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.