: Sanjak. A Frenchwoman who dresses like a man, using a monocle to hypnotize people. She works for the Axis, impersonating a pilot to infiltrate Terry's Air Force base.
- Cut the Fuse: The Dragon Lady shoots through the fuse of an explosive that has been stuffed in Connie's mouth!
- Desk Jockey: Terry gets a speech from his commanding officer just after he gets his flight status which includes him stressing him treating the US Army's bureaucracy with respect.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Raven Sherman dies in Dude Hennick's arms after Captain Judas shoves her out of the back of a moving truck.
- Disguised Hostage Gambit: Having captured Pat Ryan, Klang dresses him a Japanese uniform, gags him and ties him to a post so he looks like a sentry in the fake camp the Dragon Lady is about to attack.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Pat Ryan smoked one. Hugh Hefner claims Pat Ryan's pipe smoking was the reason he took up the habit.
- Dragon Lady: The Trope Namer. And Trope Maker (along with Fu Manchu). According to Trina Robbins' Tender Mercies: Women Who Kill, the character was based on the real Lai Choi San, who was a rather successful pirate active in the China seas in the 1920s and 1930s.
- Femme Fatale: Burma. Real name unknown, a con artist, former pirate confederate and sultry singer with a good heart. She encounters Terry and Pat several times. She and Terry share a casual romantic connection, but Burma is afraid of letting it become serious.
- Gentle Giant: Big Stoop is a 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) Mongol whom Connie helped when he was being picked on by bullies. He remains with the trio out of gratitude. Immensely strong and mute, he earns his nickname from the phrase "he stoops to conquer".
- The Hedonist: The corpulent Papa Pyzon likes to live in the lap of luxury.
- High-Class Glass: Creepy Crossdresser Sanjak dresses like a man and wears a monocle that she uses to hypnotise people; most notably Terry's girlfriend April. Her use of a monocle carries some interesting connotations, as in the early 20th century, a woman wearing a monocle would most likely be assumed to be a lesbian.
- Hypnotize the Princess: Sanjak does this to April Kane.
- Made Myself Sad: Hotshot Charlie does this:Hotshot Charlie: "I yield to no one in my appreciation of Oriental art, but there is a small segment of my mind which I reserve for the well-being of Charles C. Charles - Hotshot Charlie to the multitudes - and at the moment I feel myself somewhat depressed about his future."
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Captain Judas
- The Nicknamer: The Dragon Lady refers to almost everyone by a title that is "'something' one". Pat Ryan is 'handsome one'; Terry Lee is 'youthful one', etc.
- Pirate Girl: The Dragon Lady
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Oddly enough, this isn't about the titular Pirates. While we don't see that many pirates over the strip's run, those we do see are actively pirating. No, this trope really applies to Terry's adult guardian, Pat Ryan, an ostensible writer whom we never actually see write anything. This is occasionally Lampshaded.
- Repetitive Name: Charles C. Charles, a.k.a. Hotshot Charlie.
- La Résistance: Many of the characters wind up working with Chinese resistance against the Japanese. Even the more patriotic villains, such as the Dragon Lady, abandon their criminal enterprises to fight the invaders.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Klang does this to a defector from the Dragon Lady's forces. After the defector has allowed Klang's forces to slip past his guard post, he is rewarded with a bayonet through the chest.
- Runaway Bride: This was part of Raven Sherman's back story. She ran around away from a society wedding; fleeing to China and setting up a medical mission
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: The strip deals with the pirates of the China Seas in the 1930s (modern day for the strip), the beginnings of modern day piracy.
- Sdrawkcab Alias: The Dragon Lady sometimes used the alias Miss Nogard.
- Shirtless Captives: The Dragon Lady has Pat Ryan shackled shirtless to the wall of her junk after she captures him.
- Smoking Is Glamorous: The Dragon Lady smokes through a cigarette holder, making her appear classy.
- Southern Belle: April Kane.
- The Speechless: Big Stoop. The Dragon Lady had his tongue torn out when they were children.
- Spoiled Brat: Nastalathia Smythe-Heatherstone, a.k.a. Nasty.
- Submarine Pirates: Captain Judas used a submersible crawler to continue his piratical career in his second appearance.
- Third-Person Person: Dragon Lady, Sanjak, Rouge, Klang... The list goes on and on.
- This Is My Name on Foreign: The thug Weazel goes by the name Belette (French for 'weasel') while working for Baron de Plexus.
- Tongue Trauma: The event itself is not depicted, but the reason why Big Stoop is mute is that he was once a servant of the Dragon Lady; she cut out his tongue when he was young, earning his hatred.
- Two-Fisted Tales
- Uptown Girl: Normandie Drake is an heiress and Pat's true love. They grew close when he worked for her father. Her high society aunt refused to see her marry a "commoner" and forced her into an Arranged Marriage to the weak-willed Tony Sandhurst.
- Villainesses Want Heroes: The Dragon Lady wants Pat Ryan.
- Villainous Glutton: The corpulent Papa Pyzon is shown as being nearly constantly eating.
- Whip It Good: The whip was Papa Pyzon's weapon of choice.
- Wronski Feint: Dude Hennick pulls one a Japanese fighter when the heroes are escaping from Temple Rock prison, causing the fighter to crash into a lake.