Alex Raymond

Rip Kirby, My Little Runaway (September-December 1949)

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This story guest-stars Rip. With him in it so little, I guess Honey’s five or six strips probably amount to a cameo. They’re just the entry into the actual story, which is a soapy bit about a long-lost mother and daughter being reunited. The secret relationship is obvious even before the glasses come off the mother, revealing she looks just like the daughter (or is it the other way).

But what the story does have—besides a basic, affable sense to it—is inky Raymond night scenes. More night scenes than any other Rip Kirby so far and they are glorious. Raymond’s black night, for the most part through a car window, is somehow completely full. It’s a beautiful sequence in the strips.

This story might have served better as a pilot for a soapy spin-off. All the characters have appeal.

It’s unexpected but perfectly good stuff.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

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Rip Kirby, Pagan’s Cheerful Summer (May-September 1949)

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This storyline shows exactly what I like so much about Rip Kirby—Greene and Raymond come up with interesting settings. Though maybe Rip doesn’t have enough New York adventures, at least they move him around (somewhat plausibly even) to different locales.

Pagan is doing summer stock and discovers the troupe leader isn’t just a dirty old man but a blackmailer too. Pagan’s underworld history has a tie with her new landlord and it adds a couple more supporting characters to the cast. Greene’s characterizations are all strong (I can’t think of another story so far where everyone except one villain is pleasant).

Rip and Honey eventually show up to save the day, though Honey barely has any lines once Pagan’s around. I do hope Greene and Raymond team the two of them up sometime. Honey’s disinclination towards romance (from two strips earlier) is unfortunately forgotten.

Overall, it’s a real charmer.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Like Flies to Honey (January-May 1949)

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Well, I got my wish and Honey’s back in Rip Kirby front and center. A young playboy has proposed to her and his family goes to Rip to break it up. Rip refuses, wanting to give Honey space to make her own decision (while internally conflict, of course).

They all end up at the family’s plantation in the South where the evil brother and mother conspire to break up the sort of happy couple.

Things should finish, after all the drama (a lot of localized action too), with Honey safely in Rip’s arms. Only she’s too conflicted over the events of the storyline and they’re maybe even more distant than when they started.

It’s strange to see Greene and Raymond manipulate and maybe I wouldn’t have reading it day to day, but this story’s just about quelling the Honey and Rip romance.

Hey, at least they’re not ignoring it anymore.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, The Bandar Rubies (December 1948-January 1949)

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Heading home to New York from London, Rip and Desmond leave Honey—this issue might reveal the rather simple explanation for her absence… Greene and Raymond need to have Rip be flirtatious to move their plots. With Honey around, they can’t do it as cleanly. What’s so odd about her forced absences is how much the character seems to grow in them.

Anyway, this storyline is a short one, with Rip and Desmond on a ship and having to investigate a probable jewel thief. It’s so short, I don’t think Greene ever introduces one of the main supporting characters by name. It’s reveal in one of Raymond’s great summary panels.

Worse, they reveal the identity of the thief about halfway through instead of making the reader wait along with Rip for the big reveal. It makes the rest of the read tedious. It’s fine, but it’s a rather pedestrian effort.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Terror on the Thames (June-December 1948)

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This storyline, even longer than the last, again has Honey getting a smaller role than almost anyone else. She’s back, at least, even if it is just for the setup mostly. Since Rip’s been gone on his latest adventure, Honey has been apparently promoted at the modeling agency and is now organizing fashion shows in addition to modeling in them. A modeling auteur, as it were.

One of her models goes missing and Rip ends up investigating. But Greene and Raymond also take the time to show what’s actually happening with the model during her disappearance. It’s a nice narrative move—Rip Kirby’s plotting is getting more and more inventive, even if Rip himself is barely present anymore. He’s still a bigger character than Honey, but Greene and Raymond constantly shortchange him.

And that shortchanging seems to make a better strip.

Lots of great art (London, the models) from Raymond.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Bleak Prospects (October 1947-June 1948)

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For whatever reason, Greene and Raymond push Honey off panel for this entire storyline—and it’s a long one, running almost eight months. Pagan returns, bringing with her a friend who ends up as Rip’s client. There are two parts to the storyline. First, finding the villain, a woman who pretends to foster child but really sells them. Then finding the child of Pagan’s friend, who’s already been sold.

Greene and Raymond delicately weave all the details—during the first part, the child’s new “parents” are in the supporting cast so the reader always has more information than the characters. It’s a large cast for this storyline too. Maybe eight new characters.

Most of the second half—and the resolution to the first, when I think about it—is action. It’s chase stuff, Rip just missing finding the kid or getting in a scrap.

It’s compelling, but Rip’s barely necessary.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, The Dolls’ House (May-October 1947)

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This storyline is slightly goofy.

First, Honey runs off to show up Rip (she’s mad he was giving Pagan Lee attention). So he and Desmond (Desmond’s his butler, a reformed burglar) have to find her. In the meantime, Honey’s met this evil old woman on an ocean liner and it turns out she’s going to be the storyline’s main villain.

But then Greene and Raymond introduce this Hawaiian ex-Marine buddy of Rip’s—the story takes place in Hawaii—who runs around looking like Tarzan most of the time. It’s like Raymond really wanted to do a jungle adventure comic and he just added it to Rip Kirby.

The actual mystery is pretty lame and it plays more as an action story. Only the action isn’t particularly good. The bad guy’s an old lady… it’s not like Rip’s going to knock her out.

The art’s great, the story’s just tepid.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Past Imperfect (January-May 1947)

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About half this storyline is spent with Pagan Lee as the protagonist. Rip and Honey are too busy vacationing (though there’s some more implications of their intimate relationship). Pagan’s past is catching up with her, with a card shark tries to shake her down. It’s an interesting structure, with Greene and Raymond spending a lot of time introducing the card shark and detailing his efforts before meeting Pagan. It barely feels like Rip Kirby in those strips.

Rip eventually shows up to sort the whole thing out and the story races to the finish. I think, once Rip appears, the rest of the story takes place over two days, maybe three. It’s almost too fast.

The other problem is how Greene writes Rip during the first half, as he ignores Pagan’s troubles. He makes Rip petty and occasionally mean.

It’s still a compelling read, since Pagan’s a very sympathetic character.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Fatal Forgeries (November 1946-January 1947)

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Instead of an involved, complicated story, this time Greene and Raymond go for something far simpler. There’s a blackmailer using kids to get celebrity autographs to fuel his forgery endeavor. Rip accidentally gets involved and has to sort it out. There’s a murder, some intrigue and Honey and Pagan fighting for Rip’s affections.

Unfortunately, when presented with a simple “case” for Rip, Greene and Raymond unnecessarily aggrandize it. It’s not a simple case of blackmail, there’s the youth gang; it’s not some smart blackmailer, it’s another guy with a silly nickname and a secret base. When Pagan turns out to know the blackmailer, it works since it’s a comic strip and things need to be neat… but Greene and Raymond are giving Rip a rogue’s gallery. It’s too much. He’s not Dick Tracy.

The romantic conflict is a nice touch, however, though Honey and Rip’s relationship has, unfortunately, become chaste.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Enter: The Mangler (June-November 1946)

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Greene and Raymond give Rip his first real nemesis here—the Mangler. Though we hear he’s called the Mangler for how he murders people, we never see it. The Mangler’s far more interested in elevating himself from crime boss to terrorist as he steals a biological warfare formula from Rip and proceeds to auction it to the highest bidding country.

The storyline is split into two parts—Rip getting kidnapped and tortured for the formula, only for the bad guys to realize threatening Honey will get him to cave. He does, which leads to the second part of the story, the hunt for the Mangler. The first part has a lot of implied sex; it’s funny to see a newspaper strip get away with it while a movie of the time could not.

The second half is better; the first half’s plot requires Rip to be really stupid, really often.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, The Hicks Formula (April-June 1946)

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For the second storyline, Greene and Raymond send Rip and company off to college. Honey doesn’t get a lot smarter this time around, but she definitely gets somewhat smarter and it helps a lot. While she’s not really Rip’s sidekick, just an odd addition to the cast (she has her own reasons for visiting the college, while he’s investigating something), she’s pleasant to have around. There are a lot more female characters (in small parts) who are reasonably vapid, but even without them, Greene’s making Honey a much stronger character.

Raymond’s art is, big shock, excellent. What is somewhat surprising is how much he plays with the strips, occasionally only doing two panels or even one. The story reads great in a sitting as well.

The sometimes unexpected twists and turns to the plot only increase the appeal. It’s an engaging read, even if there’s little character development for Rip.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, The Chip Faraday Murder (March-April 1946)

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It’s a little surprising how every panel of Rip Kirby is perfect. Okay, not every panel. There are two panels—each the last panel of a strip, where Alex Raymond apparently photo-references a close up for this one character and it’s too static. I’m guessing it’s referenced because of that static, something no one else has in the forty-three other strips making up this storyline.

The mystery itself is pretty contrived, as a newspaper sequential has to be. But Rip Kirby reads really well, like it’s meant to be read in a sitting, not day to day in the newspaper. Writer Ward Greene does do some recaps, but more often he just assumes the reader’s caught up and moves on.

My only complaint is Rip’s sidekick, Honey Dorian. She’s supposed to be smart, but has a dimwit’s dialogue. It’s like Greene and Raymond can’t decide.

Otherwise, it’s phenomenal.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.