Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
Growing up with Comics
I grew up in a fairly humble existence. My parents couldn’t afford toys and other expensive distractions. This probably helped my overactive mind to invent stories and games to keep me and my younger brothers entertained. There was one thing that my father could afford and strangely enough this inexpensive collection of pages is what entertained and enchanted me.
I am indebted to my father for introducing me to the pleasures of a good narrative combined with splendid artwork. Yes, he read comics. And when he finished reading them, he passed them onto me. I was six when I started reading these worlds of wonder that transported me from some of the dreary realities of my childhood.
I devoured the pleasures of various Golden age comic strips such as Steel Claw, Flash Gordon, Phantom, Tarzan, Buzz Sawyer, Modesty Blaise, Secret Agent X-9 as these were sourced from all over the world the reprinted by a South Indian comic strip publisher called Muthu Comics. There were the best of French, Italian, English& American comics that were reprinted locally. Although the strips were translated into Tamil, the strength of the narrative and the power of the pictures meant that the stories crossed language and country barriers. I could be transported from our dusty and wet two roomed shanty house to anywhere in the word.
Among all the dazzling adventurers with superhuman skills, there was one that stood out who had no superhuman characteristics. He used his brain more than his brawn. He was no James Bond like womaniser but had a steady girlfriend. His sidekick was no acrobat but a balding butler who is an ex con. Despite these ‘shortcomings’ the series was drawn with extraordinary artwork, some brilliant stories featuring well developed characters and went onto become one of the most successful dailies of all time.
The strip was called Rip Kirby.
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The Artist and his Creation
It’s only later, many years older , wiser and when I was able to afford to actually buy books - did I revisit the comics of my childhood years and realised Rip Kirby was the brainchild of superstar comics artist Alex Raymond and was produced as a daily strip for that institution that defined comics in those decades- King’s Features syndicate. Raymond has a top pedigree when it comes to drawing daily strips- He created Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9.
That Rip Kirby went on to become one of the most successful comic strips of those decades comes as no surprise. The artistry contained within those panels will astound anyone who can appreciate storytelling and art.
Raymond had great success with Flash Gordon when he enlisted as a marine in World War II. He was demobbed and returned in 1946 to find Flash Gordon in the safe hands of his former assistant. At the suggestion of King’s Features he created the character of an ex-marine turned urbane New York based detective Remington ‘Rip’ Kirby.
The launch of the strip was extraordinary- King’s Features ran full page advertisements to promote the strip and it was quickly syndicated all across America enjoying fantastic reception. Circulation rose, and the strip was extremely successful. It ran from 1946 for well over 50 years finally ending it’s run in 1999. Although the quality of storytelling and the artistry remained impeccable, none could match the extraordinary talents of Alex Raymond, who sadly died in a car accident in 1956. He was only 46 when he died.
The Dramatis Personae
People had seen nothing like Rip Kirby before. Most of their pulp private detectives were thugs and heavies, often using violence and brawn to solve their cases. Remington 'Rip' Kirby was a breath of fresh air. He was an ex chemistry scholar, living in comfortable existence in New York as a private detective. He was suave, looked good in a suit and a tux, had wavy dark hair, rugged good looks and smoked a pipe! He also wore glasses and had a studious mentality. He used his brain to solve the crimes but wasn't afraid to use his fists when called for.
One only has to look at pictures of Alex Raymond himself to see that he had modelled some of his characteristics onto his creation. Alex loved dressing up in smart suits and cravats, sported an Errol Flynn moustache, smoked a pipe and loved driving fast cars.
His girl-friend, model ‘Honey’ Dorian was a blonde cutie. Her modelling career also gave Rip excuse to travel round the world solving cases as far away from his native NY to London, Paris and Rome.
He could afford a live in butler, a Jeeves like Desmond. The latter is an ex safecracker and a con artist, whose skills maybe called into assistance once in a while.
To Honey’s Yin there was the dark temptress Pagan Lee who served as Yang. Drawn to Rip in a love hate relationship she went from a minor character to a mobster hell-bent on destroying the detective.
The characters were well drawn out and even though there was a whiff of stereotypical in their construction, one can forgive the fact as they inhabited the 50s and sixties.
The editor at King’s features, Ward Greene himself, is said to have penned the stories until his death and was subsequent taken over by Fred Dickinson. Although most involved murder in New York there are outrageous plots and twists involving chemical weapons, kidnapping, blackmail and mob crimes.
Alex Raymond may have had a hand in suggestion story arcs and filling in the blanks. He was truly gifted. The success of the strip was the refreshing take on crime solving as opposed to the pulp vigilantism of Mickey Spillane and tough talking no-nonsense Raymond Chandleresque private dicks, Rip represented a breath of fresh air. He was debonair, he had charm, he was kind to women, he had a heart, he dressed well, wrote science books, yet when it came to a situation can bring upon his boxing skills and self defence to look after himself and protect his girl. He was a very first metro-sexual!
The stories had their fare share of twists, thrills and spills aided by Alex Raymond's extraordinary visuals. There was such flow in the panels, as one scene merged into another, the characters were in constant motion, never static, always expressive. A true master-class in portraiture and storytelling.
The Collected Rip Kirby from IDW
Where to Find Rip Kirby?
In gorgeous coffee table format IDW have recently started publishing heavy collectors tomes of Rip Kirby comic strips. Although a tad on the pricey side, I feel it is well worth the money to rediscover nostalgia. These volumes ( 7 so far) cover specific periods and are broken down into individual story arcs.
I've indulged myself at Christmas 2010 with three glorious volumes of Rip Kirby ( Nostalgia doesn't come cheap!) but I tell, you it is worth it. The books are handsomely produced and I have since procured each volume as it arrived. The 7th volume is out next week ( July 2014) I Can't Wait .
Rip was translated into French, Spanish and many other European languages as well as the in the Asian subcontinent and enjoys reruns and new readership all the time. The strips are timeless and deserve much wider recognition to inspire new writers and new artists.
Give Rip Kirby a try. You will enjoy travelling back to the New York of the 60s and seventies.. gripping reads, gorgeous visuals, engaging characters- what else can we ask for?
If you enjoyed reading this hub, Do try some of the others, leave some feedback and comments and share with others who you may think may enjoy it too.
Thank you for your time and appreciation.
Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2014
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on September 26, 2016:
I used to enjoy seeing Rip Kirby beat up whole gangs of thugs in this comic strip. He was pretty handy with his fists when it came to a fight, he'd lay them out with the 'knock out' punch after a few jabs and upper cuts. Then they'd be on their way to gaol.
John Gizzi on June 07, 2013:
Great to reconnect with Jimmy through a fabulous tribute to Rip Kirby. And, Doc, I'm still waiting for the long-awaited reunion between Rip and Toledo Steele. Next April is the 50th anniversary of their one adventure together.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 25, 2011:
Thanks Jimmy- it is lovely to meet a fellow fan. In fact I was in Ireland only this weekend. I would love to get hold of some digital copies of Rip Kirby stories - I do have some o the recently published collections of strips through amazon.
Jimmy Keary on July 31, 2011:
What a fantastic tribute site to 'Rip Kirby'. Well done on all the hard work you have put into it.
I live in Ireland and first started reading the Kirby stories in 1968. My mother had been reading it for many years. The first story I read featured one of the Amour sisters stealing a crown and then Desmond and Wiggers (another butler who appeared in occasional stories) had to try and return it).
I was hooked and a few months later began collecting the strips and pasting them into copybooks, which I did for many years afterwards.
I still have my collection, although some of the stories are not in great shape. But I have managed to access the strip through the newspaper archives and am building up a collection of stories I've lost or missed. Those 60s John Prentice stories are brilliant.
If anyone would like to contact me at: email@example.com I can e-mail them a Rip Kirby story.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 19, 2011:
Thanks very much. I agree they were very underrated and considered juvenile literature in the past- ( some still do!) I think comics have enjoyed a renaissance and the artists are now treated like rock-stars over the past couple of decades. They are slowly going digital and the ipad and tablets are making the comics accessible and immensely readable too. Thanks for visiting!
gourownway from Los Angeles on February 19, 2011:
Great hub. I have always felt that Comics and their authors have been highly underrated and not given enough respect in the literary world. It's a shame that comics in general seem to have fallen off with the general public.
John Gizzi on January 24, 2011:
Docmo, Still delighted with your response. I never knew the background of Toledo in Spain (although others did know that). What still amazes me is that this episode keeps Kirby afficionados riveted after 46 years. The Cold War theme, and that of industrial espionage (can you imagine the uproar over competing businesses hiring private detectives today--although I'm sure it happens)are interesting. Toledo Steele is still an enigma--inarguably a character ahead of her time and still leaving questions as to why she never reappeared for the remainder of the strip. Certainly Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy and many other strips had characters come back and if there was anyone who should have come into Rip's life again, it was surely Toledo. Again, these are things I wished I had written John Prentice about while he was alive but didn't. Perhaps you can offer some answers--or speculation. As one who always wanted to write fiction, I have often thought of a short story with Toledo as a character. Will read your Modesty Blaise site but please remember--I have friends in UK who are major fans, but the wretched movie version with Monica Vitti really dampened my curiosity on reading the strip. As I said, write me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will share a funny story with you.
John Gizzi on January 19, 2011:
What an uplifting response! Delighted to know you are from the UK--if you have a minute, drop me an e-mail (email@example.com) and I will tell you a good story. I love the BBC! Cheerio!
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 18, 2011:
Thanks for dropping in and your comments are much appreciated.As for Toledo steele,I share your passion. I am currently revisiting the strips through those three handsome volumes listed above and am planning to extend this article with a write up on Toledo Steele and other villains... Your passion in infectious! It is an interesting name as Toledo district in Spain is famous for sword, knives and razor making( steel!). I 'd be grateful if you share the links to this hub with other enthusiasts of Rip and Alex Raymond. I don't know if you'r familiar with Modesty Blaise - anohter of my favourite strips- do have a look at that write up. Thanks again.
John Gizzi on January 18, 2011:
I am spellbound with your site and hope others will come to it and share their reminiscences of Rip Kirby. You sum up his career nicely. One thing I'm anxious to know: I mentioned my favorite episode which was in 1964, featuring Cold War villains, a scientist, industrial rivals, and the unforgettable Toledo Steele, Rip's rival p.i. I always wondered why this never was parlayed into similar strips and more significantly, why Tenacious Toledo was never brought back for return appearances. It always bothered me that I never thought to contact John Prentice or Al Williamson or anyone involved with the Kirby feature while they were alive to learn this. Toledo was such a memorable character for her time it would be fascinating to find out what inspired her and again, why we only saw her once in 54 years. Your thoughts?
John Gizzi on January 10, 2011:
Delighted to see a page devoted to Rip Kirby, a real hero of mine growing up. I'm just surprised there is no reference to Kirby's rival, Toledo Steele, who appeared in a classic 1964 strip that involved a secret formula that could alter the balance of the Cold War, industrial espionage and dealings with hostile governments. Does anyone remember this story besides me?
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 04, 2011:
Thanks Saideepa, I am glad this brought back some good memories. The gift of reading is a great gift to receive from one's parents.
saideepa from kerala,India on January 02, 2011:
great reading this, I am a comics fan too.My father was a great reader too.he introduced us three to reading not only comics but greek mythology and all great classics too.I am glad to have found a person like me.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on December 31, 2010:
I am ashamed to say one of my party pieces is to do a 'But of coursh dear, Mish Moneypenny' routine trying to ape Sean Connery's ack-shent ;-)
What's your take on Daniel Craig. I thought he represented the best of both worlds- clever casting by Making 'M' a no- nonsense female chief in the form of Judi Dench - giving perfect foil to Bond's masculinity.
Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on December 31, 2010:
I did know that Pierce Brosnan, uber cool, handsome, metrosexual was very disappointed when he did not ace the Bond movie lead. He was the perfect choice, but Hollywood waits for no man. It seems to me that the Bond capers and that type of egocentric male character lost steam in the movies. Sean Connery had a more rugged, male screen presence than some of the subsequent "James Bond" stars, who were just too pretty.
cookingdiva on December 31, 2010:
I love comics too but I have to admit I do not know much about Rip Kirby but I am sure to read up these when I get a chance.
I love many Japanese Anime like Lupin the 3rd, Xmen and all. Take care.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on December 30, 2010:
I sadly missed Remington Steele in my formative years but do know of it and have see a few clips. Brosnan was the epitome of cool and did you know that he lost out of being cast as Bond because his contract for Remington Steele refused to release him ( understandably) ..He had to wait a few years before taking up the mantle of James Bond and made it cool all over again. I am glad you enjoyed this tribute, Amy. BTW one of my favourite Brosnan films is the remake of Thomas Crown Affair where he sizzles on screen with Rene Russo - As a bored millionaire and art thief. That film has enough chemistry to fill a giant sized lab. I haven't seen the original with Steve McQueen ( another cool cat and a metrosexual inspiration!).
Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on December 30, 2010:
As I read your well written take on comic creator and artist, Alex Raymond, and his masterpiece "Rip Kirby", I couldn't help but recall an American TV series called "Remington Steele" a 1980's tongue-in-cheek detective series starring the dashing, debonair, Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist as detective Laura Holt. Brosnam, who was really a con and thief, was cast by female detective Laura Holt as the fictional detective to add credibility to her detective firm. And, you describe Alex Raymond as the first metrosexual, Remington Steele was the personification of "metro" also before that term became recognized. I love your descriptive, beautifully written, comprehensive tribute to your childhood imaginings and inspiration. Awesome, really.