In 1967, the spy craze was in high gear. Americans thrilled to the adventures of James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Mission Impossible, just to name a few. It was then that King Features Syndicate decided to revamp their “Secret Agent X-9” comic strip. In so doing, they enlisted artist Al Williamson and writer Archie Goodwin and renamed the comic strip “Secret Agent Corrigan.”
“Secret Agent X-9” had originally been created in 1937 by famed crime writer Dashiell Hammett and illustrated by the creator of Flash Gordon, legendary cartoonist Alex Raymond. Williamson was a huge admirer of Raymond’s and you can see Raymond’s influence in this new collection, Secret Agent Corrigan: Volume 1: 1967-1969.
The “new” “Secret Agent Corrigan” followed the whirlwind adventures of FBI agent Phil Corrigan as he battled kidnappers, slavery rings, mobsters, saboteurs, arms dealers, crooked cops, and pirates all while protecting military secrets, and, like 007, rescuing plenty of beautiful ladies. But unlike Bond and the other spies of the time, Corrigan did it without all the super-spy gadgets.
Since they had worked together previously over the years, Goodwin knew how to write to Williamson’s strengths, using plenty of exotic locals, cool ’60s cars, beautiful women, sinister villains, and exciting bursts of action.
Williamson more than rose to the occasion. He was a master of his craft who used different ink techniques to embellish his illustrations. In this collection, Williamson's brush can be seen placing rich areas of black in panels and giving them a moody noir feel. His pen creates different patterns and textures for clothing and backgrounds. His perfectly rendered figures make the action scenes crackle with energy.
Williamson’s love of movies is evident in his panel designs. There are so many inventive “camera” angles with closeups, long shots, and overhead shots that they could easily be the storyboard for a film.
When reading these stories you have to recall the time period in which they were created. The Iron Curtain is still drawn, cigarette smoke is everywhere, and the villains have colorful names. Villains include the Red China spy leader Chang Wu, Brawler Bradley, Von Krel, Joe Ice, and Dude Danton. Femme fatales include Millicent Murkley, Ilsa Flint, Madame Lei, and Raven Storm. And because storylines run over many strips, when you read one after another you will notice an overlap of dialogue and action from the previous one. But today’s readers must remember that these comic strips were designed to be read one a day as they originally appeared in newspapers.
The “Secret Agent Corrigan” collection is one more in an amazing run of titles published by IDW under their Library of American Comics imprint. With older comic strips such as “Terry and The Pirates,” “Little Orphan Annie,” and “Dick Tracy” already in their line up, “Secret Agent Corrigan” – as one of the last of the great adventure strips – becomes an appropriate bookend to the series.
This first volume includes all the daily strips from January 1967 through August of 1969. There are three daily strips per page reprinted with sharp blacks (from Williamson’s personal proofs) on a nice thick paperstock. There is also an introduction by artist and Williamson collaborator Mark Shultz and a history of the “X-9” strip by Bruce Canwell. Both are brief but full of information on Al Williamson, Archie Goodwin, and the strip itself. The book is designed with a love and respect for its source material and is a fitting tribute to the talent of Williamson and Goodwin.
This book is a must for all crime/spy fans, fans of comic strips, and artists, who will learn much by studying the brilliant drawing and inkwork of Al Williamson.
This series will eventually include all of the Williamson/Goodwin “Secret Agent Corrigan” strips up through 1979. I can’t wait to see the thrilling adventures continue in Volume 2.
Rich Clabaugh is a Monitor staff artist.