Tuesday, May 05, 2020

BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! BUCK RYAN SMASHING THE WAR RACKETEERS (1941) (Golden Age Reprints)

If you enjoyed the 1942 Monogram film RUBBER RACKETEERS, which I reviewed here a while back, why not enjoy some more vintage World War II black market profiteering crime-action entertainment, but this time hop across the pond to Great Britain and check out a newspaper comic strip, joining British detective/intelligence operative BUCK RYAN as he fights wartime food racketeering in a hardboiled world that will resonate with anyone who enjoys British-made B&W crime films.

The Buck Ryan strip is the work of artist Jack Monk and writer Don Freeman, who began publishing in 1937 and kept going until 1962. Amazingly, Ryan was resurrected in the UK DAILY MIRRORin 2015 (reprints of late 50’s strips, newly colored, but with the coloring done well), but checking out the Mirror’s website (where you can read these recent reprints), it looks like the revived Buck Ryan folded in 2018. If you go to a Wordpress website called BRITISH COMICS COMPILATIONS and look for Ryan, you can find almost the complete run, though you’ll have to download them. These separate story arcs are also available in print in a series of paperbacks from Golden Age Reprints (and competing reprint volumes of some of them also from Ecomics Space). I’ve got 7 of these, and they are exciting reading, influenced by B-crime films of the day but also by Dick Tracy, although there is less violence here than in Tracy and also the uniquely Chester Gould-ish grotesque and bizarre qualities of the Tracy strip are not here. Still, the stories I’ve read, dating from the 30’s and 40’s, are quite solid and fast-moving, though with interesting settings and plot developments and supporting characters and guest criminals.

This particular story arc ran for 72 daily installments, and the book reprints them 3 to a page. Transfer quality is very good on 66 of the dailies and good on the other 6. Ryan is assigned to investigate a criminal ring that is bypassing food rationing and distributing pilfered bacon, potatoes, lamb, tea, and other items on the black market at inflated prices.

I have always had the greatest respect for the creators of daily newspaper comic strips with continuing story arcs. They are limited to (in this case) three or four panels a day, and each day’s entry has to move the story forward, start with something exciting, close with something mysterious enough to reel the reader back in the next day, and at the same time make sense to someone who does not read the paper every day. And you have to keep people reading the story for three to six months, daily. That’s a tall order, making you do fifty things simultaneously, without having any of those things calling attention to themselves.

The police-procedural aspect of this story arc is quite interesting—you learn about how the illicit distribution network steals the food, how they distribute it, who they sell it to (often caterers and diners), etc. You also learn how tea can be adulterated with other substances to “extend” it. Another interesting angle is that some of the minor players in the criminal enterprise are displaced circus and vaudeville performers, as those areas have cut back considerably because of the war and the employees are having to scramble for work. Buck is understanding toward those members of the gang, and as long as they are willing to rat on (I actually saw the term “nark” used here in this 1942 comic by one of those characters—I always assumed that term originated in the 50’s, but evidently not!) the higher-ups, he helps to get them real jobs so they are not tempted by a life of crime. What a nice guy!

I’ve read this particular book many times in the last few years…just read it again last night while waiting for a meatball pizza at a food truck in an empty church parking lot off the interstate in Selma, Texas, just north of Retama Park horse racing track…and it moves along quickly, is full of suspense and interesting average people in the diners and truckstops of the early British motorways. Buck Ryan is the model of the tough and efficient but charming detective, and you can imagine the UK equivalent of a Kane Richmond or a Chester Morris handling the role. If this kind of thing appeals to you, I’d recommend you make the acquaintance of Buck Ryan, via either book reprint or free downloads. He had a 25 year run in the UK, and when he was revived in the 2000’s, there were a number of newspaper commentators and readers sharing memories about how devoted a following Ryan had, how they would clip the strips and collect them, how their parents would read it daily with their morning coffee or tea (the latter, hopefully NOT “extended” with soda and impurities, a la WWII scamming), etc. While you are at that British Comics Compilations website, you’ll find many other long-running UK comic strips, most of which are little known to us over here in the US and Canada and are waiting for us to enjoy… so there’s absolutely NO excuse for anyone to spend time binge-watching anything on Netflix!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

About as obscure a topic as there is! Excellent work, Bill! Keep 'em coming! Cheers! Alvin Bishop

0 said...

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Christopher Stigliano said...

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0 said...

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