Beyond the Funny Pages
Columbia cartoonist reflects on how Miss Mizzou lived on and off the page.
No one in the stands at the Tigers-Southern Methodist football game Oct. 11, 1952, is likely to have forgotten the halftime unveiling of what was hiding underneath Bek Stiner’s trench coat (a leopard-print minidress).
The beautiful blonde “Miss Mizzou” — inspired in part by Marilyn Monroe — was the work of comic artist Milton Caniff. He created the character after a daylong trip in 1949 to campus, where he spoke to University of Missouri journalism students. Miss Mizzou — a waitress in Columbia, though not a Mizzou alumna — made her official debut Sept. 5, 1952, in Caniff’s Steve Canyon comic strip.
“Every college town has girls who live and work on the edge of the campus and who are very much a part of the life of the school,” Caniff wrote in the October 1954 issue of The Missouri Alumnus. “I decided my gal would be from the University of Missouri, if not of it.”
Caniff couldn’t have anticipated that his two-dimensional character would give rise to a three-dimensional prototype (model Bek Stiner), a community controversy (the street name Caniff Boulevard versus Providence Road) and a campus tradition (the Miss Mizzou contest).
It’s that crossover from comic strip to real life that intrigued local cartoonist J.B. Winter. “How do comic characters penetrate into the public consciousness?” Winter wondered. “Some are forgotten while others excite readers and inspire events in real life.”
Winter spent years piecing together the history of Miss Mizzou to determine why she created such a stir. He answers his question in his book Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics (CreateSpace, 2014), available at the Mizzou Store, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
“I’m interested in the interplay between reality and fantasy,” says Winter, who explores that interaction in his own work. In a recent project, Winter used edible food-decorator pens to draw comics on tortillas, creating artistic cheese quesadillas. “Miss Mizzou fits into that.”
Today’s students might not know Milton Caniff, Bek Stiner or Miss Mizzou, but nostalgic alumni can stop by the Mizzou Alumni Association at Reynolds Alumni Center, where a life-size chalk drawing of Miss Mizzou hangs.
“You can still visit her there and see the excitement Caniff sparked in Columbia via the flourish of an artist’s touch,” Winters writes.