• U.S.

A Letter From The Publisher, Jul. 3, 1950

3 minute read

From the time of its publication in our issue of January 23, TIME’s cover story on Mark III, the automatic computing machine, has continued to make news. Newspapers around the world carried stories on it. The important Soviet bi-weekly journal Literaturnaya Gazeta even devoted part of its May 4 issue to a splenetic, windy attempt to knock MarkIII’s mechanical brains out. And now it has turned up in the never-never world of the funnies.

Weeks ago a computing machine strangely reminiscent of Mark III appeared in Milton Caniff’s daily newspaper comic strip, Steve Canyon. It developed that an American traitor named Ganglia was trying to turn the machine over to the Russians in far-off China. After some harrowing episodes Canyon and his ex-secretary, Feeta-Feeta, managed to frustrate the effort.

Several TIME readers wondered whether Mark III had inspired Canyon’s latest adventure. Having a kind of proprietary interest in this comic strip,* we telephoned Caniff to ask if it were so. He said: “Sure.”

According to Artist Caniff, a book publisher suggested some months ago that he ought to do an episode on cybernetics. He bought some books on the subject, but they only confused him. Then the Mark III cover story was published. Says Caniff:

“TIME’S story gave me the answers in layman’s language to the things I was confused about. Also, because TIME is read all over the world, it moved the subject from the technical into the public domain. The story had all the elements I needed: It was true; it was new and important and potentially powerful to an enemy. My job was to keep the suspense and stick to the facts.

“Mark III also gave me a picture of the computing machine. I had to know what it looked like and if it was transportable. Furthermore, I needed TIME’s conjectures as to the machine’s future possibilities. Your story pointed out what the machine could do, so I could explain its potentialities without getting technical. That was just what I needed. Steve Canyon is like me—he can’t even do long division.”

Caniff, who began reading TIME in his political science courses in college, said that it has figured in his work in many ways. He gets two copies a week—one by subscription, the other on the newsstand. He files TIME stories for future reference, and often has to have both sides of a page. These stories, he added, have been the inspiration for many of his comic strip adventures.

Cordially yours,

P.S. Milton Caniff’s own version of what happened to him after he read the Mark III cover appears below.

* Official news of its advent was carried in our cover story on Caniff (Jan. 13, 1947) when he changed publishers.

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