Rip Kirby v.2
Written and Illustrated by Alex Raymond
Written and Edited by Ward Greene
Published by IDW
Alex Raymond, abetted by editor and co-writer Ward Greene, continued to refine Rip Kirby during the years 1948-1951. Raymond, the co-creator of Flash Gordon, created a new daily strip in the mid-1940s, following his return from military service, and the resultant Rip Kirby was as far from Flash’s romantic swashbuckling adventure as imaginable. A procedural detective drama, set in a world specifically as real as that outside contemporary readers’ windows, Rip Kirby follows a dapper, upper-crust private detective as he untangles a variety of mysteries.
Firstly, credit to IDW and The Library of American Comics for their impeccable reproduction of these sixty-plus year-old newspaper strips, as well as for their elegantly designed, hardbound collection of the material. A true classic strip created by on the field’s most acclaimed legends, Rip Kirby deserves a grand treatment, and IDW/The Library of American Comics have created a package that suits the bill.
As for the strip itself, perhaps many readers will find it distinctly quaint. The procedural motif has been explored ad nauseum in current police and detective fiction, although Raymond, at the time, opted for an unusual approach, steering away from the pulp-inspired, “noir” detectives of Chandler and Hammett.
Excepting for one story hinging on another suitor for Kirby’s girl Honey Dorian (in which Kirby plays the too-standard comic hero, keeping darling Honey as a distance and presenting a front of indifference to her), each case revolves around plausible scenarios and likely characters. Raymond crafts intriguing characters, and some of his best tread complicated moral ground. While Kirby is ever altruistic, the father of young Jerri Stafford or the heartbroken Mr. Van Thorpe cross moral lines without divorcing themselves of the readers’ sympathy. Getting into his characters’ motivations and exploring how far each will go, and what drives them, enables Raymond to present a more complex and surprising strip than most adventure comics today.
His reputation as one of comics history’s best draftsmen is unimpeachable. In these strips, Raymond shows the full range of his powers, using dynamic lighting and staging to maximize the drama in every three- or four-panel sequence. Strong lines capture the full range of each character, enabling the writers to avoid heavy-handed exposition, and full backgrounds establish the tone and location of every scene. Raymond’s use of blacks and silhouette focus the reader’s eye on all the pertinent information. Oh, and his characters are drop-dead gorgeous, too.
In short, Rip Kirby is a classic. Dynamic plots and fun scripts provide readers with plenty of surprises, and Raymond’s superb illustrations not only show off beautiful people, but set the standard for adventure cartooning.