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In an article titled “Coming Out in the Comic Strips“, David Applegate outlines two characters created for TERRY AND THE PIRATES by Milt Caniff. One of these two characters is named Sanjak, and she is a French Naval officer. In her first appearance in the Sunday comics of February 12, 1939, Sanjak is disguised as “Madame Sud.” In the following day’s strip,  she removes her matronly dress and wig while April Kane, another character, looks out the window. Sanjak, now looking more male and wearing a coat, tie, and skirt, revealed herself to a shocked April. Sanjak comments, “M’m’selle ees surprise! . . . But not half so surprise as she weell be soon!”

Applegate recounts a comment from Caniff published in Comics Journal #108: “…in those days the word ‘lesbian’ simply wouldn’t have been understood by half your audience, and the other half would have resented it.” According to the article, Caniff further coded the character’s sexuality by naming her “Sanjak” which has an association (though still unclear to me) with the island of Lesbos, from which, thanks to the ancient Greek poet Sappho, the word lesbian is derived. In the strip that ran on March 24, 1939, Caniff reveals that Sanjak lived on a rocky island described as “an ideal hideaway.” Applegate’s article doesn’t discuss other appearances of the character, and I’ve been unsuccessful in finding other articles on Sanjak. Please contact me if you are familiar with this character.

Created by Milt Caniff.

All rights reserved presumably the Estate of Milt Caniff. Used without permission.

The scan of this strip was posted by Jeet Heer in an entry documenting some early examples of gay and lesbian character portrayals in comic strips on his sanseverything blog.


September 2, 2021
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