Sunday, June 12, 2011

Action Agents in Exciting Adventures

A couple posts back I proposed a list of the 10 best newspaper comic strips. But I only came up with nine.

I asked you what you thought. Among the suggestions to come in have been Thimble Theater/Popeye, The Gumps, For Better or for Worse and Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy.

But two of you — two — recommended a strip of which I’d never heard. So I did some research.

At first called Action Agents in Exciting Adventures and, later, just Action Agents, the adventure strip started in 1931, picked up steam and popularity just before WW II, then began to wane, limping to an obscure demise in the early 1950s.

The breathless tales centered on Carter Remo and Captain Kit Chen, who worked for … well, I’m not sure who they worked for. The OSS? The Pinkertons? The good guys, clearly.

In the samples I saw, it’s never stated — it’s as if the artist didn’t want to get bogged down with anything that might slow the narrative, such as explanation and sense.

They zipped around the globe, rescuing kidnapped heiresses, capturing miscreants who planned to blow up bridges, power plants and, on two separate occasions, a museum. A museum after hours. Who knows why.

Remo, with his pencil-thin mustache, was the more handsome and intended as the lead. Chen — get it, “Kit Chen”? — was a bit slower in the foot race, but he’s the hero who often figured out the evil-doers’ master plans.

The look was not unlike Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy — not exactly in the “big-foot” style, but certainly not with the grace of Prince Valiant.

For its first 13 years, Action Agents was written and drawn by Webb F.C. Klein, the strip’s creator, as best as I can figure. But after 1944, it passed through several hands, with ever-worsening artistic results — Todd “Doc” B. Dunstead, 1944 to 1946; Earle Parkerson, 1947-1948; then Lester “Ike” Pennington, 1948 to 1953.

Pennington’s drawings in particular were especially dreadful. Poor Remo and Chen.

Who knows — maybe Fantagraphics Books or Drawn & Quarterly will reprint some of the Action Agents strips, with crisp repackaging by Chris Ware or Seth. Or maybe not.

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