Thursday, 23 September 2010


Way back in May, I mentioned IDW's Secret Agent Corrigan collection by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson and promised to review it on it's release in July. Well, July came and went with no sign of the book, but here in September it's finally available and it was certainly worth the wait!

For those of you unfamiliar with this classic strip, here's a bit of background information. Secret Agent X-9 (as the strip was originally titled) started in January 1934. Supplied to newspapers by the King Features Syndicate, the strip was written by Dashiell Hammett, of Maltese Falcon fame, and illustrated by the legendary Alex Raymond, well known for his work on the Tarzan and Flash Gordon comic strips. Despite this impeccable pedigree, Secret Agent X-9 was never a success Hammett soon moved on, followed not longer after by Raymond.

X-9 was originally a nameless agent working for a unnamed agency. In the 1940s X-9 was finally given a name, Phil Corrigan, and the agency was revealed to be the FBI. The strip was a hybrid of a private detective and secret agent adventure, and alternated between the two styles.

After Raymond and Hammett's departure, the strip continued under the hands of Charles Flanders (1937), Mel Graff (1939-1960) and Bob Lubbers (1960-1966) before being handed to the team of writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson. This team supreme handled the strip from 1967-1980, taking the opportunity to introduce some more fantastical elements into the storylines along the way. In 1980 they passed the baton to veteran EC artist George Evans who wrote and drew the strip for sixteen years. When he retired in 1996, the strip was retired with him.

History lesson over, let's look at the new collection. The first thing that strikes you is the size. I was expecting a volume the same format as IDWs excellent King Aroo collection, but this hardcover is much larger, measuring 10 1/2 inches by 11 1/2 inches. This increase in page size, together with the excellent reproduction straight from Williamson's own proof copies, shows off his luxuriant art in all it's detail.

The volume opens with an introductory piece by Mark Schultz, telling us a little about Al Williamson and his arrival on the strip and how he insisted on bringing Archie Goodwin on board as well. This introduction also includes examples of Williamson's other comic work, including a strip from his and Goodwin's work on Star Wars, a page from his work with EC comics in the 1950s and a page of art from a Flash Gordon comic book also written by Goodwin.

Bruce Canwell brings up the rear with a well written and researched article on Secret Agent X-9/Corrigan's history, illustrated with sample strips from Bob Lubbers, George Evans, Alex Raymond and Mel Graff.

In between there is, of course, the meat of the book. Over 800 daily strips from 30th January 1967 through to 30th August 1969.

Goodwin and Williamson took over Secret Agent X-9 at the height of the spy-mania fad that gripped America in the mid 1960s. TV shows such as The Man (and Girl) From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart and The Wild, Wild West filled the nations airwaves. James Bond still ruled the silver screen. Comic books weren't exempt from the spy game. Marvel took their war hero Sgt. Fury and brought him into the modern day as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. while DC had King Faraday, and even adapted the Bond story Dr. No into comic form.

Shortly after the Goodwin/Williamson team took over, King Features decided to change the strip's title to Secret Agent Corrigan, a title Williamson in particular wasn't keen on. Goodwin decided to take the strip back to its Hammitt/Raymond roots. Under Bob Lubbers, Corrigan's exploits were light-hearted. The new team brought in a darker, more violent and more cinematic feel to the strip. The team's love for adventure movies shines through in these stories. In later years they would stretch, but never break, the limits of the strips format as they would alternate the spy/detective stories with ever more fantastical stories inspired by movies such as The Lost World. It's a credit to them that these tales seem perfectly natural and the strip never quite "jumps the shark" to use TV parlance.

All that will come in later volumes however. For now, we remain in the hard-boiled detective spy genre. While the stories are certainly of their time, Goodwin's taut plotting and credible dialogue perfectly compliments Williamson's exquisite artwork.

This is a collection I cannot praise highly enough. IDW have again raised the strip reprint bar higher with this collection. I know the $49.99 price tag will put some people off, but I feel that's a worthy price to pay for this first installment of one of the finest examples of the adventure strip. If your local comic shop has a copy you can look at, I wholeheartedly recommend you take a look.
Roll on vol. 2.

I'll be back soon with more reviews.

Until then, take care,


Sunday, 19 September 2010


Moonstone Books have over the years given us many new comic stories featuring classic characters from the worlds of comic strips, pulp magazines and TV. The Green Hornet, The Avenger, Captain Action, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Saint, Boston Blackie among many others have all appeared under the Moonstone imprint. Now they have turned their attention to a short-lived 1960s TV show, "Honey West".

Originally created by G.G. Fickling (a psuedonym for husband and wife Forest and Gloria Fickling) in their 1957 novel 'This Girl For Hire', Honey would appear in nine novels between 1957 and 1964, with two more in 1971. In 1965, television producer Aaron Spelling, bought the rights to the character and used her in an episode of Burke's Law, 'Who Killed The Jackpot' which aired in April that year. Played by Anne Francis of Forbidden Planet fame, Honey proved popular and was quickly spun off into her own show. A few changes were made to the format. It was 1965, James Bond was one of the biggest things on the silver screen, and spy shows ruled the TV airwaves. There was The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, The Wild Wild West and even Burke's Law suddenly became Amos Burke, Secret Agent. So it was no surprise that Honey and her right hand man Sam Bolt (Johnny Doom in the original books) were private detectives with the latest in secret agent gadgets - lipstick microphones, earrings full of teargas, exploding compacts and, of course, a fully equipped mobile crime lab cleverly disguised as a TV repairman's van. Another addition to the TV show was Honey's pet ocelot, Bruce. Well, every show needs it's gimmick!

It was a fun, light-hearted show though and Anne Francis played Honey West to perfection.

So, how does Moonstone's new comic book stand up? Quite well, actually. The inaugral issue is the first part of a story entitled "Killer On The Keys", written by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Cynthia Martin. Set circa 1967, at the height of the 'flower power' craze, Honey goes undercover as a go-go dancer at the nightclub 'The Purple Pussy' to investigate the murder of a cocktail waitress. Needless to say, it's not a simple case and very soon one of the other dancers at the club is hospitalized after an attempt on Honey's life.

Robbins seems to be trying to strike a balance between the original novels and the TV show. There are no sign as yet of lipstick mikes and exploding compacts, although Bruce the Ocelot is present and correct. There's no sign either of Sam Bolt or his novel counterpart Johnny Doom. Whether or not he/they turn up, we'll have to wait and see. I'll be along for the ride for the foreseeable future, as long as sales support the title.

I'll be back soon, with more Secret Agent stuff.

Until then, take care,


Saturday, 11 September 2010


In the long history of the newspaper comic, few strips have been lauded as much as George Herriman's surreal 'Krazy Kat'. Launched in 1913, the strip ran thirty-one years, only ending with Herriman's death in 1944.

The eponymous Kat, along with Ignatz Mouse, Officer Bull Pupp and sundry other anthropomorphic characters existed in the ever changing landscape of Coconino County, a bizarre, almost Daliesque, universe where the backdrops melt and shift around. Unique in both its surreal visuals and bizarre wordplay, the strip was feted by such illuminaries as newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, art critic Gilbert Seldes and poet e.e. Cummings. It's even said that Pablo Picasso followed the strip avidly. In later years the strip's influence would be seen in the works of comics artists such as Robert Crumb and Chris Ware.

The main thrust of the strip was the three way relationship between the aforementioned Kat, Mouse and Dog. Krazy is a carefree, almost simple-minded, cat whose gender is ambigious, being referred to both as "he" and "she". He/she loves Ignatz Mouse, however this love is unrequited - in fact Ignatz despises Krazy and continually tries to throw bricks at the feline's head. Krazy however misinterprets these bricks as 'love taps'. Meanwhile Offissa Pupp, Coconino's local police officer, who harbours a crush for Krazy, attempts to thwart Ignatz's plans and incarcerate the mouse in his jailhouse.

Extended narratives were unheard of in 'Krazy Kat' but in 1936, twenty-three years on from it's inception, Herriman started the storyline which has now become known as 'Tiger Tea'. It is that tale that has recently been collected by Craig Yoe as part of his Yoe Books series for IDW Publishing.

'Tiger Tea' starts with the collapse of Katnip Konsolidated, leaving Coconino County's wealthiest citizen Mr. Meeyowl pennyless. Krazy takes it upon himself to help him regain his fortune and thus embarks on a quest, following his nose hither and thither and arrives in a land where "things are tiger bad". From this strange land comes the titular Tiger Tea. And that's when things get very odd indeed...
There have been many discussions over the years as to whether Herriman was using 'Tiger Tea' as a euphemism for marijuana. I'll not add to those debates, but instead leave you, the reader, to decide for yourself. However Craig Yoe's insightful introduction does go into some detail of both sides of the argument.

The collection is a beautifully designed hardcover, printed supposedly on hemp paper. Priced at a mere $12.99 (about £9.99 here in the UK), this is a collection no Herriman fan should be without. Available from all good comic shops, or from Amazon - see the link below, or click The Strip Search Store link at the top right of the page for details.

Editor Craig Yoe is also responsible for the forthcoming book "Krazy Kat And The Art Of George Herriman" being published, not by IDW, but by Abrams. I look forward to seeing it. It's available for preorder from your local comic shop, or you can use the link below to preorder from Amazon now.

I'll see you soon with more reviews, and maybe some surprises. Until then, take care.


Thursday, 12 August 2010


Well it's been a while, hasn't it?
As many of you know, I (and my better half Jackie) have recently relocated from Farnborough to the village of Mapplewell in South Yorkshire. On top of that my lovely daughter Jal recently got married, so most of my time has been taken up with first the move, and then the wedding. Now that both are over, I can finally get back to my irregular blog.
There will be a few changes here over the few weeks. I'm going to introduce Amazon links to items I review, so you can find them easily. I was in two minds whether to do this. On the one hand, any time somebody orders something through Amazon using the links, it generates a little extra income for us, but at the same time I don't want to take sales away from local comic shops for they are the lifeblood of our business. I leave the choice in your hands, but please support your local comic shop (if, indeed, you still have one).
The other change will be the occasional competition on here. Not sure what form they'll take yet, but I'll come up with something...
I'll be back very shortly with the first of my new reviews, so I'll see you all soon.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


As far as I know, there hasn't been an official announcement from IDW yet, but it appears that there will soon be another collection of Jack Kent's wonderful strip King Aroo. Amazon UK are already listing volume two as available for pre-order, although as yet there's no mention of it on IDW's website. As the first volume is by far my favourite strip collection of recent months, I just cannot wait to get my hands on this new book. Will let you know as and when I have a release date.

UPDATE! Those splendid chaps at IDW have just let me know that we can expect the King's arrival in November. Let your local comic shop know it's coming, and get them to pre-order it for you.

Monday, 14 June 2010

AL WILLIAMSON (1931-2010) R.I.P.

Another of the greats has left us. Al Williamson, one of the industry's finest artists, passed away on the 13th June.

Inspired by the work of Alex Raymond, Williamson took art classes with Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth, and later studied at Hogarth's Cartoonists and Illustrators school, where he met fellow future EC artists Roy Krenkle and Wally Wood. After working for publishers such as American Comics Group (ACG), Avon, Fawcett and Standard, Wiliamson started working at the renowned EC Comics. While there he often worked with Frank Frazetta, Angelo Torres and Roy Krenkel in a group affectionately known as the 'Fleagle Gang'. Willamson's talents were put to good use at EC, notably on the science fiction titles Weird Fantasy, Weird Science and Weird Science Fantasy. Working from stories by editor Al Feldstein, as well as adaptations of stories by well known writers such as Ray Bradbury, Williamson provided page after page of detailed, superblative art.
From 1955 to 1957, he also worked for Marvel Comics, then still known as Atlas. He produced many short three to five page stories, including a stint on the Jann Of The Jungle strip.

In the sixties, with work in the comic book field at a low, Al turned to the newspaper strip where he worked as an assistant to John Prentice on the Rip Kirby strip. This would last for three years and certainly proved to be a good training ground for when he himself would work on a strip of his own.

He returned to comics in 1965 doing one stories for Gold Key titles such as Boris Karloff Tales Of Mystery and The Twilight Zone, and also helped launch the B&W horror magazines Creepy and Eerie for Warren Publishing.

1966 proved to be a great year for Williamson as he was asked to draw the first issue of a new Flash Gordon comic book series. He returned to aso draw issues 4 and 5 and was awarded the Best Comic Book award by the National Cartoonist Society for his work. In addition, it was on the basis of his work for Flash Gordon that he was offered the chance to work on the Secret Agent X-9 newspaper strip.

Secret Agent Corrigan, as the strip was rechristened, reunited Williamson with writer Archie Goodwin and together the two produced a more than a decade of exciting daily adventure. His art here was at it's peak (sorry EC fans) and is shortly to be collected in a series of collections by IDW publishing.

During this time Wiliamson continued to do comic book work, including more work for The Twilight Zone, Creepy and Eerie as well as tales for DC Comics mystery anthology House Of Mystery. In addition he encouraged young up and coming artists such as Mike Kaluta and Berni Wrightson and helped them break into the comic business.

Al left Secret Agent Corrigan in 1980, he and Goodwin took on the comic book adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and then turned his hand, again with Goodwin, to the Star Wars newspaper strip until it's cancellation in 1983.

From the mid 1980s onwards Wiliamson had worked primarily as an inker, working with pencilers as diverse as Mike Mignola, John Romita Jr., and Gene Colan. As an inker he won no less than nine industry awards.

His influence on the industry cannot be measured. His artwork alone puts him among the greats, but his encouragement of other artists such as Kaluta and Wrightson, and the fact that he has been cited by many others, including Dave Gibbons, Mark Schultz, Tony Harris and Frank Cho, as an influence elevates his standing in the industry even higher.

Rest In Peace Al.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Up to now, this blog has primarily focused on reprints of newspaper strips. I'm not sure why that is, apart from the number of excellent collections that have come out recently. So today I'm going to look at four recent books featuring the work of the legendary comics artist Steve Ditko. As I've already said in a previous blog entry, I'm a huge fan of Ditko's work, and while he's best known for his work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange for Marvel (both of whom he co-created), The Creeper for DC and Captain Atom for Charlton there is far more to him than superheroes.

First up is Stranger And Stranger: The World Of Steve Ditko. Unlike the other books here this is not a collection of Ditko's stories, but a work tracing the life and career of one of comics most mysterious creators. The book's author Blake Bell has done an exemplary job of telling the tale of the notoriously reclusive artist, from his early days in the comics industry studying under Jerry Robinson, through his breakthrough with Charlton Comics, the heady days of the early Marvel Bullpen, his departure for DC comics, up to his self-published (with Robin Snyder) Steve Ditko's Packages of the late 1990s. Bell delves into Ditko's fascination with the writings of Ayn Rand and explores how the influance of books like The Fountainhead affected the artists later career and his relationship with comic fandom. Lavishly illustrated with page after page of Ditko art from all stages of his career, and with quotes from many of the people he worked with in the industry this book is a must for anyone with an interest in comics most celebrated and yet unknown artists.

Next, also from Fantagraphics and Blake Bell, is the superb Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1 which I mentioned in a previous blog entry. This book was compiled by Bell and collects Ditko's earliest work for publishers such as Prize, Gilmor, Ajax/Farrell, Timor and, of course, Charlton. The majority of the stories collected here fall firmly into the horror vein, with tales taken from titles such as The Thing, This Magazine Is Haunted and Strange Suspense Stories. Some science fiction stories are also present from the pages of Space Adventures, while Racket Squad In Action, Crime And Justice and Blazing Western give us... well, crime and western tales. Nearly all of this material predates the introduction of the Comics Code Authority in October 1954, the sole exception being a humour piece Car Show taken from a 1955 issue of From Here To Insanity. This means that much of this material is more visceral than the stories many are familier with from the early 1960s although still tame by todays standards. The reproduction is stunning, showing off Ditko's detailed artwork at its finest. Check out the infamous electric chair cover to Strange Suspense Stories # 19, a detail of which is used as the cover to this collection (see right). Or the cover to Space Adventures # 12 with is EC inspired cover (see left). And while the art is all prime Ditko, here and there he does let his influences show through. For example Die Laughing from The Thing #13 has a few layouts and panels inspired by the legendary Will Eisner, while Cinderella from The Thing #12 has a very Mort Meskin feel. This is one of the finest collections of Ditko's work out there, and while it may not be as familier as his work on Spider-Man, Doctor Strange or indeed those mystery shorts he did for Marvel books such as Strange Tales and Amazing Fantasy, it's all classic Ditko. Buy it now, and pre-order volume 2, hopefully due in August this year.

As a quick aside, Ditko's Eisner influance would also show up in his work on Marvel's Doctor Strange strip. The first Dr. Strange story from Strange Tales #110 has some very Eisneresque panels. And that distinct window in the good Doctor's Sanctum Sanatorum bears more than a passing resemblence to the one in Denny Colt's Wildwood Cemetery hideaway. But I digress...

Fantagraphics set the bar high with Strange Suspense, and IDW's The Art Of Ditko collection only just falls short of the other books high standards. Compiled by Craig Yeo for IDWs Yeo Books imprint, this collection concentrates on Ditko's work from the 1960s. With the Comics Code at the height of it's influance the stories here are tamer than those in the Fantagraphics book, while Ditko's artwork is a little less detailed, more akin to his superhero work for Marvel and DC, than his earlier, detailed horror work. Along with numorous examples of Ditko's work from Charlton titles from the sixties, there are reproductions of original art pages from his work with Marvel and DC.
One advantage this collection has over the Fantagraphics volume is that it is oversized, allowing the reader to really appreciate Ditko's stylised art.
While not quite reaching the heights of Strange Suspense, The Art Of Ditko is still an essential purchase for Ditkologists everywhere.

Finally, DC Comics have also brought out a Ditko collection , this one devoted to his work on the superhero strip The Creeper. This volume contains all of the Creeper stories Ditko had a hand in, starting with the characters debut in the pages of DC's tryout comic, Showcase.
For those unfamilier with him, The Creeper was originally introduced in Showcase #73 (1968), which told the tale of outspoken Gotham City talk show host Jack Ryder, gunned down by gangsters when he used his TV show to take a stance against organized crime made him a target. Mortally wounded by the mob, Ryder's life was saved by a scientist who gave him an experimental serum that granted him powers of super-agility. Disguising himself in a bizarre costume, Ryder took on the persona of The Creeper and sought retribution.
After that single tryout issue, The Creeper was quickly given his own title, "Beware The Creeper" the first six issues of which are presented here. Ditko walked off the title having drawn only eleven pages of that sixth issue, with Jack Sparling pitching in to fill out the issue. In fact it looks to me that Sparling may have redrawn those first eleven pages although some of the layouts certainly look like Ditko. The reclusive artist returned to the Creeper in 1975 for another tryout book, First Issue Special #7, and then again in 1978 for a series of backup stories in World's Finest Comics #249-255. All those stories are collected here along with a real treat - a story originally intended for a revival of Showcase but scrapped when that title was suddenley cancelled in the infamous D.C. Imposion of 1978. Instead the story was used in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, an extremely limited edition collection of material left unpubished, especially compiled by D.C. for copyright reasons. Only a few dozen copies were published, although bootleg copies allegedly exist.
Ditko's art on the earlier Creeper stories is not unlike his later work for Marvel on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, while his 1970's return to the character exemplifies his looser, simpler style that would also be seen on his later return to Marvel on series such as Machine Man. The stories themselves, written by up and coming talent such as Denny O'Neil and Michael Fleisher are for the main part fairly standard superhero fare, although the earliest stories are slightly more quirky than the standard late 1960s DC superhero title.
All in all, not the most essential of Ditko's work, but certainly well worth a look.
I'll be back soon with more recommendations.
Be seeing you!


A very quick entry today. Those who know me will know I'm a huge fan of Steve Ditko. A few months ago those wonderful guys at Fantagraphics books published a superb collection of his very earliest comics work called Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1 (seen here on the right). Now it appears that a second volume called Unexplored Worlds is coming this August. Not sure what it will include, but I for one can't wait. More info as and when I find out. I have a Ditkocentric blog entry coming up soon, including my thoughts on Strange Suspense, so look out for that.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Back in the day, before we had all these lovely deluxe hardcover reprints of newspaper strips, we had a number of magazines devoted to strip reprints. Tabloids like The Menomonee Falls Gazette and its sister paper The Menomonee Falls Guardian collected current strips on a weekly basis, while there were other magazine collections devoted to specific strips such as Twin Earths and Steve Canyon. Then, in the mid 1980s, a new monthly magazine entered the market. Comics Review started off reprinting a months worth of current humour strips such as Garfield, B.C., Wizard Of Id, Hagar The Horrible, Tumbleweeds and Bloom County. With its fourth issue many of the humour strips were phased out as adventure strips were added to the mix. Star Wars by the team supreme of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon, Spider-Man were all added to the line-up, followed in later issues by Modesty Blaise, The Phantom, Secret Agent Corrigan, Tarzan and Flash Gordon amongst others.
With the eleventh issue the title changed to Comics Revue and is still running under that name over a quarter of a century on. The format has pretty much stayed the same over that time, although the emphasis shifted gradually away from current strips to vintage reprints, usually from the 1930-60s. Eventually the line up settled down to a range of classic continuity strips. Flash Gordon by Harry Harrison & Dan Barry, Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane, The Phantom by Lee Falk (sometimes alternating with Falk's other classic creation Mandrake The Magician), Secret Agent Corrigan (also by Goodwin & Williamson), Tarzan by Russ Manning, Krazy Kat by George Herriman, Alley Oop by V. T. Hamblin, Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray, Rick O'Shay by Stan Lynde and Casey Ruggles by Warren Tufts. A veritable cornicopia (or should that be comicopia?) of classic strips.
Last year saw a major change to the magazine as Diamond Comics Distributors, who supply the title to comics shops, made a number of changes to their minimum order requirements. In order to meet Diamond's new order levels, publisher Rick Norwood took the title down to a bi-monthly schedule but at double the size. Now priced at $16 US, the magazine now boasts more colour pages and better quality paper, which in turn leads to much better reproduction. The extra colour pages enable Rick to run more Sunday page strips, which he is currently using to run the Mandrake story "Doorway To Z" and the classic Phantom tale "Return Of The Sky Band". In addition some strips such as Steve Canyon and Gasoline Alley now have their Sunday strips in colour as well, whereas in earlier issues they were run in black and white.
This new look is an improvement on what was an already fine magazine. I hope the higher price point doesn't deter the magazine's loyal readers. As far as this reader's concerned the new style is a winner. If you have any interest in vintage strips, you owe it to yourself to check out an issue.
Sadly, not many comic shops get in copies for the shelf, so you may have to ask your local store to order one in for you. Do yourself a favour and do it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


I hadn't intended to blog twice in one day, but having just put up the second and final part of my Jeff Hawke review I get news of another strip collection I've been dreaming of! Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson's run on Secret Agent X-9 (later Secret Agent Corrigan) is getting the deluxe hardcover treatment by IDW Publishing as part of their Library of American Comics series. I'm going to let IDW's press release do the talking for me...

San Diego, CA (May 5, 2010) - IDW Publishing announced today a new hardcover series from its Library of American Comics imprint - X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan. Drawn by Al Williamson and written by Archie GoodwinSecret Agent CorriganAl Williamson's personal proofs in an oversized format that matches IDW's exquisite Rip Kirby series by Alex Raymond. The first volume features an introduction by Mark Schultz, and an essay on X-9's long history by Bruce Canwell.
from 1967 through 1980, is one of the classics of modern adventure newspaper comics.The multi-book series is the first-ever comprehensive collection of the strip and will be printed from

"Al Williamson's delicate line-work, coupled with a style that's both realistic and atmospheric, enhances the no-nonsense story of the sophisticated action hero Phil Corrigan," said series editor Scott Dunbier. Dean Mullaney, series designer and the Library of American Comics Creative Director, added, "Archie Goodwin's unerring sense of pacing, which he developed in comic books, is even more noticeable in the daily strip format."

Secret Agent Corrigan updates the character created in 1934 by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Alex Raymond (Rip Kirby). X-9 was originally an agent known only by his code name, who worked for an unknown government agency. Over the years, the series benefited from the individual styles of many writers and artists - including Leslie CharterisThe Saint novels), Charles Flanders, Mel Graff, Bob Lubbers, and George Evans - but it is the Goodwin/Williamson tenure that is most fondly remembered by today's comics fans. It was during their run that X-9 received the name of Phil Corrigan. (author of

Secret Agent X9, Volume One ($49.99, 296 pages) debuts in July 2010. Diamond order code MAY10 0403. ISBN 978-1-60010-677-2.

Regular readers (should I have any) will know that on this very blog I recently wrote about IDW's wonderful collection of Jack Kent's King Aroo strip. If this Secret Agent Corrigan collection is as good it'll be one of the best collections of 2010. I'll let you all know in July how it looks. Somehow, I don't think I'll be disappointed!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


The second of Titan's hardcover collections of Jeff Hawke collects another five stories of the British space ace, starting with the time-bending 'Pastmaster' and running through to the whimsical 'A Test Case'. Again all the stories are written by Willie Patterson and beautifully illustrated by Sydney Jordon. These are stories #18 to 22 and comprise the strips from 3rd August 1961 to 2nd January 1963.

The first story 'Pastmaster' relies on the old, familiar idea of someone from the future trying to change the past. Patterson's script and Jordan's art lift this story of the future (or non-future) of Earth's first manned Lunar base above the science-fiction cliche.

Next up is one of Jordon's personal favourites, 'The Immortal Toys'. Once again relics from the distant past show up in the present day ala Volume One's 'Wondrous Lamp'. This story includes some of Jordon's finest art, inspired by Patterson's imaginative story.

Story three is the humorous 'The Ambassadors' in which Earth is visited by two avian emissaries from another world. When the owl-like aliens appear on TV promising to abolish work with a device called a 'quiggifier' people start to take notice, until an unfortunate accident results in the two birds leaving the Earth for good.

Another science-fiction stand by, the sub-atomic world, is used in the next story 'The Gamesman' in which Hawke and Mac find themselves transported to another world, where they are hunted by an alien overlord. Very reminiscent of 'The Most Dangerous Game'. A slight twist here is that it is EARTH that is the sub-atomic planet, existing in a piece of amber on the alien world.

The fifth and final story is 'A Test Case', in which some bumbling alien students arrive on Earth and try to impart some of their knowledge to the 'backward' planet. Unfortunately their first test subject has his own ideas on what to do with the alien knowledge, and it isn't necessarily what is best for the rest of the world. One minor flaw with this story is that the aliens look like various earth animals (the students teacher is elephantine for example) which would be fine, but maybe a bit too soon after the owl-like aliens of 'The Ambassadors'. Still, a whimsical story, with a race against time to save the world ending.

Sadly, this is the last of Titan's collections to date. Between the two books only nine of the sixty-nine Hawke stories have been reprinted. Hopefully more volumes will follow. In the meantime the Jeff Hawke Club have been reprinting more stories in their magazine 'Jeff Hawke's Cosmos'.

More details of the Jeff Hawke Club can be found on their website at


We now return to our regular schedule...

There's been a fine tradition of Science Fiction continuity strips in the newspapers. America has given us Buck Rogers, Connie (of which more of in a forthcoming blog), Twin Earths, Star Hawks, Brick Bradford and of course Flash Gordon. Over this side of the pond there have been the long running Garth in the Daily Mirror and the much shorter running Scarth A.D. 2195 in The Sun. Even Mega-City One's top lawman Judge Dredd crossed the Cursed Earth to the tabloid pages. Quite possibly the best of the British strips has been Jeff Hawke. Created and illustrated by Scotsman Sydney Jordon for The Daily Express, the early storylines were fairly run of the mill, featuring the eponymous hero, an ex R.A.F. pilot (as indeed was Jordan), in a series of ordinary science fiction adventures. The arrival of Jordan's childhood friend Willlie Patterson as co-writer took the strip to a new level. Patterson dialogued the sixth storyline 'Sanctuary' (1956) and plotted and wrote the seventh 'Unquiet Island' (1956/7). Jordon then wrote the eighth story with the ninth 'Out Of Touch' being written by famed SF author Harry Harrison, creator of the Stainless Steel Rat and occasional contributor to the American Flash Gordon strip. A few more Jordon written stories followed and then, in 1960, Patterson took on the full writing duties with the fourteenth story "Overlord".

It is this story that leads off the first of two recent hardcover collections from Titan. Hawke and his team have their second encounter with the meglomaniacal Chalcedon (introduced a few years beforehand in the story Sanctuary) and a race of telepathic beetles.

The very nature of humanity is the theme of the second story, Survival, which opens with a collision in space in which Hawke's right hand man Mac MaClean is severely injured. The alien race that inadvertantly caused the accident save Mac's life but in doing so 'improve' the astronaut, pushing him further along mankind's evolutionary path. As Mac becomes more superhuman, he also becomes less than human.

A story trope that appears regularly in the series is that of the myth that has a basis in alien technology. Such is the case with the third story The Wondrous Lamp. As may be guessed by its title, it shows the origins of the Aladdin myth. An absolute delight of a story which opens in the 2nd Century and ends in the present with an attempted alien invasion.

As good as The Wondrous Lamp is, the best is saved for last. The fourth and final story in this volume, Counsel For The Defence, sees the return of Chalcedon as Hawke is called upon to act as his defence in a galactic trial before becoming involved in the alien's escape attempt.

Patterson's scripts throughout this book sparkle with wit and whimsy, while Jordan's artwork is wonderful, in a realistic black and white style. It's easy to see why famed comic artists such as Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland are huge fans of the strip. Curiously Jeff Hawke is largely unknown in his home country, but feted by European comic fans especially in Italy and Scandinavia.

This marvelous hardcover volume also includes the first chapter of a two part essay by Sydney Jordon about his early life, and each of the four stories also includes a brief introduction by the artist. Add to that a gorgeous colour cover by Brian Bolland and you have the perfect introduction to a sadly neglected British classic.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on volume two - The Ambassadors.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

PETER O'DONNELL (1920-2010) R.I.P.

Planned to Blog today about the SF strip Jeff Hawke, but there has been, as they say, a change to the scheduled programming...

One of the greats has left us. Peter O’Donnell died last night, just a week after celebrating his ninetieth birthday.

He worked on such strips as Garth and Romeo Jones, but he’s best known for creating the classic Modesty Blaise with artist Jim Holdaway. Starting in 1963 in the London Evening Standard, the adventure strip ran for the better part of forty years covering 96 stories. In addition to the comic strip, O'Donnell wrote eleven novels and two collections of short stories based on the character.

Helped by the wonderful art of Jim Holdaway, Enrique Romero, Neville Colvin and Patrick Wright, O'Donnell took his femme fatale and her faithful right hand man Willie Garvin, through numorous exotic adventures, the like of which are now sadly missing from the newspaper pages.

Rest in peace Peter. You'll be sadly missed.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Another classic strip currently getting the deluxe reprint treatment is the long-running Gasoline Alley. Drawn And Quarterly have released four volumes to date collecting some of the earliest years of the strip, notable as being one of the very few strips in which the characters age in real time.
The original Gasoline Alley started out on the Chicago Tribune's b&w Sunday page, The Rectangle in which staff artists would provide either one-shot panels, or occasionally a continuing strip. Artist Frank King brought in a panel consisting of four men, Walt Wallet, doc, Avery and Bill, who would each week shoot the breeze about cars. This panel proved popular enough and a daily strip started in August 1919. After a couple of years Joseph Patterson, the editor of the Chicago Tribune asked King to make the strip more accessible to women. Comics historian Don Markstein describes what happened next...
After a couple of years, the Tribune's editor, Captain Joseph Patterson, whose influence would later have profound effects on such strips as Terry And The Prtes and Little Orphan Annie decided the strip should have something to appeal to women, as well, and suggested King add a baby. Only problem was the main character, Walt Wallet, was a confirmed bachelor. On February 14, 1921, Walt found the necessary baby abandoned on his doorstep. That was the day Gasoline Alley entered history as the first comic strip in which the characters aged normally. (Hairbreadth Harry had grown up in his strip, but stopped aging in his early 20s.) The baby, named Skeezix (cowboy slang for a motherless calf), grew up, fought in World War II, and is now a retired grandfather. Walt married after all, and had more children, who had children of their own, etc. More characters entered the storyline on the periphery, and some grew to occupy center stage.
With the arrival of Skeezix, the strip took a huge turn. What had started as a strip about the fascination men have for cars, became the story of the Wallet family, part gentle soap opera, part mirror of American life. Characters aged, went to school, college, married, had children of their own. They worked, played and went to war.

The first of Drawn and Quarterly's lovingly compiled Walt & Skeezix volumes collects the daily Gasoline Alley strips from 1921 and 1922 including Skeezix's arrival on the scene (14th February 1921). This is slightly annoying as completists (including me) would certainly want the earliest strips included. However this minor niggle is vastly offset by the book itself. Lovingly designed and edited by Chris Ware of ACME Novelty Library fame, the collection also includes an 80(!) page introduction full of rare archival photos and ephemera by Jeet Heer of Canada's National Post. The introduction is worth the price of entry alone for its insights into the life of one of America's great cartoonists.

Monday, 26 April 2010


We seem to be in a Golden Age of classic newspaper strip reprints. Publishers such as Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly have been giving us deluxe collected editions of classics such as Thimble Theater, Steve Canyon, Little Orphan Annie among many others.
IDW publishing have also entered the field with their Library Of American Comics series including collections of Bloom County, Family Circus and, best of all, Jack Kent's sublime King Aroo.

For those unfamiler with the titular King, Aroo is the monarch of the mythical land of Myopia. Other residents of the postage stamp country are Yupyop, Lord High Almost Everything; scientistProfessor Yorgle; Mr. Pennipost, the kangaroo mailman with almost an endless pocket; Mr. Elephant, the memory challanged pachiderm and Wanda Witch, who pushes a cart with a sign that says "Spells and Curses, 5¢".

Much like Walt Kelly's Pogo, Kent's strip delights with its sophisticated puns and wordplay.

Here's what The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics has to say...

King Aroo is one of the most celebrated strips of the recent past in the comics, but celebrated largely among devotees of comics, and appealing largely to the members of the readership that loved Krazy Kat, Barnaby, Pogo and Little Nemo. The King was the creation of Jack Kent, born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1920. It was probably Kent's lack of formal art training that led to a loose-lined art style, with panels full of characters and activity. It was surely his innate artistic ability that kept those panels from looking cluttered. The strip began in 1950 in national syndication but was discontinued after a few years. It was kept on in limited syndication until 1965 by Stanleigh Arnold's small Golden Gate Features.

IDW plans to reprint the complete run of King Aroo, with this first volume publishing every daily and Sunday strip from 1950 through to 1952. The reproduction is crystal clear, shot from Jack Kent's original syndicate proofs, provided by his family. Edited by, and with an insightful foreward by, Dean Mullany and with a brief introduction by the legendary Sergio Aragones this collection is an absolute delight for every one of it's 360 pages.

If I have one niggling complaint it's that the Sunday strips (in black & white rather than the original colour) are collected in their own section at the back of the book, rather than in strict chronological order with the daily strips. But that's such a minor quibble it seems churlish to mention it.

For about £29.99 ($40 US) it's a marvelous introduction to one of America's finest (and, until now, hardest to find) newspaper strips.
If your local comic store doesn't stock it, get them to order it for you. Trust me, you won't regret it!

Roll on Volume 2!