'way back when, in '67, I was living in my hometown of Tamaqua, PA and my parents "took the daily paper," as they used to say. That paper was the Tamaqua Evening Courier, and even in those days, it was on its last legs. It rolled up on the porch every day, some days right on time, some days later than usual, for as I recall its presses were old and dying. It seemed to be printed on paper that almost yellowed before your eyes, with grainy photos, wandering type, and a full page of comics whose reproduction could be categorized as more miss than hit ("What exactly is Henry doing there, do you think?").
The Courier was a King Features paper, as I recall, with most of its comics and syndicated features coming from that august provider of material. Secret Agent X-9 ran for years, barely beneath my notice, until a fateful day in 1967 when my brother, home from college, noticed it was now drawn by Al Williamson. Our involvement with comics fandom insured we knew who Williamson was: His pedigree encompassed EC Comics, something that was legendary to us (but soon to become familiar through massive reprints), but we knew him best as one of the artists from Warren magazines (Creepy and Eerie, barely a few years old) and King's own aborted attempt at a comic book line, which featured Flash Gordon by the artist. Williamson's style was elegant and polished. It was too early for us to compare him to Alex Raymond (Nostalgia Press's Flash Gordon reprints were a few years away), but we recognized that slick illustrative look right away.
And suddenly the Tamaqua Evening Courier became a very important part of my life.
We clipped each day's strip, which--thankfully--was at the bottom of the page. We taped them into a notebook with plastic sleeves to protect them (they still got very brown). It wasn't until years later that we found out that the strip--now renamed Secret Agent Corrigan--was written by Archie Goodwin, who at the time had been the editor of Creepy and Eerie but was also writing for Marvel (Iron Man, to be exact). If I remember correctly, the Evening Courier never took the time to retitle the strip Corrigan...it was always X-9.
That hardly mattered then or now. What does matter is that Secret Agent Whomever was the last great syndicated adventure strip, written and drawn by two seasoned pros at the top of their game. The stories were top-notch. Williamson's art was dynamic, noirish, and fluid. Goodwin's scripts took the titular hero around the world, and played with such time-honored tales as The Lost World and The Prisoner of Zenda. Their run on the strip lasted 13 years, until 1980, when they rocketed off together to do Star Wars.
And now, finally, after numerous false starts, somebody is reprinting all of Williamson and Goodwin's Secret Agent Corrigan in chronological order, in strip form (not cut up to fit comic book pages), and in a beautiful hardbound collection. That somebody is, of course, San Diego's own IDW, which has just published the first volume, containing over 800 strips (more than 2 1/2 year's worth...31 months to be exact), ranging from Jan. 30, 1967 through August 30, 1969. As usual, this is a top notch effort, up there with their other dream (for me) project, Dick Tracy.
Over the years I bought every half-baked Corrigan reprint scheme, from Ed Aprill's pioneering and exemplary work in Cartoonist Showcase (which ended, sadly, when Ed died in an auto accident), to one-off books, to Pioneer's "Official" comic book series, to Canada's Dragon Lady books. The good news is this will finally happen: All of Williamson and Goodwin's Corrigan strips will see print (vol. 2 is already scheduled for early 2011), and in the way they were meant to be seen.
Re-reading these I was amazed at two things: Williamson's commitment to detail, when strips were occupying less and less space in newspapers across the country (most of which, like the Courier, were also experiencing antiquated presses), and Goodwin's incredible storytelling prowess and his economy of words. Each strip is almost a comics haiku, perfect in every way. It's amazing to me how much the two of them--Williamson in his art and Goodwin in his writing--get across with characterization alone in such little space...and on a DAILY basis.
As usual with something like this--a fondly remembered memory from childhood--you have to wonder how much of my love for it is purely nostalgia and how much of is just a great read. I'm happy to say that Corrigan stands up to my memories of it. It really is the last great adventure comic strip and its creators were never better together, even when they journeyed to a galaxy far, far away.