Rip responds to a call for action. Artist: Alex Raymond.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1946
Creators: Ward Greene and Fred Dickenson
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The name most closely associated with Rip Kirby's beginnings is that of artist Alex Raymond. But Raymond didn't create the character — the original idea came from …

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King Features editor Ward Greene (Lady & the Tramp), who scripted it at the beginning. In 1952 the writing was taken over by reporter Fred Dickenson. Raymond did, however, take sole credit, and even part ownership of the daily-only feature — which is fair enough, since it was his name that sold it to newspaper editors (based on his earlier work on Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9), and his hand that provided the slick, up-to-date look that the strip quickly became known for.

Remington "Rip" Kirby's strip debuted on March 4, 1946. World War II was over, and America's military men were re-integrating themselves into civilian life. Rip, an ex-marine, set himself up as a private detective — a calling sure to provide all the hair-raising adventures needed to keep readers coming back.

And they did come back — circulation rose steadily during the strip's first few years — even tho Rip wasn't the kind of private detective they were used to from pulp fiction. This one did more cogitating than fisticuffing, and smoked a leisurely pipe while he did it. He had a frail, balding assistant, Desmond (a former burglar), instead of a two-fisted sidekick. Instead of carrying on with an endless series of female clients, he had a steady girlfriend, Honey Dorian. If that wasn't enough, he even wore glasses! Even Kerry Drake didn't depart so far from the standard.

If Rip was more sophisticated and urbane than the average fictional private eye, that's okay, because he was very successful — both for himself and for the people who wrote, drew and distributed him. Alex Raymond became as famous for Rip as he'd been for his earlier work — and in 1949, he took home a Reuben Award, only the fourth ever given, for it. Financially, too, Raymond was better rewarded than ever before. His success continued for ten years, ending on Sept. 6, 1956, when, at age 46, he wrapped a car around a tree and died instantly.

Fred Dickenson continued to write the strip. To draw it, King Features hired John Prentice, a magazine illustrator with some experience in comic books — scattered credits at DC. Prize Publications (Young Romance) and elsewhere. In their hands, the strip continued pretty much as it had before. Dickenson's stories were the same as always, and Prentice's style was superficially similar enough to Raymond's to where most readers didn't notice the change. But without Raymond's excellent design sense, it seemed to some that the strip was just coasting.

If that's the case, then it coasted for a long, long time. Even when, as the decades rolled by, story strips in newspapers diminished to near-extinction, Rip Kirby hung on — and Dickenson and Prentice continued to write and draw it. When, in 1986, Dickenson left the strip for health reasons, Prentice took over that part of the operation as well. Dickenson died three months later. Tho it never broke out of its original venue (except for a few reprints from small publishers), as a newspaper daily strip, Rip Kirby kept on keepin' on.

But it was unable to survive one more change in personnel. When Prentice retired, Rip Kirby retired too. The character got burned out on the private eye business and announced he was getting out of it. Maybe, he said, he'll do a little teaching, and maybe he'll smell a few roses. But he won't be entertaining newspaper readers anymore, because his comic strip ended June 26, 1999.


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Text ©2001-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features Syndicate.