Rip Kirby Volume 1: 1946-1948 (2009) – Alex Raymond
My love for newspaper comic strips began just a few years ago when -thanks to Chris Marshall over at the Collected Comics Library – I discovered Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates and was hooked. It didn’t take long before I found that everything published by IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint was worth reading and probably essential to own. Yet I had some reservations about Rip Kirby…
I like detective stories. I like them gritty and hardboiled, filled with fast-talking tough guys, nasty villains and a femme fatale here and there. I wasn’t sure if a dapper guy smoking a pipe who dated a fashion model and employed a butler could cut it.
Yet in 1946, Alex Raymond knew exactly what he wanted. For one thing, he wanted something set in the real world. He’d been working on Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim for 10 years, but wanted to produce something besides science fiction stories and jungle adventures. And rather than delivering another hardboiled detective (which the pulp magazines were packed with anyway), Raymond presented something different. From the book’s introductory essay, “Crime Does Pay,” Raymond biographer Tom Roberts quotes the artist as he describes Kirby:
“I see him, [as] a well-balanced man, a conglomeration of all the likeable (sic) qualities I have seen in men I know. He’s got a busted nose, but he isn’t ugly. He wears glasses without looking bookwormish. He’s a former All-American something or other. He’s educated, has some sort of doctor’s degree…yet you never hear him pontificating about anything. He loves music and is an amateur pianist. He’s got a sense of humor and he’s got depth. He’s only a detective by avocation.”
Rip Kirby was certainly no Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but he wasn’t trying to be. That was the point. Kirby was different. Kirby may be closer to Sherlock Holmes than Philip Marlowe, but Kirby’s villains are as cold-blooded and conniving as they come. Some are highly cultured and some are only a few centimeters from the gutter, but none of them are lightweights.
But if Raymond’s art on this strip doesn’t sell you, nothing will. Every page, heck, every panel is incredible. Raymond not only had a great feel for action, he also knew facial expressions and how emotion is expressed through them. One of Raymond’s greatest strengths is in not only depicting women, but also their fashions. Reading a Rip Kirby strip is like watching models parading up and down a fashion show runway. Even if fashion is the last thing on your mind, you can’t help but be impressed.
It took me about 30 pages to warm up to the strip, but when I did, I was hooked. The more you read, the more you begin to appreciate Kirby’s relationship with on-again-off-again girlfriend Honey Dorian. Even more interesting is the friendship between Kirby and his ex-convict butler Desmond, who just happens to still remember some of his former on-the-job skills when the need arises.
Raymond’s art style relies on heavy, bold inks, yet his line work is delicately immaculate. Since Rip Kirby was not published on Sundays, all the strips (three days to a page) are all the same size and in black-and-white.
Although the strip ran in newspapers for over 50 years, Raymond wrote and drew it for only ten of those years, dying in a car crash in 1956. IDW’s Library of American Comics – headed by Dean Mulvaney – is publishing the complete series, currently on Volume 8. You can find the complete list of volumes here.