Saturday, September 5, 2015

Miss Mizzou by J. B. Winter

Miss Mizzou was a secondary character in the Steve Canyon comic strip. She may not have stood out from the other bombshells in the cartoon pilot’s adventures, but she made quite an impression on the university from which she took her name (my alma mater, the University of Missouri) and the town that proudly housed it (Columbia). J. B. Winter talks about the girl in the overcoat (and maybe nothing else) and her impact in a mid-Missouri community in his book Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics.

Milton Caniff was a very well regarded cartoonist. His work on Terry and the Pirates was an inspiration to many in the field. He left that strip in 1947 to start another adventure comic, Steve Canyon, which he would own. He spoke at the University of Missouri in 1949. It bore the nicknamed Mizzou even before then though the university did not officially embrace it until 2004. Caniff apparently enjoyed the trip because he chose Mizzou as the name of a character he introduced in 1952, and made Columbia her hometown.

Caniff took inspiration from waitress he knew as a student at Ohio State University, Marilyn Monroe, and, more directly, dancer and model Bek Stiner. Miss Mizzou, played by Stiner, appeared was introduced on television before appearing in newspapers. Caniff and Stiner, in the characters overcoat, appeared on the Bob Considine Show about a month before her adventure with Canyon ran.

Columbians and Mizzou students jumped on the opportunity to celebrate. The Missouri Student Government Association organized publicity events that Stiner attended over a weekend about a month after the character appeared in newspapers. In 1954, a journalism fraternity proposed a Miss Mizzou-themed contest and calendar as a fundraiser; Caniff agreed to let them do it. The contest ran from 1955 to 1971, and the skits that became associated with it were popular.

Winter’s slender book is a quick read, but still very informative. He concentrates mostly on the character’s impact on the titular school and city than on her adventures in the comics. Even so, comics fans may enjoy the book because few character have been embraced by community in this fashion or had such an influence

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Winter, J. B. Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace, 2014.