Tuesday, November 07, 2017


Have you ever noticed how, here in the good old USA, five people could say the exact same thing, but if one of them says it with a British accent, he/she is better received than the Americans. The same seems to be true in popular culture. There’s always been a place for the “charming Englishman,” ranging from Arthur Treacher to Cary Grant. And on present-day PBS, in any 12-18 month period, there are probably a dozen British mystery shows being aired. For a while, there was even a sub-genre of British crime-solving clergymen, when both Grantchester and Father Brown were being aired in the same week. You can even subscribe to services like Acorn TV or the BBC America channel and get non-stop British TV.

In the post-Sherlock Holmes era in the first half of the 20th Century, that Anglophile tendency even trickled down into comic books, and exhibit one is the character under review today, Captain Cook Of Scotland Yard.

Captain Cook appeared as a guest comic in a few different magazines of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, but what’s collected here are his stories in SMASH COMICS issues #1 - #13. Smash was published by the legendary “Quality Comics,” and it ran from 1939-1949 for a total of 85 issues. The Cook stories ran in 1939 and 1940.

There are 13 stories collected here, all running either four or six pages. They all move quickly, and are entertaining and adequate in terms of crime-solving comics. What’s most of interest to me about this series, though, is that whoever wrote it and drew it didn’t seem to know much about Britain or things British. Oh, Scotland Yard is mentioned, and there’s an occasional reference to someone being a Lord or whatever, but other than the lead character being called a representative of Scotland Yard, this could be a 100% American character working out of Chicago or New York. The geography in the artwork looks totally generic in terms of place, no one speaks with British syntax, no one spells COLOR with a U, the buildings look American, the characters talk like people in any American crime B-movie, etc.

As with a number of series in either comics or movies which were running out of gas....or where the people making the comic or the film already know there are only a few installments left....the later entries seem more haphazardly composed and plotted, and we move more into weird, almost-scifi territory, where you don’t have to develop much of a mystery plot and plant clues....just have some weird phenomenon that can be explained away in the final few panels, completely removing the whodunit element (or even the HOW-dunit element or the HOW will the murderer be caught element) that is usually necessary in a detective comic or story or movie.

I like Captain Cook Of Scotland Yard, and I’ve read this book twice (so far). It comes from the Golden Age of comic book and pulp-magazine crime stories, and even a journeyman piece of product (like this one) from that era is an entertaining read today. Also, for me, pretty much anything published by Quality Comics is worth reading. According to the Grand Comics Database, Quality Comics published some 1662 issues of 60 different magazines between 1937 and 1956. It’s unlikely you’ll stumble across any Quality Comics in the usual flea markets or junk stores, which are scoured in advance by Ebay comic book sellers (who usually have a relationship with the owners of said flea markets or junk stores to have first refusal on any old or off-the-wall items before they are put out in the general stock), so take advantage of the many Quality Comics properties which have fallen into the public domain, and which you can read online for free....or get attractive reprint books of from publishers such as Golden Age Reprints or Gwandanaland Comics. The writers and artists behind this comic knew what audiences wanted and knew how to create a fast-paced and exciting story, yet resolve it in 4 to 6 pages. Today’s bloated and self-serious artistes working in comics or television could learn a lot from the lean and efficient style here. Something like this was all in a day’s work for the professionals whipping these comics out for low page rates....they probably grabbed a sandwich, downed a few cups of coffee, and moved on to a romance comic right after banging out Captain Cook, and then probably moved on to a military comic after that. And they did all of them equally well, on time and under budget...because that’s what a professional does, and that’s how you keep your job and feed your family!

No comments: