Rip Kirby v. 3
Written by Alex Raymond, Ward Greene & Fred Dickenson
Illustrated by Raymond
Published by IDW/Library of American Comics
After leaving the Flash Gordon, the sci-fi adventure strip he’d created in 1934, for a stint in U.S. Marines during World War II, Alex Raymond was informed by his editors at King Features that Flash was doing quite well without him, thank you very much, and they would not reinstate him to his creation. Although he was almost certainly very disappointed, Raymond didn’t let it show – he simply created another engaging strip, this one thoroughly different in tone, content and style.
Rip Kirby, which debuted in early 1946, became Raymond’s longest run on a daily strip (Flash was a Sunday strip), the feature which he devoted himself to until he died in a car accident in late 1956. A break from earlier pulp-inspired detective strips, Kirby presaged more recent procedurals, with a debonair private detective who relied on wits and science. Though he could punch a crook out when he had to!
While it’s not the best adventure strip you’ll read – the plots are mostly good, though a few stretch credulity, such as The Mangler’s attempts to ruin Pagan Lee, a storyline predicated on a half-reasoned excuse to bring back a popular female character – Kirby always manages to entertain. Raymond and his co-authors (Greene, who scripted the early stories, leaves during this run, claiming that Raymond received too much credit for the writing – Dickenson replaced him) keep the pace up consistently, pepper the scripts with small bits of humanizing humor, and throw in enough wrinkles to keep readers off-balance if not entirely surprised.
The classic romantic aspect of adventure fiction remains strong here; nearly every case Kirby solves seems to bring together two conflicted lovers. Supporting players are well developed during the strip – onetime bad-girl Pagan Lee and Kirby’s reformed-safecracker-cum-valet Desmond each carry the strip for over a month of strips without any slack in the storylines, and Rip’s main squeeze Honey Dorian nearly matches them in a storyline of her own.
Raymond’s attention to detail – both in panel composition and in the styles of the time – pull readers into each continuity. Raymond was among the first comic artists to speak publicly about the possibilities of the comics medium – he found the glossy illustration work he thought he wanted less fulfilling than telling stories with pictures – and his attention to craft shines through on these pages. The Library of American Comics’ typically high standards of reproduction remain unimpeachable, with pristine linework, proper binding and a handy sewn-in bookmark.
Fast-moving, surprising, and beautifully drawn, Rip Kirby ages very well, and fans of Alex Raymond or comic strip history should love having the Library of American Comics’ superb collections on their bookshelves. These strips are among the most influential artistry in comics history – they deserve preservation and, even more, a passionate audience.