Rip Kirby: Buried Treasure Daily Strips 12 June -23 September 1950

By Alex Raymond (Pacific Comics Club)

Some strips are simply more addictive than narcotics or chocolate. After recently reviewing a giant-sized Rip Kirby collection (re-read after too many years in advance of an upcoming IDW compilation project promising to reproduce the entire saga) I simply couldn’t stop at just the one…

This complete softcover adventure follows immediately upon ‘Gunpowder Dreams’: released in 1980 and still occasionally available in shops and on the internet. You can’t miss it since the thing is a huge 340x245mm (that’s nearly 15 inches by 10) and its glossy white pages present another captivating tale of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by one of the world’s most talented artists.

An intoxicating blend of 1950s style and fashion, this is another yarn that will suck you into a captivating world of adventure and resurgent post-war glamour, but this time with the added drama of a ruthless arch-enemy thrown into the mix, and all played against the backdrop of America’s post war fascination with the Italian glamour of La Dolce Vita

During the 1930s Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 household names all over the world, but when the USA joined the War so did he. On returning to civilian life, like Milt Caniff and his iconic post-war adventurer Steve Canyon rather than rekindle old glories Raymond wanted something new.

From King Features Editor Ward Greene’s concept and scripts he designed a different kind of private detective: a rather unique individual: retired marine; intellectual, easy-going, musically and artistically inclined but physically powerful and who preferred to use his mind rather than fists and guns.

His steady girlfriend Judith “Honey” Dorian and mousy but competent manservant Desmond (a reformed burglar) completed a regular cast with plenty of depth and scope. Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to instant approbation and commercial success.

Greene wrote the scripts until 1952 when he was replaced by journalist Fred Dickenson and Raymond drew it until September 6th 1956, when, aged only 46, he died in a car crash. John Prentice assumed the art duties with Dickenson writing until 1986 when he left due to ill-health, from which time Prentice did that too. The feature closed shop on June 26th 1999 when Prentice retired.

Slick, polished and so very chic, old friend and flighty heiress Margie Pelham has found the man of her dreams in an Italian Count. Her lawyers are less ecstatic and want Rip to thoroughly investigate the uppity foreigner, so Honey Dorian is dispatched to accompany her old friend on the ocean cruise to Sorrento, but no one is aware of a lurking menace.

The Mangler was a brutal gangster brought low by Kirby, and he’d been craving revenge ever since. Now hooked up with a Nazi deserter he’s on his way to Sorrento too, in search of stolen treasure buried by the German in the very teeth of the allied invasion. The cash could set up the Mangler in a new life and the thought of settling with Kirby and his friends makes the brutal thug’s fingers itch and his mouth water…

This is another brilliantly stylish caper, packed full of tension, romance and lots of tricky plot twists, with oodles of action, beautifully executed by an absolute master of brush and pen. Just imagine Alfred Hitchcock in panels not movie screens…

Your chances of tracking down this gem are admittedly quite slim, but well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover, as Raymond’s drawing at this size is an unparalleled delight, but in fairness I should mention than the lettering here is appalling. I can only assume the art was shot from foreign printed copies (the rest of the world has always appreciated graphic arts more than us or the Americans) and lettered back into English by well-meaning but unprofessional hands.

Nevertheless these are still strips every fan should experience; even in the meagre dimensions modern strips are reprinted. Any Rip Kirby collections are a treat you simply cannot afford to miss. Let’s hope we’re not waiting too long…

© 1950, 1980 King Features. All Rights Reserved. Book © 1980 Pacific C.C.

Casey Ruggles: the Whisperer – Selected Daily Strips 1949-1950

By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)

Warren Tufts was an incredibly gifted artist and storyteller cursed by simply being born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time, but at a time when the heyday of newspaper syndicated entertainment was gradually giving way to the television age. Had he been working in Adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ houses

Born in Fresno, California on 12th December 1925 Tufts was a superb and meticulous craftsman with a canny grasp of character and a great ear for dialogue whose art was stately in a representational manner and favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began the seminal Casey Ruggles – A Saga of the West as a colour Sunday page, following with a daily black and white strip beginning on September 19th of that year, working for the United Features Syndicate, purveyors of such landmark strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner.

Ruggles was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant in 1849 making his way to California to find his fortune (the storyline of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), blending history into the dramas with such personages as Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson making their presences felt in various gripping two-fisted action-adventures. The lush, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but Tufts was a driven perfectionist regularly working 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and consequently often missed deadlines.

This led him to use many assistants and old comic-book fans will be gratified to discover that then rising artists Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good, as well as established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth, all spent time working as “ghosts” (uncredited assistants and fill-in artists) on the series.

Due to a falling-out Tufts left the strip in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

Tufts created his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even building his own aircraft. In 1982 whilst piloting one he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including a number of Casey Ruggles adventures. This colossal black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains some fascinating biographical history. In the opening adventure of the daily strip from September 1949, Casey and the orphan Indian boy Kit Fox set off on the wagon trail to California accompanied by old Swiss gentleman Hans Hassesnfeffer and his adopted daughter Chris, with army deserter Bolt and Femme Fatale Lilli Lafitte racing them to the goldfields and providing sundry evil delaying tactics.

This is a highly authentic if dramatised synthesis of those real treks with Indians (hostile and not), cold, privation, disease, stampedes, greedy owlhoots and even scurvy banditos making the journey a masterpiece of endurance and determination. That first storyline ended with the January 14th 1950 instalment, and this collection picks up with theAugust 21st episode and the introduction of the lumber town of Big Bear Flat.

This rough and ready outpost of civilisation is living under a pall of terror. A mysterious serial killer called the Whisperer is killing lumberjacks and townspeople at will, always warning in advance before striking. Terrified survivors attest to hearing a harsh whisper at the scenes of the crimes. This is not the best time for Kit Fox and Ruggles, struggling to throw off a dose of laryngitis, to hit town…

This cracking yarn sees the misunderstood hero come to the town’s rescue and unravel a baffling whodunit in spectacular action packed style, reminiscent of the best John Ford or Raoul Walsh matinee feature.

Westerns are continually falling into and out of vogue but the beautiful clean cut mastery of Warren Tufts should never be chained to fashion. These are great tales perfectly told and desperately deserving of your time and attention. I pray some canny publisher knows a good thing when he sees it…
© 1949, 1950, 1953 United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Tarzan Digest #1

By Russ Manning (DC Comics)

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National (now DC) Comics. As they slowly lost market-share to Marvel they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay, as it always has, in the variety and quality of its genre divisions. Mystery and supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong and the company’s eye for a strong licensed brand was as keen as ever.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan had long been a mainstay of Dell and Gold Key, as well as a global multi-media phenomenon, and when DC acquired the title they rightly trumpeted it out, putting one of their top Artist/Editors, Joe Kubert, in charge of the legendary Ape-man’s monthly exploits, and putting a whole niche of ERB titles onto the stands in a variety of formats.

The latter days of the Gold Key run had suffered since the brilliant Russ Manning took over the syndicated newspaper strip, and even the likes of Doug Wildey hadn’t been able to revive the comicbook series in the face of increasing prices and a general downturn in sales across the market. The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans and the company pushed the title in many places and manners.

One of my very favourites is this handy-dandy digest, reprinting a number of Manning’s most fantastic forays with ERB’s fabulous creations, taken, I believe from the Manning Sunday strips, and filled out with Jesse Marsh’s ‘Tarzan’s illustrated Ape-English Dictionary’ and a couple of ‘Tarzan’s Jungle Lore’ features.

Russ Manning was an absolute master of his art, most popularly remembered now for the Star Wars newspaper strip, Magnus, Robot Fighter as well as the comic-book and newspaper strip (dailies from 1969-1972 and the Sundays from 1969-1979) incarnations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s immortal Lord of the Jungle.

Manning’s Tarzan never strayed far from the canonical texts and here he puts the indomitable Greystoke through his paces in ‘Tarzan and the Rite of the Great Apes’ a delightful short fantasy of the Great White God’s relaxing times among his hairy subjects, ‘Tarzan and the Ant-Men’, which sees him return to the diminutive Velopismakusian warrior race stranded behind their impenetrable Thorn barrier, and the epic sequel ‘Tarzan and the Attack of the Beast Men’, which pits and him and son Korak against an invasion of Hyena and Crocodile men from a lost outpost of ancient Egypt.

Spectacular, tantalising, captivating and gloriously beautiful (I cannot think of any artist who drew lovelier women – or men, for that matter) this pocket-sized gem is an unending source of delights.

Eho vando! Tarmangani gree-ah! Kagoda? Now if you had this book you’d probably agree, no?
© 1972 Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.

Rip Kirby: Gunpowder Dreams Daily Strips 27 March-10 June 1950

By Alex Raymond (Pacific Comics Club)

Does size really matter? That loaded question makes more sense in the context of this rare but wonderful package I dug out in response to hearing that IDW intend to collect the entire saga of Rip Kirby in collector’s editions.

This complete softcover adventure (alternatively entitled ‘Correspondence Crisis’) was selectively released in 1980 and occasionally turns up in shops and on the internet. You can’t miss it, as the book is 340x245mm (that’s nearly 15 inches by 10) and on its glossy white pages presents a superbly compelling exploit of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by one of the world’s most brilliant and influential artists. A perfect taste of the heady 1950s style, this yarn will suck you into a captivating world of adventure and resurgent post-war glamour.

In the golden age of newspaper adventure strips (that’s the 1930s, right?) Alex Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 household names all over the world, but when his country called he dropped everything and went to war.

On his return, rather than rekindle old glories he created (from King Features Editor Ward Greene’s concept and scripts) a new kind of private detective. The result was a rather unique individual, a demobbed marine who was intellectual and sedentary by preference, and although physically powerful chose to use his mind rather than fists and guns.

He had a steady girlfriend called Judith “Honey” Dorian and a mousy but competent manservant named Desmond with hidden depths (he was a reformed burglar decades before Lady Penelope hired that guy Parker). Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to instant approbation and commercial success.

Greene wrote the strip until 1952 when he was replaced by journalist Fred Dickenson and Raymond illustrated it until Sept. 6, 1956, when, aged only 46, he died in a car crash. The hugely talented John Prentice assumed the art duties whilst Dickenson continued writing until 1986 when he left due to ill-health, from which time Prentice did that too. The feature finally ended on June 26th 1999 when Prentice retired.

The story?

Slick, polished and so very modern, this seductive pot-boiler sees the usually worldly-wise Desmond gulled by a con-artist who uses the hearts and flowers racket to fleece lonely men, but when his butler goes missing Rip is more than sharp enough to track him down…

Your chances of tracking down this gem are admittedly quite slim, but well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover, as Raymond’s drawing at this size is an unparalleled delight. Still and all, even in the relatively meagre dimensions modern strips are reprinted the Rip Kirby collections will be a treat you simply cannot afford to miss. Let’s hope we’re not waiting too long…
© 1950, 1980 King Features. All Rights Reserved. Book © 1980 Pacific C.C.

Smilin’ Jack: the Classic Aviator

By Zack Mosley (Classic Comic Strips)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips. These pictorial features were until relatively recently hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings came mutants and hybrids like Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs. Comedic when it began in 1924, it gradually moved from mock-heroics to light-action and became a full-blown, rip-roaring adventure series with the introduction of ancestral he-man and prototype moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in 1929.

From there it wasn’t such a leap to full-on blockbusters like Tarzan (which began on January 7th 1929) and Buck Rogers (also January 7th 1929) – both adaptations of pre-existing prose properties, but the majority of drama strips that followed were original productions. The tidal-wave began in the early 1930s when an explosion of action and drama strips (tastefully tailored for a family audience and fondly recalled as “Thud and Blunder” yarns) were launched with astounding rapidity. Not just strips but entire genres were created in that decade which still impact on not just today’s comic-books but all our popular fiction. Still most common however were general feel-good humour strips with the occasional child-oriented fantasy.

Among the most popular of the new adventure genres was the Aviator serial. With air speed, distance and endurance records bring broken every day, travelling air-circuses barnstorming across rural America and real life heroes such as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart plastered all over the front pages it wasn’t difficult to grasp the potential of funny-pages analogues.

The first was Tailspin Tommy, by Glenn Chaffin and Hal Forrest, the story of boy pilot Tommy Tompkins, which ran from May 21st 1928 (almost exactly one year after Lindbergh’s epic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis) until 1942, swiftly followed by Lester J Maitland and Dick Calkins Skyroads and John Terry’s Scorchy Smith (see Scorchy Smith: Partners in Danger) 1930 -1961, as well as such late-arriving classics as Flyin’ Jenny, Buz Sawyer and even Steve Canyon.

Zack Mosley was an enterprising young cartoonist who assisted Calkins on both Skyroads and the legendary Buck Rogers (see Buck Rogers: the First 60 Years in the 25th Century). He was also a dedicated pilot and flying enthusiast, and when he heard that Captain Jor Patterson (influential editor of the Chicago Tribune) was taking lessons he swiftly pitched a series to the kingmaker of comic strips.

On the Wing debuted as a Sunday page on October 1st 1933, but the name never gelled and the series was re-titled Smilin’ Jack (apparently Moseley was surreptitiously known as “Smiling Zack” around the Tribune office), from the December 31st episode. The strip steadily gained interest and syndication subscribers and on June 15th 1936 was augmented by a daily strip.

Jack Martin was a nervous student pilot, and the series originally played safe by vacillating between comedy and hairsbreadth thrills as he and his fellow learner-pilots learned the ropes. Never a top-tier series it nevertheless always delivered terrific entertainment to the masses, moving with the times into a romance, war-feature, a crime thriller (complete with Dick Tracy style villains) and even a family soap. Moreover the strip progressed in real time and when it closed on 1st April 1973, Jack was a twice married air veteran with a grown son and a full cast of romantic dalliances in tow. It wasn’t lack of popularity that ended it either. Mosley at 67 years old wanted to spend his final years in the air, not at a drawing board…

This fabulous collection delivers a delightful selection of rousing romps, beginning with that name changing first episode from December 31st 1933, before concentrating on some classic sequences from the roaring thirties starring Jack, comedy foil Rufus Jimpson (a hill-Billy mechanic), eye-candy air hostess and love interest Dixie Lee (subject of an extended romantic triangle), Latin spitfire (the curvy sort not the fighter plane sort) Bonita Caliente and spies, thugs, imbecile passengers, South American revolutionaries and even a foreign Legion of the Skies with an eerily prescient stiff-necked Prussian flyer named Von Bosch whose type would soon be plastered all over the strips and comic books when WWII broke out

This kind of strip is, I suspect, an acquired taste today like Preston Sturges or George Cukor films, with a little bit of intellectual and historical concentration required, but the effort is certainly worth it, and if this kind of stuff is good enough for the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg it’s perfectly good enough for you and me…
© 1989, 2009 Chicago Tribune Syndicate. All Rights Reserved. (I’m guessing here: if somebody else actually owns the rights let me know and I’ll happily amend the entry)

Century 21 volume 1: Adventure in the 21st Century

By various (Reynolds and Hearn)
ISBN: 978-1-905287-93-2

After years of subtle manoeuvring and outright begging, some of the greatest strips in British comics history are finally available in glossy high-quality colour compilations selected by dedicated devotee Chris Bentley and with the blessing of Gerry Anderson (who provides a fascinating and informative introduction) himself.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was modeled after a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible comics adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films) and photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children in the 1960s, and further proving to British comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured such strips as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray. In a bizarre attempt to be topical the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilizations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Although Thunderbirds did not premiere on TV until September (with Frank Bellamy’s incredible strip joining the line-up in January 1966) Lady Penelope and Parker had an earlier debut to set the scene, and eventually the aristocratic super-spy won her own top-class photogravure magazine in January 1996. And as Anderson’s newest creations launched into super-marionated life, their comics exploits filtered into TV21 and even their own titles.

A complete and chronological archive would be unfeasible so this book has gathered a variety of complete adventures from the various serials, beginning with the Fireball XL5 epic ‘The Astran Assassination’, by Alan Fennell, Mike Noble, Eric Eden and Ron Embleton which originally appeared in issues #15-26 (May-July 2065) wherein an alien envoy attempting to forestall an intergalactic border war was murdered on Earth and Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol, aided by Lady Penelope and Troy Tempest (ooh! Crossover!) must find the killer before Earth is sucked into disaster!

Next up is a classic Thundebirds romp from Scott Goodall and Frank Bellamy. ‘Chain’ Reaction’ ran in TV21 and TV Tornado #227-234, May -July 2069) wherein the Tracy boys had to stop an out of control 50,000 ton space freighter from impacting in the middle of San Francisco – and that’s just the start of an epic calamity that threatened to destroy the entire Pacific Rim!

Anderson’s stalwart submarine heroes from the Good Ship Stingray were pitted against a bizarre and malevolent spectre in the eerie mystery ‘The Haunting of Station 17’ by Fennell and Embleton (from issues #23-30, June-August 2065) whilst Captain Scarlet is represented here by the beautiful if unconventional ‘The Football King’ by Howard Elson and Mike Noble from TV21 and TV Tornado #194-195 (October 2068). This full colour cover story reverted to monochrome grey-tones for its interior pages, but the real oddity was the genre blending as the indestructible Spectrum agent had to protect a soccer-mad Bedouin potentate by joining his personal football team.

Lady Penelope foiled a Bereznik plot to destroy Unity City from a secret Australian base in ‘The Luveniam Affair’ (by Fennel and Frank Langford from issues #36-42 of her own magazine, September-November 1966) whilst her pals from International Rescue had to conquer ‘The Devil’s Crag’ to rescue a lost schoolboy (Fennell and Bellamy, TV21 #184-187, July-August 2068); a spectacular visual extravaganza that belies its deceptively simple plot.

Developed from the 1966 film Thunderbirds Are Go! the crew of Space Exploration vehicle Zero X had an auspicious and entertaining run of their own adventures in TV21, as this superb yarn by Angus P Allan and Mike Noble demonstrates. ‘Planet of Bones’ (TV21 and TV Tornado #218-224, March-May 2069) found the team in rip-roaring action on a world of deadly skeletal dinosaurs!

‘Superjunk’ from TV Century 21 #72-81(June-August 2066) pitted the Stingray team against futuristic Chinese pirates in a cracking tale by Dennis Hopper and Ron’s brother Gerry Embleton, whilst unsung genius Brian Lewis illustrated ‘Starburst’; a classy black and white thriller by Alan Fennell (from Thunderbirds Extra, March 1966) that found the heroes ranging from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to the icy depths of interplanetary space to save a pair of dying astronauts.

This first incredible volume concludes with ‘Leviathan’, a glorious Captain Scarlet saga by writers Allan and Goodall with black-and-white and colour art from Mike Noble, Don Harley and Frank Bellamy (from TV21 #185-189, August 2068) which sees Cloudbase crashing into the sea, Mysteron agent Captain Black captured and the World Navy’s greatest super-ship threatened by resurrected Nazi U-Boats!

Crisp, imaginative writing, great characters and some of the very best science-fiction art of all time make this a must-have book for just about anybody with a sense of adventure and love of comics. It doesn’t get better than this.

Artwork © A.P. Films (Merchandising) Ltd/Century 21 Publishing Ltd 1965-1969. Published under license from Anderson Entertainment Ltd 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Fred Basset 2008

By Michael Martin with Arran Graham (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-9385-3

What’s your favourite biscuit? Do you only eat one sort or do you find that different occasions, different beverages or times of day dictate a little variety: some situation-appropriate flavours?

Graphic narrative is like that. The terrifying realties of We3 (ISBN: 1-84576-159-6), the social significance of Pride of Baghdad (ISBN: 1-84576-242-8) or Maus (978-0-14101-408-1), the flamboyant adventure of Bucky O’Hare (ASIN: B000E4SUCM), gently acerbic political radicalism of Donald Rooum’s Wildcat (ISBN: 0-900384-30-1) or pure fantasy of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (ISBN: 1-84576-660-1) all have their place but sometimes all you want or need is a quiet reassuring smile.

Fred Basset began in the Daily Mail on July 8th 1963, the brainchild of professional cartoonist Alexander S. Graham, and soon found a solid fan-base among the generally middle-class readership, many of whom must have identified with the minor daily tribulations of an unnamed young married couple and their avuncular if amusingly haughty pet dog, whose gallery-playing internal monologues – or chats with we observers behind the forth wall – amounted to a daily confirmation of what most pet-owners believed their hairy charges were capable of. Eventually the strip became a regular weekend delight too in the Mail on Sunday. How odd that such a quintessentially English Strip is based on the life-style of the Scottish middle class – or perhaps not…

Alex Graham was born in Scotland in 19 and educated at Dumfries Academy. His first professional sales occurred during World War II, and he thereafter created the strip Wee Hughie for the Dundee Weekly News in 1945, continuing it until 1970. In 1946 he also originated Our Bill and Briggs the Butler, before hitting the global big time with his four-footed raconteur, whom he based in large part upon his own faithful furry companion Frieda. Graham died in December 1991, having drawn over 9,000 strips, black and white and colour, and the strip was continued by his daughter Arran and cartoonist Michael Martin.

The strip has a huge worldwide following, especially in comics-friendly America, Australia and the Scandinavian countries. Known by such varied names as Wurzel in Germany, Lillo il Cane Saggio (Lillo the wise dog) in Italy, Lorang in Norway, Laban in Sweden in Sweden and bafflingly Retu, Pitko and Koiraskoira in Finland, the not-so humble hound even had his own animated TV show in 1976, produced by Bill Melendez Productions (famed for both the Peanuts/Charlie Brown and the Perishers cartoon shows) perfectly voiced by Lionel Jeffries.

Although Fred and his doggie comrades Jock, (a small black Scottish Terrier), Yorky (a Yorkshire Terrier) and, in latter years, Fifi (a saucy Poodle) are obviously immortal, the humans have gradually advanced into middle-ish age. By this year’s collection (the first Fred Basset Book was released in 1963, and ran to #45 in 1993 before becoming annuals such as the one nominally under discussion here, supplemented by a children’s book, a 25-year retrospective and a Bumper Book) they seem quite world-weary, but the situations remain comfortingly constant although a signature of Martin’s tenure is an increasing insertion of the annoyances of contemporary life such as sat navs, catch-phrases and celebrity culture.

So what’s the appeal?

The regular re-application of surreal whimsy to a stable environment has its own subtle satisfaction; and often the panel gags don’t even have a recognisable punch-line – what’s happening on a daily basis is often the cartoon equivalent of old cronies having a bit of a chinwag over the garden wall, a sharing of mutual experience with a dash of hyperbole and a smidgen of one-upmanship… You seldom burst out in a loud guffaw (although that’s not unknown) but you frequently think “Yes! Just like when…”

To those passionate intellectuals among us that might belittle the gag-features that run for decades delighting untold millions of readers I have one last suggestion. If this isn’t your cup of tea – don’t buy it.

There’s plenty who will, including those members of your own family who wouldn’t be caught dead reading your suggestions (and think you’re a trifle odd, besides)…

So, Fred Basset: Comic Strip Positive Reinforcement refreshingly unchanging and amusing. Who’s for a Custard Cream?
© Associated Newspapers plc 2008.

Drinky Crow’s Maakies Treasury

By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-975-3

Cartoonists have far more than their share of individuals with a unique perspective on the world. Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Steve Bell, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Gary Larson – the list is potentially endless. Perhaps it’s the power to create entire sculptured worlds coupled with the constant threat of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw.

Tony Millionaire clearly loves to draw and does it very, very well; referencing classical art, the best of children’s books and an eclectic mix of pioneer draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray as well as the aforementioned Herriman from comics with European engravings from the “legitimate” side of the ink-slinging biz.

As well as children’s books, Billy Hazlenuts and the most wonderful Sock Monkey, Millionaire produces a powerfully bizarre weekly strip entitled Maakies which delineates the absurdly rude and surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his fellow alcoholic nautical adventurer Drinky Crow. In the tradition of the earliest US newspaper strips each episode comes with a linked mini-strip running across the base of the tale. Nominally based in a nautical setting of 19th century sea-faring adventure, the darkly-comical instalments vary from staggeringly rude and crude to absolutely hysterical, with content and gags utterly unhindered by the bounds of taste and decency: penetratingly incisive, witty and even poignant. It’s his playground – if you don’t like it, leave…

Launching in February 1994 in The New York Press the strip is now widely syndicated in the US in alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly and The Stranger and abroad in comics magazines such as Linus and Rocky. There was even an animated series that ran on Time-Warner’s Adult Swim strand.

Since continuity usually plays second fiddle to the wide range of inventive ideas, the strips can be read in almost any order and the debauched drunkenness, manic uber-violence, acerbic view of sexuality and deep core of existentialist angst (like Ingmar Bergman writing gags for Benny Hill) still finds a welcome with Slackers, Laggards, the un-Christian and all those scurrilous, hopeless Generations after X. Millionaire often surrenders a episode to fellow cartoonists to “do their own thing”.

If you’re not easily shock-able this is a fantastic and rewarding strip, one of the most constantly creative and entertaining on the market today, and this wonderful re-collection, gathering the material previously released in the out-of-print books When We Were Very Maakies, The House at Maakies Corner and Der Struwwelmaakies.

If you’re not a fan of Maakies this is the perfect tool to make you one; and if you’re already converted it’s the perfect gift for someone that ain’t…
© 2009 Tony Millionaire. All Rights Reserved.

The Best of Simon and Kirby

By Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and various (Titan Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-931-4

There’s a glorious wealth of Jack Kirby material around at the moment and this astounding collection of his collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon is a gigantic box of delights that perfectly illustrates the depth and scope of their influence and innovation by reprinting the merest fraction of their output over nearly two decades.

Divided into key genres, supplemented by informative features from that ever-engaging writer and comics historian Mark Evanier, this striking compendium leads with The Heroes. reprinting in eye-popping colour ‘Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull’ from the landmark first issue (March 1941), and an untitled adventure of the Golden Age Vision from Marvel Mystery Comics #14 (December 1940).

From S&K’s incredible war-time tenure at National/DC comes ‘The Villain From Valhalla!’, a Sandman yarn first seen in Adventure Comics #75 (June 1942), followed by the origin of the incredible Stuntman in ‘Killer in the Big Top’ (Stuntman Comics #1, April 1946). ‘Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate’ is a raucous romp from their spoof patriotic hero Fighting American (#2, June 1954) and this section ends with a tale from Adventures of the Fly #1(August, 1959) entitled ‘Come into My Parlor’. Each text section is copiously illustrated and classic covers for each genre further sweeten the pot…

Way out Science Fiction follows, represented here by Solar Patrol in ‘The Tree Men of Uranus’: a Joe Simon solo production from  Silver Streak Comics #2 (January, 1940), the eponymous hero from Blue Bolt Comics #4 (September, 1940) and the magnificently spooky short ‘The Thing on Sputnik 4’ (Race for the Moon #2, September 1958).

War and Adventure highlights some of their most passionate yet largely unappreciated material. Boy Commandos often outsold Superman and Batman during World War II, and the moody ‘Satan Wears a Swastika’ from the first issue of their own title (Winter, 1942) clearly shows why, whilst the nuclear armageddon depicted in ‘The Duke of Broadway: My City is No More’ (Black Cat Comics #5, April 1947) set the bar for all others creators.

Simon and Kirby famously invented the romance comic genre and in The Birth of Romance we can see why the things took off so explosively, if not why all their imitators so timidly bowdlerized their own efforts. ‘Weddin’ at Red Rock’ from Western Love # 1, July 1949, is a raw, wild tale of obsessive passion, whilst ‘The Savage in Me’ (Young Romance Comics #22, June 1950) easily stands up against the best melodramas Hollywood was then producing.

Crime Drama uses three tales from 1947 (at the birth of the trend that led, with horror stories, to the instigation of the Comics Code Authority) to show how the dynamic visual flair of the ex-ghetto kids raised work like ‘Trapping New England’s Chain Murderer!’ (Headline Comics #24, May), the infamous Ma Barker story ‘Mother of Crime’ (Real Clue Crime Comics Vol. 2 #4, June) and ‘The Case Against Scarface’ (Justice Traps the Guilty #1, October) far above most of the avalanche of material all those decent folk and politicians railed against.

The Great Western features some of S&K’s most revered characters with ‘Apache Justice!’ from The Kid Cowboys of Boy’s Ranch #2 (December 1950), a spectacular spread ‘Remember the Alamo!’ from issue #5 and a captivating tale ‘Doom Town!’ starring the masked hero Bulls Eye from the fourth issue of his own short-lived title (February 1955).

Oh! The Horror! holds some especially impressive work, including ‘The Scorn of the Faceless People’ (Black Magic Vol. 1 #2, December 1950), the haunting ‘Up There!’ from #13 (confusingly also numbered as Vol. 2 #7, June 1952) and the remarkable ‘The Woman in the Tower!’ from The Strange World of Your Dreams #3 (November 1952).

Less well known are the forays into Sick Humor as seen here with ‘A Rainy Day with House-Date Harry’ (My Date #4, January 1948), the utterly wonderful parody strip ‘20,000 Lugs under the Sea’ originally seen in From Here to Insanity #11 (August 1955) and a couple of solo pieces from Simon. ‘Lenny Bruce’ and the editorial page are both from satire magazine Sick (Vol. 1 #2, 1960) and readily display the design and literary panache as well as artistic virtuosity he brought to the partnership.

With an extensive but far from complete checklist (talk about impossible tasks!) this tremendous hardcover is a worthy, welcome start towards acknowledging the debt our art-form owes these two unique creators. Now let’s have some more please…

© 2009 Joseph H. Simon and the Estate of Jack Kirby. All other material is © and TM the respective owner and holders and used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Supermen: the First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941

By various, edited by Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-971-5

Long the bastion of the arcane, historic, esoteric and the just plain interesting arenas of the comic book marketplace, Fantagraphics Books fully enters the Fights ‘n’ Tights Game with this magnificent collection of (mostly) superhero tales from the very dawn of the American comic-book industry. Supermen gathers together a selection of stalwarts by names legendary and seminal from the period 1936-1941, combining 9 stunning covers, many interior ads (for further beguiling characters and publications) and twenty full stories of exotic heroes and Mystery-Men from a time when there was no genre, only untapped potential…

After Jonathan Lethem’s introduction the wonderment begins with a two page instalment of Dr. Mystic, the Occult Detective by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, from Comics Magazine #1, May 1936, which after a selection of covers leads into ‘Murder by Proxy’ an adventure of The Clock, by George E. Brenner, from Detective Picture Stories #5 (April, 1937). The Clock has the distinction of being the first masked comic-book hero whereas Dan Hastings by Dan Fitch and Fred Guardineer is accounted the first continuing science fiction hero in comic books, with this appearance from Star Comics #5, 1937.

Dirk the Demon is a boy hero by young Bill Everett, from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol.2 #3 (March 1939), closely followed by a tale of the Flame from Wonderworld Comics #7 (November 1939) by Will Eisner and Lou Fine using the pen-name Basil Berold, whilst super-magician Yarko the Great first appeared in Wonderworld Comics #8, written and drawn by Eisner.

The unique Dick Briefer is represented hereby the Rex Dexter of Mars episode from Mystery Men Comics #4 (November 1939) and Jack Kirby makes his first appearance, working as Michael Griffiths on a tale of Cosmic Carson for the May 1940 issue of Science Comics (#4).

The work of troubled maestro Fletcher Hanks was lost to posterity until recently rediscovered by comics’ intelligentsia in such magazines as Raw! and his woefully short career in comic-books is represented here by two pieces. The first of these is the stunningly surreal and forceful Stardust, the Super Wizard from Fantastic Comics #12, (November 1940). From Pep Comics #3, in April of the same year comes a turning point in the brutal career of Jack Cole’s murderous superhero The Comet, followed by Al Bryant’s monster-hunting vigilante Fero, Planet Detective, (Planet Comics #5, May 1940) and the second Hanks offering, pseudonymously working as Barclay Flagg, is the truly bizarre Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle from Jungle Comics #4 (April 1940).

Big Shot Comics combined reprints of established newspaper strips with original characters and material. From the first issue in May 1940 comes another Mandrake inspired crusader, Marvello, Monarch of Magicians by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer and a plainclothes mystery-man named Tony Trent who fought crime by putting on a hideous mask and calling himself The Face, also written by Fox and drawn by the wonderful Mart Bailey working together as “Michael Blake”. The other major all-new star of Big Shot was the fabulous blend of Batman, G-8 and Doc Savage called Skyman, and this yarn by “Paul Dean” (Fox and Ogden Whitney) is a real cracker.

Jack Cole returns as Ralph Johns to tell a tale of super-speedster Silver Streak (Silver Streak Comics #4, May 1940) which is followed by one of the most famous tales of this era as a daring hero battled the God of Hate in #7’s ‘Daredevil Battles the Claw’ (from January 1941).

The legendary Basil Wolverton is represented here by the cover of Target Comics #7 and a startling story of Spacehawk, Superhuman Enemy of Crime from issue #11, (December 1940) whilst icy hero Sub-Zero stopped crime cold in an episode from Blue Bolt #5, courtesy of rising star Bill Everett, before the pictorial magic concludes with an episode of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s incredible Blue Bolt fantasy strip from the tenth issue of the magazine that bore his name (cover-dated the same month as another S&K classic entitled Captain America)…

Augmented by comprehensive background notes on the contents of this treasury of thrills, Supermen is a perfect primer for anyone seeking an introduction to the Golden Age, as well as a delightful journey for long-time fans. I’m sure there’s very little here that most of us have seen before, and as a way of preserving these popular treasures for a greater posterity it is a timely start. Much, much more, please…

All stories are public domain but the specific restored images and design are © 2009 Fantagraphics Books.